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-




20 May, 2016

Fat for Fun - Salsa Beargrease X5 Initial Review

Been resisting the lure of the fat tire mountain bike for a while. I knew what a blast they looked like. And how much fun being able to ride in snow all Winter, or UP sand in the Summer was really appealing.

So, that didn't last...

On a visit to Tree Fort Bikes in Ypsilanti a couple of weeks back, I inquired about deals on fat bikes. Turns out they've got a couple of Salsa Beargrease X5's demos that they want to move. After sleeping on it, I decide to pull the trigger. A pair of AtomLab Pimp flat pedals and I'm ready to rock!


The Beargrease is Salsa's race bike line, and the aluminum X5 is the entry level model. I've long liked this strategy. It lets you buy a high-performance frameset, with more affordable components. Then you can upgrade as-needed. That's not to say the X5 is lacking -- SunRingle Mulefut rims, Novatec sealed bearing hubs, a Cane Creek headset, 45nrth Husker Du tires. Pretty good stuff. And seriously, Husker Du is among my favorite bands. How could I not buy a bike with Husker Du tires.

Last Sunday, it's windy, cold, and spitting snowflakes. This squashed my thoughts of getting in some road miles. So, I grab the Beargrease and head for Island Lake Recreation Area to hide in the trees and play on the dirt. Island Lake is one of my favorite local rides. With both a 9.8 mile and a 5 mile loop, it's perfect to put together a "just the right length" ride. It's got a little technical stuff, but nothing major. And the climbs are manageable. I've ridden it a fair bit on the singlespeed 29er.

First discovery: The fat bike is just big. The tires are twice the width of my other mountain bike. So, just sticking it in the Jeep is a pain. Eventually I get it wedge in there. Note to self: probably time for a bike rack. Breaking down bikes, folding down seats, and then stuffing them in there is getting old.

Second discovery: I should have gotten one of these a long time ago. It's just a blast to ride! The huge tires absorb bumps, ruts, and roots like a full suspension. And the contact patch of the rear tire is MASSIVE; so it climbs like a goat. I've described it to friends as the "cartoon character of bikes". It's fat and goofy, but it's also a great ride.

I'd expected it to be a bit bulky to maneuver, but that proves not to be the case. For a big bike, the Beargrease is surprisingly nimble. You're not going to see Danny Macaskill's next video shot on one of these, but you're also not going to be hammering trees because you couldn't turn.

Also, gears are cool. I love the simplicity and ruggedness of my singlespeed. But this is a really cool alternative. Big hill? No problem; click it down a notch and motor up! The SRAM X5 drivetrain shifts cleanly and quietly. In the future, I may swap to an X9 rear and convert to a 1x, just for simplicity. But I want to get in some miles first.

My only complaint is the stock WTB saddle. Ouch! Not comfortable! I run the SQ Labs 611 Race on both my road and cyclocross bikes, so I think one will be finding it's way onto the fat boy soon.

All in all -- I'm really happy with my purchase! Even at full list, the Beargrease X5 is a solid deal. If you're looking for an entry-level fattie, this is a significant step up over the glut of $1,000 bikes with inferior components, poor frame geometries, and questionable warranty.  Highly recommended! Now to put some more miles on it!

-Sean-

13 May, 2016

Mind Your Manners

For the past 6 weeks I've been taking some yoga classes. This is something I've dabbled in unsuccessfully before, but am really enjoying this time - the benefit of finding a studio I like and instructors I enjoy. Last night I went to what would have been a great class, only it included some rude folks.

This got me thinking about a posting I've long been meaning to write here - etiquette. Every sport or activity has rules, traditions, and unsaid things you should and shouldn't do. Social norms, if you will. Many of these are simply common courtesy and considering others. Some are safety. And others are just tradition.

Here are just a few examples that spring to mind:

  • Skiing - the singles line is for singles. Don't cram three of your buddies in there and then hop in front of everyone else as a group. 
  • Cycling - the paceline is a unique place with rules all its own. Most of them are for your own safety (NEVER overlap wheels). Some are courtesy - take your turn on the front, unless you're a weaker rider than the rest and in that case, own it and admit to it.
  • Fly Fishing - again, lots of courtesies. Not low-holing the other angler is one. But there are some interesting ones relating to being a guest in another's boat - offer to bring lunch or beer, NO cleated boots, if you can row, offer to.
  • Shooting - issues here are principally related to safety. Muzzle downrange. Don't shoot others targets. Treat every gun as a loaded gun. But there are some courtesy issues, too. Like sweeping up your brass and removing shot-up targets before you leave. Or offering to pick up post-range drinks or buy ammo when someone lets you try their gun.
The common theme here is courtesy and respect for others. Something our society is increasingly lacking. No matter the sport or activity, you can bet there are etiquette standards. In most cases, simple asking will get you a gentle introduction. For example, I was recently invited on an organized group bike ride. I've not spent much time riding in serious pacelines, so I knew I had some learning to do. Fortunately, my buddy Josh was there to guide me. As a result, I had a comfortable, fun, safe ride. I'm lucky enough to be friends with some fly fishing guides. They've taught me a TON - mostly because they'll be more candid with a friend than a client. I've learned things like holding your boot out to drain before stepping into a drift boat, is appreciated. Or that if a guide takes you to a spot, they don't want to see you there the next day. 

Bottom line? Pay attention. Understand that no matter what any sport of activity (not just golf or tennis) has protocols and etiquette. Take some time to observe, and if needed ask questions.You'll likely have a better experience, make some friends, and be welcomed back!

-Sean-

P.S. March 7th was my last post? Geez. Gotta' get after this...