Mar 302015
2015 Scott Solace 20

Oh what fun we’re going to have…

Roads I’ve ridden a hundred times are suddenly unfamiliar to me.

I mean, they look the same. I’m not lost; it’s just that the roads I’m on feel completely foreign under my new Scott Solace 20 from Black Pug Bikes. What were hills are now nothing but small rises; bumps and rough surfaces are hardly noticeable. The chipseal pavement leading up to the dam not far from my house sounds rough, according to the noise of my tires, but the sensation translated to my feet and bum through the bike is decidedly muted.

To be fair, some of that plushness is down to the 25c tires. Most every other road bike I’ve ridden has been shod in the erstwhile standard 23c, and the increased displacement of the 25s does make a difference. But the crap pavement near my house truly reveals the genius of the Solace’s frame design. Scott’s HMF carbon weave that makes up the Solace’s frame is divided into two “zones,” to provide increased rider comfort through super-flexible seatstays, while transferring good power and lively handling inputs through the beefy bottom bracket, chainstays and head tube. The result is a bike that climbs and accelerates like a thoroughbred sprinter, but doesn’t punish your posterior in return.

Scott Solace 20 detail

All that alphabet soup means a carbon frame as dialed as the best in the Tour from a few years ago.

And that frame design is something to behold, as well. Scott’s design engineers didn’t mess around when sculpting the Solace. The graceful lines, impeccable paint, and obvious contrast between “zones” provide enough eye candy to last through several contemplative beers (ask me how I know). Small details– the ports for the internal cable routing, the junction of frame and fork, the way the top tube blends into the chainstays– make for a bike that would be equally at home in an art gallery as in the peloton. Even decisions made for function, like mounting the rear brake under the chainstays to allow for those impossibly compliant seatstays (no really, you can flex them with your fingers!), add to the aesthetic of the bike.

But as easy as it is on the eyes, it’s evident that function was the primary driver behind this bike. The steering is stable but not sluggish, shifts are handled flawlessly by the Ultegra 2×11 drivetrain, and everything glides along without a rattle or creak anywhere. This is a well-designed and manufactured machine, expertly assembled by Chris at Black Pug. Everything the bike does is smooth. It rolls smooth, accelerates smooth, shifts, brakes and turns smooth. And that smoothness translates into a large degree of confidence in a short amount of seat time. In only my second road ride on the Solace, I was throwing it through climbing switchbacks with more aggression and confidence than I had on my previous bike, which I had ridden for two full seasons.


Taken as a whole, it’s hard to believe that this is a bike that retails for under $3000. A well-executed carbon frame, respectable DT Swiss wheelset, full Shimano Ultegra groupset, all weighing in at under 17 pounds, at a price point amenable to most serious recreational riders. This is Specialized-level refinement, for $500 less than a comparably outfitted Roubaix.

I’ll need several hundred more miles before I can provide a thorough review of the Scott Solace, but my initial impressions are overwhelmingly positive. Over the coming months, I’ll be testing it out on crushing training rides, racing it against some of the region’s best, and stretching its legs on charity tours across the state. Stay tuned for the full review this summer, and as always, go see Chris at Black Pug to upgrade your ride!

Black Pug Bikes!

Thelonious is excited about my new bike. Can’t you tell?

Jan 282015

The callous on my right hand reached failure...The majority of the posts on this blog have documented my successes, triumphs and progress over the past couple years. This is not one of those posts.

This morning at my gym, we repeated a workout from the CrossFit Open last year. It was 14.4, a chipper consisting of a 60 calorie row, 50 toes-to-bar, 40 wall-balls, 30 power cleans and 20 muscle-ups, with a 14 minute time cap. Last year, this was my first workout back after discovering the mind-crushing pain of exertion-induced, acute onset headaches. I approached it cautiously then, careful to keep my heart rate reasonable so as not to aggravate the pinched nerve that we suspect set off the headaches the week before. I finished with a score of 99, completing only 39 of the toes-to-bar before time expired.

This morning, I had it in my head that I could make it through the toes-to-bar and get to the wall balls, and provided there was enough time left, I planned to try and do all 40 of them unbroken. There was still the requirement for caution, as I’ve been nursing two very angry shoulders for the last several months, and I would need to concentrate on maintaining good scapular retraction throughout each pull to avoid aggravating them. Still, I counted on getting through them in plenty of time to attack the wall balls, and maybe even get to the bar for a few power cleans.

I didn’t make it. I failed.

I did complete three more reps than last year, giving me a score of 102, but that was small consolation. I got through the first 20 quickly enough, in bunches of five, but then the wheels started to fall off. I started missing reps, only getting three at a time, then two. With a minute to go, I reached failure, and couldn’t get my toes to touch the bar any more. I was frustrated. Dejected. Mad.

As days at the gym go, this will not be remembered as one of my favorites. But it will be important. Reaching failure is an essential element to any training program. It is the point at which the body is optimally stimulated for muscular growth. It is the benchmark against which future efforts will be measured. It can be, once the bitterness of the moment is overcome, the fuel that will drive you toward greater things. It exposes and brings into focus your weaknesses, so that you can address them with specificity and intensity before your next maximal effort.

In fact, a maximal effort is not possible without at least approaching failure. When you are striving for a personal record in any event, you are trying to reach the nexus of performance and failure. In a running race, the goal is to cross the finish line unable to run another step. In a lift, the goal is to put up enough weight that you couldn’t add another gram to the bar. On the race track, the perfect lap is one where you are just on the edge of control, using every ounce of available power and traction. In life, if you aren’t failing with some regularity, chances are you are not challenging yourself, not growing, not really living.

Before today, I never really considered failure as its own destination. I train and race hard, and flirt with failure on a regular basis, but like most people, have treated it as something to be avoided. In the ongoing battle to maintain the positive feedback loop I find necessary to keep me coming back day in and day out, I try to focus on my successes. That perspective will need revising, for me. It turns out that searching for one’s personal limits, in other words striving for failure, is the surest way to find success.

I’m not happy with how I did this morning. I did not meet my own expectations for performance. But I’ll be back to try again, having learned from the experience and improved myself in the interim. And hopefully, next time I’ll reach failure again.

Jan 142015

10344296_716673191704842_3567698627960657134_oNo sooner had I posted my goal sheet for this year, than I was given cause to reconsider significant portions of it. A majority of this year’s race season was intended to mimic the last. I had planned on return trips to Big Frog, the race that almost killed me, and Lumberjack, the zenith of my mountain bike racing career to date. But several things have come up that have caused me to reconsider much of my big-race lust.

The Benjamins

First, I need two new bikes. After thrashing it mercilessly for years, I sold my beloved Trek Fuel at the end of last year, with an eye toward a lighter, hardtail 29er on which to contest this season. The handful of races I entered on the Airborne Goblin Evo last year convinced me that this was probably the most prudent route for the type of riding I’d be doing, and I was past due for an upgrade anyway. My road bike, while certainly a satisfactory performer for recreational rides, was never meant to be a race machine, for sprints or endurance. With more road racing on the agenda for this season, it’s time I stop bringing a cinder block to a rapier fight.

Buying two new bikes isn’t going to be cheap. Neither are out-of-town ultra endurance races. Between registration, gas, hotels (where necessary) and food, I can count on most of those weekends costing me around $500, and that’s before paying to fix whatever the race does to my bike. Those of you who follow me on FaceTwitGram (links at the top right) have seen some of the carnage I inflicted on my machines last year. As I started (at my wife’s gentle prodding) to add up the estimated expenses for my fitness pursuits in 2015, it became clear that trying to do all of it– racing, new bikes, going out of town a half dozen races a year– was becoming cost prohibitive. Something had to give, and the most logical thing, since I need the bikes, is to cut the expensive races.

Where to Improve?

But there’s more to it than just the financial aspect. Ringing in the back of my head for the last several months is a snippet of a conversation I had with my brother-in-law, a far superior and more experienced cyclist to myself. After commenting on the strengths of his finishes at the Iceman Cometh Challenge, I intimated (half joking) that maybe he should give up being a roadie, and focus on mountain bike racing full time. To which he said:

The only reason I do as well as I do on the mountain bike is because of road biking.

And there’s a lot of truth to be found there. Many of the most successful mountain bike racers in the world only ride on dirt when they’re racing. The rest of the time, they’re out on the asphalt, pounding out the training miles. The reason that strategy can work is consistency. You can hold yourself at higher levels of effort, on demand, and for longer on the road than you’ll be able to do when at the mercies of the trail ahead of you. That unpredictability is what makes mountain biking more fun, but also sometimes less effective from a training perspective.

All of this underlines an ugly truth I’ve been trying very hard to ignore: the biggest hole in my mountain bike game isn’t the mountain biking, it’s my level of fitness. When the going gets rocky, or muddy, or tight and twisty, those are the places I’m usually able to hold my own, or even gain ground on my competition. This became especially evident at my last two big races of 2014. But when the trail or road angles sharply upward, or even when there’s a long stretch of fast flats, I run out of gas well before my erstwhile peers.


The targets I set for myself at the bigger events this year would represent substantial improvements, no doubt. But to what end? If I succeed in knocking off an hour or more from my times at Big Frog and Lumberjack, I still finish well outside the top 100. The painful question becomes, do I pay all that money, take the time off work, and go race my brains out for such an ignominious finish? Of course, finishing at all is something to be proud of, but I checked that box last year. To go back and do it again, to finish merely for the sake of finishing, seems a waste of time and resources at this point in my progression.

The gap in my fitness to the next pack ahead of me had already caused me to step back from some of the local MTB races for 2015, removing 6 events from my already jam-packed schedule. While I won the Sport class of our local FastLaps series last year, my victory was due, in no small part, to the sharply reduced field. The next leap forward for me is to the Expert class, where I will need to lose about 4 minutes per lap at John Bryan or MoMBA to be competitive. With that in mind, I had already decided to forego racing the FastLaps series in 2015, planning to train hard and come back in 2016, more ready for the challenge. Consistency demands that I apply the same logic to my endurance racing.

What’s in Store?

Postponing my return to a few of the bigger events this year does not mean my calendar will be short on racing. As I mentioned, I anticipate racing quite a bit more on the road this year, including a few rounds of the Ohio Spring Roadrace Series, and some local crit racing. I intend to scratch the MTB endurance itch at a few of the Tri-State 6 Hour rounds as well, for the experience as well as the training load. And all the while, I’ll be training up to run my first marathon in October.

It was not an easy or pleasant decision to scratch some of my favorite big events from the planning calendar for this year. But if all goes according to plan, I’ll be much better prepared for them in 2016, enough to start chasing some respectable finishes. In the meantime, 2015 will have no shortage of fun and racing, albeit more local and less expensive. Stay tuned to this page for more updates and announcements soon, as my plans begin to take shape!

2015 Goal Sheet

2015 Goal Sheet

Over the past few years, I’ve made a habit of making my fitness and racing goals public. This has served well to drive me forward. It provides a sort of passive accountability, as once I’ve made my goals public, they become obligations to my friends and readers. I harbor the perhaps delusional notion that people […]

The Iceman Cometh, and the slow demise of a rear derailleur

The Iceman Cometh, and the slow demise of a rear derailleur

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome that “suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance character,” he didn’t have mountain bikers in mind, but the description is appropriate nonetheless. Over the past couple years, I’ve witnessed and been a part of some of the most miserable suffering you can voluntarily inflict on yourself on […]

Tweaked to Perfection: The Airborne Goblin Evo

Tweaked to Perfection: The Airborne Goblin Evo

In my endurance racing this year, I’ve had plenty of time to contemplate the importance of having the right tool for the job. Most of those races have taken me over a wide variety of terrain, and often, my current bike isn’t well suited to the task at hand. Being an older, full-suspension, 26″ bike, […]



“Go fast and take chances!” – Garry Blair “Be swift, be safe.” – Tom Groszko “Just remember, when you’re thinking you can’t go on, that’s it’s gorgeous and you’re one of not too many who get to be out there all day. SMILE, let that mud get in your teeth!” – Katie Oswald   These […]