Is It the Engine or the Equipment?

So I crashed on my mountain bike a few weeks ago and the damage to my knee totally took me out of the game (both physically and here on the blog).  No running, no riding, and with the slump in activity, even my swimming felt the hit.  But I’ve started PT and hope to fix my knee for good.  And then this situation came up and I felt it was certainly worth sharing…what do you think?

Lately I’ve started coming to the realization that it’s not always about the equipment but more about the engine behind it (i.e. me and you).  It’s interesting to me, because I’m coming at it from the perspective of someone who works with the newest cycling technology every day.  My job is to convince people that the newest cycling technology will make them better riders.  And I believe it will.  Mountain biking went from rigid clunkers to carbon full-suspension 29rs to DH bikes with more than 10″ of travel.  Road bikes started about as steel and since then have been made from aluminium, scandium, carbon fiber, heck even bamboo!

But the other day I got to ride a tricked out version of the aforementioned Santa Cruz Tallboy 29r owned by one of our regular customers.  This sub-25lb. bike had everything: Edge (now called  Enve) composite wheels, SRAM XX 2×10 drivetrain, carbon handlebars and a Rock Shox XX Sid fork.  Everything, that is, except clipless pedals.  That’s right; the guy who owned this bike worth over $5k (and that’s just at dealer cost) didn’t even clip in.  After years of riding, he’d just never gotten the hang of it.  But that didn’t stop him.  His regular circuit at Big Creek would turn my legs and lungs into a lump of jelly.

A few weeks ago, pre injury, I raced in the Big Creek Time Trial Series.  I felt alright about the time, it was slower than my 4 Ways time, but told myself that it could be better if I had a newer, lighter bike.  This was confirmed when a friend picked up my bike and called over to the officials, telling them to knock a few minutes off my time because of how heavy it is for a XC bike.  Later that same week, I was talking with one of the regular customers at our shop, mentioning my plans for a new bike.  He asked what my recent lap time was and looked at me in disbelief.  Even with his new bike that weighs four to five pounds less than mine, my slow time was two full minutes faster than his best lap time.

This caused my focus to change a bit.  Instead of worrying out when I’m finally going to scrape together enough cash for my new mountain bike, I’m going to focus on improving my body using the equipment currently in my possession.  Feeling sorry that I own a 35lb. XC bike – think of it as resistance training.  Still have a granny gear on my road bike – just means I need to hit up steeper hills.  Bum knee – more time to get back into swimming and rock climbing and build my upper body while I rehab the knee.


World Cup Workout

No need to work out today.  The USA vs Algeria World Cup soccer game (or “football match,” whichever you prefer) kept my HR up around 200bpm the whole time.

Backyard Building

On Friday I spent a little over 2 hours working on a tiny trail that winds its way up the hill behind my house.  I’ve been living here for over 2 years and I’ve always wanted to build something that is rideable in both directions; up to build endurance and down to work on technique.  The going has been slow so far because of two primary reasons: mosquitoes and the soil.  Or lack thereof on the soil part.  A majority of the hill seems to have a ton of roots in the first inch of “soil” and a ridiculous amount of rocks buried about an inch below that, which makes any real digging on the trail almost impossible.  I’ve mostly just cleaned off the fallen leaves from the area I want to ride and packed down the loose loam with my feet or my bike.

I’m sure my trail building technique needs more refinement.  I know enough not to try to run my trail straight up or down the hill, but I’m trying to find a happy medium where the uphill part isn’t impossible to ride and the downhill section doesn’t leave me yawning.  I also know that it’s sometimes better to work with an obstacle rather than remove it.  A fallen tree about 2 feet tall caused progress on the building to slow a bit, until I was able to find enough fallen logs to ramp over the tree on both sides.  I’ve also set up a line that allows me to ride off the tree without a ramp on the other side.

As it is, I have to walk up the first 50′ of trail, because of a drop that happens right after a ladder bridge that I made out of monkey bars from an old playset.  I’m sure someone like Hans Rey could ride up it, but I prefer that section coming back down.  There is a line that could make it ridable, but that’s going to wait until after my trail makes it to the top of the hill. Because of the drop, and a hard-packed path on the last little hill, I get to fly around the last corner with my rear tire skidding like I’m some crazy DH racer.  The wife says I should end my run further away from the house, worried for my sanity as I drift through the off-camber turn.

Beach Ride

This past Memorial Day weekend, I visited my family in Florida and decided to ride to the beach with my parents.  It’s just under 50 miles from door to door, that is to say, door to dunes.  I was a little concerned at first because I haven’t done a ride of that length in at least a month and I had flown into town, so I didn’t have my bike.  But my parents are friends with another couple that rides and quickly got me sorted out on a steel Bianchi with full Campy components; a first for me on both counts.

So we prepped in the morning, loading out bottles with water and mix, rolling Cliff Bar quarters into little balls, and topping off the tires.  I had spend and hour the previous night getting the bike fitted to my typical riding position (and marking the bike so I could put it back how I found it). We rolled out around 6:30am and quickly settled into a 3 person paceline, switching places every five minutes or so.  The first hour rolled by quickly. The second hour found me suffering a bike from riding a bit I wasn’t used to.  Being that far out, there was nothing to do but put my head down and keep my pulls at a steady speed.  After the second rest stop, I found a renewed energy.  Okay, maybe it was the iced coffee drink my mom made me finish off, but the third hour seemed to fly by.  At the last rest stop both of my parents got something to drink while stopped as well as a sports drink for the road.  My mom was worried when she saw that I hadn’t finished either of my bottles.  Though as I pointed out, we had climbed a total of 300′ in about 30 miles.  300′ is what I climb in about 3 miles here in Atlanta, so I was still feeling fresh.

I had told my parents about bridge sprints, but with the holiday traffic building as the ride went on, whoever was pulling the paceline won the sprint without contest.  I managed to luck out and combine a bridge sprint with a county line sprint.  As we neared the coast, my parents warned me about the steepness of the causeways we had to cross, but I was unafraid.  Despite starting up the tallest bridge, a whopping 65′ of vertical elevation, in third position, I managed to gain the lead and hit almost 40mph on the descent.  My mom, on the other hand, is still developing her descending skills, so she topped out at around 30mph with my dad somewhere in between the two of us.

About 4 or 5 miles out from the beach, the rest of my family, who thought the three of us were crazy, passed us just as the traffic started building up on the roadways.  By the time we hit the A1A Coastal Highway they had secured a spot on the beach.  We stowed our bikes in the car and hit the surf, glad that the trip was only one way.

New Toys

Everyone loves new toys.  Lately at the bike shop I’ve been feeling like Santa.  Only you have to substitute red shorts for a red coat and the thin, ever-present layer of April pollen for December snow and…well, you get the idea.  Our shop has been crazy over the last few weeks.  But our customers aren’t the only ones getting gifts since my birthday was a few weeks ago and the last of my presents has arrived.  Among the birthday cards were two major cycling related presents.  The first was a pair of carbon soled road shoes so that I can finally use the Look Keo 2 Max pedals I won from Bike Rumor.  The second was a brand new Garmin Edge 705.  The edge has been a ton of fun to play with and I love all the data I have access to after each ride.  I plan on upgrading the Edge with a map of the entire North American continent shortly.

Speaking of new toys, I heard about a contest, via Bike Rumor, which is right in line with my cycling mileage goal for this year (2,237 miles – the total length of the 2010 Tour de France).  Greenlight, a cycling community/competition site, is challenging cyclists to equal the 2010 TdF mileage before the last day of the Tour, July 25th.  You’re eligible for prizes through each day that you have recorded enough mileage.   I’m a little over halfway through the Day 1 mileage requirement.  It only takes 5 miles to be entered for the Prologue stage and possibly win a Park workstand.  So get out and ride more!  Heck, buy a new toy for motivation if the possibility of winning a prize isn’t enough.

Big Creek Race Report!

My first mountain bike race happened two weekends ago and it was quite a race.  As I’ve said before, the Big Creek 4 Ways in a Day race combines XC trails, an uphill climb, a DH run and a Slalom run.  The King (and Queen) of Big Creek is the person with the lowest combined time.  The shorter events are weighted so that you can’t just run away with the XC course and survive the remaining events.  You have to be a well rounded rider.  Some people brought two bikes to to take advantage of gravity – either going uphill or downhill.

The morning started a bit brisk around 40 degrees.  The riders signed in and had a choice: hit the trails early for the first lap or wait until the last minute and hope the temperature warmed up.  I chose the former since riding around the concrete Greenway was freezing my fingers. The riders were starting at 1 minute intervals when I took off and I managed to pass two riders and only get passed by one, so I felt pretty good even though it took half a lap to warm up.  I didn’t have to get off my bike in either of the two sections that have been giving me problems lately.  That was an accomplishment in itself.  While I prefer the first direction we went, I knew from past laps that the counter clockwise direction is faster due to long, slow uphills coupled with steeper downhills.  Fully warmed up, I pushed hard on the second lap, again passing two people and getting passed once, despite starting at 30 second intervals for the second lap. 1 way down, 3 to go.

With the second lap finished, it was time for the El Scorcho climb.  It’s 700 linear feet with around 150 vertical feet of climbing.  While this might not sound too tough, it was a newly cut trail, so the ground hadn’t packed down much and there was evidence of rear wheels spinning out after each switchback.  On my 14 year-old 35lb bike, just getting up the hill is tough enough.   The race officials were estimating a little under two minutes per run and I finished in 1:48 with a loud grunt and no dabbing.  The eventual winner beat out two guys on cyclocross bikes with a time of 1:03.

The race was halfway through and it was time for lunch. The RAMBO folks cooked some tasty (and giant) burgers.  A few shops were there offering neutral support and I got a chance to drool over some new Niner bikes.

After lunch was over, the real fun began with the  DH and Slalom events. The sun had climbed higher and the weather was perfect for the competitors and the spectators.  Finally, the weight of my bike was going to pay off.  Being the only person running DH with V-brakes was a little intimidating, butI was totally focused by the time my countdown started.  I narrowly avoided clipping a tree and a 2 foot drop on the first run and felt way more confident on my second run.  Slalom was more fun, since I didn’t have to worry about any major drops and there were some massive berms to carve through.  I rolled all the jumps and ended up a respectable 4th place in the Beginner division.

I returned to the starting area and watched the crowning of the King and Queen, grabbed my sweet pint glass and headed home with my first mountain bike race in the bag.

Inspiration for the Big Day at Big Creek

While prepping for my first mountain bike race, I found this inspiring video.  This guy shows serious commitment to the sport he loves despite his handicap.  I can only hope that I exude as much love for riding as he does.