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.