Monday, April 22, 2013

Ronde Slayer

I like to name my bikes. Usually the bike names itself. Not all bikes get a name. Its not some ritualistic thing. Not all bikes are name worthy. Some are just tools which is ok. The HUP Honey isn't just any bike. It is a very special machine. Honey is the vision of Rob Vandermark, Founder and CEO of Seven Cycles. Honey was born from the idea to make pure and simple steel bikes. Bikes that are meant to be ridden. I have known Rob and the Seven team for a long time. I am always staggered by how much talent and creativity they have stored in that shop in Watertown, Mass. Rob's ability to take a rider's numbers (sizing and fit numbers) and concept of what they envision using the bike for and turn it into a dream bike is incredible. The Ronde Slayer is my second HUP Honey. A couple of years ago Rob came to us and asked if we would be interested in a run of HUP Honey CX bikes. Very limited edition, each bike was named after a Sven Nys victory. They were gorgeous. And rode as nice or nicer than their Blanco paint jobs. 

I have been home for 8 years. I was an ex-pat living in San Francisco prior to that. Cyclocross in Northern California is very different than cylocross in New England. Not saying one is better than the other just point out my experience. The last 8 years have reawakened my passion for cyclocross. Its hard to be in New England surrounded by the #NECX and not become totally addicted to cross. Its certainly changed me and my views on the sport. In Norcal, I pursued it much more as an offseason, fun activity. But here in New England it is a year round obsession. We all think about CX 24/7. We plot and scheme, we ride our cx bikes year round. I would say the two biggest shifts for me have been riding a cx bike all year round and more importantly riding a cx bike everywhere, and on any terrain. This last statement gets some of my more "extreme" aka skilled mountain biker friends in an uproar. When I call a cx bike a do everything bike I truly believe it. But I am no more going to ride my bike off or over some axe head rock garden, like I attempt to do with my 29er, and expect a good outcome. But you can ride a cx bike anywhere if you use your head! Important distinction I believe.

This concept of riding your cross bike everywhere and all year is what gave birth to the Ronde de Rosey. Linking up trails and parks and all manner of woods is a blast on a cx bike. But to do so you need a cross bike that is purpose built for it. I am not talking major changes to a race bike. I used to always believe cross bikes should be racing only. No water bottle cage braze ons, no fender mounts, aggressive geometry. I still believe the geometry of a racing bike should stay the same. When Rob and I talked about this new HUP Honey CX I asked for the same thing I always ask for with a cross bike. Fast, Stiff, Light, able to carve turns and still be stable and rock solid on crazy dropoffs and off camber sections. You can make all the materials work well for a cx bike. But for me steel is the nicest. It doesn't have to be heavy. It really doesn't. Modern steel is a beautiful thing. The bike as ridden at the Ronde de Rosey was 17.5 pounds for a 52 cm. That is pretty nice. What is even nicer is reaching down to grab a right sized diameter top tube. This may sound silly. But so much of cx is about the transitions. Barriers, runnups all the fun stuff. Or all of that jazz as I like to say. I forget when exactly I had to grab the tt during the Ronde, it was probably about an hour in. But we came up to a stone wall that was too high to hop. So I swung my leg over and put my hand on the tt. Oh that is nice I instantly thought. I have small hands. Being able to grab the tt with a full grip is nice. And it makes for an easy portaging of the bike.

Other than asking Rob for a "dream bike" I had a couple of very specific requests that departed from my old way of thinking. One, I wanted braze ons for water bottle cages. Yes, its nice to have the downtube and seatube clean and sans braze ons. But not at the price of going without the ability to put two water bottles on the bike. We have been having so much fun exploring on our bikes. 2-4 hour rides in the woods and roads. I am not stylistically against a camelback but its not as comfortable. And all our rides tend to pop back out into nice towns where you can refill water bottles. I like this. I like feeling unencumbered and filling my jersey pockets with the important things like rice cakes and pastries. It makes for a very relaxed ride. The other detail was downtube cable routing. In the old days we liked the cables along the tt. Theory being it would keep them out of the mud and the shifting would be better. This never bore out and in fact downtube routing shifts way better and lasts longer.

The paint is inspired by the Belgian flag obviously. The amount of detail Staci put into it is mind boggling. I won't lie. When you are totally suffering and you look down at the bike it is impossible to not get a smile on your face. I can't even wait to race it next Fall. For now I will have to be happy riding in the woods and taking it on nice dirt roads. We have been talking about D2R2 like we always do, but this bike may be what finally gets me there.

This bike happened in large part to so many of my friends pitching in to make it happen. Rob pushed the design and came out with the great formula for the bike. Mike S built it, Matt O'Keefe prepped the parts, Staci painted it, Rob built it up at the Ride Studio the day before the Ronde! And Roger picked it up that night and delivered it to me the next morning. In any other situation I would have been freaking out. But I trust my friends. They are so PRO its not even funny. I left it all to them. That am as we pulled up to the Washington Square Tavern all geeked out on coffee and the excitement of riding all day on our cx bikes all I could think about was that bike. I pulled it out of the van hopped on and voila. Perfect. I took two laps up and down Washington Street just to see how it felt. Felt like a bike I have been riding for years! Felt like home. The bike had soul. Why mince words. That is very important to me. And filled me with total confidence. The Ronde chews up bikes, parts and riders. We passed so many riders that day with sheared off deraillers, broken chains, broken bodies from crashes.

It didn't even occur to me to hesitate or not ride the way I usually ride. On the first trail sector I could tell what a special bike this is. Steel to me just rides so nicely. It can be stiff and smooth at the same time. That is its true magic. We had to climb some nasty fireroad strewn with big rocks and gravel and the bike just powered up the climb. When we got to the top there was a ripper of a descent on the back side of the hill. Tight and twisty with roots and water bars scattered about. I was able to bomb down it in total control. Hopping the water bars and shredding the corners. To be honest at that point I just let the bike do its job. I never once had to stop on the ride to adjust a thing. One of my friends texted me after the ride. His text read "You are sneaky fast in the woods." Yep. And I have the HUP Honey to thank for that. Riding a CX bike in the woods is more flow and technique than smashing through stuff like on a mountain bike. Very bad things can happen if you try and ride your cx bike like your mtn bike in the woods. The Honey was smooth enough to flow over the rough terrain but still stiff enough to be nimble to accelerate out of corners and to hop over logs and rocks that came up too fast to avoid.

So to recap. I never crashed once, never had a mechanical, never had to stop to adjust anything. The only time we had to stop was towards the end. I was leading through Ridge Hill with Roger and a Broadway guy right on my wheel. The trail is pretty fast but its tight. Has one decent drop off and has lots of rocks that want to smash you. You really have to pick a good line through it. This was at about hour 6 on the day. One of steels greatest qualities is it does not beat you up. Even after 6 hours I felt great. No back pain, no neck pain. Still fresh. So we are flying through this sector with about 20 guys tagging along. We get to the end and pop out and look around. Its like the other 17 guys had been abducted by aliens. Gone. We waited. And waited. Nothing. So we rolled on. Looks like as they were chasing one of them hit a rock and took the whole conga line out. My poor teammate got the worst of it. By the time I saw DD in NTF he looked like he had been mauled by a bear.  These are the traits you dream of in a cx bike. But how did it do on the road sections? A trail carving, bump absorbing cross machine should be whippy and too flexible on the road right? Not this bike. It has massive chainstays. There is black magic in them. I am sure of it. On the road the bike responded like my Scandium road bike. Fast and quick and climbed fantastically. Even up one of the most brutal climbs on the route. I ended up climbing Prospect Hill with the Vagiants. Vagiant=Vampyre+Giant. Or a Giant Vampyre. Pretty scary. And they ride like Giants to say the least. Dana Prey, Sara Bresnick, Mo Bruno Roy, and their ringer Andrea Smith. That is a whole lot of World Cup CX and Mtn Biking experience right there. Two National Champions. Fast and strong ladies to say the least.

The bike climbed admirably. No deflection, no brake flex. Just floated up that nasty hill and let me enjoy talking with them and catching up. They are some of my favorite people in the world so it was nice to be able to ride with them even if it was only for a short while. The HUP Honey did slay the Ronde. Kept me safe, made the ride so much fun. It is the nicest cx bike I have ever owned. Still need to soak it all in and take it on more long rides. I am going to say it right here so I can't back out! Rob, Roger and I will be doing this year's D2R2. It will be a blast. Might follow that up with a little IronCross. As much as this bike was built to contest cyclocross races in one of the toughest regions in the Nation it seems like such a shame to only ride it for 45 minutes!

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