Category Archives: Cycling

Twin Six Standard Tech Hoodie Review

I am, by nature, a person who is nearly always cold.

In the spring, until it is routinely above 50 degrees, I still have to wear some kind of light glove or my hands will be freezing.

In the summer, if it’s not above 75 degrees, I’m still wearing jeans.  Otherwise, I get cold.

In the fall, I’m the guy at the cyclocross races wearing a thermal skinsuit, embrocation and heavy gloves when some others are in short sleeves.

In the winter, I am patently miserable.  My boots cost $120, my mittens cost $130 and I am usually still cold — unless I am running or riding or skiing.  Last night I was lounging around my house in a North Face base layer and hoodie just to stay comfortable.  My office at work is heated to 72 so that I’m comfortable sitting in front of a computer for hours.

So, it is to me no small miracle that something as light as the Twin Six Standard Tech Hoodie keeps me warm.  It does not appear impressively insulated or downy.  It is made of 92% recycled polyester, not some wonder material.  Yet this morning — a blustery, snowy morning in which the air temperature was only 5 degrees Fahrenheit with a windchill well below 0 — I arrived at the office astride my bicycle  and perfectly comfortable.

I commuted by bike all of the last two winters wearing a Columbia Bugaboo Interchange jacket and was generally colder than with this amazing hoodie.  I generally think of myself as having a decent vocabulary and being a pretty serviceable writer, even with an engineering background.  But words fail me when I try to describe how wonderful this hoodie is.  From sub-zero temperatures on the bike to coaching Little League in 50 degree weather, it is my go-to jacket.

There is no doubt that it is expensive, running $195 regularly.  However, the good folks at Twin Six frequently run sales to bring that cost down.  In fact, despite being a member of the Twin Six METAL team for many years (with access to a sweet discount), I acquired mine in the first place on a clearance for $96.

Listen, if you ever ride a bike in less than optimal weather, you need one of these.  Not everything has to be plastered with logos.  With understated good looks and stellar performance, the Twin Six Standard Tech Hoodie is my absolute favorite piece of riding apparel.

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2014 Chequamegon 40

Sometime in late 2008, I was seized by a desire to be involved in one of the largest point-to-point mountain bike races in the country: The Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival. I didn’t get in during 2009, but was finally able to race it in 2010.  I “Cheq’d” it off my list (I’m sure no one has ever made that joke before in the history of forever) and didn’t see a reason to go back.

It’s not that it’s a bad race or somehow unworthy of its reputation.  The problem is the timing.  After the Cheq40 in 2010, I had my best cyclocross season ever.  I was having fun and getting great results.  September turned into a cyclocross month and I had no interest in traveling down to Wisconsin for fat tire racing, as I stared packing up the mountain bike  for the season after Labor Day.

This year, for no apparent reason, I entered the lottery again.  Honestly, I remember the day I submitted my entry, thinking that I wouldn’t get it anyways but why not?  I may have been somewhat influenced by the Fat Tire Birkie, but I certainly didn’t wake up one morning thinking, “Dang, I need to go race Chequamegon again!”

Imagine my surprise when the email came in early April — I was in.  Suddenly my season had new focus and I started wondering if my wonderful 2010 ‘cross season hadn’t been positively impacted by the fitness  needed to finish a 40-mile MTB race.

I counted back from September 13 and started my training.  Apparently, counting like that is some sort of weakness for me, because I actually started my training a week early.  “Never mind,” said I.  “I shall use the whole month of September for racing at top fitness.”  I made a few tweaks to the bike: I put on some Lizard Skins DSP grips to give a little more cushion on a 3-hour ride.  I swapped over to some Maxxis Aspen tires for fast-rolling, non-technical course.  Training rides in late August and September were feeling just awesome.  Then I started hearing about flooding and major storm damage around Hayward the week before the race.  Then I saw the forecast for race day: high of 54, low of 31.  Yikes.  If it wasn’t so expensive to register for this race, I would have just stayed home.

Instead, I packed all kinds of warm clothes and worked up a positive attitude.  The forecast said by race start, it would be around 48 degrees and mid-50’s by the end.  I have apparel for that kind of weather, so I felt confident I could be properly attired.  An Under Armour base layer and my 2013 METAL thermal skin suit were the order of the day and really turned out to be perfect.

One of the enduring traditions for the Cheq40 is getting up insanely early to drop your bike off at the start hours and hours before the gun goes off.  I refused to participate in this tradition in 2010 and one of the improvements Lifetime Fitness made when they acquired the race was to assign starting corrals based on past performances.  Since I technically had no history with the race (they only counted results back to 2011), I got stuck in Gate 7.  I was pretty jazzed about this up until I walked to the very back of the back to my assigned gate.  It felt like the ENTIRE race was ahead of me.  In some ways, this took some pressure off.  I wouldn’t embarrass myself being farther up than I belonged.  In retrospect, it just meant that I was passing people for the next 3 hours.  My rough estimate is that I passed 1100 riders before I crossed the finish line.

The race rolls out quickly on Hayward’s Main St. (or at least it does when you are near the front).  At the tail end, it felt more like a parade or  leisurely group ride.  I wasn’t content to stay back there, so I poured on the gas, trying to make up places where the road was wide and it was easy to pass.  As I breezed past other racers, I found myself wondering if I was going too hard, too soon.  It wouldn’t be the last time.

(Incidentally, the answer, every time, was “No.”)

Bottlenecks abounded in the first 5 off-road miles.  There is a bottleneck into Rosie’s Field.  There was a bottleneck at a particularly muddy portion of the Birkie Trail.  There was a terrible bottleneck where the Birkie Trail had flooded and the organizers cut a small bypass.  People were surprisingly calm through all these, except the morons who rode through the muddy Birkie sections, hollering out, “It’s a mountain bike race!  This is what they were made for!”  These comments were particularly grating to me as I had passed those riders like they were standing still on nicer parts of the trail.  I can ride mud and technical stuff, you dopes.  I choose to save the trail and my drivetrain.

The only hard part about those bottlenecks was getting back to race pace.  Each time we stopped, that part of you that urges you on, that pushes you through the pain, would just quietly settle down.  I found myself treating the race as a leisurely trail ride as I tried to reawaken the competitive spirit.

With apologies to Camelbak and other hydration pack manufacturers, I hate wearing a pack when I ride, so I convinced my wife to give me a bottle handoff where the course crossed OO.  We had agreed to meet on the lefthand side of the course, but as I approached the modified crossing, I just barely heard my kids hollering out, “Mom’s on the RIGHT SIDE!”  I saw her and had to be a bit of a jerk to get over and stop in front of her.  I ditched the empty bottle, grabbed a full one (and some more food) and rolled away.  It was so quick that I can’t even find the stop on the GPS trace.

It seems like a good time to talk about what kind of food and drink I had with me.  About 30 minutes before the race, I chugged some Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration.  Otherwise, I had two bottles of the Lemons+Matcha Exercise Hydration and a small bottle of the raspberry flavor.  Despite Gu’s aggressive marketing at the race, my primary food was two small PB&J sandwiches.  I had made a very accidental discovery several weeks before that Bimbo white bread is so soft that it doesn’t really even need to be chewed.  Slather some creamy peanut butter and jelly on a single slice, fold it in half, and you have real food that goes down almost as quickly as a gel.  It’s a great mix of protein, complex carbs and simple carbs as well.  No stomach upset and no bonking.

At various times, we were on gravel roads that really demanded a paceline, but I never found a good opportunity.  Every time I found a group, I would want to blaze past them.  I started getting a little aggressive about it, driving up right into someone’s slipstream and then launching out of it over and over.  I would love to see what can be done for this race when people get a good train going.

At some point, I started getting nervous about the Firetower Hill.

Cheq40Elevation

See that nearly vertical line at mile 27?  Yeah.  That’s the Firetower climb.  I remembered it being brutal and nearly unridable.  My memory seems to have played nasty tricks on me, because it didn’t really seem all that bad.  However, I am really disappointed in way I rode this.  I had to dismount and push multiple times, not so much because I didn’t have the legs to climb it, but simply because I chose stupid lines and got stuck.  Each time I had to dismount I felt like I got in somebody’s way and felt awful about it.  I will be back, Firetower!

We were warned repeatedly about the condition of the descent from Firetower.  I’m not sure why.  It was rockier than other parts of the course, but I still rode it (as well as the vast majority of the race) with my fork locked out.

As I prepared for this attempt at the Fat Forty, I read through my old post and remembered how my legs were seizing up and my stomach was roiling and I felt awful on the last few miles to Telemark.  As I blew through all of those locations, still feeling strong, I wondered what had happened to me that year.  Into the big bowl at Telemark and across the line in 2:52.  I was hoping for a 3-hour finish, but course alterations make it so I can’t rely too heavily on that result as an indicator of how fit and fast I was.  I can’t complain too much though.

I found myself thinking about how much I love my Big Kahuna at various points during the race.  That is such a good bike.  So.  Good.

Everything was perfect this year, except my starting position.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be back at the Cheq40 next year so that I can start in something other than Gate Very Back.  Ore to Shore organizers, you could learn a thing or two from this.

So I left Hayward satisfied with my effort, looking forward to a few more ‘cross races and next year’s 40.

Shakedown Ride Thoughts

I’ve been away from the blog for quite a while now.  The last post was in November? Wow.  I haven’t had a lot to write about though.  With the season getting started up and a new bike in the stable, there should be more material for discussion…

After musing about it for a while, I ended up buying a Kona Jake the Snake.  Based on finances, I had rather resigned myself to just buying a Trek Crockett frame and swapping parts.  It turned out that a friend from church wanted a bike for his son.  I sold him the Tricross (along with all the sweet parts on it) and used that money to make up the difference between the prices of a new frameset and a whole new bike.

Why the Kona?  It mainly came down to availability.  The Jamis Nova Race wasn’t available.  The Norco Threshold A1 wasn’t available.  Everything else was going to cost a whole lot more.  The Kona was getting all kinds of praise from both owners of the shop, so I ordered one.  With 65°F temperatures yesterday, I headed out for a ride.  It’s too early to do a proper review, but here are some first impressions:

  • The bike is light and stiff.  Not uncomfortably stiff, but it definitely lacks the compliance of the Tricross.  I think I’m ready to make that tradeoff on the ‘cross course — give me some snappy acceleration and let my body absorb a bit more abuse.  It worked last year with the Dark Horse.
  • The WTB Volt Comp saddle looks nice, with Kona graphics and lime green highlights that match the frame.  A reviewer remarked, “WTB has been in the saddle game for as long as I’ve been riding mountain bikes, and they have a pretty good (and deserved) reputation for making something in a saddle that will work for you.”  I have found this to be patently untrue, as I have never found a WTB saddle that I liked.  The most positive thing I can say is that the Valcon that came on my Kona Big Kahuna is not so bad that I didn’t feel compelled to immediately replace it.  The Volt is tremendously uncomfortable, pushing you forward with the stupid “whale tail” shape onto a very narrow portion of the saddle.  My inaugural ride was only 20 miles, largely due to that saddle.  I would rather sit on a 2×4.  I’m going to try some adjustments before I throw it out, but don’t hold much hope.
  • Rolling 100% pavement on Clement MXP ‘cross tires isn’t a ton of fun.  I need to swap something more tarmac friendly on that will still allow me to crush some gravel.
  • Road discs are awesome.  This is the future, right here.
  • The stem was set at -5° and I was pleasantly surprised with how comfortable such an aggressive position felt.
  • The Alex wheels are nice.  I appreciate the quieter hub than my old NoTubes Alpha wheels.  I’m looking forward to trying them tubeless.
  • The verdict is also still out on the bars.  They’re standard Kona OEM stuff, but I wasn’t easily able to find a super-comfortable position in the drops.
  • The new Shimano 105 shifters felt a little stiff, but had crisp shifting.

Looking forward to many more test miles…

An Ignominious End

Last year I had my Thanksgiving Cross-a-palooza that went really, really well.  I was really excited to come back to the Detroit area for the last race of my 2013 cyclocross campaign.  Some kind of circumstance forced the race from Lake Orion High School back to Bloomer Park (a place I’ve raced before), but I have to say I wasn’t excited about that change.  The course at Bloomer Park last time didn’t really match my strengths — lots of turns and not a lot of places to really pedal.  I was anxious to go back and nail that course.

Yeah.  Not so much.

The day started out poorly, since I had not packed for the weather.  When I looked on Thursday, they were predicting high 30’s; the thermometer read high 20’s.  I dragged out all the heavy stuff I had with me: my Twin Six thermal skinsuit and thermal jacket, the heavy Nike thermal base layer  and Giro Hightower merino socks.  On went the Rapha Winter Embrocation on the little bit of exposed knee.  I was still pretty chilly as I started warming up and went out to preview the course.  Especially with my heavy Pearl Izumi gloves on, I was already  getting worried.  The course was immensely twisty.  There were hardly any straight sections.  We were taken up onto the outside bank of the velodrome at the park, which was a terrible mess.  Rains the day before and snow that morning had made the ground soft and muddy.  Consequently, my slightly worn-down Kenda Slant Sixes were spinning under me and I had to jump off and run it every lap.  This transitioned immediately into a nasty, muddy, off-camber section terminating in a 180-degree turn back along that off-camber hill.  After that: turn after turn after turn.

I recall hearing some of the pros complaining that the Trek CXC Cup was so twisty and turny that there weren’t places to pass or use your motor to put some time into the competition.  That course was arrow-straight compared to this.

Eventually we were dumped onto some fairly wide singletrack with more heavy-duty 90+ degree turns.  They even sent us down a sledding hill and right back up it.  I could ride it during my preview, but as the tires packed up with mud during the race, I ended up running more.  That packed mud into my cleats and I struggled to get clipped back in over and over.

So, in a nutshell, the race went terribly.  As soon as I started, my chain was grinding and skipping.  I slid around in the mud and crept my way around the corners.  The mud splashed up onto my bike and froze there.  And I came in dead last.

It was incredibly frustrating.  When I finished, I was glad to be done and just about ready to throw my bike into the woods.  I was very happy to change, load the bike up and head to Famous Dave’s for lunch.

What is confusing to me is that I’ve gone out for runs twice in the days since that race and have pounded out some of my fastest miles.  I’m clearly in shape, I’m clearly fit. But I was a wreck on that course on Saturday.  My belief is that there can only be two points of failure here: me or my bike.  If I’m fit, then it must be the bike.  I’ve already blathered on at length on what kind of bike I might like and I’m definitely set on replacing my Tricross.

So it wasn’t the greatest end to my season.  It just puts me in a frame of mind to come out crushing it next year.

Random Thoughts on Potential CX Bikes

While I have constantly made of point of espousing the many virtues of my Tricross, it’s getting long in the tooth and is definitely showing many signs of wear and tear.  I got it in 2008 and have ridden it tens of thousands of miles.  I’ve put on a half-dozen new cassettes and chains, replaced a front derailleur,  replaced the chainrings at least twice, rewrapped the bar tape a half-dozen times, warrantied a shifter, gone through three wheelsets and more tires than I can count.  In fairness, there are still a lot of original parts too: the bottom bracket, crank arms, rear shifter, rear derailleur and miscellaneous parts like the stem, bars and seatpost.

But given the riding that I do these days, having a good ‘cross bike is more important to me than any other kind of bike.  I only did 3 mountain bike races — and did that many ‘cross races in one weekend this fall.  I did almost that many roadie-type races — the Flèche du Nord and the Sturgeon 100.  I did a lot more 40-50 mile road rides too.  Clearly, my interest and passion is dirt and gravel and terrible roads on a drop-bar bike.

So I’ve been looking into bikes and have really narrowed it down to three.  I also have a thing for the Trek Crockett Disc, the Raleigh RX 2.0 and the Kona Rove, but the ones pictured below are the ones I’m looking at most seriously:

The Jamis Nova Pro:

14_novapro_bk

The Kona Jake the Snake:

jake_the_snake

And the Spot Rallye:

Spot_Bikes_RALLYE_600x400

So this post isn’t so much about, “Hey, look at me buying a new bike!”, but rather an opportunity for me to think “out loud” (as it were) about these three bikes and their relative merits.

The Jamis Nova Pro

The Nova Pro is Jamis’ top of the line aluminum ‘cross bike.  It comes with a bunch of SRAM shifty bits, Ritchey cockpit and seatpost, TRP HYRD hydraulic disc brakes and Alex tubeless wheels.  It’s a black bike with some bright blue highlights.  The frame is the “Kinesium” alloy that Jamis loves to use.  What’s to like?

  • I have gotten to a point where I much prefer the shape of the SRAM brake hoods on my Dark Horse to the old Shimano 105 hoods on the Tricross. As mentioned, the Nova Pro comes with SRAM drivetrain components.
  • The black and blue color scheme is pretty timeless.
  • The TRP brakes are my preferred option for ‘cross.
  • White hoods and saddle look great, even if they’ll get filthy during ‘cross season.
  • Tubeless wheels out of the box?  Yes, please.
  • Stupid Reason #1: My son has a Jamis too, which is fun.
  • Stupid Reason #2: Jamis is a very underrepresented brand in this neck of the woods and I like having something unique.
  • Stupid Reason #3: The wheels are even co-branded with Jamis, which seems cool even though it’s really just a sticker.

What’s not to like?

  • While I have really liked SRAM components, the guys at the shop vastly prefer Shimano for reliability.
  • Jamis is, to me, a big unknown in terms of the quality of frames.  It seems as though they manage to put the same (or better) components on their bikes and sell them cheaper.  How can they do that unless the frame isn’t as good?
  • Maybe there’s a reason very few people ride Jamis ‘cross bikes.  Maybe they’re not all that great.
  • The rear brake cable routing looks like it could be really goofy, swooping way under the BB shell, which is just asking for problems.

The Kona Jake the Snake

The JtS is also the top of Kona’s aluminum lineup.  It has the same frame as the cheaper Jake, but the nicer carbon fork of the Major Jake.  The spec is mostly Shimano 105 stuff, with an Ultegra rear derailleur.  Braking is handled by Hayes CX5 brakes and it’s finished off with a bunch of in-house components.  The wheels are Alex CXD7, which Kona calls tubeless for the Rove, but for some reason, not on the JtS.  Plusses:

  • The lime green color is one I’ve been hooked on for about a year now.
  • The Kona MTB I have at home has been very robust and a blast to ride, also being made of the same aluminum.
  • The Shimano drivetrain is exactly the same combination I had on my Tricross, which performed wonderfully for many years.  I’m familiar with the Shimano style of shifting (as opposed to SRAM DoubleTap shifting).  The guys at the shop like Shimano reliability and performance.
  • Internal cable routing for some of the cables is a great idea for ‘cross.
  • It’s a new frame design that is supposed to be stiff without beating you up and the reliable geometry of years of high-level Kona ‘cross racing.
  • Lots of local Cat A racers are on Konas these days, which suggests they’re decent bikes.
  • Stupid Reason #1: I have a really cool Kona bag.
  • Stupid Reason #2: Helen Wyman rides a Kona and she wins a lot.  She is also funny on Twitter.  I also learned a ton about ‘cross racing strategy from one video I watched her in.
  • Stupid Reason #3: I love being internally consistent.  Having a Kona MTB and a Kona CX bike makes me feel consistent.  Then I could get a Kona Wo when I eventually succumb to the fat bike thing.  And when I need a proper road bike, I get a Zone.

Concerns:

  • I like the lime green color now, but will I like it in another 4-5 years?
  • The Hayes CX brakes are an unknown to me.  I’ve had nothing but Avid and TRP brakes… well, ever.  I can’t say they’re good brakes or bad brakes  or anything.
  • Stupid WTB saddle.  (As an aside, the other day my son asked me what brand in cycling I liked the least.  This question required no thought: WTB.  I simply despise the idea of paying money for anything with the WTB logo on it.)
  • Rear brake cable routing looks pretty half-baked.  (To be fair, I can’t find a good picture of the routing Jamis uses.)
  • Internal cable routing can be a pain sometimes.
  • Are the CXD7 wheels tubeless or not?  If they are, are they worth it?  Would I want to immediately replace them? Does anybody in the world besides Kona use these wheels?
  • Stupid Reason #1: There’s a lot more Konas on the start line than I would like to see.

 

Spot Rallye

Even if you’ve heard of Jamis and Kona, you probably haven’t ever heard of Spot Brand bikes.  They’re a small company from Colorado that’s got a partnership with Gates, the company behind the Carbon Drive belt-based drivetrain.  The Rallye is the only ‘cross bike Spot makes and slots in nicely with the Jake and Nova as being an aluminum frame with an in-house carbon fork.  There’s a lot more forming of the tubes apparent on the Rallye and it comes in an amazingly bright yellow color.  It’s hard to talk about the parts on the basic Rallye because it comes as a frameset or a much more expensive complete bike — $1000 more than either of the other two.   What’s to love about the Rallye?

  • First and foremost: Gates Carbon Drive.  I have had such an incredible blast racing my Dark Horse with the belt drive.  Cyclocross is the perfect application of singlespeed, between the muck that you ride through and the fact that you simply run up the stuff that’s really steep.  The preconfigured Rallye comes set up with a belt drive.
  • The color.  Oh my, that’s a beautiful yellow.  As much as I’ve liked a lime green color for the last year, I’ve liked yellow for much longer.
  • I love the tube shapes, right down to the cutout on the seat tube.
  • If I bought the frameset, I could pick and choose the parts that I like — the TRP brakes, the SRAM levers and so on.
  • It can be setup geared if you want.
  • The internal cable routing, especially to the rear brake, is so elegant.

BUT…

  • My ‘cross bike is also my road/gravel/winter trainer bike.  I can’t ride a belt-drive singlespeed on the road and do my normal intervals.  There are hills around here I can climb easily on my geared bike that I have to walk up with the singlespeed.
  • The price.  I was able to outfit my Dark Horse pretty cheap because of a wheelset and other parts I had hanging around the house.  I don’t have a set of 700c disc wheels just hanging around or the $400 to get the Gates Carbon Drive parts.  Then there’s brakes and … and … and…
  • I can’t get the Spot from my local shop, which makes it comparatively even more expensive and violates a desire I have to buy local as much as possible.
  • I already have a singlespeed cross bike.  Do I really need another?

 

Conclusions?

I really need to stop loading up Spot’s website and ogling the Rallye, because it doesn’t make any kind of rational sense.  That being said, it’s the bike I lust after the most.  The Jamis and the Kona are both decent options that cost almost the same amount of money.  Looking at the lists, I have a lot more passion on both sides about the Kona.  But the purpose of this long post wasn’t to come to a conclusion.  Rather, it was about organizing my thoughts and putting them all down in one place.  I guess we’ll see what happens!

One Pedal Stroke

One pedal stroke.  It doesn’t take very long.  At my normal cadence (90 RPM), I spin the pedal in a complete circle in 0.666 seconds.

One pedal stroke is also how long I went during my race in Ashland before my singlespeed decided to give up.  The tension on the belt yanked the wheel so that it started rubbing against the frame.  I had to ditch it and run back for the Tricross.  Fortunately, it was only 30 yards back, so I didn’t have far to go.

Here we are ready to go.  I'm already looking down at my malfunctioning bike.
Here we are ready to go. I’m already looking down at my malfunctioning bike.

Now here is me just 30 seconds later:

And now I'm on a new bike, giving the field a 30 second head start. Somehow, I'm still smiling.
And now I’m on a new bike, giving the field a 30 second head start. Somehow, I’m still smiling.

There’s nothing quite like giving the entire field a 30-second head start.  I caught up about a half-lap later and settled quickly into a group with two other guys.  We spent two laps shuffling around before we dropped the guy in the yellow, green and red jersey.

The group of three.
The group of three.

That was the situation for the rest of the race.  We swapped places for a couple of laps because he was riding the pedal-y bits faster than me, but I was riding the technical stuff better.  I decided I could take him in the last couple hundred meters, so I would just ride his wheel until it was time for the sprint.

My riding partner for a very long time.
My riding partner for a very long time.

This included one of the signature features of the Baycross course: The Pit of Despair.  Here is just one picture of the Pit, to give you some kind of idea of what it’s like:

The Pit of Despair, in fine form for 2013.
The Pit of Despair, in fine form for 2013.

I lost track of how many laps we did and had now idea how long we were even riding for, since my Garmin was attached to the other bike.  My wife said she saw 1:18:00 before we were done.  You always get your money’s worth at Baycross!

As we went into the penultimate lap, I had a little bobble just before the Pit of Despair and my partner decided to attack.  I tried to respond, but my legs wouldn’t have it.  Perhaps I just didn’t have the fitness, perhaps I had burned my matches catching up to the pack on the first lap.  He ended up finishing about 15 seconds in front of me.

It was a very long, very wet and very muddy race. We didn’t do our normal overnight stay at Splashland or some other local hotel, but I still love going over to Ashland.  The amazing thing is how the organizers recognize my whole family.  I feel more recognized there than at the Marquette UPCROSS races!

I say this every year, but I love going down to Ashland and you really need to get there for Baycross someday.

River Park Cyclocross

The next day, we got wrapped up our Sunday School teaching as early as we could to head down to Marquette for one of the UPCROSS races at the River Park BMX track.  It’s been several years since I’ve been to River Park and it was fun to see a slightly different course.  It was a time crunch getting down there — I had to get dressed in the car so I would be ready to warm up when I got there.

A long twisty sand pit.
A long twisty sand pit.

I had spent some time the night before trying to fix niggling problems on both bikes.  I straightened the wheel on the Dark Horse and tweaked the brakes  a bit.  On the Tricross, I tightened up the saddle, cleaned the chain and took off the bottle cages (which I didn’t get taken off for Baycross).  I started out on the Dark Horse again, but had the Tricross ready to go again.  And again, that was a good thing, because the axle slipped again and the tire was rubbing on the chain stay after a little over a lap.

Chasing in vain. I only made up 2 spots from the back.
Chasing in vain. I only made up 2 spots from the back.

I felt pretty decent off the line, but got stuck behind someone going through the first little sandpit.  That put me dead last… again.  I couldn’t believe it happened twice in two days.  I thought I had a fighting chance to get back into the fray again, but between the misbehaving singlespeed and very tired legs meant I was hanging off the back the whole race.  I did manage to pass two people such that I didn’t finish in the very back, which was nice.

I’ve heard that a cyclocross race is like a mullet: business up front and party in the back.  Being, for the first time, hanging at the back, yet not completely suffering, I got to experience that.  There were licorice hand-ups at the Start/Finish line that I grabbed a couple of times, much to the delight of my kids and the other spectators.  I tried to keep the race useful by practicing my line through the sand, trying aggressive lines through the corners and so on.

The epitome of 'cross fashion: paisley jersey and polka dot socks.
The epitome of ‘cross fashion: paisley jersey and polka dot socks.

I didn’t get lapped by everyone; just the 4 leaders.  I probably would have been pulled in a USAC race, but got to finish out our unsanctioned race.  I think I’ll go ahead and give myself the Lantern Noir, as coined by Craig Etheridge.

I may be at the back, I might be taking licorice hand-ups, but I'm still riding hard.
I may be at the back, I might be taking licorice hand-ups, but I’m still riding hard.

To finish up with some fun, I shoved the licorice back in my mouth and let it dangle while I crossed the line.  Why not?  ‘Cross is supposed to be fun, right?

A licorice walrus.  Cross is boss.
A licorice walrus. Cross is boss.

I always try to figure out what I can learn from my races.  This time, I realized that while my Sunday race is usually better than my Saturday race, that’s only true when everybody else raced on Saturday too.  I learned that I still have a lot to learn about being my own bike mechanic.  I learned that you can race hard, finish way at the back and still have a blast.  I learned I really want a new, lighter bike with disc brakes.  I learned I want to take those extra pounds back off.

Three or four more races this year.  I haven’t decided which bike I’m going to race.  Hopefully at least one more dedicated singlespeed race though.

As Rapha says, “Keep Calm and Cross On!”

2013 Keweenaw Cup

I’ve not done as much ‘cross racing this year — at least it doesn’t feel that way.  A couple of days at the Trek CXC Cup, and the very wet and muddy Sherman Cross.  I have made it out to most of the Wednesday Night Worlds practice races at least.  I’ve been sticking pretty closely to the Time-Crunched Cyclist cyclocross plan and been seeing some good progress there.

One of the weirder things has been my performance on my Raleigh/Twin Six Dark Horse singlespeed.  I went out to the trails, set up a small ‘cross course and timed myself riding my geared bike and singlespeed.  I was uniformly faster on the singlespeed, oddly.  I’ve been doing a lot more riding of the Dark Horse as a result, including a completely bonkers practice course that just went up and down a hill.  So today, I brought both the Tricross and the Dark Horse up to Copper Harbor, still not clear on which one I would ride.  A couple of practice laps later and was still seeing faster laps on the Dark Horse, so I saddled it up.

The course was largely similar to the course of previous years, with a couple of minor tweaks.  Perhaps the most significant one for me was the elimination of this old bridge:

The eliminated bridge and my riding partner for the last two years.
The eliminated bridge and my riding partner for the last two years.

It wasn’t eliminated because of a reroute but because the bridge itself had been replaced.  That was fantastic, because it was just a pinch flat waiting to happen.

Those practice laps during the Men’s B race were in the sunshine and all the extra clothing I was wearing was making me really warm.  So as we went to line up, I dropped off the jacket, hat and heavy gloves.  Simultaneously, a bunch of dark clouds started rolling in.

First lap was a big line of riders all strung out, without many gaps developing.  Separation started during the second lap and I stuck close to the wheel in front of me.  Surprisingly, a bunch of people were dropping chains, borking wheels and crashing.  This let me move up a bit.  Eventually, a group of four of us settled in for 4 laps.  At one point, I put in a little dig to create some separation and only the guy in the bridge picture up there could stay with me.

It was at this point that those foreboding clouds opened up and started dumping a ton of cold rain on us.  The grass sections were getting slippery.  The singletrack cut into the field (part of the excellent Copper Harbor Trails system) turned into rivers.  The fast turns were getting muddy to a point that even my Clement PDX tires were sliding and drifting worryingly.  The sand in the pit was sticking heavy to wheels and bikes, making my brakes sound like sandpaper.

Rain and my single riding partner were the status quo for another couple of laps until one of those dropped riders clawed his way back on the penultimate lap.  After we went through the sand pit, my bike started making a discomfiting noise.  My group mates started riding away from me as my bike continued to grind and complain.  The rain had passed and the sun was coming back out.  There was a lovely rainbow that appeared on the course.  Finally, the belt dropped off the rear cog after the final trip through the sand pit and I ran it in.  It was only supposed to be 45 minutes, but turned into 56.  I came in 11th and was riding in 9th until the belt started complaining.  ‘Cross is about the reliability of your equipment, so I have no regrets.

Cold, rainy, slippery and hard.  But altogether, I was pretty happy with how everything turned out and think the rest of the season is just going to get better.  I think I’ll be riding the Dark Horse a lot more too.