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Monday, January 26

Another Icycle, another weekend of tempting fate

I'm not sure how many of my Icycle related goals I did not attain, but I'm pretty sure it was close to most.

We ended up staying awake later than planned Friday night, because we were waiting on others that were coming in much later than they planned... and since there is no cellphone or internet coverage there, we stayed up way too late.  Doing the only thing there is to do.  Drink.  For me, twice as much as planned.  So much for plans and goals.

Woke up bleary-eyed hearing one of the women folk saying, "Look outside!  It's so beautiful."

Fuck.  It snowed.

That's just great.  Sift through the clothing options.  Put Icy Hot on my back.  Watch the sport/beginner/big bike/fat bike... all the other classes that were not single speed and expert take off.  Head back to the cabin for more clothes sorting.

 Eric "PMBAR Honcho" Wever had decided to up the single speeders to the expert level of laps, three as opposed to two.  Something about if you're riding a single speed out there, you must be an expert anyways.  I was expecting an hour and half of racing under decent conditions.  I only had one water bottle and no race food.  The expired emergency gels in my car were two years out of date.  No bueno.  With the snow and mud, it was going to be well over two hours in the woods.  Meh.

photo cred: Joel Watson
Reluctantly placing my bike next to the keg (bottle refill station) for the lemans start.

Our race starts.  It's maybe 33.5° outside.  I half-assedly jog to my bike and head out in the melee.


Energy sapping peanut butter mud.  Punchy climbs.  I can see the SS leaders ahead... for awhile.  And then not.  My lower back tells me that it's not really pleased with the whole "pushing a 32X19 through the marshmallow fluff mud."   I start getting concerned about the idea of making my back worse...

I've recently been spending a certain amount of money and time trying to make my back better.  I've also been lecturing The Pie about pushing her body too hard with an injury and how it just sets her back in her recovery from a hip issue.  I decide to listen to my own lectures (for a change).

photo cred: Kate Fulbright
What time I did spend out there looking around was visually stunning.

I decide to bail, but only after I hit the final descent down the Turkey Chute, so I could get a little preview of the conditions of the night downhill course.  I went down the Turkey Chute, through the parking lot, down the stairs and to the keg.  Pour out my race beverage, replace it with Dale's, hang out at the timing tent.  The first to bail after one lap but not the last.  I watch the race for awhile, hang with the people that bail after their second lap, and watch Nick "Dip & Spray" Barlow come in for the single speed win.

photo cred: K├╝rdt Rampton
Back to the cabin, suit up for the downhill race, and head down to catch the first shuttle.

I HAD A PLAN.

Most of the descent was a hot mess.  I decided that the safest/smartest thing to do would be:

One run, sorta slow to look at the lines.

A second run at a higher rate of speed to confirm my choices.

The mandatory (Eric makes you do it) practice run after dark to be sure your lights work.

One race run, all out.

Anything else was not worth the risk.  It was slick as snot and just not worth the added exposure.

But I was just feeling so good...

I came off my second run and the shuttle was waiting at the bottom.  How could I not get on?  I felt like I railed the last run and really wanted to just keep going... so I did.

 photo cred: Icon Media Asheville
The third and oh-so not a good idea shuttle trip.

On the way up, I looked down at my tires.  Caked-over.  Bagels.  Donuts.  No tread to be seen.  A smarter man woulda realized that the super sticky mud at the bottom of the run was not clearing out of my tires.  A smarter man would clean his tires over at the bike wash station before an all-out run.  I am not a smart man.

I went down full-tilt boogie style.  I was feeling good... until I pushed the tires pretty hard in a corner and started to slide sideways.  And then I was in the air.

I came down hard on my back and tumbled.  Couldn't breath.  Looked back up the trail and saw the loaf of bread sized rock I came down on.  I pulled myself and the bike off the trail and sat there.  I waited for the tightness to go away, felt around for bad things sticking out, determined that I just fucked myself real good, and slowly got myself to the bottom.

Hosed off my bike and walked it back up to the cabin.  Game over.  I've been here before.  Blunt force trauma that leads to swelling of the intercostal spaces (the muscles between the ribs).  This time though, the affected area wraps around from back to front on my left side.  Brilliant.

Back at the cabin, grunt, groan, wince, struggle to take off clothes, take shower, get dressed... at least I'll only be doing this for two to four weeks.

Grab a bunch of beer and head down to watch everyone else have fun.  Dip & Spray was kind enough to escort me the rest of the evening, dragging me up hills and controlling my descents.  My hero.

Another Icycle that didn't go quite the way I planned it in my head.  Still such an amazing event.  People standing around in the woods, at night, snow and mud, fireworks, stumbling drunks on a muddy hillside.

"I'm all tire and no truck."

Always such a surreal experience.  I mean, Neko Mulally won the expert race... yeah, that Neko Mulally that killed it with a chainless run at the DH World Championships last year.  The uniqueness and history of this event with just a "so-so course" still becomes the thing of legends and fairy tales almost every year.  I may not always come back with the hardware (it's been years), but I always come back with plenty of stories... and various injuries.

There weren't any ditch fights though.  We'll have to work on that next year.


photo cred: Paul Cunningham

Friday, January 23

Putting the "I" in Icycle

In the poetic words of Deb Morgan, shit a brick and fuck me with it.

After a week that started with two mountain bike rides sans sleeves, the weather is going to the bad... just in time for The Icycle.

Some would say that's just classic Icycle weather.  I would like to punch those some in the dick.

Others might mention that this weather is nothing compared to (insert name of a state that I would never consider living in) right now.  I would like to give them the same treatment.

We're going to be enjoying some sloppy conditions.  No way around it.  I sit here looking at the piles of clothes and gear I have assembled on the bike room floor, and I see a future of intense clean up. 

All for what will amount to about 15-16 miles of actual racing, lotsa standing around outside holding a beer, and less than 48 total hours time away from Charlotte.

Goals:

Stay away from the bad place Friday night.  I want to at least feel semi-human for the XC race start on Saturday.

Stay away from the bad place after the XC race.  I want to be sober enough to make a few practice runs on the DH course before it gets dark AND actually make my start time as opposed to throwing in the towel long before darkness settles in.  Not buying Mad Dog at a convenience store on the way to Fontana Village will go a long ways in the achievement of that goal.

And that's all I got.  That and to not over eat, wrestle anyone without their permission, worsen my back issues, or lose my keys or phone (I've lost my keys twice, my phone once).

It feels good to have goals in life.

Thursday, January 22

Share the Wisdom Wednesdays (on Thursdays): Part Twelve

One from the "Why doesn't everybody know about this already?" category.

I really do love my Race Face Next SL cranks.   I had vowed some time ago that I would never own a set of crabon cranks ever again after a bad experience I had... about a decade ago?

Has it been that long?

I can't exactly remember.  Looking through some old emails, I had my FSA crabon cranks on my Dean single speed back in 2005.  I replaced them because I had removed a few layers of crabon from both cranks from heel rub.  I wish I had a picture of it somewhere... but those were the pre-blog years.  It looked like a topo map the way I was slicing down into the crankarms.

I did what I could to stop it.  I tried all manner of adhesive tape that I could find and eventually started stretching pieces of a road bike innertube over them.  It was a painful process, and one I had to repeat every few months as I was wearing giant holes through the thin butyl rubber.  I eventually sold the cranks and decided this was not a place for crabon on my bike.

Fast forward to 2014 and Sean at Vertigo is designing my new ti frame with the Race Face NEXT SL crank specifically in mind... because I asked for it.  Larger 30mm spindle, threaded BB option, easy bearing preload AND and a spiderless chainring?  I gave up my earlier convictions and went back on my word to myself.

Such a thing of beauty... but I had I known that Race Face was going to introduce the aluminum Cinch crank with all the same desirable features a few months later?

Who am I kidding?  I woulda never waited that long to build my bike.

The NEXT SL cranks came stock with a clear vinyl decal to protect the outer surface of the cranks.  They looked like ass within a few months.  I kept thinking about contacting Race Face for replacements, but it just wasn't high on my list of priorities. 

I did know about Crankskins already.. like a million years ago.  Ernesto had given me a couple samples, and I remembered that they were one size fits all back then.

All my cranks at the time were Race Face Turbines with a sorta I-beam structure, and no amount of messing around with the Crankskins could get them to stick in a beneficial manner.

So imagine my surprise (it wasn't Pearl Harbor level surprise, but close to finding a $20 in the street level) when I checked out Crankskins website now and see that they have a bunch of different options and custom shapes for different cranks.  Not only that, but they have kits for crabon frame protection (no, I don't haz a crabon frame right now).

I realize that I could just buy helicopter tape off eBay.  I did it back when I had my crabon Tallboy (R.I.P.).  It was a pain in the ass cutting pretty rounded corners and wasn't a whole lot cheaper than the Crankskins frame kit.   The difficulty of cutting the tape into crank shapes when less than $15 got me three pairs of Crankskins?  My time and saved frustration is worth twice that much.

The old, offensive protective vinyl:

Best removed while heating it with a hair dryer and then using alcohol (not the kind shown) to clean up the surface before putting on the new...

which has better wrap-around coverage than the original.  I know you can't see it... that's the point.  Handy tip from the Crankskins installation videos; use a hair dryer (I'm lucky I live with women who own such a thing) to smooth out the edges as it wraps around the crank.

Tip from me?  Make sure you really clean that crank.  They make installation look easy on the video, but it took me a couple (light touch) tries to get the decal lined up perfectly.  Each dab was another chance for dirt, grit and dog hair to get between me and my business.  One beer before to settle the hand but no more than two which might affect judgment and coordination.

Protect your shit.  It's too cheap and too expensive not to.

Tuesday, January 20

I heard two teams are going to the Super Bowl this year

Back pain, chance of rain, threat of Bane...

Nothing stopped me from getting the rides in that I wanted... as I so loosely planned them late last week.  Icycle shakedown ride on the Vertigo.  Everything seemed top notch and ready to go.  New chain on my most-used cog of 2014 (19T) making a little crunchy noise, but I can deal with it.  Finally even threw down my $40 for a parking pass at the US National Whitewater Center...

which means I now have to go seven more times (by car) to break even.  Shouldn't be too hard this year, so much trail up there now with the prospect of even more being built soon (without volunteer labor, I might add), so yeah.  My go-to local playground in 2015, especially considering that the nearby Backyard Trails should be under temporary destruction some time soon.

Monday drooper testing and geared bicycle riding in the mountains.  It's been two years since I've ridden gears in Pisgah (hated it then).  As winter always tends to bring out never seen before assemblages of persons, Monday it was Eric "PMBAR Honcho" Wever, April, and Todd.

photo cred: Eric
Todd 

photo cred: Eric
April

Eric "PMBAR Honcho" Wever

Gears... strange beastly implements.

 photo cred: Eric
Combined with the slower-than-the-Industry-Nines-that-I'm-used-to engagement, I was a mess.  More than once I shifted my drooper and drooped my rear derailleur.  Wrong gear most of the time combined with a false start on a slow-reacting free hub meant that I found myself in a pickle quite often.  Like going from Atari 2600 on a rear projection screen straight to Super Nintendo on a 13" black and white... too many buttons VS some well-developed muscle memory and a warped sense of what's just right.

Also, the whole one water bottle thing left me a jersey pocket shy of being able to carry everything, so I had to break out the Titan Tank to make room for ALL THE THINGS.

If you know me, I don't like extraneous things on my bike, but I had to do what I had to do... and secondly, not my bike anyways.

Full zip-tie routing of the drooper.  Once again, not my bike.

There were some upsides.  I haven't ridden up Daniel's Ridge from the Cove Creek connector to Farlow in years (a decade?).  I have walked it many times alongside my single speed, but without gears?  Dunno if it could be done.  That was neat.

Gears don't mean that I'm gonna ride skinny log bridges with a precipitous entrance and the end of a steep descent though.

photo Cred: Eric
Gears don't make the (super) man.

An incredible ride with friends spanning a few different parts and periods of my life.  Coming down Butter, I told Eric I had sads, as this was one of those rides that I didn't want to ever end.  January, dry trails, primo conditions, sleeveless jersey weather...

A good day to be alive and in the woods, despite coming home to sit on the couch with an icepack the rest of the night.

Friday, January 16

Pain is temporary... they tell me

Current epicenters of my back pain as of 01/16/15

Current locations of super stokage to ride mega-big-time over the coming three day weekend:

I'm the parent in charge starting tonight as Pie leaves to go pound pavement with a number pinned to her tutu.  I'm free starting Sunday.  Four bikes available to play with, but only one of them will be my main ride for the Icycle next week.

XC nut crusher and night downhill racing death machine.

Shakedown ride, maybe some time in the Pisgah, definitely some time on a foam roller afterwards.

I'm sure my back will sort itself out sooner or later.  Prolly later.

Thursday, January 15

Share the Wisdom Wednesdays (on Thursdays): Part Eleven

Firstly, in case you missed the pro tip for washing your soiled bike gloves that was buried at the bottom of Tuesday's post (if you already read the entirety of Tuesday's post, skip down to Canoe Reeves answering a banana):

"Here's a tip for gentle washing of your gloves (at home or at a stage race).  Wear them in the shower and use them as a wash rag.  You'd be surprised how clean you can get them with bath soap and some scrubbing of your body... and you won't rag your gloves out in the washing machine or accidentally toss them in the dryer."

John thought it was amazeballicious, so I reposted for the attention-lacking folks.

So here's another one from the "do as I say but not as I do until it's way too late" department.

I normally put on fresh tires at the beginning of the "season."  Sometimes I swap tires for conditions (muddy/dry) or technical (flat tire inducing) terrain.  Generally, there's enough swapping going on that my main bike sees @ four different tires sharing the load from April till September... and then some.  Unless I tear a irreparable hole in the tire, which rarely happens... but it does happen.

Then I leave them on there. They'll be worn, abraded, ready for retirement. I still keep using them.

And then there's that ride, usually in the mountains, when I realize I'm pushing my luck.  Leaves everywhere, wet roots and rocks hidden below.  Still, I'm on worn-out tires.  They continue to hold air (enough to finish a ride).  They still have adequate knobbage for identification purposes.  They still go in circles and keep my rims off the ground, but that's about all they do.

They are pretty much worthless when I find myself in need of anything similar to traction.  Steering and braking are greatly compromised.  I'd be better off trying to slow down by dragging my Oakley crabon knuckles on the ground.

The last couple rides where I've found myself in the mountains, it's been obvious that it's time to change this habit and stop being so cheap.  It's affecting my ability to really enjoy the ride, what with all the stops to clean the shit out of my chamois.  I'm also taking an unnecessary risk in the interest of saving and amount of money that comes nowhere close to the amount of my emergency room copay.

Example.  Here is the tire that was on my bike as of last week:

Well, apparently I deleted the photo I took of my chewed-up, wasted tire.   I assure you, it was something.  Trust me.

And here's what a new tire should look like:

Yeah, deleted that one as well.  I realize that I coulda google image searched for a picture of a brand new Maxxis Ardent 2.4, but the new, shiny duck seemed more relevant in this case.

So for now on, I plan on running tires that are not on their last legs October thru March.  It's plain stupid.   My advice to you is to do the same.  Don't be a cheap ass during that one time a year when you need traction and control more than ever.  You're never going to make it to the "season" and the chance to enjoy fresh meats if you're walking around on crutches.  If you really want to be semi-cheap, save yourself a few dollars and buy the wire bead version and get the benefit of adding "load" to your "training."

BUT DON'T GO FULL-CHEAP.  It's stupid (I would know).

Tuesday, January 13

HuGs and kisses

I can be picky about somethings.  Free pizza and beer are generally not on that list.  Cookies?  Yes.  I can pass on a lot of store bought options.  Home made?  I hope you brought enough for everyone... unless you're terrible at following a recipe.

As far as bike stuff goes?  Of course.

For gloves, I've almost always liked minimal features over bells and whistles.  I'm old enough to remember when all gloves were generally unpadded, save for an extra layer of faux leather in critical wear areas.  I've seen the rise of padded mountain bike gloves from its infancy.  All manner of gel/foam/marshmallow fluff being inserted in various places I never asked for...

Nothing against Pearl Izumi as a brand in particular.  These were just the best example I could find with thirty seconds of searching.

These inserts did little for me in terms of relief, reduced fatigue or increased grip.  They were nothing more than annoying hindrances that kept me isolated from the feel of the bars.  I've owned many pairs, and more of them than I can remember met the business end of a seam ripper (if I didn't just end up giving them away).

Some time long ago, I took to riding Mechanix gloves, not just because they are endorsed by the likes of Bill The Thrill Cleveland.

Back in the late '90s/early '00s, Mechanix gloves were the shit.  No padding, just a super smooth palm and a simple closure. 

But like all good things, it didn't last.  I don't know what to blame it on in particular, but Mechanix expanded their lines and offerings, had much better product saturation in so many more markets (specific gloves for tough opening peanut butter jars?), and the quality went way down.  They didn't last as long before holes and tears started showing up, the Velcro wore out prematurely, and the standard model went through unnecessary and unwanted design changes.

The closest thing I would get to perfection were these:

Some Giro glove... they don't make them anymore.  Thankfully, Thad "I haven't blogged in seven months" Marsupial helped me corner the market on them.  I have one pair on its last legs, another pair with more than a few rides left in them, another that's going strong, and this pair with 100 kilometers of Wilkesboro on them.  Decent gloves, the best I could find at the time, still an unnecessary seam across the distal palmar crease... across THE pipelines of nerves and vessels going to the fingers.

So what do I want in a mountain bike glove?

Summer weight back.  I have a pair of gloves from Answer that are supposed to be summer weight, but I wear them on my commute to/from work down to about 35° or so.  That's not summer weight.  Gloves should make it easier to grip the bars when you're sweaty WHILE CONTRIBUTING TO THE SWEAT FACTOR AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE.

Low on the wrist fit.  I don't need wrist protection anymore than I need ankle protection.  Less glove, less heat.  Less need for... closures.

No closure at the wrist.  What's the point?  Make a glove that fits like a glove... problem solved.

No knuckle armor.  Unless you're wearing those tragic crabon knuckled disasters from Oakley, that rubber padding ain't gonna make much difference when you hit a tree.

No padding.  Even when I'm riding rigid, I don't want padding on the palm.  As much contact as I can get with the grips with the pressure spread as evenly as possible across my palm.  It seems counter-intuitive to pad certain areas only to reduce the amount of contact, thus putting even more pressure on those areas.

To get to the point of all this, I'm happy about these:

Handup Gloves.  Relatively new to the market, they are "light weight, minimalist, long finger cycling gloves best used for grabbing bars and beers."

What features make them winners?

* 4-way stretch, lightweight mesh on the back of the hand

* Stretch cuff to easily pull on and off gloves without fumbling for a strap

* Durable, single layer Clarino leather palm for maximum bike feel and no extra material bunching up

If you weren't paying attention, those are the things I was bitching about earlier.

And let me say it is with much stoke that they have agreed to sponsor Faster Mustache: CLT for 2015.

I got my pair yesterday at work.  Wore them on the commute home... I know, not much of a real world test.  Such a nice feel on the bars though.  As close to not wearing gloves as it gets without taking off your gloves.

Disclaimer.  I have one pair of Handup Gloves and a zillion pairs of other brands.  When they release some other colors (they change the available colorways from time to time), I will order more.  Until then, yes you might see me out riding in other gloves from time to time to save these from wear and tear.  Also when I do stage races, I might have to mix it up due to cleanliness factors. 

BTW:  Here's a tip for gentle washing of your gloves (at home or at a stage race).  Wear them in the shower and use them as a wash rag.  You'd be surprised how clean you can get them with bath soap and some scrubbing of your body... and you won't rag your gloves out in the washing machine or accidentally toss them in the dryer.