Monday, January 25, 2016

Under Pressure

With obvious apologies to Bowie fans for the use of the title let me take the red pill and go down the Fat Bike tire rabbit hole. I love fat bikes. You all know that by now. It is probably one of those things that annoy you but you put up with if you are my friend. If you aren't my friend you probably have a fat head of my face that you throw darts at every time I go full auto about fat bikes on social media. I know my ADD is bad. Fat bikes and fat biking for me is sort of like giving a red bull to a 14 year old kid with ADHD. The act of fat biking gives me full lizard brain and I just chill and can totally focus. But outside of the activity I go into total freak out mode thinking of all the possibly ways to make it radder. Or better. Or less un-rad. I think its very similar to cross in this way. I suck at cross. I may suck at fat biking. But I love both pursuits and I love all the little details that go into both. There are lots of similarities between cross and fat bikes. Ok I know you just spit your coffee out all over your Macbook. Before you throw it against the wall indulge me for a moment.

Both have ever evolving standards and riders and engineers are constantly pushing the boundaries of how the bikes are set up. We all know at this point how much cx racers obsess over tire pressure and tire set up. Unless you just embrace the file tread lifestyle…Fat bikes are the same way. I didn't understand this at first. I would pump the tires way up and bounce over and off everything and wonder why I wasn't having any fun. Then I started letting the air out. Its a teeter totter with tubes. Especially if you are riding on dirt and rocks. On snow you really would have to go low to get a flat even with tubes. But on dirt and rocks and mountain bike trails if you go below 8 with tubes you are going to flat. Ask me how I know. And changing a fat tire flat is a royal pain in the ass. Like use up ALL your Co2 chargers and then pull out the mini-pump and pump so much your hands seize up into angry lobster claws.

Ok so after flatting like a boss for a few weeks I decided to throw money and technology at this and go tubeless. All my bikes are tubeless why shouldn't my fat bike be? My mechanic rebuilt my current wheels. He went with 80 mm tubeless Mulefut rims from Sun. I asked if I could get them in purple ano. He obviously laughed at me and said 1989 called and it wants its mullet back. But other than the obvious low pressure no flats reason why go tubeless? A fat bike tube weighs about ten pounds. Ok that is an lie but they are heavy. A Surly tube weighs over a pound. So you take two of those out and there is two pounds. Lighter rims maybe another pound or two. So the conversion saved me about 3 pounds of rolling weight. That is a no-brainer. Was I worried about burping? My mechanic weighs about 200 pounds. He had to stand on the sidewall of the tire to unseat it. Which basically means if I do flat in the woods I am screwed. But that won't happen so why worry?

We went with tubeless ready Van Helgas. Very nice aggressive tires. Like a Nate but on steroids and tubeless ready. For a tire that looks like a motocross tire they also roll surprisingly well. Aka not like a tractor tire which is sort of nice. The conversion was noticeable right away. Not the weight as fat bikes are so heavy you really aren't going to notice 3-4 pounds. On any other bike 3-4 pounds would be a game changer. Not with fat bikes. We are still talking about a 30 pound bike that is built to roll slow over everything. But what is noticeable is the lower pressure. Massive traction. Both on off cambers and tricky climbs. Going from 12 psi to 8 psi makes a HUGE difference with a fat bike. Way less bouncing and way more shredding.

I have used three fat bike tires: Surly Nates, Dillinger 4 with studs and the Van Helgas. Like CX you are rarely going to find a tire that is going to handle all conditions well. They will be great on 90% of what your are riding and then suck at the other 10%. Or you could go the opposite and get a tire that is great at 10% of the riding and then just ok at the other 90%. Along these lines the biggest question to me is whether to use studs or not use studs. If you have ever had a heavy crash on ice this probably isn't even a question. Studs save your ass. Literally. I crashed so hard on Blue Hills on a patch of ice I laid there for about 2 minutes wondering if I had broken my hip. I opened my eyes to see Nable and Utah looking down at me with very concerned faces. I was fine. One of the upsides of being big boned is you have lots of paddling. But I took the Nates off and put studded Dillingers on after that ride.

Here are my thoughts on the three tires I have some experience on. All the tires I have used are 4 inch tires. I have room for 5 inches but haven't gone that route. Mostly because my riding tends to be year round and more woods riding than groomed ski mobile track. I suspect if you ride in heavy snow or on snow mobile trails you would want 5 inch tires for the extra volume. I just like the fat bike to be a bit more nimble. The bike is sort of slow anyway. Putting a 5 inch tire I worry about really slowing things down.

Surly Nate:

I started out on the Nates and love them. They were recommended by a bunch of friends. Great side knobs and aggressive tread. Heavy. And flat prone with tubes at low psi. Well flat prone the way I ride on rocky trails. As stated earlier I ride the fat bike year round and as a mountain bike.

Dillinger Studded:

A life saver. Great traction on ice. If you ride in the woods in winter you will encounter ice. Its like encountering a shark in the ocean. If you see it and the shark isn't hungry you are fine. If you don't see it and the shark is hungry you are fucked. Dillingers are also great tires in general. There one weakness is heavy or fresh powder. They have a pretty low profile tread. Which is awesome on packed stuff and frozen terrain. But gets pretty crazy on powder and slick rocks and roots. Its sort of like a file tread CX tire I guess. You just adjust your riding a tad. It is my go to tire for Winter

Van Helga:

Love this tire. Basically a Nate on steroids. Same great traction as the Nate just lighter. Rolls pretty fast. terrible on ice.

One last thought on fat bike tires and riding. Fat bike tires have a pretty horrible lean angle. I always forget this. A couple of good crashes and I am reminded of what you can and can't do on a fat bike. Most of my bikes I can dive pretty nicely into corners and carve out. On a fat bike if the conditions are right you can do this. But if its wet or loose things can go bad fast. There is so much weight and momentum behind the bike that when it breaks loose it crashes down like an 800-pound gorilla.

I am curious to try the new Bontrager studded tire. It looks like a nice mix of the Van Helga and Dillinger. But not unlike CX tubulars fat bike tires are ridiculously expensive. And are a pain in the ass to swap so its not like you can just swap at will on whim. Love to hear other riders thoughts on what tires they like and how they set up their bikes.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

2Fat 2Furious

Fat Biking is…….

And it is stupid. And fun. And hard. And different than really any other type of cycling pursuit on the planet. I have been at the fat game for two years now so consider myself an "expert" I was soooo close to becoming a fat bike race promoter but then the Snowmagedon ruined everything. It was my one shot at GREATNESS!!! #Thanksobama 

All kidding aside and fairly obvious if you know me, I like fat bikes. For full disclosure I ripped the title of this blog post off from Resultsboy. Who I think either likes fat bikes or hates them. I still am unclear. He is technically a fat bike race promoter so must love them. Or hates single speeders enough to unleash the hounds of hell on fat bikes upon them at his CX race. Anyway, it is a BALLER title. And I tip my hat to Colin for it. 

I owe him more beer than I already do for the naming rights. Fat biking is basically where CX was ten years ago. Or mtn biking was about thirty years ago. Its so fresh and new that everyone is in love with it. And its such a hot mess no one is an "expert". There are so many variables at this point that basically every bike is a DIY set up. Ok that is a lie. There are amazing production bikes available for purchase at your local bicycle retailer. But the part that is unsettled is all the moving parts. Multiples axle sizes. Both front and rear which is fairly insane. Suspension. Both front and rear which again is fairly nuts. Tubeless. Multiple rim and tire sizes. On and on. Perfect for my ADHD brain. I love to freak out about this stuff. Much to the chagrin of those who know me. And probably those who don't.

What hopefully wins out over the din of my usual freak outs is my enthusiasm and passion for going deep into the #CBL and getting people stoked about fun in the great outdoors. Why fat biking? Not unlike cyclocross it is fun. How many times have we heard some pissed off racer say "my friends said CX would be fun…." this after they tore their $200 brand new skinsuit in their first race ever when some Cat 4 put them into the tape. Fat biking is the same way. Yes it is fun. But its not easy. And its not always what you think its going to be. The sell off of bikes last season was a testament to this. So many people bought fat bikes last winter. Blame it on snow boners. Or hype. Blame me I suppose. Then the brand new bikes started popping up on craigslist and forums. Getting hammered all winter by massive snowstorms probably didn't help but no one said fat biking would be easy. We said it would be fun. My idea of fun may not be the same as yours. I find fun (and beauty) in suffering and being outside. I cannot ride a trainer inside. Can't do it. Haven't done it in years. Refuse to do it. I can't ride the road in winter. Its horrible. I would rather ride the trainer staring at a wall and listening to Nickelback. The woods is where I go to hide out or to meditate or what ever cliche people use to describe what it means to love the outdoors. A fat bike is like the gateway drug to the outdoors.

The first time I ever heard of fat biking was when my editor at the time, Henry Kingman and his friend John Stamstad were preparing for Iditabike. We lived in SF. It doesn't get below 50 degrees in SF. The idea of what they were taking on was mind boggling. This was about 15 years ago. There were no fat bikes. There were crazy DIY setups with rims welded together and odd hack jobs to fit the oversized tires. The lived. Barely. Surly probably is the one most responsible for blowing this up. The two people who most influenced me were a messenger from Cleveland and a rad artist/bike mechanic from CT. Those two made fat biking seem cool. And they weren't doing it just to be cool. They rode them year round. When I got my fat bike I was blown away. Its so fun in the winter but its also a blast all year round. No its not perfect. Its fat and slow. Sort of the A-10 warthog of bikes. But it fits into what I like. Basically my riding falls under 3 headings. SSCX/Gravel/Fatbiking. The three really work well together. Fat biking in the winter keeps me sane. I get to spend time with rad friends in a snowy playground getting drifty.

Ok that is great Chip but what is the point here? The point is fat biking is rad. But don't just buy into the hype and go buy a $6,000 carbon bike and then be pissed at me cause I said it would be fun. You will be cold. You will slip off woods bridges and hurt yourself. You will hike-a-bike. A lot actually. Snow is good. Too much snow is not good for fat biking. It has to be packed down to be rideable. You can handle maybe 3 inches of unpacked snow if the ground is hard. After that you are walking. But sometimes amazing things happen. The snow if the conditions are right can set up and make the woods into a luge track or even better like a skate park. What a trail is becomes irrelevant. You ride everything. But that happens rarely. Conditions have to be perfect. 90% of your riding will be on choppy packed track. As most of you know I have lots of opinions. But with fat bikes I really just stay open minded. You want full suspension? Go for it. Seems overkill to me but if it makes you happy great! A front fork could be nice. Especially if you ride all year but I mentioned fat bikes are heavy right? My bike weighs 30 pounds. That is ok. Probably normal range. But what does your CX bike weigh? Your mountain bike? Pushing a 30 pound bike through powder is brutal. You won't need leg days after that. That is for sure.

Oh and you probably haven't thought about Q factor before in your life. Maybe if you were around in the "old" days you thought about it. But not lately. Well with a  fat bike that Q factor becomes real real fast. All that fatness changes the whole design of a bike. BBs get Wiiiiiiddddddeeeeee. Your knees and pedaling stance get wide as well. This can mess some people up. So far I have been ok but it works your legs very differently. Throw in a set of winter boots and you are messing even more with your pedaling position. But about those winter boots. Before you go nuts blowing your kids 529 on a fat bike with HED carbon rims buy boots. Remember when I said you will be hike-a-biking? Yeah regular shoes and shoe covers will become frozen ice pops after one trip up a ravine in powder. It sucks having frozen feet. Winter boots are critical. Overall warmth is also key. I tend to dress on the XC side of things. I want to be warm and safe from frost bite but don't want to overheat. So I just go with normal winter cycling kit. I add in a nice buff and a nice wool cap under my helmet but that is really the only difference between what I would wear on the road in winter.

You will want to wear a back pack. I hate back packs. Hate them. But you are riding in Winter in the woods. The spare tube is the size of a kindle. Co2 isn't a great idea in sub-freezing conditions. You may want an extra set of gloves. Water bottles freeze fast so a hydration pack is nice. You might want to bring a flask. Or a survival blanket. The more I fat bike in winter in the woods the more stuff goes in my back pack. I am at the point where I want a bigger back pack. Not too big but my current one is stretching at capacity. The more important thing is have fun. Be nice. You will be blown away by people's reactions to fat bikes. Everyone loves them. They are new enough that its a novelty. How many people are excited to see you on a trail on your mountain bike? Yeah zero. How many people are happy to see you on the road? Yep. Its amazing seeing people respond so positively. Stop and say hi. Pat their dog. Fat bikes may save the world. I am sure of it. 

A couple of cool fat bike events are going down. 

Steve the Bike Guy is holding a Ruckus Ride this Sunday. Details are here

The Wicked Nor'Easter is going down on Feb 7

Friday, January 8, 2016


World I present to you RoboZank. What exactly is the RoboZank? It is an electronic fuel injected gravel killing machine. It is the rocker, it is the roller, it is the out-of-controller. It is the chosen one. The mighty hand of vengeance sent down to strike the unwoods worthy. It's hotter than a rollin' dice. Step right up, chum, and watch the RoboZank lay down the rubber and ride to freedom! *paraphrased from Mad Max I am the Nightrider speech obviously. The RoboZank is one of the Zank SSCX Team bikes converted to Di2 shifting. One of the beauties of working with Mike Zanconato is he can customize anything. When he first made the SSCX bike we talked about flexibility and the potential of putting gears on the bike down the road. He converted my SS Mtn Bike to a sick 1x11 last Mountain bike season. It will go back to being a SS MTB this Spring in time for SSapalooza. The Team bikes are used as prototypes and experiments. We have lots of fun playing around with different setups. It is a very creative process and one of the reasons I love riding for Zank. The idea to turn the SSCX into a RoboZank was inspired by Ben Berden. His bikes are always very unique. And was riding 1x long before it took over the entire bike world. 

The thing that initially got me thinking about the possibilities of turning my perfectly great SSCX into an electronic wonder bike was the brakes. I love hydro disc brakes. A season or two on the Shimanos sold me. One finger, predictable braking is literally a life saver. And makes riding CXenduro way more safe and for me comfortable. I have small hands. I broke my arm years ago and my wrist and hand get very tired after a few hours braking in the woods with cantilevers. Disc brakes have been a game changer for me. And while I LOVE the Shimano Hydro it is expensive and seems silly on a SSCX. Sure its nice but is it really the best allocation of your resources? So I decided to try the TRP SSCX hydro set up this season. At first I wasn't sure what to think about the levers. They look super long. But you know what they are much more comfortable than any hoods I have used in the last 5 years. Again its a limiter I have because of my broken arm. I tend to have pain on longer road rides with most levers. The TRPs allow my hand to sort of stretch out and not get crimped like SRAM and Shimano.

So that was a big plus for the TRPs. And as the promoter of a SSCX series I like to support those who make dedicated SSCX parts. So the big question I am sure you want the answer to: How do the TRP compare to the Shimano? If Shimano is a 10 the TRP are an 8. I actually like the feel of the TRP. There is a bit more lever feel than the Shimano. Shimano is pure one finger on- off-braking. Its incredible. That is why its a 10. The TRP have a bit of "drag" and then solid braking power. They do squeal a tad more than the Shimano when dirty but once they clear the dirt and water they are pretty quiet. Again, the Shimano's are quiet pretty much no matter what so again that is why they get the 10. The squealing does not equal less braking power. Just a bit noisy is all. So how do you use a SSCX lever and make it into a shifter? The TRP people clearly are geniuses and hid a little port into the inside of the lever. Add a Shimano Di2 climbing button into that little port and voila you have a sick 1 x 11!

The bike is currently set up with an Ultegra Di2 rear derailler. I saw the Luna ladies running this derailler at Night Weasels. Not going to lie they were an inspiration for this project as well. The concern is that the Ultegra  doesn't have a clutch so there is a worry that you will drop the chain. With a Wolf Tooth ring up front I have zero issues. I went with a 40 and 11-32 for a nice range. For VT Overland and NH riding I am going to put an XTR rear Di2 so I can run a 11-40 in the back. That should give enough range for even the burliest of gravel climbs. I don't mind being spun out on 40/11 I race and ride single speed spinning goes with the territory. To do this some planning needed to happen. Mike uses Ahren's slider hoods and with Paragon inserts you can go between SS and geared really easily. The beauty of electronic is all Mike needed to convert the bike was to install the Paragon insert with the derailler hanger and then drill two holes to feed the Di2 wire. It took about 15 minutes. A quick tune of the shift levers aka program the shifting buttons and voila RoboZank was born.

Ok so why do all this? #CXenduro that is why. Or gravel. The term gravel aka gravel bike is the most elegant term available at the moment. Until someone comes up with a better term that is what I am going to use. The bike is a cyclocross bike. Make no mistake. Pure racing machine. It is the nicest race bike I have ever ridden. Only bike even close is my old Rock Lobster. It is also a fantastic woods shredder. And gravel bike. And monster cross bike. It is the do everything bike I have always wanted. Since I moved to the east coast and the Boston area my riding has evolved from "racer" to rider. And 90% of the rides I do are woods riding. Park to park adventure rides. Over this period of time with countless gravel rides its become clear to me what the most critical aspects of what a gravel bike should be. A gravel bike must have: Hydro disc brakes, reliable and large gear range, tubeless tires, room for 40s. The next crucial thing is that magic unicorn of all day comfort and nimble handling. That holy grail is where in my opinion most gravel bikes fail. Long wheel bases suck. There I said it. It makes a bike handle like a pig. CX geometry was and is pretty much perfect. 33s are great for most riding but there are lots of rides where you are going to want 40s. Not being able to fit a tire bigger than a 33 is a huge red flag in my opinion. You might have noticed I never mentioned weight. Worrying about weight on a bike you are going to smash into logs, attempt to hop over rock walls and rail through rock gardens is not having your priorities straight. A bike like this has to survive these rides. Nothing is worse than flatting or catastrophically destroying your bike mid-way through some rad ride.

Before I go to far into the actual cool features of the bike I just want to get on one more soap box. Aluminum bikes kick ass. This theory that steel or ti is somehow more "comfortable" is just wrong. And is driven by marketing. I have ridden ti bikes that are so stiff they are barely rideable. And steel bikes are great. I love them But my aluminum bikes, the Zank and the Rock Lobster are just as comfortable as any steel bike I have ridden. But they aren't flexing all over the place like steel can. See how I said can. Steel can be built to be very stiff. But it becomes heavy when you do that. And for me the ride quality isn't the same. I prefer aluminum. To me it is the perfect mix of stiffness, weight and comfort. For this bike Mike used Dedacciai tubing. The bike was built for CX racing but is one of the nicest woods bikes I have ever owned.

On to the details! As mentioned earlier the key to this whole setup is the TRP levers and Shimano climbing shifters. The climbing buttons are used mainly on the bars. Or that is at least how Shimano intended them to be used. I guess climbing in the Alps is tiring and moving your hand from the bar to hood to shift is exhausting. I guess if you have T-Rex arms that may be the case but for most normal humans this seems overkill. But it opened the door to the RoboZank so I applaud it! When set up it feels like a Campy thumb shifter. I can hear the gasping of retrogrouches and Campyphiles across the Globe. I loved Campy. That tumbshifter made a nice perch and was a really smart way to shift. I still ghost shift on my bikes with my thumb when I am tired. For me this feels so right. One button shifts down, one up. All at your thumb which is resting on the hood 90% of the time anyway. The shifting like all Di2 is crisp and flawless. Zip, zip and you shift gears. You can hold a button down and go through a few gears if you prefer. I love it. The limiter I suppose is the range. To do a wide range you need a XTR derailler. Word is an XT is coming. That certainly will be a game changer. I am willing to pay the XTR price for this bike but its not a reasonable amount for a person to be expected to pay for a rear derailler. The Ultegra has been great but 11-32 may not be enough range for some people with a 40 up front.

Other than disc brakes tubeless was probably the next biggest thing I wanted to experiment with. Flatting sucks. Running high pressure in the woods sucks. But the only way to not flat on the rides we do is run high pressure. By high I mean 45-50. That is about the lowest I can go riding in the woods without flatting. Even then its not a guarantee. You have to ride a bit more carefully. Or less rad. Or in my case less like a Bull in a China shop. A few of my friends have been experimenting with tubeless for the past three years or so with varying degrees of success. But finally things are at a point when as long as you use a system it is a reliable option. And by system I mean no DIY tubeless hack jobs. Tubeless specific tires and rims is the ONLY way to go. I turned to Dave at November bicycles for help. I had heard great things from Mike Wissell and Lesli. I coveted some baller carbon wheels but me and carbon really seem like a bad idea. After a few emails and a phone call we came up with the best plan. November built and branded Grail rims to their house hubs which are made by White Industries. Bombproof and reliable. I raced them at Ice Weasels and loved them. I am almost 100% convinced I will be racing tubeless all next CX season. Tubulars are nice but the convenience and reliability of tubeless trumps fancy French rubber.

The initial tires my mechanic set up were WTB 40 Nanos. Awesome, awesome tire. All "gravel" bikes must fit 40s. Repeat after me. The Nano is a great tire for woods shredding. File tread-ish. Plush. Rolls over everything but is fast. I will be rolling these at VT Overland next year for sure. They are big and don't have a lot of side knob so things can get a bit interesting if you lean it over too much but I highly recommend them. For 33s I went with Specialized Terras. Again tubeless specific. Set up super easy. They remind me of a Mud. Same basic tread pattern. But wider and just shred everything. My new favorite tire. So what pressures am I running? About 30. Going from 45-30 is a game changer. Hate to use that word but its true. So much traction and so plush. On the Stevil ride I bottomed them out a bunch. I was sure I flatted going down a stream bed rock garden. Nope. Not at all. I am never going back to tubes. I am already dreaming of a 38 tubeless road tire. Summer is going to be so rad.

Ok so we covered the hydro disc, electronic and tubeless what else? That is really the sweet spot as I said. This bike is going to see so much action in 2016. Signed up for the VT Overland. Thinking of Hell of Hunterdon, Ronde for sure. The more adventures the better. Huge thanks to Mike Zank, Scott Novick, Dave from November and Rosey for inventing this type of riding.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Stevil Shred

Thom P came up with this amazing Ash vs Evil Dead inspired graphic

 I am just going to put this out there. I don't think words can capture just how rad the Stevil Shred ride was this past Sunday. I will do my best but really all the photos and tweets and talking story that happened that day captured it better than I will be able to in a blog post. First I would be remiss if I didn't thank Thom Parsons and Michele Smith. Without them there is no way this ride would have happened. They basically charted the whole ride. We did one great recon ride and between Thom and myself we had some great ideas in our heads that Michele turned into her GPS wizardry. Its so funny how our three brains work so differently. I literally HATE looking at a garmin while riding. I left mine at home. I knew the route and had my hands full as it was. Staring at a Garmin and following a cookie trail is not for me. But it is critical in trying to get 70 people from point A to point B without getting them all lost.

We did have "ride leaders" In the Philly sense of ride leaders. Rosey (of the Ronde de Rosey) invented this type of riding. Not even going to lie. It is the truth. He got the ball rolling with the Ronde de Rosey and we and others took the ball and ran with it. But no one was doing these types of rides before Rosey. The Ronde de Rosey showed just how much fun you can have riding with a crew on some crazy route mixed with trails, roads, paths etc. The next group that, at least for me, has influenced how I look at these rides is the Philly crew. The Feats of Strength ride they guided me on when we all went do to Philly for SSCXWC opened my eyes. It showed me just how to conduct a rolling party on bikes without anyone dying. Its an art. It is the EXACT opposite of how most people conduct a "group" ride.  There is a reason these types of rides are growing. And why people keep pushing the envelope of what "gravel" bikes can do. I hate that term but it is the most elegant term for the types of bikes and the type of riding we are doing. I guess its still cyclocross but that term gets so confused with cyclocross racing which is the furthest thing from what these rides are all about.

But back to the task at hand. I was blown away by how stoked people were to help out Stevil. To me the most important part of this ride was to just get Stevil stoked and to ride a crazy ride for him. Raising funds was important but really not the biggest part of the ride. That said we had incredible support from Gerry Finnegan and the Washington Square Tavern who once again let us dirt bag bikers take over the bar and use it as HQ for the day. Gerry is the best. One of the strongest bikers I know and always up for helping out with rides and parties. This ride basically became a Winter Ronde. We, without, knowing it were playing El Nino roulette with IceWorld666. We have had some ridiculously nice weather of late. Springter if you will. Or Spring in Winter. Hmmm I may never want to use the "word" springter in a conversation. Sounds way to much like sphincter. Anyhoo…So its been really nice. But of course Ice World decided it had enough of our hubris and decided to throw an ice storm at us a few days before the ride. To say I was freaking out was an understatement. I did my best to not text, email and tweet at Thom and Michele. They had enough of full autovelocb the two weeks leading up to the ride. Michele asked me to go scout out a small section on my fat bike. It was the most terrifying ride of my life. A fat bike is NOT a magic unicorn. Even a fat bike on sheer ice gets loose. Wood bridges that have a slick coat of ice on them are death traps. Yeah you can guess where this is going. So maybe I went off a wood bridge or two. It was the perfect sacrifice for the upcoming ride.

By the time Sunday rolled around the trails were actually pretty clear. There were still some isolated sections that were skating rinks. And the bridges were still death traps. But all in all the trails were great. Sun was out. The Trail Gods were smiling on us. The biggest challenge with this type of ride is you never really know how many people will show up. I had a rough idea but you never know. I was guessing we would have about 30-40 people. We had 70. Maybe more. People came from NH, CT, NY it was a true NECX gathering of the tribe. Stevil is well liked. And I think we all get when a rider goes down how important it is to show support. We have all been there that is for sure. Unlike a Ronde we didn't have "teams" it was going to be a bit more loose. The garmin route was available before the ride and people were free to form groups or ride solo. Thom and Michele led two big groups. I left the Tavern last with the idea that I would sweep the course for any riders who had mechanicals or got lost. We rolled out with the Chainline Pain Train, Team Awesome and a bunch of single speeders. The ride was super chill all the way to Skyline which is the first dirt sector. Skyline is a funny little open space. Pretty technical for the first bit of dirt. And things always happen in there each time we do the Ronde.

Will and Ramponi got to the front and just shredded through the trails. I kept reminding myself to not do anything stupid. But it was hard to not do something stupid as the trails were so mint. And the RoboZank (more on the bike later) was inspiring me to do lots of things I would not usually do on my CX bike. The combination of hydro disc brakes and tubeless CX tires is pretty rad is all I will say. Will and Ramponi were on SS Mtn bikes. I am always blown away at how great of riders those two are. They are on a whole other level than your average human being who pedals a bike. We catch some earlier groups. High fives are exchanged. We pop out on the pavement and regroup. We miraculously have not lost one rider. Which is saying something because in year's past we have lost riders in there for what seems like an eternity. As Ice Cube would say "today was a good day". We get to the next dirt sector in Nahanton and again we shred and catch some groups. We turn onto the Charles River Trail and see a big group stopped. I check with Michele. She is trying to keep her group moving so I push on with my group. We have one massive regroup right before heading out onto a main road in Newton. It is one of the most hilarious sights I have ever witnessed. DJ Robert and Shoogs have booth brought boom boxes. They are basically having a rolling old school hip hop dance off on bikes.

We roll out once again to try and just keep things from becoming too crowded on the trails. My group is going from 12-6 and yo-yoing all over the place. Riders switched groups each stop or sort of decided to ride with other friends and socialize. I really liked this part of the ride. Typically on a Ronde you leave with one crew and come back with the same crew. Here it was just fun to ride back and forth and hang with different people. It really was sort a reunion of sorts. So many rad people were on the ride. We got to the first beer stop at the Arches in Wellesley. Thom had done a beer stash ride the day before and hidden Moats Mountain beers all over the place. But he had done such a good job only he knew where they were! Which is great because no way any of these beers would have lasted if they were out in the open. When I told my wife we had Moats for the ride her instructions were very clear "Don't come home without Moats" It is her favorite beer. And you can't get it in MA. So I would stuff my backpack with beers at each stop. Cause I love my wife. It was like a easter egg hunt for good beer.

After a nice beer stash hangout. We headed out to the next trail sector. The next one was a really nice new piece of trail with some really weird history that none of us had ever ridden before. It really was just a nice pine covered trail with nothing technical. A few bridges but no big deal. My spidey sense should have been on high alert. Just as we are about to exit the trail I hear my good friend and wingman Scott's bike make a god awful sound. You know the sound. Like a bike dying. I stop and see his derailler in a position that let's just say was sub-optimal. This isn't our first rodeo. There are no frustrated bike tosses or expletives. Just calm and the words "I got this" So I take the group off the trail to the cul de sac and regroup while Scott fixes his bike. Gary had a flat anyway so we just chill. We joke about who can fix their bike first. Scott pops out of the woods even before Gary can put his tools away. I heckle Gary a bit. Then Scott's bike explodes. Haha. Ok now things are getting interesting. We let the whole group go and stay behind with Scott. Now its just me, Scott, Eric, Kevin and Josh.

I text Pam to see if she can come pick up Scott. Crickets. Scotts bike is unrideable. Derailler hanger is sheered off. Chain is FUBAR'd. So we start getting creative. I get out my Rapha tow rope…aka inner tube and wrap it around Scott's stem. Josh pushes while I tow (and Scott does a fair amount of kick biking) and we somehow get Scott back to my house which is about 4 miles away. At the house I rummage through my garage and find a replacement derailler hanger and a chain. Scott turns his bike into a very expensive SSCX and we head back out. It took us less than 15 minutes from the time we got to my house to be back on the road. We zip over to Needham Town Forest and do some rad trails in there and I take the crew to Martini Junction. I know at this point the only smart thing to do is start heading back to the Tavern. I take the group through Cutler and we shred the Island and a bunch of the flow trails. Cutler was running perfect that day. So fast and flowy. Eric was flying! We pop out of Cutler and I take us back over through Wells ave to Millennium and the secret pump track. I was hoping we would catch the other groups so we could hang out.

As we come around the corner we just see an awesome heckle pit flow session going down. People are drinking beer and hucking off jumps. Some hilarity is ensuing to say the least. I catch up with so many people. Thom and Michele's crew have about 16 more miles at this point. My plan even before the major mechanical was to only do the 40. So I grab Shoogs and Guthrie and we beeline it back towards Brookline. Shoogs as always cracks me up. We catch up on the roll back into town. We have one last mechanical right as we are about to head back into town. Just a rear flat. We hit it with a CO2 and are at the Tavern in no time. At the Tavern people are returning with so many cool tales of the ride. People are so stoked. I order a burger and beer and see my friend Scott (who we had lost jamming through Cutler!) We laugh our asses off at how funny it was towing him back to my house. I am barely 5'7" and weigh 160. Scott is 6'3" and probably weighs 200. Thank god Josh was able to push at times or no way I would have been able to drag him up some of the hills. The descents were the funniest part. He would pass me as his mass would exceed my high cadence spinning. There were so many times when wheels were crossed and my rear tire would be buzzed but we are professionals and were never in danger of crashing.

We had two raffles as the early crowd that had returned from the 25 and 40 milers wanted to get going. People were so generous with their donations and everyone had such great things to say about All Hail The Black Market and Stevil. The funniest thing I had all day was from a woman who moved to Boston from Norcal. Her exact words were " I didn't think cyclists in Boston did this type of stuff." There were a lot of new faces at the Tavern and on the ride. New friends were made and I think we opened some people's eyes to just how much great riding is so close to home. Even in an urban environment like Boston you can be on a trail in less than 15 minutes. Rosey helped me with the raffle and is a true PRO. I won't lie I am horrible as a public speaker. I get sort of nervous and have some anxiety about it. But Rosey just nailed it. We raffled off all the prizes and raised a really nice amount of money for Stevil. Thank you so much to all who came out and rode and donated money to the cause. HUGE thanks to: Thom, Michele, Gerry, Rosey, Zank, Soulrun, Castelli, Moat Mountain, Squid Bikes, Cross Propz, Barks and Wrecks, Team Awesome, Stevil and AHTBM, Giro, Cory and Accelerade.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Stevil Ride

The original artwork for the Zank SSCX hoodie by Stevil

In the eloquent words of Stevil Kinevil "Optimism is the new pessimism." 2015 as said early has been a rough one. Sure a few of you I am sure have had banner years, but for a whole bunch of us it has Le Sucked. I think that is how the French say I got nut punched by a giant wrecking ball called Two Thousand and F U…..But to turn this giant lemon into lemonade we are hosting a ride for Stevil. Let's just turn this shit show around and laugh in the face of death or what not. And by laughing in the face of death I of course mean let's meet at the Washington Square Tavern on Sunday, January 3rd for a ride and fundraiser to help our good friend Stevil out. Stevil would do this for anyone of us. And has done this for countless bikers who have found themselves in a jam. His blog and art are the inspiration for most of the hijinks I get myself into on a bike. 

Stevil's studio

Here are some details of what we will be throwing down.

Stevil Ride

What: A CXenduro ride. You could call it a Winter Ronde. Cx bikes, mtn bikes. I WOULD NOT RIDE A ROAD BIKE!!! Two tubes, pump, food, back up of anything you think you may destroy. The course is awesome. But has a shit ton of sticks, leaves etc hiding rocks and roots. You know the drill. Tires, tubes, deraillers. All are at risk. Be prepared. I can't believe I have to say this but its an unsupported ride. You are responsible for yourself and friends. No racing. This is for fun. Be safe. Be nice. We will be rolling on lots of mixed trails. Say hi to people. Announce yourself to dogs etc. You might even see a horse or two.

When: Sunday, January 3rd. Meet at the Washington Square Tavern. Roll out at 8 am.

Who: YOU! All are invited and welcomed. Depending on how many people show up we may put people in groups etc. Or you can do it Ronde style and form a group. I think ideal group size is 6-10. No more than 10. We will have a GPS file with two routes. Short and Long. Short will be around 25. Long around 40. We are asking all participants to donate $5 to the Stevil Fund. We will have a free keg of beer and a raffle at the end of the ride. We have some really cool stuff to raffle off. Including some original art work by Stevil!

Ok so you get the idea! On to the ride itself. It will be similar to some past Ronde's but will have a few new twists. We have some Cat 1 Trail Ninjas doing recon and fighting over what sectors to include. We will be riding in Newton, Wellesley, Needham, Dover, Brookline and the City. Think rad woods stuff meets urban shred fest. I am rolling on my Zank SSCX. Possibly in SSCX mode possibly as some robo Ben Berden 1x CX. It all depends on what shows up in my CXmas stocking. I have been loving the Specialized Terra tubeless set up in the woods right now. I would suggest 33 or bigger tires. 40 WTB Nanos are pretty sweet as well. A mtn bike would be a good option as well.

Please RSVP on the facebook page or email me at for more details or to submit a team for the ride. Again there will be no scoring and we are all winners just getting to ride our bikes in early January together in 50 degree weather. I want to give that little El Nino kid a wicked high five for making it Springter in New England.

I have my favorite sections of the route of course but I am really excited to show off the Needham Rail Trail. Its like they built it just for this ride! Last time I was through they had finalized a section and put down some crushed stone. It is super sweet. I will update the facebook page through the coming days and will get a detailed list of instructions. In the meantime, don't hang those CX bikes up just yet! Get a crew together or let me know if you need a crew to ride with. And get stoked for a really great day with the NECX!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Highway to the Danger Zone

Cross Jesus (Father Utah?) and Shoogs-photo by velocb
The week before Ice Weasels Cometh I did a soul ride with Agent Utah aka Cross Jesus aka Matt Aumiller and he told me he was going to go "Full Norcal" at the final race of the 2015 Zank SSCX series p/b Mad Alchemy. This was after a few pulls off of a bourbon filled flask so I didn't pay it much mind. Then he started texting me mid-week about Uncle Randy coming up and creating a LWC heckle pit. You mention the words Heckle and Pit in a sentence and I get excited. A bit of a backstory. I fell in love with all things pedal bikey in Norcal. SF to be specific. The Norcal crew had and has a certain panache or Je ne c'est qua…my French is terrible excuse that. They pretty much invented singlespeeding. I am not really kidding. The who or whom invented mountain biking may be up for debate. Whether those weirdos rode singlespeeds is not. My first foray into singlespeeding was in Norcal. Google Crusty Cruiser Cup and you will see what I am talking about. 

It was a great community with tons of mayhem. The NECX does a lot of things amazingly well. Mayhem? Ehh not so much. I like to think of the NECX as Boulder-lite. We aren't that serious. And we don't wear puffy jackets everywhere but its close. The NECX is serious. We started the whole SSCX series for fun. And to build community. And it is amazing. But I won't lie. I still think about my trip to Philly for SSCXWC. What Philly threw down was amazing. The heckle zone at Belmont was the craziest thing I have ever seen. Loudest crowd I have ever raced through. Most fans. Most stoke. Really the best day on a bike I have ever had. I have wanted to bring some of that to our series. But its tough. Cross Jesus did it. He wanted to go Full Norcal. He went Full Philly. Which in my opinion was even better. 

The Danger Zone photo by Meg McMahon
Ice Weasels is the end of season party throw down for the NECX. It basically is a keg party where a bike race breaks out. Well in the early days at Thom's families farm it really was. I think the ONLY people who actually raced Ice Weasels back in those days were the Cat 4s. Everyone else was so drunk they could barely drive a bike. And while those days were awesome it is like college. You grow up. At some point doing keg stands every night gets old. And the race has seemingly played venue roulette each year. Each year Weasels LLC would scramble for a venue last minute. And they would always deliver. Last year at Diamond Hill was so fun. But for lots of reasons (not getting arrested is high on that list!) we toned it down. Gone were the multiple kegs of beer flowing rivers of beer and red solo cups across an organic farm but added was some of the most fun racing I and a lot of other people had the pleasure of enjoying. So when this year's annual "oh shit we need a venue" tweet went out I had to laugh a bit to see what rabbit they pulled out of their hat this time. 

I hopped that log every time. Even under fire photo by Meg McMahon
I trust that crew 100% but I was a bit nervous. All the videos they were putting out and all the feedback I had heard from friends about the new venue sounded amazing. But I just wasn't sure if this would be as great as Weasels of past years. This year's Ice Weasel was held in Warwick at Riverpoint Park. It is a reclaimed wasteland of a track that with no exaggeration is the most legit cross course I have ever ridden. Don't you dare call it a mountain bike course. If you did please wash your mouth out with soap. You clearly don't mountain bike much if you think that was a mountain bike course. It was legit and in some ways scary but it was totally a cross course. The crew nailed it. Basically they created one huge PRO only section and let us go nuts on it. Usually in a cross race you are just killing yourself until the bell lap. You want the race OVER. Not at Riverpoint. I wanted to keep riding that course all day long. 

Matt Lolli lighting of pyrotechnics by Meg McMahon
This year felt different. We had the best season of SSCX in the short history of the Zank SSCX series. People this year were just so stoked to race SSCX. And the overall points race was only separated by two points on the mens side and too close to call on the women's side. It was down to the top four in each race to see what the overall podium would look like. This created a bit of a dilemma. The Weasel mullet has been in existence since the race's inception. Business at the front, party at the back. Everyone knows what they are in for and it works. Colin's waiver is iron clad and spells it all out very clearly. Don't be a dick. Be responsible for yourself and others, blah, blah, blah. Its like entering the Octagon. What was so amazing was that even though it was down to the last race everyone was in it for fun. No one was all uptight and freaking out. People were in full Weasel mode. So many great costumes, fat bikes, and the Danger Zone. As we all headed over to stage on the soccer field a brass band started marching with us. It felt like Mardi Gras. 

Hopping a greasy log under live fire is exhilarating by Meg McMahon
It has been well documented that I LOVE fat bikes. I really do. And I really love that they are being added to CX races. But I won't lie that I was a tad nervous about 30 fat bikers with gears starting a few minutes behind the SSCX field. SSCX and gears don't always mix so great. The course was beyond amazing but was tight. A LOT of single track. And some tight lines that if things went bad or someone got douchey it could end real bad. There was a funny twitter debate about the tight lines. I personally fought for them. And I am glad they stayed in. In the SSCX race a couple of crashes happened do to poor decision making but all in all people got it and didn't try and pass in a stupid place that would put people in danger. Colin gave his usual speech and then the siren went off and zoom, zoom about a hundred SSCX maniacs accelerated off the line. I was in a good spot tucked behind Eric of the Chainline Pain Train. The corners were getting a bit dodgey and bars were smashing into hips etc but so far so good. Then the usual explosion happened in the third turn and bodies started hitting the deck. We made it around to the low side and took off. 

Dougie Fresh taking a hand up like a boss by Meg McMahon
We got into the single track without incident and shredded through the shutes. It did remind me of a cross version of Chutes and Ladders. So many incredible blind drops ins and sandy corners. Then some great technical up hill turns. My favorite in an odd way was the school bus turn. You had to go into it full speed then ride your momentum up to the top of the loose rise and then squeeze the tape to the edge of the buses to clear the camber. Thom was right. The course was 100% rideable. I only had to dismount on the two runnups. And if I had gears I probably could have ridden both run ups. I hate run ups but there was something awesome about both of the running sections. They were loose and sandy but you had plenty of grip and could get them without going hypoxic. 

The Zip Tie Fairy taking a Danger Zone break by Meg McMahon
 I came through the first runnup with a fairly big group. We entered the Danger Zone for the first time and the sound and energy was insane. I hopped the log in chase of one of my friends on a fat bike. The Danger Zone was a No Fly Zone for me this year. #Dadlife and walking pneumonia made it imperative that I take zero booze and take zero anything lest I inadvertently take down the entire NECX with this zombie pox I have. Racing was probably slightly irresponsible as I couldn't really breath but no way I was missing this. Not with my friends possibly winning the series on the line. I had to be a part of this. So instead of my usual party at the back I was pretty much all business at the front. I still had fun. I guess this is what its like to be straight edge at a CX race. I high fived people and got tons of ass slaps. Some stung. But I sort of liked it….hahahha. I took some Mardi Gras beads but had my eyes pretty focused on just railing the course and getting every bit of radness out of it. On the last lap we came into the Danger Zone hot. Literally.

Thing One tripped at my feet on her way up to the podium by Meg McMahon
 As we came around the top of the single track before the Danger Zone log I could see fireworks shooting in the air and smoke all around the heckle pit. People were dismounting and hurdling as fireworks launched up into the air. All the fireworks were in the middle of the log so all you had to do was make sure you were on either side of the pyrotechnics. Easy. Breazy. It was the coolest thing I have seen to be honest. I come in hot, hop the log, fireworks going off all around me and then ride through a sea of smashed red solo cups. It was like I was back at Belmont at SSCXWC. Well done Cross Jesus. Well done. I took off in the hunt after my frenemy Grant from Monster Truck. He and I have had a light rivalry this season. I say light as he is probably the person I battle against the most consistently at each SSCX race. I was hoping to catch him why lie. After the red solo cup red carpet I see him just ahead. He drops into a little chute right before the river bank. I almost catch him as we hit the sand pits. He is off running and I am able to ride and am gaining on him.

Podium Selfie! Lesli Cohen, Thea Kent and Rebecca Lowe by Meg McMahon
 Just as I come out of the sandpit I catch him. And his wife. His wife Alison is awesome. Frankly the whole Monster Truck team is awesome. It looks a bit like Grant sits up a tad. Maybe he said hi to Alison who knows. My brain (unfortunately) switches off from hunter/killer mode to oh cool friends…big mistake. We take the turn and approach a berm/hop section. Grant gets right over but Alison dabs and gets off. I now have to dismount and run around on the outside. Hahah well played. That is pure Belgian race tactics right there. Respect. I remount and take off hoping to catch Grant. Beating Grant is now down to who ever gets to the top of the runup first. As stated I am a horrible runner. But I probably should have dug deeper. But I run up and hope to catch him before the barriers. He gets to the top of the run first and remounts. I remount about 4 seconds behind him. Another rider gets in between us a bit. I get to the barriers right as he is exiting them. I know its over but still drive through and finish strong. So much fun.

Zank with bandoliers of SSCX bling by Meg McMahon
 My lungs feel like I have just inhaled napalm. I go back to the tent and cough up one of said lungs. I grab a cold coke and just soak in what just went down. Best race of the season. Best party of the season. Best course of the season. Best everything. Then I snap out of it and get back into SSCX race ringleader mode and change into clothes and run off to see who won the series! I get the results from Ryan. Zank and I do some quick old school math and get the final results. It is a HUP Power Couple Podium!!!! I literally freak out. Kevin won the men's overall by two points. Thea won the women's overall by 14 points. Wow. So close. Much respect and love to George and Rebecca Lowe. George and Rebecca are two of the nicest people you will ever meet. 100% class acts. Strong as hell and so good on the bike. George and Rebeca have been huge ambassadors for the series this year. They are a big part of why this season has been so amazing. Rounding out the women's podium in second place was our one and only Zip Tie Fairy Lesli Cohen! Rebecca Lowe came in third! To say its awesome when your friends are on the podium is an understatement. The men's side had Kevin in first, George second and Eric Baumann in third.

Fat bikes rule! by Meg McMahon
We had an amazing podium presentation with champagne and the Zank medals. Everyone was so stoked. Then came time for the annual raffle. Each season we do a raffle at Ice Weasels. Racers get raffle tickets for each race they do in the series. The more races you do the more chances you have to win amazing prizes. And the Grand Prize is none other than a custom steel or aluminum Zank CX frame and Enve fork! Sick. We also had prizes from all of our great sponsors: Mad Alchemy, Harpoon, Vittoria, Feedback Sports, PRO Gold, SRAM, Castelli, Skratch Labs. As we made our way through handing out prizes it got closer to the moment of truth. Who would win the frame and fork?!!! Johnny Utah reached into the PRO Gold pit kit and pulled out a ticket. When I saw the name I about lost it. Eric Lovering was the name on the ticket! Eric is the mastermind behind the Chainline Cycles Pain Train. One of our biggest supporters of the series and one of my good friends. It was incredible. What a way to end a perfect season and a perfect day. 

And that my friends is a wrap by Meg McMahon
A HUGE thank you and hug to all who came out and raced this season. You all are what make the Zank SSCX series so rad. We are already plotting and scheming about 2016. It will be better than ever. If you have any ideas, thoughts etc you know where to find me. Don't be shy. This series has gotten so great because of all the people involved. Its a DIY/crowd sourced thing.

A HUGE thanks to Meg McMahon for these great photos and always being so fun and supportive. Meg is the best.

A HUGE thank you to all our sponsors, promoters, teammates etc that support us and do the hard work so we can all get rad.

Colin, Thom and the whole Weasels LLC Family? I love you. You all kicked this thing to Warp Factor 11…what a way to end the season. Don't be strangers. Let's get some CXenduro going on and thank that little El Nino kid for canceling Winter.