Monday, December 17, 2018

Merry Zankmass

The above photo captures the entire spirit of the Zank SSCX series. 90% of the photos in this post are courtesy of Andy Cooper. I shot a few but they don't capture the race. Just my warped view of building the course and witnessing the glory of 4 years of dreaming of getting a CX race at Medfield State Hospital. The first time I rode through MSH I dreamed of one day holding a CX race on these hallowed grounds. A lot of work had to happen to make it happen. I have been at the promoter game for so long it is almost embarrassing to admit how long I have been doing this. But this one. Wow. It is my Valhalla. I can die a happy man. Ice Weasels gave birth to the Zank SSCX series the same way Loki gave birth to Fenrir. The Zank SSCX series is basically a monstrous Norse Wolf running wild on cross courses throughout New England each Fall. Loki to me embodies what this whole series is about. Gender fluid. Trickster. God but maybe also something else. So pictured above you have Morris E. Eagle going hard through the barriers. Elbows out. Mike Wissell the #NECX Thunder God shredding the bad idea skinny. Keith flying through the planks. Who knows what is going on behind them....

I love SSCX. It is pretty much my sole focus every CX season. I am always blown away by how this crazy train just keeps getting more rad each season. This season had its challenges. In some ways it was my most challenging. The teeter totter isn't easy. You always want to keep it balanced. Kids. Wife. Family. SSCX. It can't tilt too far away from the familia. But my SSCX family is very important to me. Without it I don't know how I would get through a Fall. This Zank Series started hot and dusty and went full mudpocalypse. I love mud. But as a promoter it can be a disaster. No one wants to see a venue trashed. Especially one you revere. One you have been wanting to share with the #NECX for years. I can't tell you how stressed I was about this race. I have worked World Cups. Large rodent branded festivals on another coast. Nothing stressed me out like this. OK there was that one night....well morning really in Monterey around 3 am when I refused to leave the hotel room to build the course. My future wife talked me out of that room and I trudged off to lay tape. When Colin asks me to do something I jump at it. Cause I love that dude. And love the Weasel brand. Working on a Weasel's Inc event is an honor. To put on such a rad race I think you have to feel it. My love of Weasels and SSCX is enduring. 

I have been watching a lot of Parts Unknown lately. If you aren't hip to it it is Anthony Bourdain's show about travel and food. A common theme is about how much one gets out of creating a meal for loved ones. That is how I feel about the Zank series and race promotion in general. Yes I love bikes. And while I have been "retired" for about 5 years I still enjoy pinning a number on and racing.  But what I love more is throwing a HUGE bike party where all my favorite people show up and get rad. I was pretty nervous about this one. New venue. Super legit venue. Most legit Ice Weasels in history. But damn look at these photos. So worth it. No one got hurt. That in itself is some kind of miracle. Watching people ride the Bad Idea skinny at warp speed was a heart attack waiting to happen. Honestly though the most difficult part of the course was a curb. Not a 4" marble curb but a rounded broken 2" curb. Colin, Greg and I myself both looked at it building the course. We all agreed it would be no problem. Lesson #567 of race promotion: what you think will be no problem is in fact a problem. Watching the beginners smash their wheels at full speed right into the curb was crazy. Then people started endoing and crashing. That is when I made a panic call to my wife to pick up sandbags. God bless that woman. How many wives would drop everything and run to the hardware store and buy 10 sandbags on her day off? I married well. So my wife saved Ice Weasels....she certainly saved a lot of carbon wheels. 

A quick interlude and a HUGE thanks to Greg. Without Greg this never would have happened. He is the most PROfesional race promoter I have worked with. He made signs, he worked with the Town, he put together the best powerpoint presentation I have seen and pitched it to the town council. He was a great liaison. Saw around corners. Worked so well with all the different agencies. My favorite part of working with Greg was seeing him witness firsthand the Matrix like communication tree Colin and I are so used to. We fluidly go from twitter to text to email in a millisecond working issues. At one point I had to tell Greg "well you took the blue pill. There is no going back" We built the course out in two days. A weeks worth of breathing into a paper bag paid huge dividends. Colin found a Food Truck! And the Rasputitsa bus arrived! We had so many volunteers help that set up went way faster than I thought. And tear down was a breeze. Well not a breeze. Tearing a course down in the dark when it is 20 degrees isn't easy. But honestly we had a guardian angel on this one. As much as we sort of played up the spooky side of the venue I never once really felt that vibe. If anything I think we brought a light and positive energy to a site that maybe has a spooky vibe. 

My favorite race is always the SSCX and this one did not disappoint! It sold out in a matter of days. It was the biggest field of SSCX racers and fat bikers I have seen. The costumes were lit! I mean people went full out. What I love about it is it is a race with a party at the back. The women were battling the entire race. That podium was legit. The stories from the race itself still make me laugh. We had a surprise late entry of Morris E. Eagle the BC High mascot. Morris was so rad. I saw so many friends. Hugged so many people. It would be impossible to thank everyone but I will do my best. First thank you to the Town of Medfield and the local dog walkers for being so cool about us taking over the venue for a day. We met a lot of dog walkers during our course build. And they really are such nice people. As part of our efforts to make this a recurrent home for IWC we will be donating a check to support the Medfield Rail Trail. We love the trails. Frankly that is how we found this venue. And so many people were able to ride to the race. That is pretty rare these days.

I want to thank ALL the racers who came out and had a great time. Thank you for respecting the venue and being good guests. I want to thank Anthony and the Rasputitsa crew for coming down and handing out waffles. Thank you to Roni Vetter for the mini-cupcakes. Thank you to 3Cross and the Fritz Team for opening the bar and keeping racers hydrated and fueled. Thank you to Lesli and Kevin for being the best Podium Bosses ever. Lesli and Kevin are the glue that keep the Zank Series going. Lesli's husband created the amazing trophies that were handed out to the overall winners. Kevin's scarves and coozies were highly coveted prizes to say the least. And a special thanks to Rhys Niesen for her handmade metal podium pins for the Vest Winners! Check out her metal art at Rhys May Jewelry.

Thank you to our sponsors! Zanconato Custom Cycles builds the best bikes on the planet. NEXT cycling was so nice to donate a set of wheels for our raffle. Zach Levy was the lucky winner of those sick carbon hoops! Mad Alchemy has been supporting our shenanigans from day one. 3Cross has not only supported us with podium beer throughout the series but have become such good friends and partners in grime over the years. I can't think of a crew that I would rather hang with on any given Sunday than that bunch. Derek Griggs has been racing this series since its inception. He really has been one of my personal mentors in all things CX and NECX. He took me under his wing when I first moved here from NorCal. I was kind of a punk SF kid when I first moved here. Why lie I had a bit of an attitude. But he set me straight and taught me a ton. Derek always donates prizes from Feedback, Kali Helmets and Ortleib. Our end of season raffle always devolves into a product toss/Yankee swap. I hope everyone enjoys it. They seem to. I certainly love handing stuff to Ryan and having him chuck it into a crowd.

This season was a blur. I am already thinking about how to improve the 2019 Zank SSCX Series. If you have any ideas, suggestions etc just hit me up via the usual channels. I think it was perfect. The racing was well contested, so many people came out and raced, and most importantly people had fun! Our two champions Kerry Litka and Mike Wissell were such great ambassadors both for SSCX and the NECX. They make everyone feel welcome and put so much into the Vest and representing. I can't thank them enough for all that they do to help grow this series. This series really was created to grow SSCX and to grow grassroots cyclocross. I think we have been very successful with both. I am so happy seeing SSCX grow and love the grassroots races. We will be back next year with the same rad races and same rad attitude. Have a great (well deserved!) offseason. I hope to see lots of you on the trails and gravel roads of New England. Thank you for all you do!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Blogging is Dead, Long, Live Blogging!

Ok kids my household has a squirrel "problem" As the photo above shall attest. No idea how it began. But here we are as they say. But just 'cause you love squirrels doesn't mean all things squirrel are cool. I mean we have standards. I went to the friggin' most ELITE art school in the nation. Elite Art School is kind of like Elite Masters CX isn't it? I mean art is art bro. Why even go to school to do art. Just make the art man. Did Vince Van Friggin Goch go to Art School? Hell no. He suffered for his art. Snorted turpentine and ate moldy bread cause you can not spell Paint without Pain...Just saying. 

So when you name your race "Secret Squirrel" you basically had me at Hello. I fancy myself the PT Barnum of hijinx in the #NECX. A softer, gentler Loki. Maybe an All Father of all things SSCX. So when I see a kindred spirit I lock onto that ray of light in the darkness. Mike O'Connell is some kind of badass brother from another mother to me. Honestly I am not worthy. I have known a lot of people in the bike game. It is scary how long I have been at this. It is not some hobby or dalliance to me. I live, breathe and bleed this sport. I have worked on World Cups, and with some of the most influential people in the sport but Mike just brings so much energy to it I can't even describe it. I honestly can't figure it out. It is like seeing a double rainbow. You don't see the double rainbow and try and figure it out you just gaze in awe at that magical moment. Mike is possibly the greatest promoter in New England. I am not taking away anything from the Legion of others who have put on UCI races, and pillars of CX in the region. But Mike has done his own thing. Unsanctioned. Fun. Dialed. I will not miss one of his events ever again. They are literally must do events. And will be the pillars of the Zank SSCX series for as long as I am its #hype machine.

So what makes Mike's events so rad? Production value first and foremost. Beer tents, reg tents, cool signs, police, fire, food trucks, did I mention beer tents? heaters..these events are races for racers. Mike thinks of everything. It may be his military background. When I worked on the Sea Otter in Monterey the force behind that race was a retired Navy man. I think the military trains you and forms you logistically to deal with things as crazy as bike races. The promoters I know who are so good have that same sort of mind set. You have to be super organized and super chill to do race promotions without going crazy. Seeing first hand how Mike and his crew handled a course destroying micro-burst at CrosstoBeerFest was impressive. Seeing how he handled a last minute course disaster and pulled a rabbit of a course out of his hat that appeased both the town and the racers was nothing short of a CX miracle. Bike racers feel entitled to lots of things. We don't really consider the impact of a muddy race on the promoter and the town or host. It has a toll and a cost. I as a co-promoter of many races know this first hand. I have stood in the dark and talked to irate land owners about the damage to their property. Mud is great in europe. Maybe there are NIMBY dog walker groups in Belgium. I don't know. I do know in America people have LOTS of opinions and feelings. And the promoter is the one who gets an earful when the grass is torn to pieces. 

Mike clearly has that balance of strength and empathy when it comes to handling these touchy issues. His solution with a brutally wet November and the gift of a post Thanksgiving Secret Squirrel was for him and his crew to work themselves to death to get a sick loamy course for us to shred on. News flash I prefer shredding to power. And Ok I am not built for running. But do like it on a jungle cross course. I cut my teeth on jungle cross. I love it. We need to keep jungle cross alive and well. The course Mike and his crew came up with was amazing. Honestly. I heard he got some grief for the start. Hell I loved the start. And got a GREAT start. If I was a better runner I would have gotten separation from lots of dudes way faster than me. Rosey is a great runner. He ran up over my back and into the mix like a freight train. It was magical. I may still have some of the sand he kicked in my face stuck in my teeth.

"Dangerous" courses are less dangerous. You can quote me on that. As I age my goal is to become the Yogi Berra of the #NECX. What I mean by that is a course with features is much less likely to result in a serious injury than a fast wide open one. Canton is a great example of this. Each year we would see Sully. Each year we would say "Sully please don't get hurt this year" or "Sully please don't leave in the bus this year" And every year like clock work dude would knock himself out. Putney doesn't hurt anyone because people FEAR Putney. I think same can be said about a course like this. I loved every moment of it. I love SSCX. The Heckle Pit is EXACTLY what a heckle pit should be. NegaCoach yelling at me to not let the Town of Needham down was pure gold. The kid out in the middle of the course telling us all we were doing great was amazing. And yes, the beer on a stump made my race. I don't take a ton of handups these days. I am old. I have to drive home and be an adult. But damn that beer tasted good. See you all at Ice Weasels on Saturday. We have a special one for you. I am gonna high five every last one of you. Thanks Mike you my friend will get a hug...

Monday, November 5, 2018

Putney! Putney! Putney!

Putney. The word is like Valhalla. Or Mecca. Or Nirvana. Any CX racer worth their mud, sweat and no gears has heard of Putney. It is the oldest cyclocross race in New England. West Hill Shop has produced some of the best cyclocross racers in the region. And when you race them on home turf you learn a few lessons in a) the course and b) cyclocross 101. For those maybe not in the know I will now try my best to share my deep love of West Hill CX, Putney and Vermont in general. New England is a weird err unique place. Quick without googling how many states make up New England? No cheating. Oh so sad for you, you included New York didn't you? And probably left out Rhode Island. The number is six: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. I can't think of a region with six more different states. I mean the Pac NW will tell you Norcal, Oregon and Washington are TOTALLY different but are they really? No not really. Not like NH vs VT? Or CT vs RI? And these states are CLOSE to each other. So you pick faves. VT to me is it. If I could figure a way to move to VT I would do it in a heartbeat. The people, the terrain, the air, everything. It just speaks to me. This will sound weird but it is even in the soil. The course at West Hill is unlike anyplace you will ever race cyclocross. There is mud and then their is Putney. In the ten or so years I have raced there I don't think I have ever raced that course when it was dry. I don't think that a dry Putney is possible. 

Ok let me backtrack a touch. As stated earlier West Hill/Putney is the longest ongoing CX race in New England. Not the oldest race in the US. That goes to Surf City in Santa Cruz. God bless those hippies out west. But the oldest in New England. And a monument. I remember when I first joined HUP. Zac Daab spoke of Putney in revered tones. My teammates would talk story about freezing their asses off and the brutal run up and the insane drop off. My eyes would get so big hearing them talk about it. Most of my fondest CX memories are from my trips to Putney. The best way to do West Hill is with a packed van and a crew. And at least one trip to the Putney Co-op. I mean two visits would be optimal but one is mandatory. So you probably are getting the idea that this race is a CX rite of passage or pilgrimage? Yeah it is. And all the hype is true. So a few years back when we were getting the Zank SSCX series calendar roughed out I asked Mike about Putney. Would they go for it? I think my friend Derek Griggs asked Jim about it. He loved the idea. And from that point on West Hill has been a part of the series. This year the largest field of the event was the SSCX field! I mean that is incredible. I love that people love SSCX. And I love that all the SSCXers get it. Putney is a must do event. I personally will never miss Putney. Not as long as I race cross. It means that much to me.

This year I drove up with my partner in grime Matt Myette. He is always up for a road trip. We did a Putney trip with David Wilcox that is such a fond memory. As we were plotting and scheming this trip we realized that trip was 8 years ago. Eight?! How is that possible? Time flies by my friends. Soak it in while you can. I know I am going full send until the end. I picked up Myette and we packed the van with Zanks. I feel beyond lucky to have so many rad friends and a friend who builds me some of the best bikes on the planet. We took the ummm scenic route as Matt HATES traffic. I don't blame him really. Massholes are the bane of my existence. And the Mass Pike is full of Massholes. We roll up to West Hill and get our CX on! I just love seeing that shop. Imagine a bike shop but it looks like a ski lodge. There are wood burning stoves, beautiful wood work, the nicest floorpan you have ever seen in a bike shop. I should put quotes around "bike shop" because West Hill is much more than a bike shop. Even if cross isn't your thing the history at this shop alone is worth the trip. West Hill is tucked off highway 91 right above a cornfield. In the old days we used to have to race around that cornfield. It was where souls went to die. I don't really miss that part of the course I won't lie. But how many bike shops do you know that have a LEGIT cross course on their property? I mean seriously.

The course has changed a bit over the years. For lots of reasons but the main elements have not changed: Mud. Greasy, gnarly mud. You better bring your A game to Putney. This is NOT a grasscrit. It is real cross as the kids like to say. I love mud. And love tech. I have never understood those who thought the course was too technical. White Park is far more technical. Putney has a really great mini-pump track, a nice woodsy section, a drop off, and run ups. Oh you will run at Putney. I am not a runner. But love the runups at Putney. They are hard. And greasy. And now you run up and then drop in to a chute and run up again. You are getting what I am cooking? It just keeps throwing challenges at you. That is why we all got into cross in the first place right? I mean sure it is cool to race really fast on a wide open course....full stop. No that is not actually fun. Sorry. Not sorry. That sounds like hell to me actually. I want barriers and a course that will send you to a dark place. But then you will have amazing moments where you overcame some crazy drop or transition. And you will feel like a hero even if you see the photos later and are like wow....

This edition of Putney did not disappoint. Like I said we had a big field. 45 I believe. And what really amazed me and still amazes me is you had juniors and all manner of racers. The front is super fast. Much respect to them. But you also had just people who love SSCX. A guy with a broken ankle raced. That guy is literally me hero. The entire Fritz team to me deserve a massive shout out. They embody everything CX is about. They roll as a crew. Set up their tent. Spread the love via 3Cross beer. The promoter raved about how cool they were. Any time you can trade beer for putting your team tent up at a race you know you are doing it right. Jim is the type of promoter I love. Loves seeing everyone having a good time. Appreciates the little things like beer or someone spending the time to thank him or his crew. He just gets it.

The race started out fast and furious. Kate Northcott came FLYING by me. I settled in with the Fritz boys for a bunch of laps. I love riding with them. At some point Kate's son came caught me. That was a bit of a wake up call. Ok you just got passed by a 10 (?) year old. Ok maybe pedal a bit harder. Wow this kid can drive a bike. Oh that was a sick line. Oh shit look out for that tree. Yeah I got beat by a 10 year old. I am not ashamed. It has happened before. I also got to ride with Kerry Litka for a bit as she passed me. Damn. She just floats over stuff. I tried to follow her through a mud bog and as she floated through it my front tire dug in and sent me into the trees. God I love CX.

 I had a blast. Results are meaningless for me at this point in my CX "career" I race because I can and because it is like my church. Seeing everyone. Racing with so many cool people. Getting to hang out with some of the raddest people I have ever known. That is what it is all about. Thank you to all you SSCXers who get it. We have two more races in this here rolling circus. Secret Squirrel and Ice Weasels. Those two will not disappoint. A HUGE shoutout to Jim, West Hill, Kate Northcott, and the whole crew up at Putney. Thank you for making the series so rad. And a special thanks to Andy Cooper for these great photos.

Monday, October 22, 2018


I have never been to Crosstobeerfest. There I said it. I know. This is very off brand for me. If there was ever a race that screams me it is Crosstobeerfest. As we were putting the schedule together for the 2018 Zank SSCX Series Crosstobeerfest came up. I was very interested in adding it. I emailed Mike and he was so into it and so accommodating. He asked me what time spot we would prefer. Darkness of course....Crosstobeerfest is a mid-week night time CX race about 30 minutes from Boston. Well thirty minutes when there isn't traffic which is never and 30 minutes if you are smart and leave before 2:30. Can we talk for a second about Boston traffic? How and why does rush hour start at 2:30 now. Who gets out of work at 2? Seriously. So yeah mistakes were made. I didn't leave the house until 3:30. My race start was 6. I thought worse case scenario I roll up, kit up an just get my number and get to the line. Or join late if the race already started. I don't race SSCX with expectations. I do it to hang out and sling mud around with my best friends on two wheels. This is our time together. So I don't like to miss it. 

I rolled in with actually an hour to spare. Nice. And Myette pulls up just as I am getting out of the van. Even better. We roll to reg and get our numbers. I want to stop and talk to people and all he says is "Chipstick get your shit together we don't have time for this..." And he of course is correct. As a co-promoter of a night race I can say without hesitation that Mike and his crew put on one Hell of a race. I may go out on a limb and say it is one of the best races in New England. I mean the production level is off the hook. Timing chips, tents, signage everywhere. It is like a well run machine. As we are heading back to the cars we look off into the distance. It looks like Ragnarok is coming. Literally. Off over the horizon is a nasty storm system. Gewilli had tweeted out something early in the day about securing those team tents. Damn I guess that is what he was taking about. I mean it is the closest to a storm front that looks like it could spring a tornado that I have ever seen. And I love storms. I won't say I was nervous but it caught my eye. 

We do the usual pre-race dance of ride around with friends in circles warming up. Hit the port-o-potties. Play who hung my bike in a tree.....Then we hear the SSCX racers to staging. Have I mentioned that there were 64 SSCXers racing? On a Weds night! That is the biggest field of SSCX racers outside of Ice Weasels that I can remember. I guess people like this SSCX thing! My only goal for this race was to not get beat by the BC High kids. I love the influx of juniors into CX. It has been amazing. BC High is one of the most inspirational teams around. Coached by two of my really good friends. But come on. Getting beat by a Legion of 16 year olds? 

So as we are cueing up for staging a micro-burst hits us full on. The temperature drops about 20 degrees, the wind kicks up 20-40 mph hour and it feels like it is hailing. Full down pour. We huddle together like penguins and then the course gets ripped apart. Like literally blown away. Somehow Mike and his crew get the tape and course back together in what seems like a blink of an eye. This crew is unflappable. 

Post Crossnado I line up. I am nervous. Lots of people I don't know. They don't have their right feet clipped in or in a position that would dictate they are in any way ready with 30 seconds to the gun. The siren goes off. I try to not get crashed out and try to get past these dudes that clearly were not ready for full gas. It is sub-optimal but night racing!!! Have I mentioned I didn't pre-ride? Pre-riding is for people with expectations. I like surprises!

What I wasn't prepared for was how much mud there was. And how tight some of the turns were. And that with my crappy night vision I wouldn't be able to see parts of the course. This actually becomes the biggest charm of the race as it unfolds. You have to really go off of faith. Faith in your bike and handling and faith in your fellow racer. I follow lots of racers into crazy lines. The mud is so deep at the far end of the course that when you dismount you are ankle deep. Luckily it really was only for about 20 seconds and then you could remount and pedal. So many cool features. Loved, Loved, Loved the course. Also loved the stealth handups. And riding past the beer garden while a live band was playing. Have I mentioned this is my new favorite race of all time? Damn I can't believe I missed this the last 4 years. 

So somehow I am finishing on the lead lap. Not sure how that is possible but I am happy. And only one BC High kid has beat me. #winning. But the best part is as I am coming into the final sand pit before the finish I see the Zip Tie Fairy! She is in a group of three. Clearly she is battling to keep the two from passing. So I slip by one and then another and then get behind Lesli. We come out on the grass together and then hit the barriers together at the beer garden. It is the best moment ever. What a way to end such a crazy evening of racing. Finish up. High fives all around. Hit the beer garden and watch the women race. Head home before 9. Man I could get used to this. You can keep your weekend racing. Mid-week Crosstobeerfest is for me. The photo above is of the Zip Tie Fairy herself and by ABWphoto

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Practice? We Talking about Practice?

Yes, AI we are going to talk about practice today. For those unfamiliar with AI or his rant about practice, first shame on you, second here is the link in all its greatness. Unlike AI, us mere mortals do indeed need to practice. And cyclocross is probably one of the few cycle sports were practice is almost more important than training. I hate the word training FYI. But practice? I love practice. The skills and weird bizarre nature of cross is what made me fall in love with this sport at the get go. Cyclocross requires of its participants a crazy combination of fitness and technique that is hard to even put into words. The start has to be full gas. Surviving that initial chaos is really the key to any success in cross. There may be a few people who have bad starts and come from behind to do well but it is rare these days. There are way too many people who focus solely on cross these days for that to happen. So practice those starts. Over, and over, and over.Wait for the whistle. Be ready. Right foot up. Blast off. Clip in. Don't get crashed into the tape. 

Once you have done ten or so starts it is time to practice turns. A good cross course has lots of turns. The trickier the better. I hate seeing cross courses with too much straight away. One it is boring, two why? You want the roadies to win don't you? Yeah you do. If you don't put in some turns the roadies will just leave us in their dust. Off cambers are my true favorite. I love the velcro sound a tire makes as it is right on the edge of breaking away in a grass turn. I love that sound. Let's me know I am carving instead of over braking and accelerating back to speed at every turn. Speaking of accelerating. CX is a thousand tiny deaths at the hands of 10 to 20 second sprints. Every time you come out of that corner and maybe lose speed you need to get it back. So get it back. Sprint out of every corner. After every run up. Those seconds add up.

Run. Ok I am a horrible runner. I vow to run every year. Never do. I have at least three sets of brand new running shoes that are still brand new. But you have to run in CX so during practice run. This is better anyway. Make it a transition. Whether in a set CX practice or your own course find two to three spots. Make a transition from bike to run so you can practice getting off and picking the bike up and running with it. There are so many techniques for running with the bike. Some instances are dependent on what you are running up or across. A stair runnup is totally different than a dirt pitch which is totally different than a sand pit or beach. So play around. And practice is the best time to do it. Mid-race is not a good idea to try something new. Trust me. It rarely works.

Barriers. It is one of the defining features of cross. I hate a course without at least one set. It just doesn't feel right. Now if the course has natural barriers-a telephone pole or downed tree, unrideable woods section or a beach....ok that works. It doesn't have to be a traditional double barrier setup. But I like that. Again, I am not particularly good at barriers I just like them because they make me work and think. And that is really one of the things I love about CX. Even if your fitness is horrible or you crashed at the start and are DFL you still have the course. The course is always going to be a challenge. Why not look at it that way. Even if you are last if you are riding super smooth and killing the technical sections you are winning in my mind.

So back to practice. I have been at this a long time. I honestly have let my practice slide. Some of it is my weird schedule but honestly a lot of it is apathy. I had the chance to go to Saturday Morning Prestige this past Saturday in Southie. Kevin posted up the photo above on his Instagram. I saw that tape and stakes and was like "hell yes!" I was so happy I went. An organized practice like Wednesday Superprestige or Larz is a gift. There are lots of organized and bandit practices. Most happen on a Weds. It is mid-week and you are pretty much recovered from any racing the weekend before. You should be pretty fresh. What is great about an organized practice is there are people there to help you figure things out. People are so happy to answer any questions etc. And you get to sort of mini-race with friends etc. Oddly this season has been like starting all over with CX. Not sure what it is about. I think it is my SSCX family. They just bring so much PMA to cross and bikes and life in general that even some old retired dude like me feels like a kid again.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Welcome to the Gun Club

Quad Cross has been the unofficial/official opener of Cross season in the #NECX for 12 years. At first it seemed "too early" Sucker Brook the 2nd or 3rd weekend in Sept was always the opener. And then this other cool race happened. It was first held at Middlesex College. The close proximity and the Quad crew's effort made it a special race pretty much right out of the gate. I have so many crazy memories of those races at Middlesex. Mud bogs, bee stings, botching a remount and doing the unspeakable to the point I curled up in the fetal position next to the tape and thought I might die. But those races were amazing. Quad has always been known for its rad course design and super chill atmosphere. When it moved to the Gun Club in Maynard it just went to 11. I mean it is at a Gun Club! The early days at the Gun Club people swore bullets fell on the course (they didn't) and again some epic memories happened. The time Eli hit a tree. That was bananas. The time Lolli rode THROUGH a tree. Timber!!! Grillo's Pickles got its first introduction to the NECX via the Newbury Comics team. Unless my memory is off I believe they had pickled jalape├▒os one year. So yeah the race is a classic. 

It is one of those races you just do not want to miss. For an early season/low key Jungle Cross race it gets one of the highest turnouts of any race of the season.  It has been a part of the Zank SSCX series from the beginning of the series. I have been trying so hard to introduce SSCX Biathlon as an Olympic sport. I mean it has HUGE potential. Set up a table with BB Guns and beers. Each racer has to shotgun a beer and hit a can. It will change everything my friends. The weather for this year's race was surprisingly cool. Most years (Thanks Global Warming) it is so hot. It is always dusty. But that is one of the things I love about the race. So many races are just boring grass crits. Quad takes Jungle Cross and weaponizes it. All the woods sections are best navigated in the drops. And you had better have double checked those fancy tubular glue jobs I will say that.

This year's course design was probably my favorite of all time. It had all the usual elements-Woods section, euro chutes, gravel road climb, twists and turns through the sand pits, fast opening start, super tricky gazebo sector. And some great double barriers and a telephone pole!!! I love it. I won't lie that going from couch to SSCX Beyond the Thunderdome is maybe not super smart but yolo. Even at 53 you really only live once. And as long as you can go you best go. Cause at my advanced age you don't know how many times you are going to get on this rodeo. Ok it wasn't FULL couch to SSCX. I mean I did hot yoga that morning. That has to be a good warmup for going redline on a SSCX for 40 minutes right?

Regardless I was pumped. I get to the venue and it is like a SSCX reunion. So many people. So many high fives and hugs. I love this Island of Misfit toys we have created. The SSCX crew really is special. Reminds me of how CX was back when it was a niche sport. I got to see the Vest after Kerry bedazzled it! I knew when Kerry Litka won the vest the previous weekend we were in for something special. She is very creative and has a flair for design. What she created was so rad. It is pictured above. Honestly this is what I love about the Vest. The wearer puts their stamp on it. It becomes a living testament to SSCX and the rider. It also is sort of like the one ring that binds them all. Once you get it you do not want to let it go. It was so awesome talking with Kerry about it. She gets it. 100%.

I did a quick pre-ride which really only included the sand pit turns and then lined up with 60 of my favorite people. I won't lie I was kind of nervous. Which is weird for having done this so long. But new season. I really have only been riding gravel soul rides in the woods mostly by myself and at 10 mph. That really doesn't translate to full gas SSCX. The whistle goes off and the time for nerves is over. I stay locked in as best I can but the start at Quad is nuts. Full gas on grass sharp turn at a tree. Major pinching and brake squealing. The good thing about SSCX is you avoid all of that Cat 3/Masters argy bargy. Not that crashes don't happen. It is CX after all and people are going full out. But maybe it is the limiter of one gear or something but you just don't get all the dive bombing and chopping you get in those other races. A voice is going off in my head that I should get off and run around the conga line ahead of me but that just seems in bad form for SSCX. So I keep flowing as best I can. Then I make what I can only describe as a bad lifestyle choice. Or as I called it later my attempt to Bunnyhop Mediocrity.

So my good friend Derek had given me a verbal course preview. He had mentioned a telephone log hop. I had locked onto that and thought "Oh I am hopping that" It is gonna be EPIC! I will show these racers what riding in the woods all summer has taught me! So I come through a sketchy gravel chicane and see my WHITE WHALE!!! Have I mentioned it is the first lap? And I am surrounded by other racers in traffic. Uhhh yeah. So I don't really know what happened next. But I went for it. I hopped. And paid the price. I almost made it. I got the front wheel up and on the log. Tried for the Tap hop move and damn if my bb didn't get hooked up on the log and yeah I was that guy. Thank god people had a sense of humor. A guy after the race came up to me in the van and fist bumped me and said "That was rad!" God I love singlespeeders. An "elite" Masters racer would want to fight me in the parking lot for "ruining" his race like that.

Post epic log hop fail I just sort of pulled my shit back together. I was truly partying at the back now. But it was such a great crew. I had a really fun mini-battle with a couple of friends. We were working really nicely moving up a bit from our DFL back of the pack section. Each lap there was a really great group in the woods heckling and doing handups. What is weird in a race like this is it is pretty hard to hear or see anything but the course. I mentioned how hard the course was right? Each year at least one person crashes heavily on the euro chutes and gets pretty dinged up. So you have to be on your game. I take those drops seriously because it is my brand. I may be slow and old but you give me some crazy ass drop and I am in the drops and riding that like a boss. So I didn't even realize it was my friends in the woods. Until I got knocked off on the 3rd lap and had to run the hill. Then I hear Baumann yelling "YOUR NAME IS CHIP YOU HAVE TO TAKE A CHIP!!!" That is a reasonable statement. So I run over to the side where they are and get a very spirited spank in the ass and grab a mouth full of dill pickle chips. Amazing. Those salty snacks gave me wings!

Great race. Best course ever. And HUGE kudos and thanks to Quad and all who work on this race. It is so hard putting on a race like this. The front of the SSCX was super exciting! Rhys won the women's! She really smashed it. It was so awesome seeing her rocking a gold ball mask attached to her helmet and just flying. It is so rad having her joining us this season. Kerry held onto the vest by 5 points! Wild. The men's points ended in a tie! And Connor Walsh held it for one more week. Next stop on the Zank Wirld Tour is at Cape Cross. Now if you are from New England you know about The Cape. I assume you do. It is going to be amazing. And we are all going for fried clams and cold beers after. Count on it. See you in two weeks my friends! Oh and HUGE thanks to Andy for this amazing video!

Monday, August 27, 2018

Nailed to the Cross

Cross is coming whether you are ready or not. I know I am not ready. But missing out on a CX season is a mortal sin to those who worship upon Cross's altar. It is not unlike how Catholics feel about Mass. Cycling itself is an oddball cult/religion in and of itself. Cross gets into the realm of the illuminati in a blink of an eye. Each September we as the faithful servants of CX have a reunion. It doesn't happen in a Church but on the fields of farms, ski hills, and parks. To the uninitiated it appears equal parts LARPing, equal parts Chaos. It is such an oddball sport and I think that is why people fall in love with it. It requires so many weird subtle skills and a fitness level that certainly favors those with power but a good runner or cagey bike handler can out fox a pure power rider on any given Sunday.

This post is equal parts homage to my one true love in the bike game. I came to CX in an odd way. Moved to Norcal in the late '80s. Got a job at a regional cycling rag. Worked my way up to editor. Made some great friends. And those friends gave me a quick introduction to cycling. Road cycling led me to MTB, MTB led me to CX. And once I tried CX I got hooked. My first real CX bike was a too big for me Rock Lobster. But it was a BALLER frame. School bus yellow. One of a kind. I rode that thing everywhere. Til it got stolen. I have ridden steel and alloy CX bikes ever since. I have never owned a carbon bike. Until this season. Call it a mid-life crisis. Call it always wanting a Santa Cruz. You can take the boy out of Norcal but you cannot take Norcal out of the boy. Honestly, for better or worse those 13 years in the SF Bay Area made me who I am today. This bike is sort of a way to tap back into that energy. Rekindle my love for CX. Oddly it is also the best Gravel Bike I have ever owned. I am not a very good bike "reviewer." I like what I like. You may not like what I like. I never could lie about bike stuff.

So what we have here is a Santa Cruz Stigmata. With NEXT carbon RULE wheels. With GOLD nipples. I moved most of my tried and true parts over from my Zank. I have settled on a Shimano/TRP Hylex Di2 set up. I have gone through so many group sets. I was a HUGE Campy fan. Then had a brief SRAM dalliance. That didn't last long. Shimano to me is it. Bomb proof. Reliable. They never rush out new tech just to appease the masses. And I love the zip zip of Di2. Electronic shifting is awesome. I am sorry if that sounds elitist. But the biggest issue with cable shifting is friction. And contamination. Di2 is effortless. With the TRP Hylex levers you can put a shimano climbing lever into a port on the inside of the level. Hylex levers are technically SS levers. Which is on brand and is on my SS. I prefer the feel of the hoods and the action of the braking. And yes, the climbing button tucked on the inside of the lever feels like the old Campy thumb shifter. I swear I still have a callous on my palm from those Campy shifters.

I go 1x not because it is cool or anything but because it is simple. I like simple. It is what I like most about SSCX. I have eyeballed the new Shimano levers and do like the look of them. I could go 2x at some point. God knows the new Ultegra clutch mech is CXy as hell. It may be in my future. So it is a simple midlife crisis bike. I know that sounds weird. Ok so how does it ride. First MAJOR kudos to my mechanic and good friend Scott Novick at Landry's in Natick. He and I have been good friends for a decade. We have done so many rad adventure rides. And he is as PRO as they come. I at times can be a pain I am sure but he never gets too mad at me about my crazy ass bike projects. He has built up and serviced my bikes for as long as I have been on the east coast. So suffice it to say my bikes are dialed. He built this up and on my first ride I literally changed nothing. I mean I don't know about you but I am a CX diva. I fidget and mess around with my bike constantly. 1 mm adjustments here and there constantly. And I swear I can feel the difference. Tire pressure is a constant fixation. I swear I can feel a 2-5 psi change in pressure. So the fact that I didn't have to adjust a thing speaks volumes to what Scott does as a craft and profession.

So on to the good stuff. How does it ride? Amazing. I see why people love carbon now. And as much as I am super nervous about it. I am babying this bike like no other bike I have ever owned FYI. The bike is just rock solid. The first thing I noticed is it is just plain fast. Climbs effortlessly. And I am a horrible climber. And is smooth in a subtle way. But let's not get too ahead of ourselves the bike is also very spirited. I wouldn't call it twitchy. But it is not as stable as my steel and alloy bikes. Maybe that is the weight or something else. It has taken me a few rides to get used to it. But you can throw the bike around very easily. But I haven't crashed. Which is amazing. I hit something. Maybe a root or a rock. The rear end deflected up and out. It felt like the rear end was parallel to the ground. But somehow I was able to get it back under me and not crash. That is huge. A good CX bike (or gravel bike) has to have that ability. Quick and nimble, but when it gets bounced out can recover.

I have taken it on my usual crazy loops. And have taken it far afield. I WISH I had taken it to VT Overland. But it was not meant to be. I may just do a bike-cation to VT this Fall. Or maybe Western Mass. This bike needs to be ridden all day. Again I feel like this is a great CX race bike but also a workhorse gravel bike. I know some people want their gravel bikes to be super stable. And I get it kind of. I have ridden long gravel bikes and they are nice on straight bombed out fire roads. But I need a bike that talks to me. Gives me feedback. And if the shit hits the fan it will get me out of trouble. A stable bike will not do that. You have to be able to flick the bike across a trail with your thighs. Or hop some bombed out crater or rut that comes up on you super fast. A low BB long Gravel bike can't do that. Give me a CX bike. That is where I feel at home.

What else can I say? I love it. The more I ride it the more I love it. I do want to race it this year. I know I race SSCX mainly but it is fun to race a sweet geared bike in a CX race. Don't be shocked if I line up in the geared race with this mid-life crisis bike. In other news the Zank SSCX series kicks off next weekend at Kalon Cross. My good friends have been hard at work dialing it in. It will be amazing. And the Zank crew has some surprises for you. This season is going be so rad! 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Worcester Mixte

Photo by Lesli

So sometimes you have to turn lemons into lemonade. And while the #CBL through the intertubes seems all adventure rides and cold beers by a secret swimming hole it is in reality trying to find the time to ride with good friends. And sometimes when one opportunity gets scuttled due to SAT subject tests you make the best out of it. I am a good husband and dad. I would do anything for my family. Doesn't mean my knee jerk reaction isn't  "wait you scheduled SATs in Worcester the day before I was going to go to Vermont for an adventure ride?" Papa Smurf while in general a happy go lucky Smurf he sometimes had an edge. As I have aged I have mellowed. I only have so much energy. So fighting over something that is a fait complete is a waste of everyone's time. So I caved quickly and had a brilliant idea. I would use the trip to Worcester as a way to ride with my great friends out there. It literally had been about a year since I had ridden with them. Sure we race CX together. And I saw them at the Ronde. But that is a blur. The thing I love the most right now is just riding with good friends on their trails. At a chill conversational space discovering stuff and catching up. 

Ok so a plan came together. The 3Cross/Fritz crew were so great. They Agreed to meet me at a cool coffee shop called Acoustic Java at 8 am on a Saturday. That means a lot to me. Friends who will drop everything and meet you for a ride are literally the best. So I won't lie I was pretty nervous. I am as most of you know a solo dad. I am not on my own. I am not Danny on Full House. My wife is incredible. But she is the provider for this household. I am the stay at home parent. So things like this fall in my bucket on the org chart. I do stuff like this all the time. But I don't leave my kids alone. Zoe was doing 3 subject tests for the SAT. That is about 3-4 hours of testing. I dropped her at the High School and made the sign of the cross and went to meet up with the 3 Cross crew. Worcester reminds me of Providence when I went to art school in the late '80s. It is part Industrial, part college students and part a really diverse mix of ethnicities. It is authentic and has a real soul. I won't lie. I love it.

Brian hopping a log. Photo by Lesli

I found the coffee shop and was about 20 minutes early. I had jitters but did some meditation in the car and relaxed. You think I am kidding. You would think after 18 years at this job I would relax. But I can't. New parents I hate to say this but everyone who tells you it gets easier is a fucking liar. It gets way harder. I know when your three year old is having a meltdown it feels like the end of the world. And it is for the two of you at the time. But the teen years it gets real. Stress levels go through the roof. So I got my shit together. Josh was the first one to show up. I know all of these riders but we are all still pretty new to each other. I love making new riding friends. To me it is so simple. Do you have a sense of humor, do you ride well (and by well I do not mean fast. I hate riding with fast people) and are you cool. Josh is all of the above in spades. So rad. The rest of the crew show up and we get coffee and snacks. We share stories. I catch up with Dave and Jess about D2R2. They have some epic tales indeed. Sorry I missed that one.

Big stretch Photo by Lesli

Lesli plies me with Swedish Fish. I hit my inner timer and hope I don't die on this ride so Zoe isn't stranded in Worcester for the rest of her days. Again, for those unfamiliar with Worcester. It is the classic New England Industrial City. So many factories and warehouses. It is vibrant. A great energy. And no lie great for cycling. Honest to god we rolled out from an area that in Boston would have you on high alert on a bike. People were so chill. We took the lane. No one honked. We basically shut down traffic to take a left. No one tried to run us over. I have never felt so safe in an urban environment in my life on a bike. I don't know if people just aren't in a rush or are used to bikes but man it is nice. We quickly made our way to the first pave sector. Worcester has great riding. Especially for a city. We hit so many rad trails. I would say the ride was 60/40 dirt trail to pavement. And a lot of the pavement was literally dirt road or pave. How much dirt road still exists in Boston? 

Lesli, Jess, Dave, Josh and CB Photo by Lesli 

So many highlights from the ride. Seeing an Ice Cream Truck graveyard was tops, FLYING down a paved descent following Josh and knowing we missed the turn into a trail but not caring as the descent was so rad. Josh was so funny about that. I knew we overcooked the route. At the bottom of this huge hill (did I mention how hilly Worcester is?) Josh says "I hate what I am about to do to you?" I laugh and say umm we have to climb back up that hill right? He just starts laughing. Such a great guy. I love this crew and love riding in Worcester. I promise it won't be a year between rides my friends. If you get a chance make the trip. You will be happy you did. 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Nice Gloves

I know what you are thinking. How did this happen. Well it is a long story. It all starts with the man pictured below. Photo by Ryley Newton fyi. Any photographer willing to camp out in 95 degree heat in New England in August and endure EEE ridden mosquitos and ticks is a champion in my mind. And as his photo would prove he captured just what that man cooked up for this past MTB season. My friends have the best worst ideas. Some I have to sort of just ignore. As they are maybe a tad to get us all in jaily. I mean I am a derelict I like me some quasi illegal behavior. But Barn Burner is the premier MTB event in New England. What Pete and Marty have built is impressive. I would never ruin anyone's race. No matter what some may say. 

So let's hit the rewind button. Kevin O and Mike Wissell have been asking me to roll the Zank SSCX Party Train into the MTB season the last couple of years. They know my affinity for all things single speed. But SSCX and SS MTB are different beasts. While they share a lot of crossover, no pun intended, there are some hurdles with SS MTB. One in the Northeast we have a high bar. SSAP which recently retired was and is the pinnacle of SS MTB racing. I am not trying to one up any region. Nothing seems to polarize people like regionalism or single speeds in cycling. What the Dark Horse guys did with SS-A-Palooza literally inspired a Legion of us from New England. We would plan our whole year around that event. So I finally cracked. I missed SS MTB. SSCX is great. But it is different. Anyone can do SSCX. Honestly. That has been our mission from day one. All are welcome and all can do it. It in many ways is so much easier than geared CX. I have never had to fight anyone in a SSCX race. Hahah. Ok I have only had to fight in a CX race once. Lots of threats. But only once did I fight. But so much of the argy bargy that is CX never ever goes down in SSCX. So how would SS MTB go? Well very well my friends. 

In large part to this man. Kevin is one of a kind. So strong on a bike. But almost a Hunter S Thompson-esque character. So when he asked if I wanted to do a Tiki Bar at Barn Burner I was like yes. Of course. Then we started plotting and scheming. The word Tiki Bar to me is more a concept than an actual Tiki Bar. Barn Burner in Walpole is or should be the poster child of what a positive effect a bike race can have on an open space. I swear by force of will Pete and Marty rehabbed an overgrown rarely used open space into a destination for MTB riders, dog walkers and hikers. It is an ideal space. People really get along. The Town of Walpole embraces it. So when friends build something you respect it. Walpole has a pretty firm no alcohol policy. I respect that. So our Tiki Bar really was a PMA "heckle pit" No booze laden heckles. Just PMA the whole time. Kevin texted me at 6:30 am. He was the first one on site. I was there shortly after. We set up our redneck feed zone. Can it be rednecky if we are wearing Hawaiian shirts and serving Hawaiian Punch? Well spotify picked some awkward songs early on in the Beginner/Sport races. I think that was the first time I ever heard Panzer Kampf. #winning

Right. So the early races are going. We are cheering on friends. Handing up Twizzlers and Hawaiian Fruit Punch. Not a lot of takers. But a lot of smiles. Our Heckle Pit has pretty much become the feed zone and hang out for the race. Have I mentioned how hot it was at Barn Burner? Yeah well it is not the heat but the humidity that will kill you. No lie. No shocker I am built for Winter. I am basically a mountain dwarf. Thick with two Cs. Short. Give me a double bladed battle axe and I am a happy man. But I can survive summer. I feel like death. But have learned over the years to deal. I thank hot yoga and my better half. It sounds weird but it is true. If you train in heat you acclimate. Sitting in an environmentally controlled office is not a good success story for racing in the heat. You need to feel heat to be ok in the heat. As one of my favorite yoga teacher's says over and over in every class "Don't freak out" Breathe. Chill.

We did our thing for the early races. Then went and got our race plates. Have I mentioned how much I love EFTA? EFTA reminds me of NORBA in the old days. They just get it. None of this USAC nonsense. I play nice with USAC as I am an adult but player please. This is not complicated. Put on a race where everyone has a rad time. Make it for the people and by the people. Again, HUGE tip of my cap to Marty and Pete. So Kevin and I head down to staging. I crack and swap out my Hawaiian shirt I borrowed from Kevin for the Tiki Bar for Blanco. I won't say I am scared but Rayon doesn't really breathe. Our plan was to do a lap pull out and go nuts supporting the Elite race. SS MTBers had to do 3 laps. Ouch. I got through one ok. Maybe I could have done two. Three? Hmmm maybe. I would have needed IVs and a blood infusion after. So Kevin and I punch out after one lap. Have I mentioned the #ZankBelt ? Yeah we came up with the idea to do Champ Belts for the inaugural SS MTB series.

And it was amazing. Jon Nable came up with the design. Champ Belts were born. Best. Worst. Idea. Ever. Maybe better than the vest. But I digress. Life as it were sometimes throws lemons at you. So you make lemonade. The women's leader couldn't make it to the finals. My good friend Thea was always planning on racing. But now it was basically a winner take all scenario. Our Tiki Bar went from feed zone to full race support to get Thea the belt. She did the laps. And she is a legit baller. One of the raddest women I know. It took me back to some 24 hour races I have done support on. Thea came through after the first lap looking pretty good. Second lap was on target. But man it was hot. I was actually getting a tad worried. Then she popped through the woods! Kevin and I grabbed our bikes and rode in with her to the finish. Best day ever. So stoked to see Thea raise that belt up and pop the champagne. The men's champ was equally as rad. A true SS MTB podium. We are going to take this to 11 next season kids. This year was an experiment. Next year we are ramping it up big time.

Come join us this Fall for the Zank SSCX season. And let's plot and scheme for next SS MTB season. I have ideas. And we are gonna throw some funny curve balls at you this SSCX season. Lining up with so many of my friends before the SS MTB race reminded me why I love this sport. Seriously. So many people on the line looked over and said "we have missed you Chipper" Hell yes. Music to my ears. I am recharged and ready to go. See you all at Kalon CX! Thanks Marty and Pete. Thanks TO ALL who came out and raced this past SS MTB season. Thanks EFTA. Thanks Ride Maple for sponsoring the Zank SS MTB Podium! Thanks Zank for making SS MTB great again.