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2015 Chequamegon 40

For someone who considers himself a cyclist, I didn’t spend very much time on the bike this summer.  What I did spend a lot of time doing is standing in the dugouts of Little League baseball fields.  I do not in any way believe that wasn’t a valuable usage of my time — rather, I think it was one of the most important thing I can do for those kids.  But one thing that coaching baseball doesn’t do is make you faster on a bike.

That’s not to say I didn’t get a little time on two wheels.  I finally made time for my Houghton-Marquette century ride.  I raced the Deer Chase and came in 3rd in the 35-39 age bracket.  But I also ran the 5-mile Canal Run and did a 5k trail run (which I won).  I played church softball and even showed up at a drop-in hockey game one evening.  I kept myself active — just not on a bike.

This was all very concerning to me, knowing that I had spent nearly $100 registering for the largest point-to-point mountain bike race in the country.  Based on the facts that I had been active, that I had ridden well at the Deer Chase, I approached the Cheq40 with a little bit of confidence.  I knew it would never be my best effort, but I would give it my all and see what happened.

Getting down to Hayward was pretty uneventful.  The Lifetime Fitness people (and longtime Cheq volunteers) really know what they’re doing, so packet pickup is just super-fast and easy.  We got to the KOA in Hayward and started setting up our tent next to two really nice guys.  They were amused I was going to set the tent up by myself, but it’s something I’ve done so many times that it’s really quite easy.  They came over to chat and babbled on about how light some other guy’s bike was, as if having a lightweight bike automatically makes you faster.  Then they dealt my ego one of the more considerable blows it has received lately.  In order to seed the race well, Lifetime assigns every rider a gate to line up at the start.  Our neighbors assumed that I was going to be starting in gate 7 (the very back), when my 2014 ride had qualified me for gate 4 (near the middle).  They were visibly surprised when I told them that.  I can’t figure out what would cause them to make that assumption.  The fact that I’m 30-something with a family?  The fact that I ride an aluminum hardtail?  The fact that I’m not built like a traditional cyclist?  In any case, it put a big chip on my shoulder for the race.

The morning of the race dawned early, with a dog who has no concept of “time zones” getting pretty anxious at 6:30 AM Central time (7:30 AM at home).  It didn’t help that the kids started getting pretty loud too.  Then our neighbors got up and were making a lot of racket next door.  It was pretty chilly, so I had on my beanie and gloves along with the excellent Twin Six hoodie.  I just kept thinking, “Long sleeve jersey and thermal knickers for the win!”

As I mentioned last year, Lifetime did away with the horribleness of people showing up at 6:30 AM to get a primo start spot (for a 10 AM race start) by assigning the starting gates.  That also makes it so you can arrive much closer to the actual start time without sacrificing a good start position.  (Incidentally, every big race needs to do this.  Ore to Shore, I’m looking at you!) Traditional pre-race bathroom breaks were happening regularly, even after getting to downtown Hayward to line up.  I saw a Holiday Station and thought it might be easier to pop in there than wait for one of the port-a-potties at the start line.  Some guy was just sitting in the one and only stall, texting away and not moving at all.  Other people came in and I smiled grimly and made comments about a small line, hoping that it would get the guy moving.  He refused to budge.  I left that Holiday station and walked across the street to another Holiday Station to take care of business.

Google Maps knows the one on top is a Holiday station.  Directly across the street is ANOTHER Holiday station.
Google Maps knows the one on top is a Holiday station. Directly across the street is ANOTHER Holiday station.

My wife was utterly confused when she saw me crossing the highway.  She asked me if I was looking at cars at the Jeep dealership.

I suited up, still shivering, still thinking that my thermal jersey and knickers was going to be perfect and rode to the start line.  The best part about doing Chequamegon is that, as a member of the Twin Six METAL team, it’s the race I get to see more of my teammates than anywhere else.  It’s fun to have this instant connection with people and there was much well-wishing between green-clad T6-ers.

The race rolled out quickly and for the first time ever, I didn’t have to do a bunch of crazy passing to get up to a point I was riding with people of equal ability.  I was just there.  We rolled quickly into Rosie’s Field which had a mud pit that was apparently supposed to be a access road for logging.  It was in no condition to have logging truck traffic that day.  In fact, pretty much everything was wet from recent rains.  The Birkie Trail was soft and wet, the fire roads were wet, the two-tracks were wet.  And it had gotten warm.  While I was shivering like crazy at the start line and thinking, “I am dressed SO PERFECTLY,” by the time we had done 10 miles, I was completely unzipped and thinking, “I am dressed like a MORON.”

The Cheq40 is a race that demands and rewards road racing techniques, especially pacelines.  I don’t spend a lot of time riding on the road in packs, but I know how to ride in a paceline.  Somehow, the riders I’m around are mostly unwilling or unable to do this.  As we cruise along these gravel roads, they ride several abreast or solo.  Well, until they suck your wheel for a quarter mile then launch off you without so much as a “thank you” or “hop on”.  A half-dozen times or more, riders did this to me.  Am I the sucker who lets them suck wheel or are they the jerks who don’t offer a pull?

The normal Cheq40 landmarks came and went.  The OO crossing. The pirates with their shots of rum.  The Seeley Fire Tower climb and descent.  The final return to the undulating, unforgiving hills of the Birkie Trail.  I was riding with a broken spoke that was interfering with my shifting, hitting my leg when I stood to pedal and generally made a bunch of noise.  I stopped to bend the spoke around other spokes on the wheel.  I wondered what it would be like to do this race on a singlespeed.  I began to hear the PA system at the finish and let it fly during the last downhill.  I sprinted across the line to a 3:06, which was 6 minutes past my optimistic goal.  (It was, however, 9 minutes faster than 2010, when I had specially trained for the event!)

So I was an hour behind the leaders and finished 773/1899 overall.  Here’s where I take away my consolation and overall lesson.  Before the event, I prayed for the safety of the racers.  I prayed that I would give my best.  I prayed in thanksgiving for an opportunity to ride.  I confessed that I was going into the race with the aforementioned chip on my shoulder and that if I did well, I would probably think it was all about ME and MY glory.  So I prayed that it would be about God’s glory.  He made me with the body that I have, which apparently has a pretty high baseline fitness.  How else does one end up in the top 40% of riders in such a large and prestigious race?  How else does someone who runs for the heck of it and signs up last-minute for running races beat dedicated runners on the road and on the trail?  This is all about who He made me to be.  Can I get back to a high level of racing again someday?  When it’s time, yup.  When God is ready to let me life be more focused on bike racing again, my body will be ready because He made it that way.  Until then, I’ll be able to enjoy what fitness I have and what time I have to train.

But I am searching out singlespeed frames to build up for next year’s Cheq40.  I’ll spin out on the flats, but I bet those Birkie rollers are easier when you just suck it up and pedal up the things.

Superheroes

I watch somewhat more TV now than I have in a very long time.  I almost never watch it on the actual television, since my life is busy enough during those primetime viewing hours that I’m almost never in my house at those times.  So I stream the videos on my laptop at all sorts of random hours.  It’s not so much that I’m watching that intrigues me; it’s what I’m watching.

You see, about a year ago, I fell in love with Captain America.  I had an opportunity to see a movie with my wife one evening and as we walked to the theatre, I spent some time on my iPhone trying to figure out what to see.  It came down to either Spider-Man 2 or Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Cap’s movie was getting slightly better reviews, so we went to it instead.  My wife was stuck by the fact that it was two hours of fighting and explosions, but was also struck by how nobly Captain America acts.  He wanted to redeem his old friend, not fight him.  I thought the whole movie was great, including Cap’s attitudes and actions.

After that, I went back and watched Avengers again.  Two of Captain America’s lines jump out at me:

There’s only one God ma’am, and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that.

and

Steve Rogers: Word is you can find the cube.
Bruce Banner: Is that the only word on me?
Steve Rogers: Only word I care about.

These statements simply resonate with me.  The first one for obvious reasons.  The second one shows you so much of who that character is.  Doesn’t matter that Banner turns into “an enormous green rage monster”.  All that matters are those positive qualities.

Then one day in boredom, I searched Google for Captain America quotes and found this one:

Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — “No, you move.”

It practically sounds Biblical: “the river of truth”.  And it encourages me.  In a time when evangelical Christianity is becoming increasingly at odds with what the rest of the world believes, I have to stand up for what I believe and Who I believe in.  If a red, white and blue shield can remind me of that, all the better.  I have a bunch of Captain America paraphernalia now and I’m not ashamed of it.  I’m 36 years old and am completely engrossed in a comic book superhero.

So what does any of that have to do with watching more television?  Well, here are those TV shows I’m watching:

  • Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD
  • Arrow
  • The Flash

And this week I’ve seen previews for DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl, realizing that I am going to be streaming even more shows next year.  I’m super excited for 2016’s release of Captain America: Civil War.  It’s not hard to see the common theme here.  Why are superheroes taking over my own screen?  Why can anyone in America sit down next year and watch no less than FIVE superhero shows on primetime television?  I think the answer is simple.

Superheroes are about hope.  About doing the right thing.  About service and doing the hard things.  About sacrifice.  About what we aspire to do and to be.  I don’t think there’s ever been a time in human history when some version of a superhero didn’t exist.  Samson, Hercules, King Arthur, Robin Hood, Paul Bunyan.  All variants on a theme.  And now that the special effects are cost-effective enough to do for a 20-episode TV season, we can see that hope on a regular basis.

Are superheroes taking over Hollywood?  Maybe.  But I think it’s a good thing.

Courage, Honor, Loyalty, Sacrifice. You’re braver than you think.

Reflections on the Daniel Plan 10-Day Detox

daniel-web

Over Christmas, my lovely wife spent some time talking with her sister and found that said sister was interested in looking into something called “The Daniel Plan“.  I had seen this book pop up in some of my research for Sunday School material, though hand’t really been excited by it.  I did like its emphasis on food and fitness for health and well-being, but kinda thought the “faith”, “friends” and “focus” bits to just be gimmicky and to appeal to a Christian audience.

After talking things over with her mother and sister, my wife was excited to try this eating plan out.  About 11 years ago, we used the South Beach Diet to lose a lot of weight (at least I lost a lot of weight) and changed our eating habits permanently.  My wife was hoping for something similar here.

What the Daniel Plan champions is a pretty straightforward and almost self-evident plan of eating: lots of vegetables, lean proteins, fruits and water.  It advises a dramatic reduction in grains, dairy, sugar and caffeine.  In other words, cookies, ice cream and soda are bad for you.  But the plan doesn’t just say that they will make you weigh more, but also claims that they make you feel bad. Everything from pimples to cancer is (apparently) caused by the bad dietetic choices Americans make.  Since my wife has read more of the book than I have, I can’t say authoritatively that these claims aren’t substantiated by peer-reviewed science because I haven’t looked in the back of the book for the citations.  Considering these statements are being made by medical doctors, they should be citing these sources.

In order to help people understand how bad they feel and to test for low-grade food allergies, the plan advocates a 10-day detox period.  During this time, you cut out everything bad.  Zero gluten, zero dairy, zero caffeine and as little added sugar as possible.  The point: To eliminate anything from your body that might be negatively affecting your health.  The claim: You will feel better.  Even people like me, who didn’t feel bad to begin with, are supposed to be surprised by how much better they feel. Their analogy is that if you’ve always had an elephant standing on your foot, how do you know it won’t feel better without that elephant?

The Food
The food is a lot of beans, fish, nuts, eggs and chicken for protein, brown rice and quinoa for grains, lots of veggies and lots of water.  This has been particularly hard for me, as I am not a big fan of fish and really hate beans.  I struggled through a lot of meals that I wouldn’t normally eat and can safely say I am not any more a fan of them now than I was before.  Some of the recipes from the book were surprisingly good, some were underwhelming (Thai-inspired tempeh stuff, I’m looking at you) and some were just terrible (garlicky white bean dip, you’re up).

The Feel
I spent pretty much all 10 days feeling terrible.  I got headaches, some which were caffeine withdrawal and some that weren’t.  I was exhausted ALL. THE. TIME.  I almost always take the stairs up to my 5th floor office, but found myself struggling by the 3rd floor.  If I didn’t get a nap in the middle of the day, I feel asleep instantly when I got in bed.  If I did manage to get in a nap, I would be awake far longer than usual.  I played hockey once and ran on the treadmill once during those 10 days and simply did not have the energy for anything else.  During the second 5 days, I did increase the number of calories I was ingesting, mainly through drinking various Naked Smoothies.  (Say what you want to about those things — they saved me during these last few days).  My wife said she had fewer headaches and that even her teeth felt less “fuzzy” at the end of the day.  My experience was the opposite: fuzzier teeth and more headaches.  Her relatives all reported feeling very cold, but I’m always cold so I can’t chime in on that.  I can tell from the way my clothes feel that I lost some weight, though I deliberately did not weigh myself prior to beginning, so I cannot precisely say how much.  In short, I got all the bad stuff they predicted (headaches, sleepiness, lack of energy) and none of the “feeling better”.

The Other Stuff
When I read some reviews of the book, they often made reference to the Biblical Daniel for whom the book is named.  It is crucial to understand several things (which most reviewers missed).  First, Scripture records that Daniel said, “Please test your servants for 10 days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then examine our appearance and the appearance of the young men who are eating the king’s food, and deal with your servants based on what you see.”  This plan is not a “vegetables and water” diet.  The offerings are far richer than that.  (In the KJV, the word rendered “vegetables” is recorded as “pulses”, which seems to have been some bean-type plant.  This is closer, but still not exactly how the Detox works.)  Reviewers often follow this up with, “and this plan made Daniel and his friends gain weight — gotcha there!”  But the Daniel Plan isn’t about weight loss so much as about healthy eating.  A healthier diet is almost certain to cause some people to lose weight, but some people might not lose a single pound.

For the other F’s, the experience has been pretty “meh”.  I think the faith thing is just tacked on and it doesn’t really affect things.  The Bible clearly says, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory.” (1 Cor. 10:31)  I tend to think that claiming a cookie isn’t glorifying God is taking the passage too far.  And even though they’re focusing on our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, that argument only carries so much weight.  The “friends” part is a pretty dead end here.  Our closest friends are tremendous “foodies” and would never be caught dead eating quinoa and vegetables for dinner.  The fitness thing breaks down for me too.  For someone with 10 years of cycling experience, the level 1 fitness stuff is beyond a joke.  Level 2 fitness is somewhat less ridiculous.  The book just tells you to go visit the website for Level 3 plans (which were not actually very easy to find).  There seems to be a feeling that if you’re a marathoner, maybe you don’t need to be told how to eat and how to exercise.  Recently I did come to the conclusion that God made our bodies to move and that some bodies were made to move more.  The book also points out that people move in different ways, which is a big deal too.  You have to find that kind of movement that moves you, for the lack of a better phrase.

So was the detox worth it?  For me, not even a little bit.  It was 10 days of eating food I don’t like in order to find out that I have no sensitivities to foods and any health problems I am having (which are indeed few) are not related to my diet.  Is a good reminder to eat more veggies and less ice cream good?  Yeah.  In the last few days, we’ve been transitioning from the detox plan to the Core Plan, which includes dairy and gluten (if the detox didn’t eliminate those from your diet).  I have felt so much better.

As with all health plans, you should always check with a  doctor before beginning anything like this and your mileage may vary based on your own prior health.  But frankly, I’d look some other way before trying to be “Daniel Strong”.

2014 Iron Cross Day 1: Al Quaal

2014 Iron Cross

Cyclocross is generally a discipline of mostly flat terrain, aside from those unrideable steep bits.  In a lot of ways, that’s what makes singlespeed ‘cross so viable.  There might be some places where you would spin out and a few places you would have to run when others can ride, but you can ride a singlespeed in a field of geared riders and not get embarrassed.

Most of the time.

Al Quaal Recreation Area is probably more well-known as a winter sports venue due to the XC ski trails and tube slide.  That also helps you understand the terrain — many, many hills.  And the course this year used ALL OF THEM.  My first pre-ride took over 10 minutes.  I didn’t think the singlespeed would be a good choice, but I took a quick pre-ride on it anyways.  Surprisingly, I actually rode it faster.  I decided to go for the Jake anyways.

So off we went and I was gapped before a quarter of a lap.  Sigh.  I was hoping I would be able to pull some folks back later in the race and just kept going as hard as I could.  This course was insane in that at times I was in the easiest possible gear and barely turning it over and at other times, I was bombing down ski trails at 30 mph.  I’ve never had a race with so much variation in speed.

Eventually, I passed one guy who was having mechanical difficulties so I wasn’t dead last.  However, I got lapped by the leader twice.  A hard effort, but not one that yielded a good result.

When I got back home and uploaded the GPS trace to Strava, I found somebody had already defined the course as a Segment.  I had the 5th fastest lap (which just means that not that many people in the UPCROSS series use Strava).  However, my singlespeed pre-ride (wherein I leisurely walked up one of the hills) was faster than all but one of my race laps.  I wish I understood why racing with one gear (even one that was so ill-matched to the hills of this course) made me so much faster than racing with 20 gears.

The big questions that come out of this race are:

  • How much should I race my singlespeed when it seems to be so much faster?
  • What do I need to do to get back in the game on my geared bike?
  • What gloves do I need to keep my hands from getting so raw during races?  (I almost had to quit early because my hands were starting to hurt, just like back in the MTU Ronde in July.)
  • Is it time to drop back to the B races?

The nice weather is probably over now, with just the cold and wet ‘cross races remaining.  And there’s still lots of time to figure things out.  For now, it’s a couple of weeks off, coming back for the Keweenaw Cup on October 18 and 19.

2014 Trek CXC Cup

I’ve been going down to the Madison area for late September ‘cross races for four years now.  I always look forward to it for the change in atmosphere, a new set of competitors and an opportunity to see the pros.  This year, the Trek CXC Cup came right after my biggest race of the season, the Chequamegon 40.  I was hoping to take some fitness from that race and use it to good effect in Waterloo.  Not everything worked out the way I wanted.

As we were leaving on Friday, I finally got a text message from the shop letting me know my Dark Horse was finally back in order.  After the carnage of last year (a broken rear axle, a snapped belt, various metal bits oxidized into place and a seatpost that was also frozen in the frame), I had gotten all the metal bits off and back on, replaced the belt, added new TRP mini-V brakes and a new seatpost.  The bike was making a bit of a strange noise that I couldn’t diagnose, so I took it to the shop.  We were almost out of town when I got the text, but I turned around to go get the bike.  I didn’t plan on racing it, but I really wanted to have a pit bike.

After getting picking up the singlespeed, we started heading south.  The farther we went, the worse I felt.  Not bad, per se, just not good.  We rolled into my sister-in-law’s house, where we would be staying, and I made excuses to get into bed.  I felt like I had sweated out all the sickness by the morning and was feeling good for my first race as an old guy.  I’m officially old enough to be a “Masters” racer.  I knew I had signed up for a tough race, with lots of really fast guys (honestly, Matt Shriver is a national champion and Mark Savery is a former WORLD champion), but I figured I could hang on the back.

Day 1

Saturday dawned quite warm and sunny.  Dressed in short-sleeves and shorts, I warmed up on the CycleOps Silencer trainer in their tent (I have to say, that is a VERY nice trainer) and then went to call-ups.  This was the first time I realized just what I had gotten myself into.  Of the 60-some racers, almost all of them lined up before me.  The gun went off and I was able to stick with the group as we crossed the road into the drainage bowl, but was already feeling disheartened by the sheer number of people ahead of me.  We crossed back over the street in a close pack and it was still pretty close going down the steep hill that is right behind Trek’s factory.  Coming back up, things started spacing out more and I was already starting to get dropped.  I’ve never had a racing day before when I asked my body to do something and just had it fail to respond.  I felt like I was going as hard as I could and couldn’t keep up at all.  Eventually a huge chunk of the field lapped me.  The last two laps were spent taking alternate lines so that faster racers could take the good ones.

I look at every picture my wife (and other photographers) took and see someone a little overweight and suffering like a dog.  I realized about 35 minutes into the race that I hadn’t eaten any lunch.  I was trying to ride with guys two categories above me fueled by two slices of french toast and a handful of Pumpkin Spice M&M’s.  I was awfully glad when the race was done.  I finished last of the group that was one lap down.  The only people behind me quit 3 or 4 laps prior.

Suffering (and getting lapped)
Suffering (and getting lapped)
I envy those who could ride this run-up.
I envy those who could ride this run-up.
Look at that belly.  Practically shameful.
Look at that belly. Practically shameful.
At least I can track the line with my head.  The bike goes where the eyes go.
At least I can track the line with my head. The bike goes where the eyes go.

Was it festering sickness?  Having an empty stomach?  Being relatively unfit (compared to my field)?  Probably all three.

I drank SO MUCH after that race.  Even though I had downed my Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration before the race, I took down 22oz. of Skratch Exercise Hydration, a frozen lemonade thing, 8oz. of POM Wonderful and half a bottle of water.  My wife and I stuck around to watch the pros race and then grabbed some pizza.  I was still immensely thirsty and drank 1.5 of those giant restaurant glasses of Coke.  By the time we got back to our temporary lodging, I had a headache and was generally not feeling great.  I had simple plans: drink and sleep.

Day 2

I woke up feeling okay, though the headache remained.  A little acetaminophen cleared that up and we headed to the venue again.  On the way, I grabbed a Subway sandwich and actually made sure I had some food in my stomach.  The kids came with us this time and really wanted to help push my bikes from the parking area to the race.  This is a terrifying thing, but it’s hard not to appreciate their enthusiasm.  When I got on the Silencer again in the CycleOps tent, I just though, “Uh-oh.”

I was in the easiest gear I have and couldn’t maintain my normal 90 RPM cadence.  I couldn’t get my heart rate up.  I felt terrible.  My wife came by and I mentioned that to her.  She asked if I had any gels or food in the car and I did.  Gu had given away some Chomps at the Cheq40 which were still in my bag.  She ran to the car to get them while I finished trying to warm up.  Things felt a little better after reducing the resistance on the trainer, but I was still worried about the race.

I was in the starting grid by the time my son delivered the Chomps to me.  I didn’t have any water to wash them down, but hoped it would work out anyways.  I haven’t had a gel or other heavily manufactured food in a long time, but I think it helped.

The race was tight again through the initial stages.  The new course layout on that hill was pretty evil.  Some people ran, some rode.  Most of the people I saw ride it crashed or were passed by runners.  I was at the very back again though, so guys up near the front could have been riding it.

Passing someone on the revised run-up on Day 2.
Passing someone on the revised run-up on Day 2.

I actually didn’t feel too horrible during the race and was able to distance a few people.  There was one guy I chased for almost 3 laps that I just couldn’t catch.

A corner I could probably take faster and harder if I wasn't scared of crashing.
A corner I could probably take faster and harder if I wasn’t scared of crashing.

The CXC Cup course is one that plays to some of my strengths, while also exposing my worst weaknesses.  I am fast getting on and off the bike around barriers and I kill it on run-ups.  Every time I passed someone — both days — it was at the run-up.  Conversely, I am so terrified of crashing that I don’t corner very well. I really need to go out to a field and just keep riding some tight corners at high speed until 1.) I crash and realize it doesn’t hurt and 2.) work out the cornering ability of my tires.

Speaking of tires, the tubeless Mud Wrestlers seem to be working well.  I ran them Sunday at 32 psi in the rear and 30 in the front.  For the first time, the rear didn’t end up feeling squishy and squirrelly late in the race.  I’m not sure they were the best choice for this course.  Unless the course were to see a lot of rain, I think a file tread with aggressive cornering knobs would be better.

By the time we rolled back into the driveway at home, I had a fever of 102º and really just wanted to go to bed.  It’s disappointing when such an important event on your schedule is derailed by illness, but it’s part of the sport.

There’s still 6-7 more races on the calendar and therefore a lot of chances for redemption — assuming I can stay healthy!

Alex CXD7 Quick Review

I am working through a bit of backlog of product reviews I want to do.  Still in the queue are a final review for the Kona Jake the Snake; Lizard Skins DSP grips and tape and Maxxis Mud Wrestler TR tires.  However, as ‘cross season starts heating up, I wanted to throw a real quick review of the Alex CXD7 wheelset out there.

It is incredibly difficult to find information on this wheelset, as it seems to be some OEM model that Alex doesn’t list on their website.  Kona uses them a lot on mid-level ‘cross and road-disc bikes, but debadge them so that they have no distinguishing marks on the rims at all.  (The hubs are still marked with Alex logos.)  Kona is also very inconsistent on whether these are tubeless-ready or not.  On the 2014 Rove, they are listed as being tubeless-ready; on the JtS, they are not.  I ran with the assumption they were ready to go and ordered some Maxxis Mud Wrestler TR tires.  How did it go?

Well, the shop seemed to go crazy building up the rim bed to make the tires seat better.  Then, they pointed out that these rims are not welded together, but rather pinned.  The mechanic was laughing as he told me how he just watch sealant spewing out of the pinhole until it finally sealed.  I’ve done a couple of hard ‘cross rides on them and they haven’t burped once.

Before I had them set up for ‘cross, I rode a lot of gravel and tarmac with some Clement Strada LGG tires.  The wheels seem to roll fairly smooth and despite some big impacts, I haven’t had to true them.

There doesn’t seem to be anything remarkable about these wheels, but they are a perfectly serviceable set that isn’t out of place on a mid-level aluminum ‘cross rig.

Eating Crow (or Not): A Review of the WTB Volt Saddle

I am a person of deep passion, whether my friends and family would know it or not.  I would simply point out that there is a difference between having deep passions and expressing those passions.  But one of the things that happens with such passions is that they are eventually challenged by new circumstances, new situations… in short, change.  So then the question is, do the passions change too?

This has come to the front of my mind recently as I come to terms with the fact I am now a big Under Armour fan.  Even as recently as the Winter Olympics, I was somewhat gleeful to hear U.S. speed skaters blasting the new speedsuits they were wearing — as designed by Under Armour.  When my son needed new baseball cleats, he really wanted a pair made by UA.  I turned those down in favor of some Eastons, based on the extreme length of the actual cleats on UA’s offering.  What I didn’t tell him is that I didn’t really want to get UA cleats anyways.

But then he needed new baseball pants too.  After trying on every pair in the store (or so it would seem), we ended up taking some UA pants home.  They are white, which every baseball parent would agree is a nightmare.  But somehow these magic pants have stayed white and make him look really, really classy (for a 9-year old).  

It turned out that at the same time, I got a UA bottle from my sister as a birthday gift.  Despite having Nalgene, Kor and Camelbak bottles on the shelf, the UA bottle has become my favorite.  Various Under Armour items have subsequently invaded our house.

More topically, I had a lot of resentment towards Kona bicycles as well, before I had real opportunities to ride one.  After just killing it on a Kona Hei Hei as one member of a 2-man team in a 12-hour race where every other team had 4 riders (we quit after about 6 hours while in 4th place and still finished better than last place), I ended up buying a Kona Big Kahuna, which is my absolute favorite mountain bike ever.  Then a Kona Jake the Snake came into the house this spring and I nearly bought a used Kona Unit last fall.

In both of these cases, I have been forced to eat crow.  My biases were wrong and I freely admit this.

However.

There are two companies that have so repeatedly disappointed me that I have fervently resolved never to knowingly purchase anything they have had a hand in.  One is Kenda tires.  I don’t care who else they manufacture tires for — I’ve never been disappointed in another tire brand the way I have been disappointed by Kenda.  Repeatedly and consistently disappointed.  The other brand is WTB.

Part of me wants to like WTB for being one of those companies that has been in mountain biking just about forever.  However, I have tried most of their saddles and some of their wheels and have been so disappointed I had sworn them off.  Additionally, at some point they wrote an article about some revised tire design that addressing concerns people had about uncertain cornering with the previous design.  Their response was, essentially, “The old version is actually better than the new one, but we changed it because you aren’t Mark Weir and are not capable of riding aggressively enough to really take advantage of the old design.”  The new Jake the Snake came with a WTB Volt on it and I gave it a try anyways.

It is awful.

Tremendously, uncomfortably, even painfully awful.

I found myself on rides wondering if WTB has ever examined the shape and size of actual human beings when designing their saddles.

WTB says, “A slight whale tail and gentle drop to the nose provide something to push against while not limiting riders to one seating position.”  This sentence contains several outright lies.

The whale tail is not “slight” by any stretch of the imagination.  The nose does not drop enough to not get caught on proper road cycling bib shorts.  And trust me, there is only one seating position on this thing.  If it is pointed too far nose-down, you will constantly slide off the whale tail and be holding yourself up with your arms.  Once you get the saddle pointed up enough to not be sliding forward, you are forced into a “cradle” in the middle of the saddle and the front bit pushes up very uncomfortably on soft tissues.  Getting a low, aggressive position (as in the drops) is almost impossible.  There are no fore-aft changes in position.  I put several hundred tarmac and gravel miles on this saddle before I couldn’t stand it anymore.  The Kona labeling and lime green highlights that match the bike are nice, but not nice enough to ride in such discomfort.

Look, I know saddles are an individual thing.  About that…

For one, I am not usually especially picky about saddles.  I rode in comfort on some stock saddle that came on my entry-level 2003 Gary Fisher Wahoo until it ripped in a crash.  I replaced it with some arbitrary Specialized Body Geometry saddle that worked until I replaced the bike.  My full-suspension Fishers came with Bontrager Race Lux saddles which I logged thousands of miles on.  The Specialized Tricross came with some other Body Geometry saddle that I replaced only because I was developing a preference for a more firmly padded saddle.  The ‘cross bike then alternated between a Bontrager inForm RL road saddle (during the summer) and a cheapo Scott saddle for ‘cross season.  It was just an OEM thing off some entry-level road bike that I picked up at the shop for $20 and carried me through 3 ‘cross seasons.  I recently demoed a Syncros XR saddle that disappeared instantly underneath me.  I even have been able to tolerate a WTB Valcon that came on the Big Kahuna.  But never have I ridden something so uncomfortable as the Volt.

The other thing is that three people in my area (including me) have fairly recently taken delivery of almost identical Jake the Snakes recently.  We are three very different builds with three very different opinions about the overall quality of WTB stuff and have three very different riding styles.  One guy is shorter and slimmer than me, rides downhill MTB and enduros.  The other guy is a little taller but not quite as broad as me and has an XC race and enduro background.  I’m all XC race, gravel and ‘cross.  All of us absolutely HATE the Volt and all for the same reason: the shape is horrendous.

I can’t recommend the Volt at all.  To anybody.  For anything (except throwing at late-night intruders).  And I’m done with WTB.  Sometimes things change.  This time they haven’t.