Monday, January 25, 2016

Under Pressure

With obvious apologies to Bowie fans for the use of the title let me take the red pill and go down the Fat Bike tire rabbit hole. I love fat bikes. You all know that by now. It is probably one of those things that annoy you but you put up with if you are my friend. If you aren't my friend you probably have a fat head of my face that you throw darts at every time I go full auto about fat bikes on social media. I know my ADD is bad. Fat bikes and fat biking for me is sort of like giving a red bull to a 14 year old kid with ADHD. The act of fat biking gives me full lizard brain and I just chill and can totally focus. But outside of the activity I go into total freak out mode thinking of all the possibly ways to make it radder. Or better. Or less un-rad. I think its very similar to cross in this way. I suck at cross. I may suck at fat biking. But I love both pursuits and I love all the little details that go into both. There are lots of similarities between cross and fat bikes. Ok I know you just spit your coffee out all over your Macbook. Before you throw it against the wall indulge me for a moment.

Both have ever evolving standards and riders and engineers are constantly pushing the boundaries of how the bikes are set up. We all know at this point how much cx racers obsess over tire pressure and tire set up. Unless you just embrace the file tread lifestyle…Fat bikes are the same way. I didn't understand this at first. I would pump the tires way up and bounce over and off everything and wonder why I wasn't having any fun. Then I started letting the air out. Its a teeter totter with tubes. Especially if you are riding on dirt and rocks. On snow you really would have to go low to get a flat even with tubes. But on dirt and rocks and mountain bike trails if you go below 8 with tubes you are going to flat. Ask me how I know. And changing a fat tire flat is a royal pain in the ass. Like use up ALL your Co2 chargers and then pull out the mini-pump and pump so much your hands seize up into angry lobster claws.

Ok so after flatting like a boss for a few weeks I decided to throw money and technology at this and go tubeless. All my bikes are tubeless why shouldn't my fat bike be? My mechanic rebuilt my current wheels. He went with 80 mm tubeless Mulefut rims from Sun. I asked if I could get them in purple ano. He obviously laughed at me and said 1989 called and it wants its mullet back. But other than the obvious low pressure no flats reason why go tubeless? A fat bike tube weighs about ten pounds. Ok that is an lie but they are heavy. A Surly tube weighs over a pound. So you take two of those out and there is two pounds. Lighter rims maybe another pound or two. So the conversion saved me about 3 pounds of rolling weight. That is a no-brainer. Was I worried about burping? My mechanic weighs about 200 pounds. He had to stand on the sidewall of the tire to unseat it. Which basically means if I do flat in the woods I am screwed. But that won't happen so why worry?

We went with tubeless ready Van Helgas. Very nice aggressive tires. Like a Nate but on steroids and tubeless ready. For a tire that looks like a motocross tire they also roll surprisingly well. Aka not like a tractor tire which is sort of nice. The conversion was noticeable right away. Not the weight as fat bikes are so heavy you really aren't going to notice 3-4 pounds. On any other bike 3-4 pounds would be a game changer. Not with fat bikes. We are still talking about a 30 pound bike that is built to roll slow over everything. But what is noticeable is the lower pressure. Massive traction. Both on off cambers and tricky climbs. Going from 12 psi to 8 psi makes a HUGE difference with a fat bike. Way less bouncing and way more shredding.

I have used three fat bike tires: Surly Nates, Dillinger 4 with studs and the Van Helgas. Like CX you are rarely going to find a tire that is going to handle all conditions well. They will be great on 90% of what your are riding and then suck at the other 10%. Or you could go the opposite and get a tire that is great at 10% of the riding and then just ok at the other 90%. Along these lines the biggest question to me is whether to use studs or not use studs. If you have ever had a heavy crash on ice this probably isn't even a question. Studs save your ass. Literally. I crashed so hard on Blue Hills on a patch of ice I laid there for about 2 minutes wondering if I had broken my hip. I opened my eyes to see Nable and Utah looking down at me with very concerned faces. I was fine. One of the upsides of being big boned is you have lots of paddling. But I took the Nates off and put studded Dillingers on after that ride.

Here are my thoughts on the three tires I have some experience on. All the tires I have used are 4 inch tires. I have room for 5 inches but haven't gone that route. Mostly because my riding tends to be year round and more woods riding than groomed ski mobile track. I suspect if you ride in heavy snow or on snow mobile trails you would want 5 inch tires for the extra volume. I just like the fat bike to be a bit more nimble. The bike is sort of slow anyway. Putting a 5 inch tire I worry about really slowing things down.

Surly Nate:

I started out on the Nates and love them. They were recommended by a bunch of friends. Great side knobs and aggressive tread. Heavy. And flat prone with tubes at low psi. Well flat prone the way I ride on rocky trails. As stated earlier I ride the fat bike year round and as a mountain bike.

Dillinger Studded:

A life saver. Great traction on ice. If you ride in the woods in winter you will encounter ice. Its like encountering a shark in the ocean. If you see it and the shark isn't hungry you are fine. If you don't see it and the shark is hungry you are fucked. Dillingers are also great tires in general. There one weakness is heavy or fresh powder. They have a pretty low profile tread. Which is awesome on packed stuff and frozen terrain. But gets pretty crazy on powder and slick rocks and roots. Its sort of like a file tread CX tire I guess. You just adjust your riding a tad. It is my go to tire for Winter

Van Helga:

Love this tire. Basically a Nate on steroids. Same great traction as the Nate just lighter. Rolls pretty fast. terrible on ice.

One last thought on fat bike tires and riding. Fat bike tires have a pretty horrible lean angle. I always forget this. A couple of good crashes and I am reminded of what you can and can't do on a fat bike. Most of my bikes I can dive pretty nicely into corners and carve out. On a fat bike if the conditions are right you can do this. But if its wet or loose things can go bad fast. There is so much weight and momentum behind the bike that when it breaks loose it crashes down like an 800-pound gorilla.

I am curious to try the new Bontrager studded tire. It looks like a nice mix of the Van Helga and Dillinger. But not unlike CX tubulars fat bike tires are ridiculously expensive. And are a pain in the ass to swap so its not like you can just swap at will on whim. Love to hear other riders thoughts on what tires they like and how they set up their bikes.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

2Fat 2Furious

Fat Biking is…….

And it is stupid. And fun. And hard. And different than really any other type of cycling pursuit on the planet. I have been at the fat game for two years now so consider myself an "expert" I was soooo close to becoming a fat bike race promoter but then the Snowmagedon ruined everything. It was my one shot at GREATNESS!!! #Thanksobama 

All kidding aside and fairly obvious if you know me, I like fat bikes. For full disclosure I ripped the title of this blog post off from Resultsboy. Who I think either likes fat bikes or hates them. I still am unclear. He is technically a fat bike race promoter so must love them. Or hates single speeders enough to unleash the hounds of hell on fat bikes upon them at his CX race. Anyway, it is a BALLER title. And I tip my hat to Colin for it. 

I owe him more beer than I already do for the naming rights. Fat biking is basically where CX was ten years ago. Or mtn biking was about thirty years ago. Its so fresh and new that everyone is in love with it. And its such a hot mess no one is an "expert". There are so many variables at this point that basically every bike is a DIY set up. Ok that is a lie. There are amazing production bikes available for purchase at your local bicycle retailer. But the part that is unsettled is all the moving parts. Multiples axle sizes. Both front and rear which is fairly insane. Suspension. Both front and rear which again is fairly nuts. Tubeless. Multiple rim and tire sizes. On and on. Perfect for my ADHD brain. I love to freak out about this stuff. Much to the chagrin of those who know me. And probably those who don't.

What hopefully wins out over the din of my usual freak outs is my enthusiasm and passion for going deep into the #CBL and getting people stoked about fun in the great outdoors. Why fat biking? Not unlike cyclocross it is fun. How many times have we heard some pissed off racer say "my friends said CX would be fun…." this after they tore their $200 brand new skinsuit in their first race ever when some Cat 4 put them into the tape. Fat biking is the same way. Yes it is fun. But its not easy. And its not always what you think its going to be. The sell off of bikes last season was a testament to this. So many people bought fat bikes last winter. Blame it on snow boners. Or hype. Blame me I suppose. Then the brand new bikes started popping up on craigslist and forums. Getting hammered all winter by massive snowstorms probably didn't help but no one said fat biking would be easy. We said it would be fun. My idea of fun may not be the same as yours. I find fun (and beauty) in suffering and being outside. I cannot ride a trainer inside. Can't do it. Haven't done it in years. Refuse to do it. I can't ride the road in winter. Its horrible. I would rather ride the trainer staring at a wall and listening to Nickelback. The woods is where I go to hide out or to meditate or what ever cliche people use to describe what it means to love the outdoors. A fat bike is like the gateway drug to the outdoors.

The first time I ever heard of fat biking was when my editor at the time, Henry Kingman and his friend John Stamstad were preparing for Iditabike. We lived in SF. It doesn't get below 50 degrees in SF. The idea of what they were taking on was mind boggling. This was about 15 years ago. There were no fat bikes. There were crazy DIY setups with rims welded together and odd hack jobs to fit the oversized tires. The lived. Barely. Surly probably is the one most responsible for blowing this up. The two people who most influenced me were a messenger from Cleveland and a rad artist/bike mechanic from CT. Those two made fat biking seem cool. And they weren't doing it just to be cool. They rode them year round. When I got my fat bike I was blown away. Its so fun in the winter but its also a blast all year round. No its not perfect. Its fat and slow. Sort of the A-10 warthog of bikes. But it fits into what I like. Basically my riding falls under 3 headings. SSCX/Gravel/Fatbiking. The three really work well together. Fat biking in the winter keeps me sane. I get to spend time with rad friends in a snowy playground getting drifty.

Ok that is great Chip but what is the point here? The point is fat biking is rad. But don't just buy into the hype and go buy a $6,000 carbon bike and then be pissed at me cause I said it would be fun. You will be cold. You will slip off woods bridges and hurt yourself. You will hike-a-bike. A lot actually. Snow is good. Too much snow is not good for fat biking. It has to be packed down to be rideable. You can handle maybe 3 inches of unpacked snow if the ground is hard. After that you are walking. But sometimes amazing things happen. The snow if the conditions are right can set up and make the woods into a luge track or even better like a skate park. What a trail is becomes irrelevant. You ride everything. But that happens rarely. Conditions have to be perfect. 90% of your riding will be on choppy packed track. As most of you know I have lots of opinions. But with fat bikes I really just stay open minded. You want full suspension? Go for it. Seems overkill to me but if it makes you happy great! A front fork could be nice. Especially if you ride all year but I mentioned fat bikes are heavy right? My bike weighs 30 pounds. That is ok. Probably normal range. But what does your CX bike weigh? Your mountain bike? Pushing a 30 pound bike through powder is brutal. You won't need leg days after that. That is for sure.

Oh and you probably haven't thought about Q factor before in your life. Maybe if you were around in the "old" days you thought about it. But not lately. Well with a  fat bike that Q factor becomes real real fast. All that fatness changes the whole design of a bike. BBs get Wiiiiiiddddddeeeeee. Your knees and pedaling stance get wide as well. This can mess some people up. So far I have been ok but it works your legs very differently. Throw in a set of winter boots and you are messing even more with your pedaling position. But about those winter boots. Before you go nuts blowing your kids 529 on a fat bike with HED carbon rims buy boots. Remember when I said you will be hike-a-biking? Yeah regular shoes and shoe covers will become frozen ice pops after one trip up a ravine in powder. It sucks having frozen feet. Winter boots are critical. Overall warmth is also key. I tend to dress on the XC side of things. I want to be warm and safe from frost bite but don't want to overheat. So I just go with normal winter cycling kit. I add in a nice buff and a nice wool cap under my helmet but that is really the only difference between what I would wear on the road in winter.

You will want to wear a back pack. I hate back packs. Hate them. But you are riding in Winter in the woods. The spare tube is the size of a kindle. Co2 isn't a great idea in sub-freezing conditions. You may want an extra set of gloves. Water bottles freeze fast so a hydration pack is nice. You might want to bring a flask. Or a survival blanket. The more I fat bike in winter in the woods the more stuff goes in my back pack. I am at the point where I want a bigger back pack. Not too big but my current one is stretching at capacity. The more important thing is have fun. Be nice. You will be blown away by people's reactions to fat bikes. Everyone loves them. They are new enough that its a novelty. How many people are excited to see you on a trail on your mountain bike? Yeah zero. How many people are happy to see you on the road? Yep. Its amazing seeing people respond so positively. Stop and say hi. Pat their dog. Fat bikes may save the world. I am sure of it. 

A couple of cool fat bike events are going down. 

Steve the Bike Guy is holding a Ruckus Ride this Sunday. Details are here

The Wicked Nor'Easter is going down on Feb 7

Friday, January 8, 2016


World I present to you RoboZank. What exactly is the RoboZank? It is an electronic fuel injected gravel killing machine. It is the rocker, it is the roller, it is the out-of-controller. It is the chosen one. The mighty hand of vengeance sent down to strike the unwoods worthy. It's hotter than a rollin' dice. Step right up, chum, and watch the RoboZank lay down the rubber and ride to freedom! *paraphrased from Mad Max I am the Nightrider speech obviously. The RoboZank is one of the Zank SSCX Team bikes converted to Di2 shifting. One of the beauties of working with Mike Zanconato is he can customize anything. When he first made the SSCX bike we talked about flexibility and the potential of putting gears on the bike down the road. He converted my SS Mtn Bike to a sick 1x11 last Mountain bike season. It will go back to being a SS MTB this Spring in time for SSapalooza. The Team bikes are used as prototypes and experiments. We have lots of fun playing around with different setups. It is a very creative process and one of the reasons I love riding for Zank. The idea to turn the SSCX into a RoboZank was inspired by Ben Berden. His bikes are always very unique. And was riding 1x long before it took over the entire bike world. 

The thing that initially got me thinking about the possibilities of turning my perfectly great SSCX into an electronic wonder bike was the brakes. I love hydro disc brakes. A season or two on the Shimanos sold me. One finger, predictable braking is literally a life saver. And makes riding CXenduro way more safe and for me comfortable. I have small hands. I broke my arm years ago and my wrist and hand get very tired after a few hours braking in the woods with cantilevers. Disc brakes have been a game changer for me. And while I LOVE the Shimano Hydro it is expensive and seems silly on a SSCX. Sure its nice but is it really the best allocation of your resources? So I decided to try the TRP SSCX hydro set up this season. At first I wasn't sure what to think about the levers. They look super long. But you know what they are much more comfortable than any hoods I have used in the last 5 years. Again its a limiter I have because of my broken arm. I tend to have pain on longer road rides with most levers. The TRPs allow my hand to sort of stretch out and not get crimped like SRAM and Shimano.

So that was a big plus for the TRPs. And as the promoter of a SSCX series I like to support those who make dedicated SSCX parts. So the big question I am sure you want the answer to: How do the TRP compare to the Shimano? If Shimano is a 10 the TRP are an 8. I actually like the feel of the TRP. There is a bit more lever feel than the Shimano. Shimano is pure one finger on- off-braking. Its incredible. That is why its a 10. The TRP have a bit of "drag" and then solid braking power. They do squeal a tad more than the Shimano when dirty but once they clear the dirt and water they are pretty quiet. Again, the Shimano's are quiet pretty much no matter what so again that is why they get the 10. The squealing does not equal less braking power. Just a bit noisy is all. So how do you use a SSCX lever and make it into a shifter? The TRP people clearly are geniuses and hid a little port into the inside of the lever. Add a Shimano Di2 climbing button into that little port and voila you have a sick 1 x 11!

The bike is currently set up with an Ultegra Di2 rear derailler. I saw the Luna ladies running this derailler at Night Weasels. Not going to lie they were an inspiration for this project as well. The concern is that the Ultegra  doesn't have a clutch so there is a worry that you will drop the chain. With a Wolf Tooth ring up front I have zero issues. I went with a 40 and 11-32 for a nice range. For VT Overland and NH riding I am going to put an XTR rear Di2 so I can run a 11-40 in the back. That should give enough range for even the burliest of gravel climbs. I don't mind being spun out on 40/11 I race and ride single speed spinning goes with the territory. To do this some planning needed to happen. Mike uses Ahren's slider hoods and with Paragon inserts you can go between SS and geared really easily. The beauty of electronic is all Mike needed to convert the bike was to install the Paragon insert with the derailler hanger and then drill two holes to feed the Di2 wire. It took about 15 minutes. A quick tune of the shift levers aka program the shifting buttons and voila RoboZank was born.

Ok so why do all this? #CXenduro that is why. Or gravel. The term gravel aka gravel bike is the most elegant term available at the moment. Until someone comes up with a better term that is what I am going to use. The bike is a cyclocross bike. Make no mistake. Pure racing machine. It is the nicest race bike I have ever ridden. Only bike even close is my old Rock Lobster. It is also a fantastic woods shredder. And gravel bike. And monster cross bike. It is the do everything bike I have always wanted. Since I moved to the east coast and the Boston area my riding has evolved from "racer" to rider. And 90% of the rides I do are woods riding. Park to park adventure rides. Over this period of time with countless gravel rides its become clear to me what the most critical aspects of what a gravel bike should be. A gravel bike must have: Hydro disc brakes, reliable and large gear range, tubeless tires, room for 40s. The next crucial thing is that magic unicorn of all day comfort and nimble handling. That holy grail is where in my opinion most gravel bikes fail. Long wheel bases suck. There I said it. It makes a bike handle like a pig. CX geometry was and is pretty much perfect. 33s are great for most riding but there are lots of rides where you are going to want 40s. Not being able to fit a tire bigger than a 33 is a huge red flag in my opinion. You might have noticed I never mentioned weight. Worrying about weight on a bike you are going to smash into logs, attempt to hop over rock walls and rail through rock gardens is not having your priorities straight. A bike like this has to survive these rides. Nothing is worse than flatting or catastrophically destroying your bike mid-way through some rad ride.

Before I go to far into the actual cool features of the bike I just want to get on one more soap box. Aluminum bikes kick ass. This theory that steel or ti is somehow more "comfortable" is just wrong. And is driven by marketing. I have ridden ti bikes that are so stiff they are barely rideable. And steel bikes are great. I love them But my aluminum bikes, the Zank and the Rock Lobster are just as comfortable as any steel bike I have ridden. But they aren't flexing all over the place like steel can. See how I said can. Steel can be built to be very stiff. But it becomes heavy when you do that. And for me the ride quality isn't the same. I prefer aluminum. To me it is the perfect mix of stiffness, weight and comfort. For this bike Mike used Dedacciai tubing. The bike was built for CX racing but is one of the nicest woods bikes I have ever owned.

On to the details! As mentioned earlier the key to this whole setup is the TRP levers and Shimano climbing shifters. The climbing buttons are used mainly on the bars. Or that is at least how Shimano intended them to be used. I guess climbing in the Alps is tiring and moving your hand from the bar to hood to shift is exhausting. I guess if you have T-Rex arms that may be the case but for most normal humans this seems overkill. But it opened the door to the RoboZank so I applaud it! When set up it feels like a Campy thumb shifter. I can hear the gasping of retrogrouches and Campyphiles across the Globe. I loved Campy. That tumbshifter made a nice perch and was a really smart way to shift. I still ghost shift on my bikes with my thumb when I am tired. For me this feels so right. One button shifts down, one up. All at your thumb which is resting on the hood 90% of the time anyway. The shifting like all Di2 is crisp and flawless. Zip, zip and you shift gears. You can hold a button down and go through a few gears if you prefer. I love it. The limiter I suppose is the range. To do a wide range you need a XTR derailler. Word is an XT is coming. That certainly will be a game changer. I am willing to pay the XTR price for this bike but its not a reasonable amount for a person to be expected to pay for a rear derailler. The Ultegra has been great but 11-32 may not be enough range for some people with a 40 up front.

Other than disc brakes tubeless was probably the next biggest thing I wanted to experiment with. Flatting sucks. Running high pressure in the woods sucks. But the only way to not flat on the rides we do is run high pressure. By high I mean 45-50. That is about the lowest I can go riding in the woods without flatting. Even then its not a guarantee. You have to ride a bit more carefully. Or less rad. Or in my case less like a Bull in a China shop. A few of my friends have been experimenting with tubeless for the past three years or so with varying degrees of success. But finally things are at a point when as long as you use a system it is a reliable option. And by system I mean no DIY tubeless hack jobs. Tubeless specific tires and rims is the ONLY way to go. I turned to Dave at November bicycles for help. I had heard great things from Mike Wissell and Lesli. I coveted some baller carbon wheels but me and carbon really seem like a bad idea. After a few emails and a phone call we came up with the best plan. November built and branded Grail rims to their house hubs which are made by White Industries. Bombproof and reliable. I raced them at Ice Weasels and loved them. I am almost 100% convinced I will be racing tubeless all next CX season. Tubulars are nice but the convenience and reliability of tubeless trumps fancy French rubber.

The initial tires my mechanic set up were WTB 40 Nanos. Awesome, awesome tire. All "gravel" bikes must fit 40s. Repeat after me. The Nano is a great tire for woods shredding. File tread-ish. Plush. Rolls over everything but is fast. I will be rolling these at VT Overland next year for sure. They are big and don't have a lot of side knob so things can get a bit interesting if you lean it over too much but I highly recommend them. For 33s I went with Specialized Terras. Again tubeless specific. Set up super easy. They remind me of a Mud. Same basic tread pattern. But wider and just shred everything. My new favorite tire. So what pressures am I running? About 30. Going from 45-30 is a game changer. Hate to use that word but its true. So much traction and so plush. On the Stevil ride I bottomed them out a bunch. I was sure I flatted going down a stream bed rock garden. Nope. Not at all. I am never going back to tubes. I am already dreaming of a 38 tubeless road tire. Summer is going to be so rad.

Ok so we covered the hydro disc, electronic and tubeless what else? That is really the sweet spot as I said. This bike is going to see so much action in 2016. Signed up for the VT Overland. Thinking of Hell of Hunterdon, Ronde for sure. The more adventures the better. Huge thanks to Mike Zank, Scott Novick, Dave from November and Rosey for inventing this type of riding.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Stevil Shred

Thom P came up with this amazing Ash vs Evil Dead inspired graphic

 I am just going to put this out there. I don't think words can capture just how rad the Stevil Shred ride was this past Sunday. I will do my best but really all the photos and tweets and talking story that happened that day captured it better than I will be able to in a blog post. First I would be remiss if I didn't thank Thom Parsons and Michele Smith. Without them there is no way this ride would have happened. They basically charted the whole ride. We did one great recon ride and between Thom and myself we had some great ideas in our heads that Michele turned into her GPS wizardry. Its so funny how our three brains work so differently. I literally HATE looking at a garmin while riding. I left mine at home. I knew the route and had my hands full as it was. Staring at a Garmin and following a cookie trail is not for me. But it is critical in trying to get 70 people from point A to point B without getting them all lost.

We did have "ride leaders" In the Philly sense of ride leaders. Rosey (of the Ronde de Rosey) invented this type of riding. Not even going to lie. It is the truth. He got the ball rolling with the Ronde de Rosey and we and others took the ball and ran with it. But no one was doing these types of rides before Rosey. The Ronde de Rosey showed just how much fun you can have riding with a crew on some crazy route mixed with trails, roads, paths etc. The next group that, at least for me, has influenced how I look at these rides is the Philly crew. The Feats of Strength ride they guided me on when we all went do to Philly for SSCXWC opened my eyes. It showed me just how to conduct a rolling party on bikes without anyone dying. Its an art. It is the EXACT opposite of how most people conduct a "group" ride.  There is a reason these types of rides are growing. And why people keep pushing the envelope of what "gravel" bikes can do. I hate that term but it is the most elegant term for the types of bikes and the type of riding we are doing. I guess its still cyclocross but that term gets so confused with cyclocross racing which is the furthest thing from what these rides are all about.

But back to the task at hand. I was blown away by how stoked people were to help out Stevil. To me the most important part of this ride was to just get Stevil stoked and to ride a crazy ride for him. Raising funds was important but really not the biggest part of the ride. That said we had incredible support from Gerry Finnegan and the Washington Square Tavern who once again let us dirt bag bikers take over the bar and use it as HQ for the day. Gerry is the best. One of the strongest bikers I know and always up for helping out with rides and parties. This ride basically became a Winter Ronde. We, without, knowing it were playing El Nino roulette with IceWorld666. We have had some ridiculously nice weather of late. Springter if you will. Or Spring in Winter. Hmmm I may never want to use the "word" springter in a conversation. Sounds way to much like sphincter. Anyhoo…So its been really nice. But of course Ice World decided it had enough of our hubris and decided to throw an ice storm at us a few days before the ride. To say I was freaking out was an understatement. I did my best to not text, email and tweet at Thom and Michele. They had enough of full autovelocb the two weeks leading up to the ride. Michele asked me to go scout out a small section on my fat bike. It was the most terrifying ride of my life. A fat bike is NOT a magic unicorn. Even a fat bike on sheer ice gets loose. Wood bridges that have a slick coat of ice on them are death traps. Yeah you can guess where this is going. So maybe I went off a wood bridge or two. It was the perfect sacrifice for the upcoming ride.

By the time Sunday rolled around the trails were actually pretty clear. There were still some isolated sections that were skating rinks. And the bridges were still death traps. But all in all the trails were great. Sun was out. The Trail Gods were smiling on us. The biggest challenge with this type of ride is you never really know how many people will show up. I had a rough idea but you never know. I was guessing we would have about 30-40 people. We had 70. Maybe more. People came from NH, CT, NY it was a true NECX gathering of the tribe. Stevil is well liked. And I think we all get when a rider goes down how important it is to show support. We have all been there that is for sure. Unlike a Ronde we didn't have "teams" it was going to be a bit more loose. The garmin route was available before the ride and people were free to form groups or ride solo. Thom and Michele led two big groups. I left the Tavern last with the idea that I would sweep the course for any riders who had mechanicals or got lost. We rolled out with the Chainline Pain Train, Team Awesome and a bunch of single speeders. The ride was super chill all the way to Skyline which is the first dirt sector. Skyline is a funny little open space. Pretty technical for the first bit of dirt. And things always happen in there each time we do the Ronde.

Will and Ramponi got to the front and just shredded through the trails. I kept reminding myself to not do anything stupid. But it was hard to not do something stupid as the trails were so mint. And the RoboZank (more on the bike later) was inspiring me to do lots of things I would not usually do on my CX bike. The combination of hydro disc brakes and tubeless CX tires is pretty rad is all I will say. Will and Ramponi were on SS Mtn bikes. I am always blown away at how great of riders those two are. They are on a whole other level than your average human being who pedals a bike. We catch some earlier groups. High fives are exchanged. We pop out on the pavement and regroup. We miraculously have not lost one rider. Which is saying something because in year's past we have lost riders in there for what seems like an eternity. As Ice Cube would say "today was a good day". We get to the next dirt sector in Nahanton and again we shred and catch some groups. We turn onto the Charles River Trail and see a big group stopped. I check with Michele. She is trying to keep her group moving so I push on with my group. We have one massive regroup right before heading out onto a main road in Newton. It is one of the most hilarious sights I have ever witnessed. DJ Robert and Shoogs have booth brought boom boxes. They are basically having a rolling old school hip hop dance off on bikes.

We roll out once again to try and just keep things from becoming too crowded on the trails. My group is going from 12-6 and yo-yoing all over the place. Riders switched groups each stop or sort of decided to ride with other friends and socialize. I really liked this part of the ride. Typically on a Ronde you leave with one crew and come back with the same crew. Here it was just fun to ride back and forth and hang with different people. It really was sort a reunion of sorts. So many rad people were on the ride. We got to the first beer stop at the Arches in Wellesley. Thom had done a beer stash ride the day before and hidden Moats Mountain beers all over the place. But he had done such a good job only he knew where they were! Which is great because no way any of these beers would have lasted if they were out in the open. When I told my wife we had Moats for the ride her instructions were very clear "Don't come home without Moats" It is her favorite beer. And you can't get it in MA. So I would stuff my backpack with beers at each stop. Cause I love my wife. It was like a easter egg hunt for good beer.

After a nice beer stash hangout. We headed out to the next trail sector. The next one was a really nice new piece of trail with some really weird history that none of us had ever ridden before. It really was just a nice pine covered trail with nothing technical. A few bridges but no big deal. My spidey sense should have been on high alert. Just as we are about to exit the trail I hear my good friend and wingman Scott's bike make a god awful sound. You know the sound. Like a bike dying. I stop and see his derailler in a position that let's just say was sub-optimal. This isn't our first rodeo. There are no frustrated bike tosses or expletives. Just calm and the words "I got this" So I take the group off the trail to the cul de sac and regroup while Scott fixes his bike. Gary had a flat anyway so we just chill. We joke about who can fix their bike first. Scott pops out of the woods even before Gary can put his tools away. I heckle Gary a bit. Then Scott's bike explodes. Haha. Ok now things are getting interesting. We let the whole group go and stay behind with Scott. Now its just me, Scott, Eric, Kevin and Josh.

I text Pam to see if she can come pick up Scott. Crickets. Scotts bike is unrideable. Derailler hanger is sheered off. Chain is FUBAR'd. So we start getting creative. I get out my Rapha tow rope…aka inner tube and wrap it around Scott's stem. Josh pushes while I tow (and Scott does a fair amount of kick biking) and we somehow get Scott back to my house which is about 4 miles away. At the house I rummage through my garage and find a replacement derailler hanger and a chain. Scott turns his bike into a very expensive SSCX and we head back out. It took us less than 15 minutes from the time we got to my house to be back on the road. We zip over to Needham Town Forest and do some rad trails in there and I take the crew to Martini Junction. I know at this point the only smart thing to do is start heading back to the Tavern. I take the group through Cutler and we shred the Island and a bunch of the flow trails. Cutler was running perfect that day. So fast and flowy. Eric was flying! We pop out of Cutler and I take us back over through Wells ave to Millennium and the secret pump track. I was hoping we would catch the other groups so we could hang out.

As we come around the corner we just see an awesome heckle pit flow session going down. People are drinking beer and hucking off jumps. Some hilarity is ensuing to say the least. I catch up with so many people. Thom and Michele's crew have about 16 more miles at this point. My plan even before the major mechanical was to only do the 40. So I grab Shoogs and Guthrie and we beeline it back towards Brookline. Shoogs as always cracks me up. We catch up on the roll back into town. We have one last mechanical right as we are about to head back into town. Just a rear flat. We hit it with a CO2 and are at the Tavern in no time. At the Tavern people are returning with so many cool tales of the ride. People are so stoked. I order a burger and beer and see my friend Scott (who we had lost jamming through Cutler!) We laugh our asses off at how funny it was towing him back to my house. I am barely 5'7" and weigh 160. Scott is 6'3" and probably weighs 200. Thank god Josh was able to push at times or no way I would have been able to drag him up some of the hills. The descents were the funniest part. He would pass me as his mass would exceed my high cadence spinning. There were so many times when wheels were crossed and my rear tire would be buzzed but we are professionals and were never in danger of crashing.

We had two raffles as the early crowd that had returned from the 25 and 40 milers wanted to get going. People were so generous with their donations and everyone had such great things to say about All Hail The Black Market and Stevil. The funniest thing I had all day was from a woman who moved to Boston from Norcal. Her exact words were " I didn't think cyclists in Boston did this type of stuff." There were a lot of new faces at the Tavern and on the ride. New friends were made and I think we opened some people's eyes to just how much great riding is so close to home. Even in an urban environment like Boston you can be on a trail in less than 15 minutes. Rosey helped me with the raffle and is a true PRO. I won't lie I am horrible as a public speaker. I get sort of nervous and have some anxiety about it. But Rosey just nailed it. We raffled off all the prizes and raised a really nice amount of money for Stevil. Thank you so much to all who came out and rode and donated money to the cause. HUGE thanks to: Thom, Michele, Gerry, Rosey, Zank, Soulrun, Castelli, Moat Mountain, Squid Bikes, Cross Propz, Barks and Wrecks, Team Awesome, Stevil and AHTBM, Giro, Cory and Accelerade.