April 22, 2010

on touring your hood

Imagine having your own firehall...how cool would that be? Lots of space for your cars and bikes and what have you, photo by: tourdehood.wordpress.com
I've always been interested to visit Detroit. Not only because the Pistons have always been my Team in basketball or the fact that I'm a car nut at heart, but also because it's a city with an interesting history. It's also a representation of the rise, and more recently, the fall of American industry. Detroit used to be a metropolitan city of 2 million people. Now, it's a city of 700,000. I've always liked to photograph, industrial landscapes, and the more abandoned and desolate, the better. This is also (perhaps strangely to some) part of the appeal for me as far as Detroit goes. But since I can't see myself traveling there any time soon, I travel there virtually every once in a while through http://tourdehood.wordpress.com/. It's one man's photographic documentation of his weekly rides through his beloved city. I'm sure it must be sad at times to ride through neighborhoods that are falling apart, but the author of the blog does a good job of looking on the bright sides, and brings us a very interesting view of a city you never hear about here in Western Canada. To quote the author of tourdehood: "Detroit is [also] a synopsis of America’s rise and fall as one of the world’s manufacturing powerhouses. It was the “Arsenal of Democracy”. Much of Detroit was based on making things – from cars and all their ancillary parts, to giant machine tools, to smelting and banging and forging. That’s all gone now, and the hulking remnants of that 20th Century glory still stand, empty, and collapsing, while someone tries to figure out what to do next. (No one’s come up with a workable idea yet)."

April 19, 2010

On racing and racing some more...

I got a puncture a few hundred meters before the finish line but managed to limp to the end. Note the manly bike rack.
Fuel, something I've discovered is rather important. Pix by Jaxattacks
There is a lot of racing going on on Vancouver Island these days. There are the Island Cup mountain bike series, the Victoria Cycling League series and the Capital City Cycles Summer Race series. I have been racing in the Island Cup and C3 series, but I think I might do at least on race in the VCL series. For the last two weekends I've been riding in Cumberland, which is about 2.5 hours north of Victoria. Last weekend I took the Niner up there and raced a punishing XC race. It's always a joy to ride in Cumberland and it is definitely one of my favorite riding spots of the island. The XC race was tough, but not nearly as grueling as the Port Alberni race a few weeks ago. I was also more careful to have lots of gas in the tank before I started the race this time and that made a big difference. The Cumberland XC was a mass rolling start, and I believe my biggest mistake in the race was to not pinning it off the line and get in a good position before the singletrack. Having all skill levels funneling into the singletrack at the same time made for a huge traffic jam on the trails and I was held back by riders with less technical skills. The saddest part was that some of those slower riders, who had to jump of their bike and run, did not have the good sense to make way for faster riders behind them. In my mind it's pretty simple: If somebody is breathing down your neck, you move out of the way. If you cant ride the trail, you move out of the way of people who can. If you're getting lapped, you move out of the way. If you crash, you move out of the way. It's just common sense. The fact that some of the riders were not aware of this unwritten code was very frustrating and I hope next year there will be a different setup. That is, the different classes will be started separately. But in the organizers defense, I made the mistake of not getting myself in a better situation, and perhaps that is what it is all about. Overall I loved the race and managed to crawl my way up to 8th place in spite of long punishing climbs, which I traditionally don't excel at. I also rolled through the finish line on a flat tire which was pretty cool.
The lower part of the top section just before entering the woods. These berms were fun. Photo by Len Martell
This week we had the Cumberland DH race. It was my first DH race and I finished in 31st place out of 60 riders in my class. I'm happy with that, even though I would have liked to have come in in the upper half of the racers, like in 29th place or something like that. DH racing for me this year, is mainly for fun and to practice my technical skills. I rode my Remedy for this race and I was surprised by how well it handled the course. The course had a "pedaly" upper half mostly in a clear cut, with a steep rock strewn lower part in the woods. The course should have suited me pretty well (because my bike pedals pretty well) but I took the chicken line around some of the jumps in the top part and I believe I lost some time because of my gutlessness. The lower part was a combination of rather gnarly rock gardens and rooty creek beds and mud. It was mostly a point and shoot affair and I just tried to keep focused and hold on for that section and luckily made it down the course without crashing or flatting. That's success on it's own right there. One thing I did not like about downhill racing however, is the lineups and the waiting. You want to be there early to ride the course and get a feel for it but as soon as the shuttles start to run, the waiting begins. In the worst period there was a three shuttle lineup for the flatbeds. I did not particularly want to wait for 45min for a 10 min ride in a van so instead of taking the shuttle I rode up the fire-roads twice to get more practice runs in. In the end I got four practice runs in (one hike a bike, two rides up, and one shuttle) and then I shuttled for my race run. I figured that this is what my Remedy is designed for, and again I was surprised by how well it pedaled up the fire roads. I did wear myself a bit thin on those rides though so when the time finally came to do my race run I was a bit tired. But I certainly made it worth my time to drive up there and got lots of riding in. The United Riders of Cumberland did a superb job of organizing this race and set a standard which other races will be measured by. After the race there was a delicious BBQ and bike toss for a six pack of Phillips Slipstream. I wanted the beer but lost to bigger and better bike throwers:
Photo by Strahan Loken
Next up: Sprints on Friday, and Hammerfest XC on Sunday.

April 06, 2010

On niners and the dark side

Self portrait in church...
I knew it would happen sooner or later. The fact that I'm 6'3 and the 21,5" bikes I normally ride seem kind of small beneath me made this a logical progression. Yes, I now have a 29er. I got the first ride in the night before the first XC race this year at Hartland in Victoria. I went up there and prerode the course in the dark with my lights and tried to get a feel for the bike. Since then I've raced the bike twice and I've taken it on rides two other times. The bike is a Niner M.C.R. 9 Steel hardtail, with a Rock Shox Reba fork, Juicy Five Sl's, x7/x9 shifters and derailleurs, carbon bar and seatpost, and Dt Swiss 470 Sl wheels. It's strange being back on a hardtail but just as I enjoy taking my old singlespeed, rigid Cannondale out for spins at the Dump this bike is also a blast. Sure enough, you can't go off any big drops and it's not exactly built for fast and rough downhill sections, but I'm surpriced at how comfortable I'm on the bike. It also forces you to be smooth, which I can definately use at times. Don't get me wrong, a hard tail will always beat you up a bit, but the Reynolds 853 steel helps out a lot. The big wheels also do help, and even though I have not experienced the "roll over anything" feeling that some 29ers talk about, I have noticed a difference on technical climbs and other bumpy sections. The big wheels come in handy on steep rock rolls as well, since the transfer from rock to ground is evened out a bit by the wheels. I wouldn't say it makes up for the 72 degree head tube angle, but the bike is surprisingly capable on rolls. The bike also climbs really well, something that you'd expect from a hard tail of this sort. It's not overly light though and I've read reviews where a seated climb in a low gear is recommended. I disagree with this. One of the things I've noticed riding a 29er, is the increased distance you can get out of a single pedal stroke, and this comes in handy on difficult climbs. So I like to climb in the middle ring and 1st. The only issue with that is tight uphill cornering, where you really have to keep in mind the added difficulty of getting those big wheels up to speed before you hit the next obstacle. This is the only time I get that feeling however, I can't say I notice it anywhere else. It's a joy to climb on the bike and the only thing that's holding me back on that front, at least as far as the bike is concerned, is the rear tire. It's a Specialized Fast Track, a tire that is definitely not designed for the greasy conditions we experience here on the west coast. So that will be one of my updates in the future. Another thing I'm considering is going to a wider bar for more stability at high speed. I'm currently running a Syncros Gain Carbon bar and it's not narrow at nearly 26" but I feel I could go a bit wider and gaining some leverage and stability. Another drawback is the Reba QR forks. Even though I've dialed in the suspension too my liking (running it way under the recommended psi ratings) the problem lies in the lack of stiffness in the forks themselves. I guess this has to do with the big wheels and is undoubtedly the reason for so many through axle 29er forks (mine is a 9mm q/r). I'll probably run this setup for this season, but I'll be looking to upgrade in the future. One other drawback is the wheels. they feel very light and so far have held true but I believe they in conjunction with the forks, are the cause of at least half of my already numerous crashes on the bike. They are not stiff enough to withstand tight cornering on steep downhill sections. The combination of a noodle of a fork and those wheels I've actually seen the wheel flexing towards me in a hard turn, before it locks up and then in a split second I end up sitting on my ass on the outside of the turn. This is not acceptable. It looks like the wheels are built up using light weight 1,8mm spokes, so for now I'll get my boss to lace them up on some heavy gauge 2mm spokes and see if there is a difference. If not, I'll put the forks up for sale. But overall, the bike is a blast and I'm sure I'll enjoy this one for a while to come.
Forest bike