Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Danger Zone

Liz Lukowski Glitter Bomb by Jon Nable
This photo of Liz Lukowski running through the Danger Zone at Ice Weasels by Jon Nable captures all that is great in the Zank SSCX series. A super rad racer just having a blast in a glitter body suit being chased by one of the best mechanics in the country. SSCX can and should be a place to let your hair down. Or wear wigs and body suits. Liz gets it. She is probably one of my favorite people in our circle of friends. Tough as nails, creative, adventurous spirt and just brings the funk. She texted me the week before Ice Weasels asking what type of wig I wanted. I wasn't really sure what she meant. I joking replied I wanted a Hockey Mullet wig. Preferably blonde as I always wanted to be a blonde. I had a head of shock blonde hair from ages 2-7. Sadly my Billy Idol hair do turned darkish brown. So sad. So when Liz pulled a wig out of her race bag and told me to zip tie it to my helmet I didn't ask questions. Once I affixed said wig to my helmet I noticed it made me look like I had a muskrat attached to my skull. It wasn't a bad look. Made me look a bit like Davy Crockett. It complemented my 20 year old Crusty Cruiser Cup Swobo wool vest very nicely. How that vest still fits is beyond me.

WWCD by Meg McMahon
I got to Ice Weasels and was hyped. Like very, very hyped. This season has been really special. Lots of reasons. So many people to thank. I set up the HUP tent next to Chainline Cycles. They really have become such good friends. I love Eric, Kevin, Keith and Sam. Sam finally returned from being oversees and it was so great to see him. The Chainline crew don't mess around. They had two heaters. One which almost blew the roof off the tent but a mere detail when its in the teens and you are standing around all day cheering on bike racers. I had come down the day before to help out a bit. Upon inspection of the course and in large part because I am counting down the days til SS Mtb season I got the brilliant idea to convert my geared 29er to a SS. The course at Ice Weasels is rad. Super techy. I raced it last year on the SSCX and had no problem. But I knew it was going to get nuts. And when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. So I converted that 29er to a SS. I knew 32 x 18 was going to have zero chance against 42 x 19 in the upper grass fields. But it really didn't matter. I was in this to shred the berms and ride everything. I did a quick lap in between races and felt really good about my choice.

Myette in Beast Mode by Meg McMahon
 A days worth of racers had smoothed the course down pretty nicely but there were some pretty tricky sand sections and the ground was in a thaw freeze cycle. You had to look out for some sneaky slick spots or else you were going to lay it down pretty good. At the start it was full party mode. Utah was giving out Rolling Rocks out of a messenger bag. The people with something on the line were up on the front row ready to rock. The rest of us were goofing off. Until the whistle went off and then it was utter chaos. Not sure if people were just drunk (duh) or amped but man there was some shady chopping and poor line choices. We somehow survive to the first pinch point. Chainlink fence on the left drop off on the right. Time to party. This was really my main reason to go with the 29er. It wasn't a matter if someone crashed in front of me it was when. Hopefully it wasn't on some insane drop in or high speed descent. Things sorted out pretty fast. I was locked in with DJ Robert. Bert is one of my HUP teammates and often brings along the beats. He gets a playlist on his iPhone and then putt a blue tooth enabled speaker in a water bottle cage. Nothing like racing SSCX to Mettalica.

Lesli and Jesse by Meg McMahon

 We get to the Danger Zone and it is pure Chaos. Last year's Danger Zone was wild. Someone had put Roman Candles on the barriers. Now this sounds very dangerous. It isn't. Not if you have half a brain.   It is a classic example of threat analysis. You know what is more dangerous than Roman Candles? Physio balls. Or Yoga Balls. Or in this case Sex Balls. Thanks PDX. So I somehow get through alive. Lots of ass slaps and cheers. Shouts of "GIVECHIPTHEGOODSTUFF!!!" I love all y'all but I am #sportsdad. And I had places to be after this little shindig. Dad can not show up to a hockey game later that evening smelling like booze and drunk (or high) off the "good stuff" Its not the '80s anymore. Sorry. For this Weasel I was keeping my drinking to a minimum. A pre-race Rolling Rock and a post-race bourbon ball. That was it. I was high off the race trust me. I didn't need supplementation. Things settle in a bit for a lap. I am just loving the course and having a great time. I get down near the river and see a frenemie who beat me last year on this course. He was a target. I was excited to see him. Until I see him hit the deck and look like he just broke his leg. I don't think I have heard screaming like that before. As he is writhing on the ground in pain and screaming. My brain sort of refocuses and things slow down. I am going about 18 mph. I am about to hit him full on. Usually racers get off the course. Then he grabs his bike and the wheel is heading right towards me. I somehow either hop the wheel or get around it and somehow don't die.

SSCX Viking by Meg McMahon
 I knew my spidey sense was right about my bike choice for this day. I get back on it and try and chase down Zank. I know its not happening. He is flying. But I catch a few people. And am having a ton of fun. On the swoopy turns into the finish I see my friend Roni. She is in a hot pink glitter body suit. I go by her and almost crash my brains out as I am blinded by all that glitter. I stop for her at the barriers and we exchange high fives. She is so awesome. I take off and am caught by my own bike right before the skate park. I start laughing. I had loaned my SSCX bike to my good friend Guthrie. He is an awesome guy. Just a blast to be around. I can't believe I am about to be beaten by my own bike! I look at it as converting one more geared rider to SSCX. We ride together for a bit but that green SSCX bike is just a magic unicorn and it is gone in a blink of an eye.

Welcome to the Terror Dome by Meg McMahon
My last trip through the Danger Zone gets a bit handsy. I guess the Danger Zoners were tired of me not taking hand ups. So when I am humping my bike up that nasty runup a slew of hands just pull my bike and me up the hill. Then the bike is gone. It goes into the crowd. I have to run after it and grab it and run back out of the crowd. I am covered in beer and god knows what else. As I am trying to remount one more super fan is attached to my bike. I honestly don't think I just instinctively put my hip right under his thigh and send him off into the trees and crowd. I remount and head down the drop off. I can't even believe the mayhem that just occurred. I can't even stop laughing to be honest. The Danger Zone was off the hook this year. So much fun.

Clothing optional by Meg McMahon

I finish up even more hyped about the race than when it started. That is a sign of a special race. When the dust settled Pete Smith the overall title on the men's side. Melissa Downs won the overall title on the women's side. The season ends on such a high note I can't even begin to process it. This season has been amazing. HUGE thanks to Pete Smith and Mad Alchemy, Mike Zanconato, Melissa Downs and Bob Stine, Lesli Cohen, The Chainline Pain Train, NECT, The Zank crew, Agent Utah, all the racers and promoters, Feedback sports, Castelli and Starr Walker, Roni Vetter for the podium pies, Thom for his rad Dirtwire TV coverage, Jon Nable for being official photographer, 3Cross for the amazing podium beer. Thank you to everyone. You all are amazing. We are already plotting and scheming for 2017. I can't wait til next season. If you have ideas on how to make this crazy circus even better don't be shy. You know where to find me. See you on the flip side my friends. And always keep it SSCXy

Roni looking absolutely fabulous by Laura Kozlowski

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Blurred Lines

I got the idea for this post from my friend Stacey's facebook post about SSCXWCXPDX. Apparently a lot of people out in the Pac NW like to do the cycle-cross pedal contests with flat bars. It created quite a ruckus. It wasn't a real ruckus. Honestly none of these bike related "arguments" are real. 99% of the people are just ribbing each other about this or that. The mechanical purists feign outrage at zip ties and tensioners. The OG curmudgeons get agitated over disc brakes and tubeless. So let's do this for once and for all. What defines a cyclocross bike? Is it the bar of choice? brakes? Tires? I guess this whole conversation could spin out of control real fast into the realm of what is cyclocross. I spell it without a hyphen. You may like the hyphen. You might even like to call it cycle-cross. I once was at a race where they called us psycho-cross racers. Its all good. We are all one big family bound by mud and the confines of yellow tape in the octagon that is a two mile cx course. Unless you are in Oregon. Then the course is loosely defined by orange cones. Which we have video evidence of being very, very dangerous. Possibly more hazardous than any A line in NTF. 

So first, thank you to Stacey for inspiring this post. Second, thank you to everyone who had some fun with this and posted great pictures and made a otherwise boring day yesterday pretty entertaining. So let's do this. What is a cyclocross bike? I define a cyclocross bike as a bike you would use to RACE cyclocross. CX is a race after all. Even if like me you are old and slow once you pin that number on and the official blows that whistle ( or doesn't in New England as we love the secret start) it is on. Even if you are last you still are racing someone. Maybe it is even your inner demons to finish the race. It is ok to have fun in the confines of the yellow tape. It is encouraged obviously in CX. Ok so we have loosely defined CX as a race type of event. And in a race your goal is to get from point A to point B the fastest. And the secondary goal is to finish. These are often closely tied together. Going super fast and riding stupid ends lots of racers days early. Bikes break, tires flat, bodies hit the deck. Sometimes slow is fast. So we want to finish the contest in one piece and go as fast as we can.

The best bike for this in most cases is a CX bike. So what is a CX bike. The lines about what a CX bike is and isn't have been blurry from day one. Early on really they were touring bikes. Then it became less of a niche sport and builders started creating the demon step child of a crit bike and a nice handling touring machine. The current CX Race bike is in my mind the perfect bike. It is made to go fast but to also handle very well. The bike has certainly benefited from some mechanical advancements. Disc brakes while maybe not accepted or needed on an actual road bike can be a big advantage for CX. And to blur the lines a bit it makes a CX bike more woodsy. The line between 29er and CX bike begins to really get fuzzy. One of the great things about the adoption of 29er wheel size for MTB was and is that 29 and 700 c are interchangeable. You know can have a set of wheels that work on both your "MTB" and "CX" bike. Not to go full blurred lines but and I know this word will make you all nuts Gravel events have even made things weirder. My good friend Todd crushed us at VT Overland one year on a 29er with a carbon rigid fork and 40 mm tires on 29er tubeless wheels. Let that soak in for a bit. Yes, he ran flat bars.

So does the bar define the bike? The wheels? I think people are morphing toward flat bars in CX races like SSCXWCX because they are more comfortable. If you are riding (note I did not say racing) in a big group in mud with physio balls being hurled at you its a good thing to be in a comfortable upright position. Flat bars make it easier to ride while wearing an inflatable T-Rex costume. No argument there. Are flat bars fast? Mike Wissell is fast. I don't think the bars made him fast. For me I would not want to race on flat bars. I am not just saying this but I feel more comfortable dropping down some technical section in the drops than I would on the top of flat bars. I feel more in control. A CX race can be very technical but it has to have fast sections. To go fast on fast sections you need to get aero. Sitting upright is like strapping a parachute on your back. A CX race should have a run up or 2-3. Running up a hill with a flat bar is an easy way to get your teeth knocked out. In my opinion. Try shouldering a mountain bike? It doesn't work so great. Cause that flat bar keeps whacking you in the head. Drop bars just ask you to tuck that bike on your shoulder and run up that hill. Honestly for how much people worry about getting hurt by disc brake rotors I would be much more worried about crashing and taking a flat bar to my spleen. That has to hurt.

Tomac was always my hero. Frischi as well. Those two defined Mountain biking to me when I was getting into bikes. They always pushed the equipment envelope. I find it hugely ironic that Frishci once raced flat bars at a CX Worlds and Tomac raced drop bars for a season on the World Cup of MTB. It just shows that equipment choice is just that. A choice. What works for you may not work for me. We all love to define things and put labels on things. I still don't know what a gravel bike is. I think its a CX bike with fat tires. I like the term as it is elegant but I know it drives people nuts. Probably because the label doesn't fit the bike or the activity. I hate gravel. It sucks to ride on. I like dirt roads and loam. And a river. I love riding next to rivers. Ok and watermelon stops. And beer. Ok now I am getting off track. But you get it. Its fun to give each other crap now and again. You all rock.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Tubeless CX

A lot of people have been asking me about tubeless for CX. Tubeless in CX is sort of like how tubular tires were about 10 years ago. Seemingly some kind of dark art combining wizardry and alchemy. Back in the early days of tubulars it was very hard to come by good tubular tires. You had to know someone who knew someone. Phone calls were made. Emails were sent. Trips to France and Belgium happened. Then you had to either learn to glue the tires yourself or again know the secret handshake to get someone who knew what they were doing to glue the tires for you. This sounds expensive and like a royal pain in the ass doesn't it? It was. But it was worth it. It was worth it from a performance reason as you could now run low pressures without pinch flatting. You still could flat though as there still is a tube in a tubular. Racing on nice tubulars on a rutted rooty New England CX course against a field running predominantly CX tires with tubes is like cheating. Half the fast guys would flat out and the other fast guys would bounce off the roots and off the course. Podium presented by equipment doping. But the most important reason to go fancy French tubulars was to go full CX Diva. People would lose their minds when they saw you roll up with your green sidewall FMBs. My first experience on tubulars was via Molly Cameron. She set me up. I picked the wheels and tires up in Portland when I traveled out for the USGP at PIR. The ride was life altering. 

I was hooked. It was like CX crack cocaine. I just needed more tubulars. Little did I know like crack cocaine you basically are just lighting money on fire via your addiction. And it wasn't just tires you now needed wheels. It isn't like a normal clincher tire. You can't change tires easily with tubulars. So you need three wheel sets. If you want to be a BALLER anyway you do. And who doesn't want to be a BALLER? Flatting or puncturing a $120 FMB tubie is no joke. You are out the expensive tire. Then you need someone to glue a new tire on. So let's call it a cool $200. Timing can suck as well. It could take a week to get the flatted tire fixed and ready to go. So now you need a fourth clincher wheel set to train on while your tubulars are getting fixed. Welcome to cyclocross. And all your friends said it was for fun. Liars. 

So I played the game. I loved my FMBs. I had a few sets. Then sort of settled in with one all arounder I liked. It wasn't like I was going to podium anyway. So why am I going through the hassle and expense of multiple tires for my Beer League Softball participation. At few years ago I stopped even putting spare wheels in the pit. Frankly tubulars with a bit of Stan's in them really are about as flat proof as you can get. Rolling a tire is probably your biggest risk of ruining your mid-pack finish but with the people who I ended up gluing my tires it was virtually impossible to roll a tire. The glue jobs my mechanic laid down lasted about two years. Maybe a bit more if you wanted to push it. And who has time for constantly checking their equipment? That is silly talk. Ok so to recap. Tubulars are expensive, kind of a pain in the ass but offer unreal performance advantages for racing CX. The big upside is the ability to run low pressures without flatting. I am sure everyone who reads this knows why this is great but maybe for people newer to CX the reason you want to run low pressures in CX is that a tire at say 25-30 PSI will give you way more traction and is way more comfortable as compared to the same tire at 45+ PSI. And realistically if you are running tubes in a CX race with any roots or rocks you need to be at 45+ to avoid flatting. That is unless you are sub-150. But some of that is riding style as well. The more aggressive you ride the higher you would have to run tires with tubes. Ok so that is tubular tires for CX in a nutshell. 

At some point you begin to question this lifestyle. Maybe you just can't justify $300 for a set of FMBs. I know I can't at this point. I have Syd the kids hockey to pay for. $300 barely covers a carbon hockey stick these days. So your eye starts to wander a bit. Coming from a mountain bike background the lure to tubeless is pretty easy. Until you see your friends burping DIY tubeless set ups at CX races. Some seem to have a gift for exploding tubeless set ups. Cough * David Deitch *cough. But there sacrifices paved the way to where we are at right now. Right now the system is dialed. And by system I mean tubeless specific rim and tubeless specific tire. Add some sealant of your choice and voila you are now ready to jump into the dark side of tubeless CX. Ok if you are thinking now that you will take your old Ksyriums and get the conversation kit and use some Challenge tires you have I am going to stop you right now. DONOTDOIT. Did DD suffer over and over again so you could make the same mistakes? No. No he did not. So just step away from that old crappy stuff. Sell the wheels. You can get $500 for them right? Ok so get a nice starter set of wheels like the Stan's Grails. They are super easy to set up and are a good wheel to begin with. Buy a set of Specialized tires and really you are good to go. So let's recap. $500 for the wheels + $80 for the tires + $20 for the Stans = $600 and a good raceable set up.

Ok before we delve too much into the whole tubeless CX experience lets go over some pitfalls etc. I know I am always super positive and don't get all negative. It is easy to set up a tubeless tire on a wheel like the Stan's Grail. If I can do it you can. I am a total hack. Seriously. Here is how it works. Ideally you do this outside on your driveway. You need a bucket of soapy water and a hose. Again ideally. Get your new wheel. The wheel should be taped with Stan's yellow tape and have a tubeless valve. Make sure the nut on the valve is tight to the rim. I have found most problems setting up a tubeless tire can be traced to the tape of valve. Usually if I am having trouble with a tire that is the first thing I will do. Put fresh tape on and a new valve. It solves most problems. The next answer to a tubeless tire that is losing air is just add more Stan's and shake. Or ride. Riding actually helps the tire seal. It moves all the sealant around and sets it up nicely. Ok so you have your bucket and hose. I put the tire on the usual way. Then I mount the bead and leave a little off the rim. I put one scoop in and then turn the tire so the sealant goes around the tire. I flip the tire and pop the bead on. Then inflate with a floor pump. Inflate until you hear the bead pop. It makes a great pinging sound. Some rims like the HED don't ping. Not sure why but you can see the bead is seated by looking at the sidewall. Make sure the bead is evenly on the rim.

Thom did an awesome video about tubeless. Check it out here. Dan does it s bit differently than I do. I am lazy so that is probably why I do it the way I do it. The little bottles of Stan's are really nice for adding more sealant or even doing the set up the way Dan does it. The valve cores can be removed and you just squirt the contents of the bottle into the tire. Easy breezy. Ok so let's delve a bit deeper into the world of tubeless. So why did I decide to go all in? Zank and I were talking about the season. I had run tubeless for the entire last season. I had already ordered a set of brand new FMBs. Green sidewalls to match the new SSCX. Cause you know. Baller. As we were about to place the order for a set of tubular wheels I asked Mike if we should just go full tubeless. He agreed that there was no reason we should be running tubulars. Tubeless at 25 PSI does the same job as a Tubular. In fact it might be a tad more durable. And you have so many great tire options right now. When tubeless first came along there really weren't that many good tubeless tires for CX. Now there are so many. And not just traditional CX but Gravel or Monster CX. Nothing is better than a big fat tubeless tire for getting shreddy. 

Ok so we agree it is cool. And it is super easy to set up and fix. Honestly that may be reason one to go all in. I ended up tearing my front tire at Secret Squirrel. With Stan's you don't always know you have a puncture because it seals. As I was pumping up the tire the other day I saw air shooting out of the sidewall and then the Stan's sealed it. But the tire had a bunch of glass cuts so it was time for a new tire. I grabbed a Clement tire I had and installed it in 10 minutes. It cost me nothing. I said RIP to my old Specialized tire and went for a really nice ride. The advantage here isn't just ease of fixing a flat but that if you want to swap to a file tread of a mud tire you can do it in 10 minutes in the parking lot before your race if you really wanted to. 

Ok so this sounds amazing Chip. I am all in. I salute you. But just so I don't lie to you it can be messy. And you will shoot Stan's in your face at one point or another. Let me share a few "horror" stories. So this is my fault. Pure laziness but I got a front flat riding in Cutler the week before D2R2. I sort of laughed as Stan's shot out of the tire and then sealed. I was like man this is sooooo cool. I got home without even having to change the tire. Then like a dumb person assumed the tire was fine. D2R2 needs to be respected. I did not respect D2R2. So I left that tire on. Again it takes 10 minutes. I should have thrown the tire out and put a new one on. Anyhow. So of course the tire is flat the morning or D2R2. I won't lie I was freaking out. I pump it up and Stan's shoots out of multiple glass cuts. But seals. So we roll out and I forget about it. We get about 5 miles and I hit something and all those Stan's scabs just rip off. My bike and my face are being sprayed by Stan's at about 20 mph. Good times. I go through this cycle for about 5 more miles and then just pull off. Fixing a tire with Stan's in the field is no big deal but messy. I open the tire up and dump what ever Stan's out in the dirt. I boot the tire and put a tube in. Inflate and we are back on the road. Maybe ten minutes with the boot. So not the end of the world but messy. 

I guess if that is the horror story its not really that bad is it? So again I can't state enough to go with a a system. There are so many good rims and wheels. I love the HED rims and the NEXT wheels. Those are my faves. Stan's are ok but they aren't that durable. I dented the hell out of them. But they still held air. Just maybe not that nice of a wheel. Tires are all great right now. I would say Specialized are the most supple. But less durable than the Clements. The WTBs are awesome. I love the bigger gravel tires they offer. The good news is most of the tires are between $40-60 so you can experiment. Good luck and if you have any questions I am more than happy to help 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Watch Your Nuts

To my loyal five readers I salute you. If you haven't noticed I have taken my full auto velocb act over here. Do not despair I won't leave this here bloggity blog to collect too much dust. I will dust it off once this season is over. The Zank SSCX Series is like one of my demon spawn and has required a bit more of my attention. For the past six years we have just kind of winged it. But now as we have grown I am putting a bit more of my focus on the logistics behind the scenes. Some really cool stuff cooking for 2017. Announcements will come post-Nationals. 

Until then thank you loyal readers for always checking out my ramblings and supporting my certain style of blogging. It hasn't always been pretty but it has always been real.