Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What is best in life?

This post was going to be called "Are you a Cyclist?"A sort of lame headline if you ask me. A provocative question to pose to the four readers who frequent this "blog" as I am sure they would all answer yes. But its something I have been thinking about lately. What does it mean to be a cyclist? And are you one? A person who skis maybe 4 times a year is a skier right? And a person who golfs maybe once a month is a golfer. And certainly if you have ever surfed you are a surfer. But a person who rides a bike isn't always a cyclist. Now are they? Why is that? Why is cycling the most elitist cannibalistic sport on the planet. Even the elitists fight with each other about who is more of an elitist.

Nothing slaps you in the face and wakes you up more about what being a cyclist is than going on vacation and riding a bike on a bike path. I took my daughter out day 2 of vacation on the Cape Cod Rail Trail. A fabulous rail trail by the way. I was in khaki shorts, sneakers and a t-shirt. I felt HORRIBLE. My ass hurt. My feet slipped all over the pedals. My neck hurt. No wonder why people hate cycling. But my daughter had a look on her face that was pure bliss. And her body position was like Georgia Gould. She had that look man. She wanted to race! I had to sort of get that idea out of her head with all the pathletes all around us like some kind of zombie apocalypse but it hit me. What is the best life? Or more to the point...what is the best ride? The one where a kid falls in love with cycling. That is the one.

Let's stop being elitists. Maybe we can't help it. I blame the 70s. This is a throwback from that generation. Ride a bike. Love it. Try and make it be part of your life. Teach a kid to ride. And not just to ride but to love it. Smile. Wave. It makes a difference. I love all the crazy people who are cyclists. I love the PROs. I love the pathletes. I love team Hi-Vis. I love the charity riders. Zoe and I have had some great rides on this vacation so far. Its been some of the best riding I have ever done. On a path. In khakis and had ZERO fitness benefit.

So what is the best life? Its not crushing your enemies and hearing the lamentations of their women. Its raising cyclists and supporting each other. No matter what. Racer. Club rider. Soul rider. Mountain biker. We are all cyclists. And none of us, not the PROs, not the advocates, not the industry insiders, none of us are more important or know more about what is good for the sport than anyone else who rides. I am all for heckling each other about what we wear or how we ride or what equipment choice we have decided is going to save cycling but step back once and a while and just appreciate what we have. Seeing cycling through the eyes of a child or through the eyes of an adult who is now getting a second childhood thanks to cycling is a gift.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Sum of All our Fears

Its been a rough couple of weeks. I try and keep this blog MC-Lite. Don't want to harsh anyone's mellow. But yeah its been a hard couple of weeks. Some of you may or may not know that my Mom was the first person to attend to the poor woman who was killed by an MBTA bus on Huntington Ave. I honestly am happy my mom was there to be there for her and her friend. But talking with my mom after and the look in her eyes was rough. Coupled with the obvious outrage that why its still ok for a motorist to kill a cyclist and it not be a crime makes my brain want to explode. But I try and let it go. Then the stories just pile on, and on and its hard to stay positive.

We feel bulletproof as cyclists. I do. We revere road rash. We honor the Gnar. In my twenties I was typically pretty fatalistic. One of my good friends wrote a piece for me once called "Death comes ripping" It was about all the games we play about how we can cheat death on a bike or otherwise. If we wear a helmet we won't die. If we stop at a stop sign we won't die. If we follow the rules of the road...well you get the idea. 99% of us are just cyclists. We love the pure joy the bike gives us. But the bike giveth and it taketh away. And sometimes its just a freak accident. I feel so bad for the women who was killed and I feel so bad for Mat. Mats freak accident sort of hit me harder than all the bad news I have heard in the last couple of weeks. Not sure if it just the tipping point or his story hits so close to home. He is a single speeder. He crashed racing dirt bikes. We all have had crashes like that but we get up and walk away.

Sorry if this is too heavy. I know we always say "be safe" I know that 90% of us are. Even when we are safe shit happens. I love the bike. Always have. Nothing can change it. Help Mat out if you can. We have an amazing tribe. Any time one of these things happens I am blown away by the support the riders and the families receive. I know I will ride with a lighter heart again but right now it just feels heavy.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pats Peak the destroyer of souls

Life is suffering. First tenant of Buddhism. I know this. But I am old and soft. It happens. My revived mtn bike racing career has been going brilliantly. Frankly night and day from when I "retired" from mtn bike racing eleven years ago. I thought I knew what hard was. I thought I was tough. I got a wake up call in the form of a kick in the nuts with the steel toed Jack boot that is the 6 hours of Pats Peak this Saturday. Mountain bike racing is so much fun. Seriously. I love the vibe. And the road tripping. Its like cross season but we get to hang out and no one is freaking out. I got a bit lulled into this one. I thought no problem I can get 6 laps in. I have done 24 hours of Great Glen. How bad could Pats Peak be? Bad. Really, really bad. 

We rolled up to the venue, said the usual hellos to all the cool cats, got to see The Wilcox's new whip! And a sexy whip it is! We all lined up for the Lemans start. Colin lined up behind us so he could get his GoPro in full effect. Have I mentioned I hate running? The bikes didn't seem that far away when we walked over to the woods. They seemed really far away now. Running commenced. I found my bike in the scrum and started pedaling. I didn't rupture an achilles, so, so far the event was a huge success. We went off at a fairly spirited pace. I wouldn't call it full race pace but fast tempo. I chopped my teammates wheel right before we entered the loop around the pond. I realized it was Jon and told him to go ahead of me. Cause he is fast. And I am not so fast.

Everything was going great until it went from great to really bad in a blink of an eye. At minute 20 we had sorted things out a bit. I was in a good group. And then we hit the fresh cut loamy single track from Hell. Or the Hike a Bike championships of New Hampshire. At this point I hear Colin yelling at me "CHIP THIS IS NOT A CROSS RACE!" He was yelling that at me because I was off the bike running up switch backs that I would much rather have been riding. If I could actually think and form words I would have responded back something snappy like "Colin if this was a cross race I would not be suffering this badly" But I was in a dark, dark place where words and snappy comebacks do not exist. Colin rode by me. I then proceeded to put forth the most epic gentleman's slide ever seen in a mtn bike race. I am pretty sure I was last by the time we dug our way out of the fifth level of Hell. I was in a state of shock at this point. Instead of just accepting my fight I kept fighting it. It was inconceivable that I could be in this much pain while going so slowly.

I somehow regained contact with Jon at the top. I started hearing braaappp noises coming up through the woods. Jon looked back and we saw Lauren Kling rolling up on us. Finally a ray of light in all the darkness. We rode with Lauren for a bit. Ie Lauren shredded the Gnar and Jon and I freaked out at the insane DH drop offs and rocks. We popped out by the bears and the Red Bull inflatable and completed lap one. I stopped at the tent to survey the damage. I took a pretty good crash on the first ripper of a descent. I was bruised and battered but no actual physical damage had occurred. The psychic damage at this point was immeasurable. I pounded a coke and headed out on Lap 2. Lap 2 was possibly worse than Lap 1 which is saying something as Lap 1 seemed to be the hardest thing I have ever done on a bike. I somehow survived Lap 2. After 2 hours of hike a biking, chewing my stem pedaling my 22 x 32 up gravel access roads and praying to not die on some rock drop-offs I decided to take an actual break.

I sat down in the Death Star with Bacon the dog and licked my wounds. Or Bacon licked them for me. This was a day of many epiphanies. The FACT that cross may be all about cats, but mtn biking is all about DOGS. I ate some food. Tried to find my Gucci suitcase of courage and headed out on Lap 3. Oddly Lap 3 felt ok. For a bit. I guess this would be what messed with my head so bad. I went from being ok to being near death within minutes of each other. Maybe this was just not my day. It happens. I honestly haven't had many days on a bike like that. In the fresh cut loam from Hell I bumped into Colin. Or he bumped into me. I forget which. Frankly this period of the race is a blur. Colin was in a dark, dark place. Darker than me. Which was a bit scary. I was walking faster than he was walking. Granted I had just eaten some real food and had another coke in me. Colin saw me skip over some roots and yelled at me again "CHIP YOU ARE RUNNING? WTF?" I swear I wasn't running. Then we saw our spirit animal. I actually asked Colin if he saw the Bulldog. He said yes. Then I asked him if it was a real dog. He thought it was. I said it must be our spirit guide. The Bulldog did guide us out of the Darkness. And then disappeared into the woods.

I survived Lap 3. Barely. As dark a moment hanging out in the fresh cut hike a bike from hell was. Spending it with Colin was an education in mental toughness. Colin seemed wrecked. But he came back in and by the magical powers of a cold Coke and pickles he rallied and went on to do 8 laps. He was 4 minutes off of being on the podium. I guarantee that abyss we were in at Lap 3 ate up at least 6 - 10 minutes of bike racing time.

I pulled the plug at Lap 4. Sometimes you learn the best lessons by failing. I dnf'd. It is what it is. I felt fine when I did it and still do. But there is a part of me that wishes I had not pulled the plug gone back to the tent and rallied and done that last lap with Jon and Lauren. Endurance mtn biking is all about striving and not freaking out when you are sooo blown to pieces. I think I get that now. Regardless of the race outcome it was the hardest day on a bike I have ever had. And I will hold it on a pedestal. I will be back next year. And I will do that last lap.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Big Wheels are more fun

I tend to be excitable about all things bike related. I blame it on my ADD. Well and that bikes are rad. Since "retiring" from the "industry" I have been a cheerleader of all things bike. Sure once and a blue moon I will get in touch with my inner curmudgeon and get in a twitter fight but in general my bike world is all sunshine and rainbows. So its not a shocker when I say I love "x". But I have a friend who is a teacher and he challenges me. He is an academic so he likes to know the "why" Tell me why you love it Chip. And he is right. Its easy to be effusive about something but its another thing to spell out what you love about it. So here goes. I haven't done a bike review in about 2 decades but I will do my best to explain why I love 29ers.

Long story short my good friend Mike Zanconato has been doing some serious R&D on 29ers for the last three years. Mike is known for his gorgeous lugged steel bikes. I bet 90% of his customers buy road bikes. His bikes are gorgeous. But Mike is a mountainbiker at heart. The last two years he brought a 29er single speed up to 24 Hours of Great Glen. And shredded on it. His lap times were as good or better than my geared times. That got me thinking. Then I rode with Mike and his partner in crime Matt Myette on their new prototypes. They left me in their dust. When Mike said he wanted to build one for me I didn't even hesitate. I have posted tons of pictures of it. It is stunning. I have been riding it a ton. Its literally the only bike I want to ride. All my other bikes are great but they just aren't as much fun. You hop on the Zank 29er and you just feel good. More smiles per mile as Ross used to say.

As I was getting ready for Pats Peak it hit me. I had the 26 inch bike in front of the 29er. I was floored. Of course I "knew" the 29er was bigger. I mean obviously. But when you put them together its staggering. I don't think people realize just how much better a 29er wheel rides on a nice hard tail. It is literally night and day. So here goes. The bigger wheel is faster. Period. Faster in what ever measure you like to use to measure speed. It is faster on a race course. Race results don't lie. Nor do road miles. The ride from my house to the trails sucks on the 26 inch wheels. You feel like you are spinning and going nowhere. Both tires are inflated to 20 psi. Both bikes are set up very similar. But the 29er wheel just rolls fast. And the 29er keeps its speed on downhills etc. It just gets up to speed so fast and holds that speed.

The other major difference is how it rolls over things. I have documented my hatred for logs, rocks and bridges. The 29er makes those fear inducing obstacles fun. Today when I rode with Ian on the 26 inch bike it was fun. Gears were nice. And its nimble but it gets hooked up on things. The 29er doesn't. I dropped off a rock in NTF and smashed the bb on the lip of the rock. That never happens with the 29er. Same with logs etc. With the big wheels you can just roll over. Again back to the ride. Staring down a rock chute you have to think on the 26 inch bike. On the Zank you just point and shoot. The bike takes care of the rest. And its not just downhill that it rolls well its going up and over stuff. I think I am worse at tough little technical bits climbing than descending. That is weird but its true. And Thom Parsons sort of explained why. He says you have to attack these sections not try to spin up them. And on a 29er attacking them is just natural. On 26 I end up spinning out and off of the wet roots and rocks. The 29ers bigger contact patch doesn't get hung up and I am able to get over stuff I rarely if ever can on my 26 inch bike.

A couple of friends have had some really great feedback. Steen said that cross racers adapt really easily to a 29er. And I think that is really so true. Matt and Mike both told me the 29er would feel like your cx bike just with bigger rubber. Its so true. But it is 100% mountain bike. I love hard tails. I am not sure how a 29er would translate over into fullsupension. I have to think it would be challenging with the big wheels. But for those who thought the hard tail was dead 29ers breathe new life into it. And make it as good or better than any party bike you could ever ride.

I still am not that great a mountain biker. I am getting better. But a couple of things still freak me out. Top of that list is wood bridges. Although thanks in large part to the big wheels I am getting better. How can big wheels make riding a wood bridge easier? Stability. And that same momentum that the big wheel generates. My biggest issue with bridges and boards is getting squirrelly. I noticed it today. With the 29er you point it where you want it to go and it tracks.

Part of the experiment was that I am short. Like Hobbit short. Well 5' 7". Mikey dialed it. The position is perfect for me. Matt posted a great comment earlier about the bikes and its so true the bike just disappears beneath you. That is the sign of a master...

Matt's comment from the blog: "Shortly after I got mine last year I texted Mike to tell him that I thought the bike had been stolen. Naturally, he was freaking out in his reply "WTF?!?! Are you serious!? What happenend?! CALL ME!!!" I let him off the hook with this final note: "I don't know what happened... I was JRA and the bike just disappeared right out from underneath me!"

Monday, June 4, 2012

My Posse is on Broadway

 Rolling with a good crew can not be overstated. Its been the key to my cycling revival. My good friend Dr Jay asked me how long I have been mtn biking the other day when we were riding in LPR. I lied and told him two years. I have been "mtn biking" for two decades. 90% of it out west. West coast mtn biking and east coast mtn biking aren't even the same sport. I hated mtn biking in New England when we moved here 7 years ago. I think this is a common thing. What we have here in the NEMTB is woods biking. Or axe head rock biking. Or ride that 2 x 6 plank of death riding. I sucked at it. Well I still do. But I have a good posse. People, and the list is looooonnnnggg, have taken the time to teach me how to do it. Training isn't worth a rats ass when you are coming up on some greasy drop off with axe head rocks waiting to tear chunks of flesh off your body. Skills are what matter. And a proper bike. Mike Zanconato is one of my best friends. No lie. He sort of peer pressured me into trying a 29er and trying single speeding. When I see him next I may just kiss him on the lips. Ok that was too much wasn't it? Ok a huge Hup hug then. Cause we are men after all. Point being. The 29er and ss have changed everything for me on the mtn bike

The other part of this trip to the Darkside would be that man pictured in the middle of that picture above. Let's call him Sensei Aumiller shall we? He has been nudging me more and more over to the Darkside each week. We did SSpalooza. We have been shredding the Enduro course at Cutler. He said two things to me leading up to Domnarski that stuck with me. Last time we were at Cutler he said "if you rode the hills like you rode the Island you would be fast" so true. Any good singlespeeder attacks hills. You have to. I don't. Its a carryover from my geared dependency on a granny gear. You can't spin up technical stuff. Even with gears. You have to attack it. The other thing he said was "be like water" Well he quoted Deejay Birch and the actual quote eludes me. So I envision Bruce Lee's infamous youtube clip. And there was plenty of water at Domnarski! I rolled up with the Broadway Bicycle Studio crew. Such great guys. Seth, Bill and Aumiller made the ride go by so fast. And per usual I was freaking out. I had horrible sensations. Felt like the old man I am. But these dudes chilled me out. They are so solid. We rolled up to the fahhm and I felt good. Then we pre-rode about 200 yards of the course and I started freaking out again. It was bananas!

Greasy wet rocks. We were gonna be getting some early season cx remount practice that is for sure. Lots of runnups. Lots of trudging through swamps. Carl Ring rode the whole lap as a "warm up" and his recon report was the most horrible thing I had ever heard. So I blanked it out. My plan was literally to just ride. Not worry about anything. We lined up in the ss sport category. All 9 of us! But a fast crew. I haven't met a slow single speeder yet. Whistle blew and I tried to stay in contact with the fast guys for as long as I could. Going into the first bit of nasty 6th wheel I saw Matt putting out some sick watts up at the front. Then we all were off running up some horrible pitch. When I came up for air we were on a nice bit of single track. So I chased the guy in front of me. Some good twisty stuff and we started seeing carnage. Flats everywhere. People walking back down the course. We weren't even 2 miles in. Then I saw Matt. Fuck. His race was done. I felt so bad. Then I saw the next fast single speeder. Then the 3rd. Holy shit.

At this point I was in 3rd. Ok that woke me up. I got to work as they say. For some reason this horrible nasty course suited me. There were hub deep "puddles" everywhere. I went into one and hit a rock and submerged. I came up with one thought. Flesh. Eating. Bacteria.....the supposed bridges were all under water. The swamps were deep. But I liked it. I liked how insane it was. There was a ton of scrambling over wet rocks etc. I kept looking at my garmin to see how much we had to go. I caught the single speeder who was in 2nd on the power lines. We rode together from that point on. Not really racing as much as sizing each other up. He got ahead of me on a technical section and a geared rider crashed right in front of me on the top of some sick chute. I asked him to please get out of the way so I could pick a good line. He said in shock "where?" Who knows dude I am flowing like water. I dropped in slid down the thing bounced off a tree and laughed my ass off it was so much fun.

We caught a ton of geared riders at this point and started the racing portion of our day. We would try and stay together and then get mixed in with some geared riders. Right at the end I popped ahead of him. We came to another nasty swamp/bogg. I saw a "b" line off to the right through some trees and didn't hesitate. It was a loamy track through some trees. He took the swamp line and a geared rider took him out. I thought maybe I went off course as I didn't see him. But we popped out on the last descent into the start finish and I just dropped in and prayed I had enough of a gap. 2nd place. First time in my life I was paid to ride my bike! Twenty five bucks may not seem much but it will pay for beer for Pats Peak! 60% of the placing goes to attrition. The other 40% goes to the bike. The Zank is sick. It handles better than any bike I have ever owned. And the people who set it up for me: Zank, Kenny and Scot Novick deserve huge props. The bike is dialed. Stans Tubeless and 29 inch wheels turn riding gnar from a white knuckle affair to a Mr Toads Wild ride.