10 August, 2017

New World Order in the Bike Quiver

Lots of changes in the bike stable this year. As we've covered in this blog, I'm a tweaker. Always fine tuning until I get things just right. I started the year with five bikes in the quiver, I'm now down to four. My goal was to have fewer bikes that could do more. Every bike adds maintenance, and if I don't ride it - guilt! So here's a quick run-down on the changes. I'll write more lengthy reviews in coming months.

Seven Evergreen S
I got this sweetheart early this year. After discovering gravel on my Specialized Crux Comp, I quickly lost my interest in doing much road riding. Gravel is just pure joy for me. And I began to lust for disc brakes, a little smoother ride - just a general upgrade. I found it in a demo Seven Evergreen that a friend and local dealer had. As it turns out, this demo was just my size and the dealer was looking to get a newer one (mine had 300 miles and about 4 demos on it!). Deal scored. It helps that this dealer is also my fitter and said, "Geez, that's probably exactly what I'd have ordered for you....". I love it. Smooth. Fast. Handles like a dream. It's everything I wanted and more. Shimano Ultegra gruppo and hydraulic disc brakes. Bombproof Mavic Kysrium Allroad wheels. And, that miraculous Seven titanium ride quality.

As we entered the Summer, I began to feel like I could no longer justify owning my Giant Defy Advanced carbon road bike. I've written a lot on my concerns with significant road riding. This is a lot of bike and not using is it a shame. Sold it quickly and for a fair price online. Then I scored a half-price deal on a second set of Mavic's with road tires. Now I have a gravel bike that does double duty as a road bike (or more likely path bike - I've found that I love riding bike trails around Michigan).

Nine ONE9
You've seen my SE BM Flyer single speed in previous posts. I've had great fun building up that bike, including Profile BMX cranks, and custom wheels with White Industries fantastic ENO rear hub. It's been a blast to ride, but it's really an overgrown BMX bike. Having tasted more high-performance mountain bikes, I've wanted to upgrade it for a while, but it was a low priority. This Spring, I stumbled upon a Niner ONE9 single speed in an online forum. After pondering for a while, I scooped it up at a great price. It's a size medium (I mostly ride larges, but really kind of fall between them). A longer 110mm Thomson X4 stem gave me a little more cockpit room. And, an SQ Labs 611 Race in 140mm got me comfy. Then I swapped the wheels from the SE over. The result is a sweet, simple, fun, nimble ride. I've set Strava PRs on rolling Northern Michigan terrain, and generally had a blast on this great new bike. Sold my SE to a good friend who wanted to try single speeds. One more need met!

Salsa Bucksaw NX01
This unexpected move has proven to be my upgrade of the year. In the early Summer I started to feel like I wanted a more trail-focused full suspension ride. And the idea of 27.5+ wheels really appealed to me. As I do rather like hanging out in bike shops, this gave me the excuse to look around. I test rode a Specialized Comp6 Fattie. Not bad. But not in love. My sister had test ridden a Salsa Pony Rustler and really liked it. I stopped in to visit to Einstein Cycles in Traverse City, MI. Owner Jason was super-helpful. Really listened to what I wanted and  suggested an alternative - the Salsa Bucksaw (technically a fat bike - more on that later) with a second set of 27.5+ wheels.

Yahtzee!!!!

I've also had some issues with my Salsa Beargrease X5 fat bike. I wanted a 1X drivetrain. Having discovered hydraulic disc brakes, I found myself wanting to upgrade the Avid mechanical discs. But this would have been several hundred dollars for a bike I don't ride a ton. So, she got sold to a newbie who was thrilled to have her.

Jason's solution was perfect! If you're not familiar, the Bucksaw is a trail bike in fat bike clothing. A more nimble geometry (it handles more like a Horsethief than a Beargrease) and full suspension make it a very unique fat bike. We settled on a set of carbon wheels build around Industry 9 Torch hubs for the 27.5+ configuration.

From the first ride, I was in love! This bike is fast, handles very smoothly, and the combination of full suspension and fatter tires engenders comfort and confidence. I can comfortably hold lines that I would have new tried before. Boulder problems are no sweat. And, it climbs like a goat due to the added traction. I'm eager to get it out in the snow on the fat wheels. You'll be reading plenty more on this cool bike in coming posts.

Ch-ch-changes...
So the only bike in my garage that was there last year is my XC race mountain bike - a Specialized Stumpjumper World Cup Carbon Expert. It's a great ride, with a carbon frame, crank, and wheelset. Fast, light, and responsive. This one will remain my race bike. It should be perfect for the Fall's Iceman Cometh race.

I couldn't be happier with the results of this little experiment. I now have fewer bikes that do more stuff well. Stay tuned!

28 April, 2017

Time Away...

The blog and I needed a little break - it's not that I've slowed down on enjoying the outdoors - but I'd kind of lost my inspiration. I find that my best blogging happens when I'm energized. Between the Holidays, the weird Michigan Winter, and the pesky day job, it was time to channel my energies elsewhere. But now I'm back and motivated. Plenty of cool outdoor antics that I'll be writing about, including:

  • The addition of a couple of new bikes, First a Seven Evergreen SL gravel bike to fuel my new location's access to exceptional dirt roads. Then just yesterday a big upgrade in the land of singlespeed mountain bikes - a Niner One 9 aluminum singlespeed which moves me to a more race-oriented singlespeed mountain bike. I'm looking forward to tweaking and tuning this one just for me. the Specialized Crux has already left the stable, and the SE BM Flyer will be next.
  • A decent Michigan ski season, despite some truly weird weather. 
  • My first impressions of my new Shaggy's Bootjack 115 powder skis.
  • Another outstanding ski trip to Colorado.
  • A new carry gun - Springfield XDS.
  • Getting my new (to me) house set-up as base camp for my outdoor antics.
  • Some fun hikes both near my home and in NW Michigan.
...and lots more. Stay tuned. Cool stuff coming.

-Sean-

11 November, 2016

The Iceman Cometh

Last weekend marked a milestone in cycling - my first mountain bike race! As I've been looking for new challenges since turning 50, this seemed a logical choice. Especially after learning that Northern Michigan's infamous Iceman ride also had a more beginner-friendly Slush Cup (8 miles, instead of the full 27). Sign me up!

I was completely unprepared for the scope of this event. Thousands of mountain bikers blasting through the woods. Races in waves to accommodate all the riders. A huge festival at the finish line. And so much more!

The shorter ride had two benefits - first my slacker training didn't kill me. And second, I've never ridden in a competitive environment on a mountain bike. As a kid, I raced bmx extensively, but the two have almost nothing in common. I had to learn to pace myself. When it was a good opportunity to pass. What it felt like to get passed. And how to spot and avoid other riders who offered the potential for danger (perhaps I was one of those riders to others).

My Specialized Stumpjumper Expert World Cup Carbon bike was awesome. Fast. Stable. Nimble. My only complaint as that the fairly narrow 1.9" rear tire was fairly scary in sandy terrain. Note to self -- time for some bigger tires.

Perhaps the most thrilling part was blasting through the finish area and then hearing my name on the PA as I crossed the finish line. Later I found out I'd scored 13th in my age category -- a nice start for my first race!

I learned a lot about myself. And I learned a lot about the sport. I will be back. Next year - full Iceman! More to follow about my awesome experience!

-Sean-

10 November, 2016

Gravel Therapy

It's been a stressful week of Presidential chaos. I hesitate to say that "my" candidate didn't win because I really didn't like either option. And social media has been blowing up with wailing about how crushed people are at the outcome.

Yesterday I was working from home and making good progress when a 55 degree, sunny November day spoke to me. It was time to finally go ride the gravel near my new house!

This was my first outing, but I'd already been thinking of places I wanted to explore. Since time was limited, I set off toward a known road, rather than meandering. I'll save that for this weekend.

I haven't been able to ride much with the shorter days and a busy schedule. It's been at least a couple of months since I've been on the Crux. But as soon as I was in the saddle, I knew I'd made the right call.

After only a mile or so, I could feel the stress of this week's events melting away. The sun. The sounds. The beautiful countryside in my area. They all combined in this perfect mix of gravel-induced euphoria. 

I'm so happy I discovered the joys of dirt roads. They really are gravel therapy. So much so that I'm considering selling my Giant Defy Advanced road bike and putting the money toward a custom built-for-me Seven Evergreen gravel bike. I'm already plotting the build I'd want, the options I'd add, and all that. Perhaps it's a nice fantasy. Perhaps it will become reality.

At the end of my ride, I'd logged a few miles, and shed a pile of stress. As simple reminder to get out there!

-Sean-

15 September, 2016

Shifting Gears

Recent events have me significantly changing my riding preferences. Road cycling has simply become dangerous. Between the dramatic increase in distracted drivers peering at little teeny screens, increasing traffic on roads, and a blooming of driver road rage, I'm rethinking how I want to spend my time on two wheels.

A recent tragedy on what has been my regular training route really brought it home for me. While riding on Dexter-Chelsea Road, triathlete Karen McKeachie was hit and killed by a driver who didn't see her. Head on. I can only imagine the horror of seeing an SUV at full-tilt bearing down on me. This road doesn't have wide shoulders, and in the place where the accident occurred there really is no escape route. Recently I rode past a small memorial to McKeachie and a simple thought filled my head:

"That could have been me."

On the day the accident happened, before details had been released, I received texts from three friends checking in to make sure it wasn't me. It could have been me. I've ridden that stretch dozens of times.

Couple this with incidents like Kalamazoo, and my own experiences, and I'm making a fundamental shift. I can't count the number of middle fingers, red-faced yelling, and other stupid behavior I've experienced. And, it seems to be escalating over the past year.

Who wouldn't love this view on a ride?
Fortunately, last year I discovered the joys of riding gravel roads. Where I used to see 10 cars per mile, now I see 10 cars per RIDE. And, when I am passed, its usually with a wide berth and a friendly wave. Combine that with my recent move to western Washtenaw County, with easy access to the Waterloo Rec Area and miles of dirt roads (like the one I live on), and this becomes pretty damn appealing.

Plus, over the last year I've rediscovered the thrill of mountain biking. Some of this was fueled by purchasing a Salsa Beargrease X5 this Spring. I've had so much fun riding that! Getting out on the trail, with no cars and relatively few other cyclists is a blast. While my rides are shorter in duration, they make up in intensity. Plus, mountain biking is more of a total body workout as you're using your upper body, too. Add to this the joy of being in the woods and you've got a combo that's hard to beat.

To further fuel this, my house is 2.5 miles from the DTE Energy Trail (formerly Waterloo). This great 5 mile route will eventually expand to over 20 miles. I did my first ride on it from home this week. Wow! What a blast! I've also had the good fortune to ride the VASA Trail outside Traverse City several times this year - also great fun!

Specialized Stumpjumper Expert Carbon World Cup
Naturally, this fueled another bike purchase. After discovering the joy of a mountain bike with gears in the fat bike, I found I wanted a faster, more nimble ride. Fortunately, I stumbled on a great deal on a lightly used Specialized Stumpjumper Expert Carbon World Cup. After only a few rides, I've grown to love this bike. It's fast, smooth, and I love the 1X drivetrain.

Can't wait to run the fat bike in the snow, too! That will bring a whole new dimension to fun Winter fitness.

So, my love affair with bikes and riding hasn't waned. It's just matured and changed direction. Away from the road riding that was getting increasingly scary and toward gravel roads and dirt paths. I certainly haven't given up road riding. It's just that I will spend considerably less time doing it, at least for a while.

02 August, 2016

Road Rage

Wow, it's been a long time since I posted here! My apologies to my regular visitors. Been living life and enjoying miles on the bikes. Yeah, bikes, and there are more of them than before. It's all good - more to follow in this soon.

But I digress...

It seems lately that the auto/cyclist conflict is escalating. This seems odd to me, especially in the wake of numerous well-publicized cyclist deaths, like those in Kalamazoo earlier this year. I would think these events would heighten awareness and perhaps even improve safety on the roads.



Nope, that assumption would be wrong.

Last night I did a group ride with the Ann Arbor Velo Club. Our group of rough 15 riders were all safe, courteous, and on the lookout for potential problems. We rode a single file paceline, even when there weren't cars around. We generally kept on, or near, the white line. And at the mid-point one of the organizers reminded us about the next section of road and the importance of being a good citizen of the road.

And, for our efforts, what did we get? Several full-out acceleration, way-to-close, yelling out the window passes. A person backing out of a pizza place who looked at us, and then still backed out in front of us.

Yes, I get that many cyclists SUCK at obeying the rules of the road (see the above NSFW video). And, I know we slowed down your drive ever so slightly. But really? That makes a red-faced rant, the full horn, and a double-bird thrown my way justified?

I've written on this topic before, so it's not news. What's struck me in recent weeks is how much I'm enjoying my gravel and mountain bikes. When I ride gravel, I see 10-15 cars per RIDE, as opposed to 10-15 per MILE on a road ride. And, on the mountain bike trail - ZERO cars! I flat-out feel safer when I'm not on the road.

I'll be moving to a more rural part of the area soon. I'll be near a top-notch mountain bike trail, miles of gravel, AND some good roads, too. I'm sure I'll still ride all three types, but I see the proportion of gravel and trail riding to increase.

Oh, yeah, I scored a SWEET mountain bike. More on that later!

-Sean-

02 June, 2016

Fattie Fun Follow-Up

"Why didn't I buy one of these a long time ago?"

That's been about the only burning issue with my Salsa Beargrease X5 Aluminum. After a nice local run on urban trails, as well as a long weekend in Northern Michigan, I just love this fat beast!

For the local urban trails, I turned to friend and tour guide, John. I follow John on Strava and I'm always seeing these goofy, loopy routes. It never looks like he gets far from home base and he's practically always in the City limits. Turns our he's found a collection of trails on park lands that link up and lead to a blast of a ride! For these trails, the Beargrease offers some nice flotation through loose gravel or muck. And, it bounces over nearly anything. But the big advantage? GEARS! While I love my single-speed 29er, it only has one gear. Usually the wrong one. Now I can shift to get in the right place and chug up climbs and slither down hills.

But Northern Michigan was where she shined! The trails I rode included a lot of loose sand. On a standard 2"ish tire these would have been a pain. With the 4" 45nrth Husker Du tires you just float through! And hill climbing is no big deal with the gigantic contact patch.

What continues to surprise me is how nimble this big beast is. I would have thought that between the gargantuan wheels and the added weight, she'd ride like a pig. Not so.

Looking forward to many, many more adventures with this special ride!

-Sean-