Monday, May 21, 2012

The Gateway Drug

This post was almost called "Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy" And/or "Big Wheels" But the first one is a fairly obscure Who reference and the second one just seems sort of obvious. The Gateway Drug really sums up so much about my life right now. Those 3 handsome gentlemen pictured above are 3 of the 5 people responsible for my current two wheeled bliss. The two not pictured would be Mike Zanconato and Sailor Jerry. The picture above is from Ice Weasels. And those three are giving me the "look" Well Matt and Matt are. The look is "whatyoutalkingaboutWillis? You better be racing singlespeed! I helped put on a singlespeed cx series with Mike, Matt, Jerry and a bunch of other fun loving criminals. My dark secret was I didn't race it. I was "working" so how could I race. But there was no hiding out at Ice Weasels. I had just come off getting crushed by a 16 year old in a vicious sprint for 32nd or something. All I wanted to do was drink beer and eat grilled meat. And in large quantities. But I sucked it up and raced. And had a blast. Singlespeeding is NOT an equipment choice. When people say this it just shows they don't get it. At. All. And while singlespeed cx is a blast it is hard to not notice how many badass singlespeed mountain bikers reside in New England.

When I first started down this dark path of going from hating East Coast mtn biking to giving it a chance and learning to do it my mentor Sara Bresnick rode a singlespeed. And she crushed it. Everything. And it blew my mind. Then Mikey and Leah raced 24 hours of Great Glen on ss. Again my mind was blown. Their laps were as fast or really close to my geared laps. For the whole 24 hours. The other thing I noticed was singlespeeders are just better riders. They were way more technically savvy than most of the geared riders I knew. And they were fun. You could hang out with them literally all day. So I was hooked. When Mike told me he wanted to build me a 29er ss so we could shred this summer how could I say no? I was nervous. I won't lie. I am short. Tyrion Lannister short. Ok maybe Willow Koebler short. But when you think 29ers you don't think short. But Mike has been working on 29ers for at least since I have known him. He rides a lot. His team rides a ton. They know mountain bikes. A lot of prototypes went into the design of the bikes. And its Mike. My god his bikes are gorgeous. I have always wanted to have one. So when he asked me I was all in. 

The bike is made of steel. Not 100% sure but I believe it is Columbus Life. The seat and chainstay cluster is beyond sexy. It has such a nice curve to it. Sort of like the rear end of a Porshe Boxster. Wide and swoopy and all business. The first time I hopped on it it felt perfect. I have been riding a 26 inch wheeled Seven Sola for some time. And its a great bike. But compared to this it feels like a clown bike. I say that lovingly I swear. 26 just feels so slow in comparison. Even just rolling on pavement. I hate to drive to a ride. So I have a couple of loops that connect a bunch of parks to ride the trails. The ride on the pavement on my 26 inch wheels at 20 psi is painful. Doing it singlespeed is even more painful. But on 29er wheels? Not painful. Yeah you spin out a bit here and there but the big wheels roll. And keep their momentum. On the trails it translates into pure bliss. I have about 4-5 rides on the bike. On very different terrain. I have one loop through Cutler etc that is what you would describe swoopy and maybe rooted. Nothing technical. Some nice rollers and berms. The biggest difference I noticed here was number 1 speed. It just accelerates so fast and holds that speed through corners. You can go wayyy deeper into a turn. Like a cx bike. On the little wheels the same tire would break away once you leaned it over. Not the 29er wheel

I also did a couple of rides in Needham Town Forest. NTF has been the bane of my existence for about 3-4 years. That may seem dramatic but its true. I FEAR that place. And I hated it. Its like Teahupu. Some may not get that reference. Its a sick wave in French Polynesia. It is an insanely heavy wave that crashes over about a foot of water that covers a sharp coral reef. Thom Parson's said to me once that NTF is the mother of all axe head rocks in NE. I believe him. There are rocks and then there are axe head rocks. In NTF all the rocks want to rip your flesh off your body. It was the bane of my existence because it is literally 5 minutes from my house. And locals who know I "mountain bike" text me constantly to meet up for rides. I make excuses, hide out. They are so good in there. I am not. It shatters my already fragile view of myself. But when I first converted my Seven to a singlespeed I started riding NTF better. Like night and day. So much for a ss being an equipment choice. It is an equipment ADVANTAGE in these conditions. You stop thinking. All that energy you wasted on shifting now goes into thinking about how you will attack the terrain. Shifting does not encourage attacking. You can't spin up some horrible crag of a boulder. You have to attack it with momentum and use body english. I learned more in the month I rode that singlespeed in there than the entire 5 years I have been riding mountain bikes in New England.

Now when you go 29er singlespeed you bring a whole other weapon to the table. The big wheels roll over the axe heads. Even climbing its an advantage. Oddly my biggest challenge is climbing stuff. Dropping off stuff is more a mental game climbing up is all technique and brute force. With a dab of ninja/ballet finesse thrown in for good measure. The first time I took the Zank into NTF I started laughing. I wasn't afraid anymore. I went from fear to oh interesting that line looks good. I stopped taking the 'b' line. I rode stuff I have never ridden before. Then I got a text from Artie. Ok awesome. I am in. I met him and got a big dose of humble pie. You think you have seen good bike riders. Come to NTF and watch Artie ride. I have no idea how he does what he does. And he is not a young kid. He is just a touch younger than I am. And he is the nicest guy you will ever meet. Literally. We rode for 2 hours in there. I bailed on some stuff as the mental part just wasn't there. Still I rode wayyy more than I ever have. He knows stuff in there that would blow minds.

So to say I am stoked about the bike is an understatement. The picture above is not my bike. That is my good friend and wingman David Deitch's bike. He had an umm mechanical. Dave, Jeff B and I went out to Landlocked last night. We were a funny crew to say the least. I was on a 29er ss, David was on a long travel DH bike and Jeff was on a sweet Seven. At one point we were climbing a fireroad and then David was GONE. Like gone, gone. Like the Bermuda triangle or some Zombie swiped him from our midst. We looked everywhere for him. Couldn't find him. We rode some gnar. In Landlocked the 29er ss was beyond the perfect bike. Sara used to ride in here all the time on her ss and I never understood how she could stay ahead of me on my geared bike. On a 29er you go sooo fast. Faster than I have ever gone before. When you point it downhill those big wheels just go so fast. But it doesn't feel out of control like the little wheels. I rode all the bridges. Never in my life has that happened. And the weird thing is my back doesn't hurt. It used to kill me. Not sure if its the position, the steel or just that Zank mojo but it sure is nice to not have your back screaming in pain at you.

Ok life is not all sunshine and rainbows. What doesn't it do well? You can not flick it around like a 26er. I have gotten used to it so its more nimble than ride #1 for sure but you have to set up turns like a cx bike. And exit with speed. That is really the only area I can think of that it does not out perform a small wheel and frankly its a trade off I have no problem with. So stoked with the bike. Thanks Mikey you rock my friend!

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Foxboro is the answer to ALL the mountain bike questions. Where can I go to get rad? FOXBORO. Where can I go ride off sick boulders? FOXBORO. Where can I go ride where they hunt: Crows(?), Black Bears, Frogs and other Amphibians? FOXBORO. Where can I ride berms all day? FOXBORO. Where can I freak out hopping logs? FOXBORO. Where can I see motocross bikes riding the trail with me (brrrraaaapppp!!!)? FOXBORO Where can I ride ALL DAY LONG? FOXBORO

A huge thanks to my mechanic and partner in grime Scott Novick for taking me out and taking me on a crazy ass ride. And not killing me. That part can't be understated. I haven't been on one of these in a long time. And I seriously needed it. I guess to put it in a box you would call it an adventure ride. I did say all day when he asked me how long we should ride. Foxboro is gorgeous. In a kick you in the nuts and force you to ride your ass off to keep up type of way. I was back on the Seven with its 26 inch wheels and I have to say they felt soooo slow. It was weird after being on the 29er. It did feel nimble and the time on the 29er and riding singlespeed helped enormously. There was all kinds of crazy though. We rode to Warehem in a bushwacking/freeriding down gravel sort of way. But all the suffering and slogging through mud bogs was worth it. We got some sick bermed descents. Rode some insane rocks. And rocks freak me out. But when you are following someone who knows the place like the back of his hand all you have to do is follow his line and don't think to much. I ended off into the trees a few times. Had to crawl back up a boulder after overcooking a turn. But all my bones and even my ego were intact

We did find "Rocky" not exactly sure if this is a memorial to a person or a pet cemetery. Either way its a nice spot to rest in peace. 17 miles hurt a lot. I was bonking pretty hard. Which led to another conversation. Cait Dooley tweeted a while back about a conversion rate for mileage on a mountain bike. At the time I wasn't in the mood to get sucked into one more twitter fight. But it was something I had been thinking about a lot. Its a very valid question for someone coming from cross or the road. I mean you look at the distance for a sport mtn bike race and you are like "10 miles!?" Are you kidding me? Then you go ride ten miles on a mountain bike in New England and you feel destroyed. You try and race it and you are broken for days. Granted there is the "jackhammer" factor and you must consider elevation as a lot of what we do is more "woods" biking than mountainbiking. But its hard. Today's ride almost broke me. But its fun so you suck it up have a Gu and keep riding. But in fairness to her a more honest answer may have been helpful. So here you go 3:1. I think that is a fair conversion rate without factoring in terrain features etc. As an average 3 to 1 makes a lot of sense.

Riding with Scott was awesome. He has mad skills to say the least and is fit right now. I am not fit. At all. Amazing how you can lose so much fitness in two weeks. Funny how that works. If you don't actually ride your bike you get slower. Weird. I guess I better start riding more than three days a week...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Lobster of Flanders

Paul Sadoff has built me some amazing bikes. He built me my first cx bike. A school bus yellow Rock Lobster that began my descent into total addiction to all things cyclocross. He also built me my latest cross race bike. I have been coveting a scandium road bike built by him for about 3 years. But I put it off for many reasons. I had a perfectly fine steel road bike. There was no reason to really replace it. Then I read one of his blog posts and had to act. Scandium is all but gone. And what is ironic is that Aluminum is now back in vogue. At least with those who ride. Its funny how it has made an upswing of late. Paul has been spreading the gospel of how great aluminum is forever. Its again funny and ironic now that carbon has "killed" one of the finest aluminum tubesets ever made that it is now being lauded by many as the perfect material for both cross and aggressive road riding. The first time I stomped on the pedals of my aluminum Rock Lobster I was sold. And frankly I was never racing on any other material. But bike frames are way more than the material. Its the builder. And Paul is one of the best. And he knows me and rides a ton. Those two things can never be underestimated when picking a frame builder. Not sure which part is more important. I think the riding part. But having a friend build your bikes is nice too. And one as cool as Paul is just a bonus. He really is one of my heros. But that is a whole other blog post.

I was so stoked to get this frame and fork. And was really looking forward to seeing how it would compare to my old steel bike. What was bizarre is that when I hopped on it, it just felt so right. The sky didn't rip open and I didn't hear Angels singing it just felt perfect. I went on a two hour ride in a rainy drizzle. It had poured earlier so all the chip seal was sketchy as hell. I took it up the Bossburg. Well our version on the Bossburg. I never had to stop once to adjust anything. Not a tweak here or a tweak there. It rode so much like my old bike. Just better. People say Aluminum is harsh. Not at all. The LoF soaked up just as much road chatter as my steel bike. But what it did differently was very subtle. But made ALL the difference. It was livelier. Big time. I felt it in the saddle almost instantly. My pedal stroke was so much smoother. I swear I could flex the bb on my steel bike just stomping on the pedals while seated. Standing up the aluminum bike would just accelerate. No flex. No brake rub. Just woosh. That was not the case with my steel bike. All that flexing especially while climbing would just make me crack mentally. Nothing is more demoralizing than putting watts into the pedals and have them be for nothing.

The lines of the bike probably are more aesthetic than providing any huge performance advantage but damn that is a sexy rear end. The welds are impeccable. And the paint Paul picked is just gorgeous. I went out on a real familiar loop just to get a feel for the bike. But I kept forgetting I was supposed to be "testing" a new bike and would get lulled into just riding. I sort of would fight to get into a good spot on my old bike. The position on the Rock Lobster is maybe a touch more aggressive. The seat angle is steeper. If my steel road bike and my aluminum cx bike hooked up and made a baby this would be their offspring. It has that same responsiveness of my cx bike but still for such a stiff bike is super comfortable. I need to change up a few things. Mainly as the two frames are different in some key areas. I need to replace the Thomson post with a carbon post with setback. One of my good friends in cycling loves bikes almost as much as I do. Like me he is a big fan of all custom bikes. We text, email and dm each other constantly about our dream bike. He had one of the funniest things to say about the Thomson post. Its funny as Coach Al said the exact same thing. Albeit with less anatomic references. And I don't think Al used the word "Jackhammer" but I could be wrong.

Rolling over the top of the Bossburg...our own little piece of hell in lovely Hale Reservation...I can't wait to take it on more long rides. I thought a lot about Norcal while out riding. I mean how couldn't I? It was equal parts nostalgia and equal parts just think how lucky I was/am to have met so many cool people back there who gave me this amazing gift of the bike. I never rode before I moved out west. Not sure I would have found my way to cycling if I had stayed in Boston. I love that the people who brought me up and taught me about riding and loving bikes still are as passionate about the sport as they were back then.

If I let myself I could pretend I was surrounded by Redwoods. But then would come back to reality quickly as some quick turn or descent would force me to put all my attention back to the task at hand. But again the bike was just so solid that you could do all those things. That to me is probably the most important thing a bike can do. It can transport you to a place and let you be there without having to constantly worry about the road surface or how it will react in a corner. Granted it was wet and I was on brand new tires but I had to see just how it would corner. And it railed them. Really nicely. Thanks Paul for rocking so hard!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

46 Ford

This photo is awesome. It was at one of the coolest points in the race course at Singlespeed-A-Palooza. There is a burnt out 46 Ford in the background. When Ryan and I saw the cameraman in the bushes we laughed. Hup/Team Awesome photo mashup! Ok my face may not look like I am laughing. But I swear I was laughing on the inside! What a great race. I bought this photo because it is so damn awesome and I have way too many photog friends who have to explain to people why they can't use their photos for free. Art isn't free my friends. Support this type of work. Seriously. Kudos to the photographer

Ride to the Ride

Ride to the Ride. Very simple idea. We like to think cycling is so eco-friendly. And it can be. For commuting etc. But bike racing is NOT eco-friendly. AT. ALL. Pretty sure that is why Dan Timmerman retired. And he had a point. People seemed pretty outraged that an International mining company sponsored a Pro cycling team. Why? Have you watched the TDF? Even the Classics have a full entourage of cars, vans and trucks. Choppers are in the air etc. Cycling promotes an active healthy lifestyle (barring the doping) but its not green. But we try don't we. And someone who is trying harder than all of us is Doug Jenne. He is taking the Ride to the Ride concept seriously. I first met him at the Ronde de Rosey. He rode from CT. On his singlespeed. Then he raced the Ronde on the same ss. Then he rode back to CT. He is taking this concept and running with it. Or riding with it as it were. We bumped into him again at Singlespeed-A-Palooza. I seriously need to do a straight up interview and get to the bottom of it. For now he has inspired me that is for sure. I am not going to whine about a slow ride to the trails on 20 psi ever again. Check out his blog and think about it next time you drive to some trail head or drive to some road ride that you can ride to. Leave the car at home. You have a perfectly good mode of transportation sitting right in your garage. Its not a toy. I swear.