Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Why SSCX Matters

photo by Cindy Brennan

None of these photos are from the actual SSCX race at Orchard CX this past weekend. Its my blog and I can do what I want to. Ok, that came off more aggro than intended. These photos captured the radness of Orchard CX and had to be a part of this post. Even if the post is about why SSCX matters. I have been hearing about how fun Orchard CX is since we started the Zank SSCX series. My good friend and long time supporter of everything SSCX and CX, Derek Griggs has always asked me to come. It just never worked out. Until this year. And wow I can't believe what I have been missing. This race is what SSCX is ALL about. Whether you were in the costume race or the actual SSCX race. I think people are getting tired of traveling to a race to just race. They want an experience. Why would you get up early, drive two hours to race 45 minutes and then get back in your car and drive two hours home? This is an actual serious question. That makes zero sense. From a time management standpoint, a money allocation stand point and an environmental standpoint. Why invest the time, money and carbon footprint for 45 minutes? Its much better to have the day be fun. Not just the racing but good food, stuff for the kids and family to do, maybe a place you can hang out with your friends and have an adult beverage? Orchard had it all. And cider donuts. Nothing says Fall in New England like cider donuts. 
Ok so saying cider donuts is the main reason to go to a bike race may seem crazy. But cider donuts are really, really good.

photo by Elaine DeBitetto

So are you smelling what I am cooking? Orchard is one of the most fun CX races I have ever been to. It out PDXs PDX. And without orange cones! Ok they did mix the elite men and women and that ended in a predictably PDX fashion. But other than that it was all that we secretly (or not so secretly in some cases cough*JohnnyUTAH*cough) admire about PDX. A legit costume race. The CX giraffe is possibly the best costume in a cross race of all time. How this man actually rode in that is beyond belief. A great SSCX field. Tough jungle style course that used everything. Orchards, corn maze, pump track, table top, awkward barrier, crazy sand pits of doom. Coupled with a really fast course built for SSCX and you had pure gold.

photo by Elaine DeBitetto

I have been a bit of a reluctant SSCX racer. Yes, I have been co-promoting the Zank SSCX series for three years. But the only SSCX race I really have ever done is Ice Weasels. And that isn't racing. That is a drunken bacchanalian celebration on two wheels. So basically I have never been sober enough to realize how horrible SSCX can be. I was much to concerned about the next beer hand up or getting rad on the mini barriers to care that some dude (or dudette) blew past me and took my coveted 57th place in the SSCX race at White Barn Farm! But this season I made a commitment to race the series. Why should every one else have all the fun. I did Quad. It hurt. A lot. And felt sort of like racing. I missed PVD but did the Madison, which felt like a SSCX race even though I had gears, then raced Mansfield, which was HORRIBLE. Mansfield was soooo hard. And it was a SSCX wake up call. I learned a lot of things at that race. And vowed not to make the same mistakes at Orchard. I picked a much bigger gear. Basically to race SSCX you have to have a bigger gear than you think you can handle. You only have one gear. It better be ready to rock.

photo by Elaine DeBitetto

We had a big field. About 40 men and 10 women. The start was uphill on grass which sort of made me worry about my gear selection. I switched up my usual start stance to the right foot at 2 o'clock but butt on the TT so I could do a foot down sprint start instead of my usual butt on the saddle click and go. It worked perfectly and I was in a good spot. The 100% opposite of my start at Mansfield which saw me spinning like a hamster at 150 rpm while the WHOLE field hammered off and left me in their dust until the first turn. I locked in on Nick's wheel as I knew he would spray watts all over the start of the race. We made it to the first orchard section and I came sooo close to crashing out. In a geared race you can brake and accelerate every turn. With one (big) gear you can't use your brakes. Stuck in the scrum at the start of a race that can get dicey. Luckily I was able to use enough body english that I did not ram Phil from Stampede from behind. I doubt he even knew how close to doom he was. We hit the awkward barrier and then went to warp speed once again. The race became a sick roller coaster of just going into every corner and turn as fast as you could and laying off the brakes. A couple of times I tested the limit of my tires traction and my ability to handle the bike. As the field thinned out some good heckles started raining down. Kurt's was a classic "BAKER GO HARDER LIKE AN EVIL PUPPY IS CHASING YOU!!!" Pure heckling gold. Oddly I was not angling for beer or cider donut feeds. It actually felt like racing.

photo by Aaron Hubbell

One of the more memorable parts of the race itself happened towards the end of the race. I felt pretty good which is shocking considering how insane the #CBL has become. Its not the #CBL anymore I am basically a glorified taxi driver, manny, dogwalker hybrid. I probably would be earning about 13K a year if this was a paying gig. Which its not. Well unless you count the sweet minivan, puppy with papers and nice bikes. Ok, maybe I am actually coming out ahead on this. Never mind my whining. So anyways. Steve Lehman is tracking me. He has a HUGE gear. Something like 42 x 17. He was working on his bike for an hour before the race. Not sure doing exactly what to be honest. All while I was scouting out the cider donuts and Kurt was trying to get me drunk. So I can feel him hunting me. And I see lead SSCX woman Joanne is pulling him to me. Joanne is so strong. Way stronger than I am.  I am sooo screwed. I keep seeing them out of the corner of my eye. I keep hoping and praying by living the no brakes lifestyle I will keep them at bay. As I am just about to get to one of the trickiest sectors of the whole course I feel someone coming up me on the inside. I know its Joanne. That is the beauty of SSCX. Unlike geared racing not too many people can come flying up from the back towards the end of the race overcoming a mechanical etc. Your spot is your spot once it settles in. The main factors after a lap or two are how much you are willing to suffer and did you pick the right gear. So as she slides through right before we drop of a sketchy sand offcamber I make a joke. I say something like "Thank god I didn't crash you out!" Then joke " I only do that to Jerry" She laughs at me and says "Jerry deserved it." Hilarious.

The good news is I didn't crash out the lead women. The bad news is Steven has just used Joanne to get on my wheel and has a much bigger gear than I do. But its fun to race with him for a lap or two. Its basically Steven, me and Joanne in a bit of a conga line. With one to go I fumble the sand drop off and drop my chain. WTF? How do you drop your chain in a SSCX race? It only takes me a second to get it back on but Steven is gone. I chase and get to witness him out sprint Joanne for the line.

What a great race. Had a blast. Finally get it. And to be honest I am only doing SSCX from here on out. I will do the fun races and may hop in at Sterling and NBX. Especially if there is snow but its all about SSCX from here on out. 

So why does SSCX matter? Its not because its a hipster tractor pull. Its not because of the beer hand ups. Its not the costumes. All those things are fun don't get me wrong. But SSCX is a reminder of why we got into CX in the first place. CX used to be a rad thing you did in the Fall to stay in shape and have fun. It used to be this weird oddball sport where it didn't matter what bike you showed up in or what tires you had. No one showed up with $3,000 carbon wheels. No one. It was all about DIY crazy setups. CX couldn't be further from that now. SSCX reminds me of the old days. I for one miss those days. Don't get me wrong, I love how big CX has become. And I love watching World Cups and the big UCI races in the US. But we need to keep CX weird. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Photo by Liz Chabot Allen

Newsflash blogging isn't dead. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (ok maybe Tumblr in a lesser degree) have lured many to the Darkside. Those that need to blog, still blog. Mostly just to exercise our creativity in ways that the other media do not support. Lots of us have to write. Have to. Its in our DNA. I will never stop. Twitter of all the social media is near and dear to me. Its a water cooler of sorts. And at times it can create some of the most hilarious content possible. It has recently given us #notoriousjunk and #porktits. You can't make this stuff up. Its a way for us to keep this bike game light and to build and grow the community. Let's face it bike racing is hard. To be half way decent it is really hard. And to race against people who have been training and racing all summer long and on diets of hot water with lemon and kale chips with zero training and even less sleep is much harder. #notoriousjunk was a hashtag that was created after Providence. ENGVT (or NOFUNVT as those in the MACistan like to call them) have a very how you say revealing kit. Some kits are more transparent than others. White is obviously very see thru. But red and orange can both be very see thru. I still remember over hearing a phone conversation between the marketing director of Marin Mtn Bikes and Marla Streb. Basically she was telling him that she was going to have to do some serious bikini waxing to make the kit even remotely safe for podium photos.

But this is what makes cycling so absurdly beautiful. We stuff ourselves into skintight lycra ( I LIKE SPANDEX!) and hurl ourselves unto the breach on any given sunday. Some of us show too much. Whether its because we are naturally gifted, we ordered a size smaller than necessary or perhaps we had a few too many bon bons over the summer. I race on a faux Belgian team who's most epic kit is as white as fresh tracks on St Moritz. But the photo of Gewilli over the barriers at Providence with his CXboner launched a new twitter handle. Its awkward to follow a twitter handle dedicated to a friends junk. It takes a person comfortable in their own skin. And someone who has a sense of humor. As I stated earlier this is what we need to keep CX growing. And to avoid the implosion that has happened to both road and mtn biking over the last couple of decades. Cross is something special. The Zank SSCX Series (or the New England SSCX Series as Ron from Mansfield called it!) has championed this from day one. Make it for the people. Make it easy to race. Zip ties are cool. You want to do some crazy mod to make your bike a SSCX? Go for it. My CX season has been a disaster. Year's past I have at least done some CX training. Not this year. Why bother? Um because SSCX racing as I have learned is WAY harder than geared racing. Gear selection is ridiculously important. Who knew? Racing a SS Mtn Bike is easy. It is like soul surfing. Racing (and I am talking about actually racing not partying) SSCX is brutal. To stay in contact with the group you need a HUGE gear. As I learned in spades on Saturday at Mansfield.

I know its odd that a co-promoter of a SSCX series has very little actual experience racing SSCX. Its true. I have been too busy the last couple of years helping herd the cats at the races to actually race the SSCX. But this year I have been really stoked to do it. Lots of reasons. The CT CX Metal Mafia is probably the biggest influence. One of our newest HUP members Nate is another. Matt and Nate both race against geared riders on SSCX. Then race the SSCX. Insane. There will be a sledge hammer award at the end of the season for those two. To be clear, I race SS mtn bikes. Love it. But SS Mtn Bike and SSCX couldn't be more different. I have participated in the SSCX race every year at Ice Weasels. But come on, if you are racing the SSCX race at Ice Weasels you are doing it wrong. 90% of the field are #dronk. It is a keg party where a cross race breaks out. Last year Leah and I raced it on the Zank SS mtn bike. I am pretty sure we were the inspiration for the CX Madison at Providence. Of course we were. But I have never raced SSCX. This year has been my first season doing it. And its complicated. Its "fun" but you only have one gear. You have to pick the right one. Or you will be riding alone. For a long, long time. My CX racing style is sort of a hybrid NECX meets mtn biker meets Tokyo drift. I come into corners way too hot, slam the brakes on (or don't touch them) then accelerate out. I do a ton of micro shifting. Its one of the reasons I love SRAM. It lends itself to that style with double tap. And I love the big ring on paved sections.

But SSCX isn't like that.  People (Not sure who exactly) have been critical of our technical director and his love of the zip tie. They say its cheating. A geared rider can pre-ride, pick a gear and then set it. Yeah what ever. That is ridiculous. To be good at SSCX you just have to pick the biggest gear you can and realize you are going to suck at lots of spots on the course but will have a big enough gear that you can dust people on the flats and power sections. I have been gearing myself to get rad. Aka a gear that allows me to shred corners and to ride the hills etc. Yeah that has not been working out so great. I even consulted Sheldon Brown's gear calculator to mirror Nate's and Lolli's gear ratio. Then Lolli tweets he is running a 15t cog. FML. So we line up. Ron gives us a pep talk. An official "checks" that we are all locked out. Then we go. And Gewilli doesn't clip in. And is in the CBLZ. Not good for the big man. And then he clips in and goes to warp factor 10. Umm yeah so 34x15 vs 46x17 isn't even a contest. I am basically DFL and spinning like a hamster by the first turn. FANtastic. But CX has turns, and barriers and stuff. So at the 3rd turn I am back at the back. And then I hear people screaming "BARRIERS" WTF? Is this a CRW Saturday am ride where everyone yells out HOLE at the slightest crack in the road? But know I have hope. Oh goodie, people who don't actually race cross. Maybe.

I am somehow in sight of Abel. And Matt and Doug. This seems odd. But then I hear ROYter scream that I am so far off the back its not even funny. I know man but I have this shitty spiny gear. Then he starts heckling me to hop the barriers. He knows I can't hop barriers. Its almost cruel at this point to go there. But I keep battling. Its horrible. People shouldn't have to race SSCX sober. I keep thinking please baby cheezits this is a grassroots jungle CX race, please let someone offer me a Handup. No handups, just hate and heckles. So I see how it is. So I keep racing. My groin is fucked. I can barely get on and off. And the heckles keep raining down. Liz shows some mercy on me and yells positive encouragement. I love you Liz! I hate you Colin!!!! So long story short after 2 laps its a Fate Complete. No way I am catching Abel. And no way anyone behind me is catching me. On a geared bike you can hammer and go harder. Not on a SSCX. Once a gap is formed it is ALL over. Yes it hurt. Yes I suck at SSCX. But now, thanks to Brian aka the devil, I want a dedicated SSCX. Zip ties are fine. But a dedicated bike is cooler. And if I pimp it out and put a massive gear on it who knows!!!! Maybe everyone will be #dronk and I will crush them at Ice Weasels!

HUGE props to my good friend Leslie for trying SSCX and being a trooper. She did awesome. And is really one of my favorite people at the CX races. Next stop on this Zank SSCX World Tour is Orchard CX. I can't even wait.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Send Lawyers, Guns, and Money

Holy Week in the NECX is something special. The term is not as contrived as it sounds. It really is a week that the entire cross community holds on a lofty pedestal. And this one did not fail to deliver. But like a lot of highs in life there is always the low counterpoint to the high. After one of the most fun Night Weasels I can remember we all woke up to the tragic news of losing Amy Dombroski in Belgium in an accident. The news struck us all so hard. AD was a special rider and did so much for US CX and pushing forward women and girls in CX. It really devastated our small community. But once again I am struck by how we all support each other and take care of each other. Heading into Providence I didn't know what to expect. What I found was a spirit and racing style that Amy would approve of. We did what Amy would want us to do. Ride hard, smile, be classy, love each other. There was a moving ride of silence and many hugs that weekend. We miss you AD and you will ride with us in our hearts and souls forever. 

I might be "retired" from racing. Racing as the primary reason I go to races anyway. I have been moving much more into the role of working at the races than racing at the races if that makes sense. Its something I love. Maybe more than the actual racing itself. Racing is a hugely selfish act. The training, time spent away from family etc, the money spent on equipment and race fees. And you need to be very self focused to do well. I have really never been self focused. Its not in my nature. I love my friends and community and get more joy helping them or seeing them have a great race than I ever would doing well in a race. The few times I have done well have felt fairly empty to be honest. Its nice to be fit and beat some frenemies but I know I will never be anything but a mid-pack masters racer. Not making a judgement statement just stating my own metamorphosis in CX. I have resisted in the past and tried to take CX "seriously" but its time to be honest. I love working. I love putting on CX races and events. I love supporting a team and racers who deserve it. So this Holy Week was really about work. And the work I love. And I have to say I came away way more happy than I would have if I'd raced 7 times in 10 days. I raced one race. The Madison relay CX at Providence. And it was amazing! More on that later.

Sometimes I feel like I am one of the Hanleys - The hardest working Jamaican family from the In Living Color skit with the Keenan Ivory Wayans. "Only one job 'mon?" Suffice it to say I wear a lot of hats. We put on a Holy Week Teams of the NECX party at the Ride Studio Cafe, Night Weasels, attended the Builders Ball, worked the Honey Bikes booth at Provience, raced the Madison, promoted the Zank SSCX race, encouraged and supported general mayhem in concert with the Philly SSCX Worlds crew. And took care of a brand new puppy. There is only one way I wasn't a total hot mess by Sunday. Everyone chips in. HUP United has blown my mind. They are the best crew on the planet. In my absence they have manned the HUP tent, worked racers, raced their hearts out and just done what we always do. I love that HUP New England has become such a part of the CX scene. I heard so many race promoters telling me how great it was that the team helped set up race course after race course. Carrie, Markie Mark, Lazer (MVL), Deitch, Michele, everyone. The other side of HUP that makes me so proud is what happens between the tape. Michele and Ed are on fire. They are racing on a whole other level right now. And it is beyond inspiring to me. Both have big jobs, two kids, totally involved parents, always in good moods, always supporting the team and other racers and are having break out seasons. Ed is proof that Tri-athletes can kill it at CX. Frankly I think he is a CX racer now who does a Tri every once and a while. Respect to those two. The fact that Michele can trace her CX street cred back to Boston Cross is icing on the cake. Its why we as a team are growing and not suffering the fate of some other teams who burn bright and then implode.

People often as "what I do?" Fair question. Tough answer. Some is straightforward. Putting on a race is fairly simple in a complex way. Especially when you have ROYter and Pedal Power keeping you in check. But what are all these other hats? We run a series within a series? What is that all about? The Zank SSCX series was and is about growing CX from the bottom up. Not the top down. Make CX more accessible. Make it less intimidating. Less a cliche or cool kids club. If you have met me you know why I want to encourage less cool kids and more everywomen/everyman. I have never been cool. Never will be. The SSCX series has been fantastic this season. And with Philly SSCX Worlds looming I knew it would be something special. When Pat and Richard asked if we could be a part of Providence I knew it would be a launching off point. Showing SSCX off on such a big stage got me so stoked. I had no idea just how rad it would be. I tip my hat to all who made it so fun. And I tip my hat to Pat and Richard for adding in the Madison to Friday's races. Having the SSCX and the CX relay on the same day made Friday one big CX party. Sure the USAC officials were having to shake their heads a lot. And some "serious" racers got their spandex in a bunch at some of the shenanigans. But all in all it was a great gathering of the tribe. Racers from PA, MACistan, MD, NJ, all over came to just get rad. Even Tim Johnson came out to party. Ok I don't know if he actually partied but he was there so...yeah he partied with us.

After the races on Friday I flew over to the Biltmore in Providence for the Builders Ball. The Biltmore is an old time hotel in downtown Providence. When I went to art school in the late '80s we didn't go downtown. It was sketchy as hell. RISD was a great 4 years in my life. Being back in Providence stirred up some old memories but also inspired me in ways that are way more relevant to the future. The Builders Ball had such a good vibe. About 500 people packed into a ballroom drinking beer and talking bikes. Cross Jesus was in rare form. I am not sure what to think. Agent Utah seems to be long gone. Replaced by a character that is so far nameless but resembles a CX Hobo. He may or may not have spent the evening licking the top tubes of very fine handbuilt bicycle frames. I was able to meet a few of the RISD cycling team and that was pretty rad. I remember some of my friends riding way back in the day but no one was organized enough to form a race team. Kudos to the new generation for making this happen. The kits are awesome and I love their attitude about racing and riding. There is a weird Art School bike industry connection. So many racers, builders etc I know have some background in art. Its being replaced a tad by the engineers of the world but it gives me hope that cycling will keep its grunge roots. A bike is after all usable art. 

Night Weasels was a huge success. After 3 years of horrible conditions we finely had a warm and dry evening. The difference was enormous. When you aren't battling the elements you can actually focus on putting on a great race. I know racers love near biblical conditions. I do myself. I love muddy, nasty CX races. But from a promoters standpoint it makes every single action 100% more difficult. And spending two days out in the rain and cold tends to make you sick. Kudos to everyone who came out and had a blast. I love this race. Working with Colin and Sara always cracks me up. Huge thanks to everyone who has supported us and made it possible. Ski Ward deserves major props. They work their tails off on the event each and every year. And they open up their arms to us and let us take over the ski hill and throw one of the raddest CX parties on the planet. 

One of the best parts of the #NECX and our extended CX family are all the characters that fill our ranks. I guess that is why this transition from bike "racer" to bike "worker" bee has been so easy. I would rather hangout and laugh at all that is going on around me than freak out and be so serious that I can't see all the amazing things that happen at a cross race. From taking group photos inside the Boloco burrito truck to taking handups from the Philly SSCX Worlds crew to putting on a Teams of the NECX show at the Ride Studio the whole week was filled with so many cool people and laughs. Below are a few shots from the week that just say it all:

Jon Nable getting a little too rad on a table top. Love that he is shredding Night Weasels on his 29er!

MVL and Leslie with matching Worlds t-shirts. Those two are hilarious. Love how hard Lazer races and love that Leslie is digging racing cross. They both crack me up.

There were so many cool bikes at the Builders Ball. Honey brought three to show. Here is a Final 200 Meters.

I love old hotels. I do get a bit creeped out and envision waking up to Redrum painted on my hotel wall but I like ghosts and am cool with some spirits trying to talk to me.

The big wookie. GeWilli is Providence. Never seen the man so happy. Makes sense as it is his turf. Providence may be my favorite CX venue. It was an incredible course. Like a CX rollercoaster ride. It was so hard if you didn't really understand how it worked. But for me it had everything I love. Fast barrier/stair transitions, technical aspects everywhere, super fast drop ins and lots and lots of fast corners. Even the paved sections didn't bother me. And in all seriousness we need to do more CX relay races. Maybe extend the time. We were supposed to do 45 minutes or an hour. We did almost two hours. And my last lap was in almost darkness. Which I loved. Make it 4-6 hours. Have it go into the night. It would be amazing.

Metal. SSCX and CX are all about Metal in my mind. I said it before I will say it again my friends are what make all of the cool stuff I am involved in happen. Without them it would be impossible. Matt Lolli has been a huge influence on me the last two seasons. He is a great friend and a real warrior on the bike. He's brought so much radness to our SSCX series its not even funny. SSCX is growing. It won't be one thing. I like that everyone puts their own stamp on it. Its ok to race in a bacon suit, its ok to race in full kit and be "serious", its ok to use zip ties, its ok to take handups. Philly SSCX Worlds are going to be bananas. After Providence I am super stoked. I have heard some rumors but for now we will just have to black out December 6, 7, & 8th and #GETINTHEVAN!!!