Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Gateway Drug

There has been a lot of talk lately about "growth" in cyclocross. And a few dust ups over what that growth should look like. We had one fairly "epic" twitter fight that somehow awakened the Kraken of a parody account with Adam Myerson right in its cross hairs. Still not sure what that was all about but that is the double edged sword of the Internet. Yeah for open forums! As the dust settled I began to have some thoughts on the state of  the sport of cyclocross in the US. Smartly, and out of self preservation, I kept these to myself and let those with a dog in the fight to scrap it out over the next couple of days. The "Nationals in January" fight escalated quickly and seemed to be one that just would not die. But if I learned anything from that last twitter fight sometimes raising a ruckus in the water can attract sharks. And I just can't take another twitter fight. So I have just sort of kept my thoughts to myself. Then a friend posed the question if I thought CX was helping Mtn biking grow. My answer to whether I thought mtn biking and mtn bike racing specifically was growing because of CX was a resounding "YES"

In my opinion CX is having a positive influence on the increase in people racing mtn bikes and buying mtn bikes. But why is this happening. Should I start from the beginning for those who weren't around mtn biking in the mid-90s when mtn bikers were rock stars? Or do you want me to start with the present? For this fireside chat on the cusp of the Thanksgiving let's start with the present. Suffice it to say for our purposes those reading this are dedicated cross racers. Is that fairly accurate? Ok so let's take a team like my team. HUP United in New England. We are by definition a CX racing team. That is our purpose. And our obsession. But what drew us to CX in the first place has made our eyes wander a bit. We all love riding in the woods and playing in the dirt. With the advent of 29ers a "mtn bike" ends up being very similar to our cross bike. Only with bigger tires and disc brakes. Oh wait CX bikes have disc brakes don't they? See the more we try to differentiate between the two the sillier it sounds. When Mike Zanconato built me my first 29er he basically told me it would ride like my CX bike. But with big tires, flat bars and suspension. I love that bike. It is fast and can blast over just about anything. It is fun. And a lot like my cross bike. Only as, Colin, once said riding a 29er in the woods is like having an eraser, while a cx bike is a pencil. I have learned that lesson the hard way. Many times.

Ok this isn't really explaining the why or what of my argument is it? Let's look at some of the facts. Mtn bikers started CX in the US. Bold statement. But if you want to point to the first influx of europeans and european cross racers coming to the US it is true. Tom Ritchey brought the euros to the US and was the first one to start this cross pollination. Thomas Frischknecht is one of the greatest bike racers of our time. He was a world class CX racer who Ritchey converted to a world class mtn bike racer. He pretty much was the poster boy of the european invasion of mtn biking in the '90s. He and a whole legion of euros took the sport over. And what started as an American sport is now owned by the euros in large part to Frishi. So initially you have a heavy mtn bike influence on US CX. At that time mtn biking was the dominant sport. CX was tiny, unorganized, and really just an offseason affair that was done for fun. But this european influence brought over by mtn bikers began to take hold. When I moved west I didn't ride a bike.

I started mtn biking to rehab a broken leg. I got hooked. Mtn biking in the Bay Area is incredible. Long story short I spent some time with the Ritchey crew. I was lucky to be able to call a bunch of them my friends. I travelled to Seattle with the team the year Shari Kain won Cx Nationals. And on those sand dunes I fell in love with CX. Mtn biking brought me to CX and I loved it. CX was still a fun offseason deal. I met probably the first dedicated crosser I had met up to this point. His name was Pineapple Bob. He is a legend. He was so passionate about CX and worked for what I deemed the coolest bike company at that time, Bridgestone. So many of the things he said to me then still influences how I think about cycling. He lived and breathed cycling. One of my favorite P-BOB lines was love it and leave it alone. At the time mtn biking was heavily influencing cross racing. Bob wanted the races to be more euro. Traditional style courses. Love Cross, and Leave it Alone.

So early on mtn biking brought me to cx. But mtn biking was so much fun. Its hard to compare 45 minutes of hell with 3 hours on a mountain in the Sierras. I am sorry you just can't. Even here in New England mtn biking beats CX hands down. You just can't compare the two. Now this is going to get some people's skinsuits in a bunch. But hold on just a minute. I am not done. So you have mtn biking influencing CX at an early stage. Then mtn biking as we know it goes the way of the dinosaurs. I still blame USAC for its early demise. The Mammoth Mountain World Cup was like nothing you have ever seen. 10 times bigger than any CX race you have ever attended. Sea Otter Classic was the same way. And then BOOM. Done. Its how things go. Its one of my fears with CX. If you try to always build something up and put on a big show it can put a HUGE burden on all involved. Industry, race teams, promoters. So that was then and this is now. If you are fairly new to CX you probably either came over from the road side which has had a huge influence on CX over the last decade or started racing CX as your primary discipline. Coming from the road or being new to CX the appeal is easy to understand. 

• Cross is only 30-45 minutes long. 

• The bike is pretty simple and affordable. The bike can also serve as your winter bike, commuter and race bike. A do everything bike if you will

• The environment around a cross race is fun. Cross racing done correctly is never fun. Ok the competition may be but to do well you have to suffer. A lot. 

• Cross is fun. I said this before but its worth repeating. Before USAC got all up in our grill about handing up cupcakes you would go to a race and people would be freaking out and cheering for all the riders and some nutjob in a gorilla suit would hand you a mini-cupcake. How can you not laugh at that? Look at the photos that popularize magazines and blogs. It depicts cross as fun. Spectators and fans going nuts. You don't get that in mtn bike or road racing. After the race is over most races have food trucks or team tents. You can hang out and have a beer and watch the rest of the days racing. Or just hang out with your friends and talk story. Again try that with road racing. I actually dare you

• Women and men are pretty much equal in CX. Ok not totally but promoters, racers and participants almost all agree in parity. All the races I am involved with pay out equal money to men and women. My team's primary goal was and is to welcome women and foster growth. Cross racers are a funny crew. You don't get that type A testosterone crazed lunatic that you see (fairly or unfairly) depicted in road racing. Most women I know feel comfortable at a cross race. And around cross as a sport on the whole. 

• Cross is a sport of the people. Its all of our sport not just some elite 1%. Cross always has had a sort of offbeat flavor and I think it has been cultivated over the years. Even at the biggest races of the year you still bump into all your weird (cool) friends

• So many options. Cross has a ton of options. You can race your age, category or now more and more singlespeed. It is a very welcoming sport. You can do a highly competitive race with 140 racers in your field one day and a small grassroots race with 30 racers in your field that same weekend

Ok so that maybe outlines in broad strokes of why cross has become so popular. But what does this have to do with mtn biking? A fair amount of cross racers are mtn bike racers and riders. They are promoters as well. In New England the most popular promoter in this area is a rabid mtn biker. His influence has filtered over to a lot of people. It didn't hurt mtn biking's growth that one of the most popular CX race promoters then put on a mtn bike race. Sure that race may have been a kick in the teeth to lots of racers but you know what? When a cross racer races a mountain bike race they actually do it in a safe and fun manner. Cross racers are used to getting off their bikes. When they see something they "can't" ride up they get off and run. They aren't afraid to get off and run down something either. This is a pretty good survival skill racing mtn bikes in New England. Sure you might get heckled a bit but as Tom Ritchey once told me the ONLY thing that matters racing mtn bikes (or cross bikes) is who is fastest from point A to B. And that is the truth.

Blue Hills Cycling Club put on one of the most fun mtn bike races of the summer. And they are putting on a summer training series this summer. A road team (basically) getting more into mtn biking. How does that happen? Cross. Road racers try cross, cross is fun. Road racing is not. They try and make road racing like cross but you can't. Road racers are not going to hang around after a race and drink beer. Do they even drink beer? How can you stay that skinny drinking beer? You can't actually. 

Which brings up another great point. Mtn bikers don't care if you are skinny. Or fit. Or shaved. Or hairy. They are just happy to see you. Seriously. When you go to a mtn bike race the first thing you notice is how nice everyone is. NOONEISFREAKINGOUT. That is sort of refreshing. 

So once a cross racers tries mtn biking they get hooked. Basically you are doing a 1.5-2 hour cross race, in the woods with really cool people. Its wayyy less dangerous than a road race. Or even road riding for that matter. I would say in the last year or two half of my team has taken up mtn bike racing. For the women its almost 100%. There are a few hold outs but most all of them have bought new bikes and have been racing. What is funny is that while mtn bike racing can be frustrating and painful its rewards can be off the charts. 

Back to the beginning and I will wrap up this ramble. What is interesting to me and what triggered this whole "growth" argument/discussion is that some mtn bikers were complaining about racing deep into Winter. They need a break. No doubt. And mtn bikers by nature just aren't that serious. US CX has a million problems. Racing on an international level isn't one of them. Perhaps its the "mission statement of USAC" Great. How did that work with Lance and road racing? The drive to compete on an international playing field resulted in one of the darkest periods in US Cycling's history. Just about killed the sport. Whether CX Nationals in January is irrelevant to me. That cycling is healthy, that people ride and race bikes is important to me. It will be interesting to see how both mtn biking and CX grow in the next decade. I think they are much natural partners than road and CX ever were but that is just my opinion. And you know what I am all about. I am basically just a dirty singlespeeder...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"A rhino is merely a unicorn in disguise."

That may be one of my favorite quotes of all time. And Cheshire CX is now firmly planted into the top tier of cross racers in New England in my mind. I have to say grassroots races across New England are upping their game big time. We started the Zank SSCX series three years ago for some very simple reasons. Our first goal was to grow SSCX and show people just how much fun SSCX racing can be. Almost more importantly in my mind was to help support all the really cool grassroots races in this region. I won't lie, I worry that the UCI races will destroy some of the smaller grassroots races that we love. It doesn't seem to be happening thankfully. But its still a concern. What has happened in my mind is we have been able to show off some really fun races to people who might not otherwise travel to some of these great venues. I have heard lots of great things about Cheshire but have never been able to make it. We rolled down with a great crew. A ton of HUP and a bunch of SSCXers. I was super stoked to be able to meet up with some of my favorite CT friends. Matt Lolli and Doug Jenne are badasses. But also two of the nicest guys you will ever meet. And live and breathe SSCX. They are true soul riders in my mind. They both get it.

Going into Cheshire we had a bit of a psy ops mission we wanted to accomplish. We are trying to rally the entire #NECX to go down to Philly and occupy SSCX Worlds. It will be the first time SSCX Worlds will be on the east coast. Philly is going to be a blast. Yeah we want to go to Philly and get rad and see all our Philly friends, but we also want to bring SSCX Worlds back to Boston for 2014. We are going to need everyone to make this happen. Dave Pryor, the promoter of Philly Worlds, gave me some swag to hand out at our next SSCX race. I thought why not kick it up a notch. I took one of the coozies and tagged it with Velocb. At the start of the race Hunter announced one lucky racer would be handed up a Golden Ticket to Philly. Matt's friend Anthony sat on the steepest runnup on the course looking for the perfect victim. And when I found out who won I was blown away. Anthony picked the perfect person to handup that lucky coozie to. I mean look at the photo above? Damn. The CX Rhino may be our "delegate" in Philly. It is between him and Cross Jesus. This was CX Rhino's first SSCX race. I think he even said it was his first CX race. And he liked it so much he did the 1/2/3 race later that day.

Ok so why did I love Cheshire so much? I love "Jungle CX" I HATE grass crits. Hate them. With a passion. Cheshire had it all. Some really smartly designed grass off cambers and turns, a nice sandpit, some sick gravel fire roads and then LEGIT singletrack. Like singletrack that has alarms going off in your head saying to eject before you hit a tree at 25 mph. It reminded me of a lot of the stuff in Cutler that we all love. But buffed. Hunter and his crew clearly went up and raked the swoopy downhills of leaves and debris. The upper euro chute section was a blast. To get to it you had to run a pretty steep and loose runup similar to the one at Noho. Then on the other side of the ridge you had one the longest runups I have ever seen in a cross race. Abel and a couple of riders were able to ride up it. I am just not strong enough on a SSCX bike to ride things like that. It was basically like a hike a bike in a mtn bike race for me. Calling what I did on that section each lap as running would be an insult to runners throughout the world.

I somehow felt pretty ok considering how little riding I have been able to do lately. Its probably the power of the new Camelstache kit. I put that on and it gives me super powers. It was great racing with so many friends and dicing it up on such a crazy course. The Cheshire crew were so cool. There was a great heckling/cheering section on the super long run up. In my hypoxic state I think I saw a Spartan with some type of drum or pot and pan making sooo much noise. I would never say I "like" a runup but there was something about how they were laid out that made them really perfect. You would run up that nastiness and be gassed. Then remount and be rewarded by a roller coaster ride down the side of the ridge. Then hit the grass and get some great turns in. Awesome. Awesome course. And even the registration ladies were excited to see all the SSCXers. I don't think I have ever heard a heckle at the reg tent but it was pure gold.

Huge props to Hunter and his crew. Its a great part of the Zank SSCX series. Two more races in the series. New England Regionals in Fitchburg, and Ice Weasels. Thank you to everyone who has come out and supported the series. Its been a blast to see so many people getting rad on singlespeeeds and having such a good time. Hopefully see a ton of you down in Philly.

Monday, November 11, 2013


There is one reason and one reason only why we do what we do. Love. Love of the actual bike. Love of riding the bike. Love of building the bike. Love of building the community of bikes. Without love its meaningless. Its beer league softball or lawn darts. Or sportsball. The bike community is unlike any other community. Maybe surfing or fishing. There are some real similarities between cycling and surfing and fishing. We will get back to that later. For now we are going to talk about bike love and how its been rekindled in my blackened heart. My love of bikes goes way back. To my childhood. Most people can (hopefully) trace their love of the bike to when they were a kid. But then predictably at about 13 it becomes "uncool" most teenagers focus turns to team sports of the ball variety. Then cars come into the picture and bikes become even less cool. Little did I know moving 3,000 miles away from where I fell in love with the bike would result in a love affair that would span the last two decades. That love affair became my career, it formed the basis for all my friendships, it broke my body but fed my soul, it kept me young, it drove my creativity and drove my significant other crazy. Moving back to where it all started also started a new chapter in my love for the bike. It really became less about the bike sometimes and using the bike to bring people together and build something. 

We (the industry and racers) tend to focus on the "sport" of cycling. I guess the theory is it makes cycling a more valid pursuit. Racing is serious business. Riding a bike for fun/health or transport is somehow far less sexy than winning bike races. And maybe racing helps "sell" bikes. Certainly one could argue racing helps to sell high end bikes. I race. Have for a long time but recently my interest in "racing" has waned. Why is that? To me its about what you value. What is important. I personally would rather see someone ride there bike to school or to work than win a bike race. Racers are a selfish bunch. On any level. They have to be to be successful. Some certainly give back more than others. Or use their "fame" to do more than secure their next sponsorship. Racing to me also brings out some negative behavior in those who I would call "good" people. I am not talking about doping I am talking more about the heckling and negative speak that goes on incessantly among bike racers. I guess I hold cyclists to a higher standard. Not knocking racing or racers. To me its about a shift. A friend recently challenged us to ask ourselves what we are for. I interpreted that as what do we love about cycling. The last couple of years I have fallen in love with riding again. Just riding. Get on the bike and see where it takes you.

The types of rides and riding we have been doing has been more of what I would call soul riding. Surfers talk about this all the time. I have found it this past year or two. And I owe my friends for showing me a better path. Honey Bikes was formed along these ideals. Build simple bikes. Build a community. Ride. Smile. Rinse and repeat often. When we heard about the Philly Bike Expo we got really excited. The Bilenky's have built a really nice expo in Philly. We didn't really know what to expect. I personally have never been to Philly. Boston, shocking but true, can be kind of insular. I have been really enjoying seeing and learning about different bike cultures. Its really refreshing to see how different regions build their community and identify themselves as cyclist. Nick and I drove down Friday night and set up our booth in the PA Convention Center. It became really apparent that we weren't in Kansas anymore as Dorothy would say. People were nice. Like really nice. This often times makes people from Boston nervous. You start doubting yourself and asking yourself what is this feeling I am feeling when people smile at me and are nice to me? Is it happiness? Weird.

It became the theme for the whole weekend. All the people who would come to talk with us in our booth were just so nice and so into bikes. And it began to have a real effect on me. And I started to see things from their perspective. The biggest takeaway from the Expo was that all our efforts shouldn't go into bike racers. I think I talked to maybe 2 people I would consider "bike racers" Everyone else was an enthusiast. Still lovers of bikes. Bike racers to be honest don't love bikes. A bike to a bike racer is a tool. A bike to a 60 year old man from Upstate NY is much, much more than a tool. People would see our bikes and just gush. They loved our bikes and the hard work we put into them. But a lot of what we talked about was rides they had been on. Or rides they wanted to go on. It was really one of the best weekends I have had in a long time. It was a true expo in that it wasn't just bike builders it was advocacy groups, artisans of all types, clubs and retailers. We will definitely be back to the Expo next year. I won't lie I ended up really loving Philly. Philly the City and the whole Philly bike community. The two seem so tied together. It is a really walkable (and bikeable) city. Certainly compared to Boston or SF. The restaurants and public art were off the charts. I wish I had time to actually get on a bike and do some of the rides that had been organized. But I was able to see all the bike fanatics out there loving their bikes and the rides they were heading on. It was a great mash up of riders. I saw a group of what looked like Hells Angels but on wild lowrider bicycles. Tons of bike commuters and advocacy types. Philly clearly has a cool mtn bike scene as I talked with a bunch of riders about nearby trails. And they certainly get how to make racing fun. Even racing can be fun if you have the right mindset. Certainly down in Philly it seems to be.

We got a good feel for what SSCX Worlds in Philly are going to be all about. Its going to be rad why mince words. They have some really cool things planned. Is Boston ready for SSCX Worlds '14? At least we know where to put the apostrophe I will say that. I'm not sure though. I had some high level psy ops discussions over scrapple and Philly Cheesesteaks discussing if Boston (and by extension the #NECX) can loosen up enough to actually have fun. SSCX Worlds is all about fun. If you take it seriously you really are missing the whole point. I may have been texting a certain someone who will not be named to see if he might want to go down this rabbit hole with me. To do it we will need all of the #NECX to get on this crazy train. Its the only way it will work. 3 days of SSCX mayhem in Boston? I think it would be amazing. This years qualifier is pretty simple. Its basically a popularity contest. Each person who puts in a bid will need to stump for "chips" Poker chips if you will. Racers and others will give that person the poker chips over the course of the 3-days that Philly SSCX Worlds will take place. I think I got this. If I have to buy the chips with beer, donuts, dollar bills, or by other nefarious means I am up for it. If we do bring it to Boston it has to be rad. Thank god its not some maple syrup chugging contest. No way I could handle that.

Purple is the new black. True story. We brought 3 Honeys down to the Expo. An All Roads that we built specifically for D2R2 and that is hands down our most popular bike. More than one person came up to me and said the All Roads was the type of bike they have been looking for for years. We also brought our Cross Race bike. People were super stoked on that bike. We answered so many questions about cross and the bike. Its probably my favorite topic so it was fun seeing so many people respond so well to the bike we have been racing on for the past two seasons. The bike that really blew me away was the 29er mtn bike we painted special for the show. We are very lucky. Our painters are some of the most creative people I have ever met. I really didn't know what the new paint scheme would be like. When I saw it in person it blew me away. Purple, with black and silver panels. It has a gold metallic clear coat. Its straight up gorgeous. I didn't know what people would think. They loved it.

We also got to meet a lot of other industry friends and plot and scheme for 2014. If half of the cool projects and rides happen 2014 is going to be a pretty amazing year I will say that. Not that '13 hasn't been one the best. We have had so much fun this year. Thank you so much to the Philly Bike Expo for doing such a great job. We had a blast and came away from it with so many great ideas. We will be back in Philly in a few short weeks. To say I am #EXCITE is an understatement. Philly I love you. We will be bringing a bunch of #NECX love down to Philly SSCX Worlds. Not sure if people in Philly hug. But I am going to give Dave Pryor a huge hug next time I see him for all he has done to make SSCX Worlds happen on the East Coast. Huge thanks have to go to my wingman pictured below. Without Nick this trip never would have happened. He is one of the most solid guys I know. Cracked the whip. Kept me on task. And even when Siri had us doing circles on the drive home he kept it together. Sure Newark was almost the death of us. But all real adventures have to have some threat of death to be a true adventure right? In all seriousness thank you to all who made the Philly Bike Expo possible. We will be back next year.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Road to Philly (Part 2)

This Friday we are loading up the van and heading to The Philly Bike Expo. Philly came to us a month ago for the Providence CX Festival so it only seems fair we head to the City of Brotherly and Sisterly Love to check out their rich bike scene. Not going to lie there is something about PA bike culture that intrigues me. Can't say what it is. And that is why we are going to do some recon. This will be a "working" trip. Not sure if we will actually be able to ride bikes. Which is pretty ironic in my mind. Heading to a bike show but not bringing my personal bike. I am excited. The Builders Ball in PVD was a blast. I love meeting people and talking about Honey and the sick rides we have been cooking up. And I love to hear about the rides other people have been doing. There is a certain bandit CX race happening Sunday of the show. Hmmm perhaps the show takes a quick lunch break on two wheels. As long as we don't use the actual show bikes and scuff them up it has to be cool am I right?

Ok enough of that silliness. We are bringing three really rad bikes. Not trophy bikes but like all Honeys built for the ride. We are bringing the All Roads that was ridden at D2R2, a sick 29er mtn bike and one of my personal faves the HUP Honey disc CX bike in its Belgian paint scheme. We also will be bringing special limited edition embrocation and chamois cream as well as some fun buttons and t-shirts. Come check us out at the Booth #616. The other order of business is of course to scout out Philly and size up the competition for SSCX Worlds. Worlds are going to be here in a blink of an eye. Its time to ratchet up the focus a bit. To say we have been obsessing over Philly Worlds would be an understatement. I know a bunch of us from Boston will be heading down to enjoy all the shenanigans Philly can dish out. Do we dream and hope that one of the #NECX's own will come home with the tattoo and golden speedo? You are damn right we do. And we will do everything in our power to make it happen. Ok everything except take the race seriously. Because that is not how you "win" SSCX Worlds

To celebrate the last few rounds of the Zanconato SSCX Series as we head towards Philly like some drunk Belgian super fan trying to lurch up some muddied hill to the beer hall we have a few tricks up our sleeves. So here is my challenge to you dear reader.

1.) Follow our travels to the Philly Bike Expo. If you happen to be there come by and say hi. Grab a cool Honey pin or some other cool swag while you are at it. If you can't be there in person its ok we will share all our hijinks with you through the usual channels

2.) Sign up for SSCX Worlds and #GETINTHEVAN. If you are shy about it come to Cheshire CX and see if you can win a free entry to Worlds. What do you mean a free entry? I mean a free entry. And by win I mean someone may offer you a handup during the race. It might be a dollar bill, it might be beer or bacon. Maybe it will be a donut. Or if you are really lucky it will be a Philly SSCX Worlds coozie with my initials on it. If you take that hand up I will pay your entry. And maybe if you aren't an axe murdered you can #GETINTHEVAN with us and head to Philly as our VIP quest.

3.) We have 3 races until the Zank SSCX World Tour is just a memory. Don't miss out on all the insanity. This season has been fantastic. And we have 3 races left. 4 if you count Worlds. Which I am somewhat leaning towards using as the "BONUS" round. What would the bonus round get you? Other than the envy and admiration of all your peers? Double points? Flesh eating bacteria? Zombie pox? Its like a Yankee Swap of SSCX.

4.) To recap. Sign up for Worlds. Get to Cheshire in 2 weeks for MAJOR SSCX radness. A free entry to Worlds will be handed up at Cheshire. Lots of great swag will also be on the line. And we have NEON zip ties!!! There is even rumor of 2 Zank hoodies being offered as prizes. And I guarantee the women will get one of them!

5.) Thank you from the bottom of my blackened heart for making this SSCX season so fun. The series is really starting to gain momentum. Its been so rad seeing more and more people come and race. Tell your friends or frenemies. Tell me or Zank what we can do to make it even more rad. See you in two weeks in CT!