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?

Nov 132014
Iceman Finish Line

Posing after the pre-ride with Ben. I had no idea what it would take to reach that sign the next day.

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 two wheels, and also have found myself among some of the greater characters (in all senses of the word) I’ve ever met. Riding in the endless slog of the Death March, the unceasing climbs of Big Frog, the merciless winds at Calvin’s Challenge and the mosquito-infested forests of Lumberjack has made misery a familiar acquaintance. So familiar, in fact, that I expect it without dread. I’ve been near enough to my personal breaking point enough times now that I have learned how to keep myself there and endure, and still succeed.

Perhaps naively, I didn’t expect The Iceman Cometh Challenge to elbow its way right to the top of that list. On paper, it lacked the components that have brought me to my knees before. Neither the distance, nor the elevation, nor the technical nature of the terrain were of significant concern to me. The only wildcard was the weather, and even then, I wasn’t overly concerned. Michigan trails are famous for their ability to handle precipitation, and I have a decent enough assortment of cold weather riding gear to negate potentially frigid conditions.

But in its 25th year, The Iceman had something special up his sleeve.

In a break with longstanding tradition, I arrived in Traverse City on time, with everything I needed, and well fed and rested, the day before the race. I met up with my (fire-breathing) brother-in-law Ben, an Iceman veteran and podium finisher, to pre-ride the last portion of the course before heading to the Expo. On our chilly pre-ride, I didn’t see anything surprising. The trails were sandy but firm, with good grip and easy lines. The climbs looked punchy but approachable, and the bike was working perfectly.

I again had the good fortune to race on the Airborne Bicycles Goblin Evo, the same machine I tested and raced earlier this year. The boys at Airborne and I agreed that it should be the perfect bike for this kind of race, but we didn’t know just how right we would end up being. The Evo isn’t billed as a race machine. The long-travel fork and 2.4 inch Maxxis Ardent tires place the bike closer to the Trail category, but my experience riding the thing has convinced me of its potential as a race rig. The most important thing a race bike must have is proper geometry, because almost everything else can be adjusted or changed. And the geometry on the Evo is spot on for an XC race bike: short chainstays for good climbing and lively handling, head angle relaxed enough to be stable on descents and through corners, and rock solid stiffness.

Goblin Evo at the hotel

What, you mean you don’t sleep with your bike next to you? You leave it on the car? But it’ll get lonely!

A more experienced rider may have taken the weather forecast as a warning, but I was nonplussed. I’ve been in crappy conditions before. I had the right bike and the right gear, and that’s all I could worry about. When big, heavy snowflakes appeared outside my hotel window as I got ready for bed on Friday night, I only grinned and thought yup, this is gonna suck. Then I shrugged and went to bed.

Race morning was far too busy with administrative details for me to contemplate what I was about to endure. It probably took me 20 minutes just to apply all the appropriate layers of clothing necessary to keep me warm(ish) and dry (yeah right) during the race. The Iceman Cometh Challenge is a point-to-point race from Kalkaska to Traverse City, which means leaving your car in one location, having a bag of clothes at the other, and arranging transportation (via the provided shuttle service) for you, the bike, and your bag. I parked in Kalkaska (which I won’t next year), threw some lube on the chain, and wandered over to the start line, to cheer on Ben as he stormed the course with the first wave.

My wave (18) didn’t start for another 50 minutes, so I had plenty of time to get back to my car, put on the last few bits of cold weather gear I would need, throw my bag on a Penske truck bound for Traverse City, and wander back to the start line. It had snowed and rained all night and all morning, and was still only 36°F and raining when I squeezed in under the staging tent, but my optimism and excitement for the event remained undamped.

I was so optimistic, in fact, that I slotted into the second row of my wave, the better to get a clear start. I had this vision in my head of hitting the dirt and picking off the riders ahead of me, then having clear trail to chase down the previous waves.


When the start was sounded for our wave, I took off with the lead group, spinning up to a respectable pace and staying with the leaders. But when they continued to accelerate through 18 mph, I let them go. Iceman is many things, but it’s not a sprint race, at least at my level. I backed off as my legs started to complain about the sudden punishment, and reasoned that I’d see many of them again after we left the pavement.

Only when we left the pavement, things got ugly, and fast. The first gravel road was completely saturated with water, and the spray and silt made it hard to see, let alone pass anybody. By the time we hit the opening section of two-track, my brakes were already grinding, which they would continue to do for most of the rest of the race. I started to pick riders off by ones and twos, but it was impossible to get into any kind of rhythm. So I settled in, reminded myself that there was a lot of race left, and took my passes where I could.

I was surprised that most of my passing opportunities were coming on the more difficult sections. Contrary to previous experience, I was passing people on the climbs, in technical sections, and when the sand and mud got rutted and deep. Some of that was down to my equipment; it was far easier for me to find traction off the racing line than for some of my competitors, shod as they were with small-tread racing tires. But the rest of it was down to my fitness and bike handling, and my exuberance at being part of the largest mountain bike race in the United States.

The drive to the race start. Not confidence inspiring.

I was still getting held up a lot, and the gaps I thought would develop never materialized. The tops and bottoms of every climb were soon marked by clumps of dismounted riders, hunched over their machines as they attempted to address some mechanical malfunction. I continued to pass where I could, but some stretches of singletrack allowed few opportunities. The tread in many areas had been pulverized into a tarry consistency that felt like riding through peanut butter.

Somewhere around mile 10, we hit the logging road that would become symbolic of the whole race. To call it a road is a generous overstatement. By the time I reached it, and 1700 or so other riders had squished, slogged and slid their way through it, the road had been reduced to a longish stretch of deep mud and standing water. I was determined to stay on my bike, even as others unclipped and dragged theirs into the woods to walk the whole section. I shifted to the easiest gear and ground along, yelling ahead of me for dismounted riders to get clear, so they wouldn’t break my momentum. I picked my lines as best I could, using the experience of Coombs Road at the Death March as a guide, and kept my legs moving. After a final splash through a 10-foot-long puddle, I was out of the mud and bearing right back onto a proper trail! I must’ve passed a hundred riders on that stretch alone.

But it wasn’t long after this that I started suffering the consequences of making so many of my passes in the most difficult sections. The course became punctuated by short, steep climbs, a few of which forced me off the bike as I asked my legs for power they didn’t have, and my rear tire slipped as I tried to stand for more torque. I had been so busy during the first hour or so that I was far behind schedule with my nutrition, and my energy was flagging.

This was when the suffering started, for me. I pulled the throttle back a little and tried to get some more consistent swigs from my bottle, even though the nozzle was filled with mud and debris. I was getting passed with depressing frequency now, and my rear derailleur had begun having trouble shifting down the cassette. I cursed myself for not finding more time to train in the previous month, for not getting out on more simulation rides, and for not losing those five pounds I’ve wanted to lose all year. For the first time in the race, my hands started to get cold, and I noticed just how wet and dirty I was.

Mentally, I was no longer in a race, but in a grinding trudge to the finish; the survival mode I’ve employed on so many other occasions. Ordinarily, for a first attempt at an event, this wouldn’t have been a big deal. But I had anticipated being able to legitimately race this one, given my season’s experience and fitness level. A combination of the atrocious conditions and a few strategic errors had put me firmly back in my place, and now all I could do was keep my legs moving, and hope they came back at some point.

36 and raining. Awesome.

One unique element of Iceman Cometh is the spectators. Atrocious conditions or no, they were out in force at all accessible points on the course, and some points that required quite a hike to reach. They were at every intersection, at the top of every hill, and along every road crossing, ringing cowbells and cheering their frozen faces off. The spectators alone are worth the price of admission to Iceman, even if that price includes, as it did for most riders this year, a slew of worn out or broken bike components.

It was after one particularly vociferous stretch of spectators, stationed at the midway point of Broomhead Road, that I decided it was time to try and get myself together. The gravel road past the spectators was flat, but despite their cheers, I couldn’t manage to pick up any speed. I looked down and saw that I was barely doing 10 mph, where I should have been doing 15. That just wouldn’t do. As the course returned to singletrack trail again, I pulled off to the side, to stretch my legs and take in more nutrition. I was surprised to find my first bottle still about half full, and I hadn’t even touched my second bottle yet. No wonder I was running out of gas! I forced myself to stand there and finish my first bottle, even as dozens of riders came past me. I’m sure that some of them were riders I had triumphantly passed just five miles ago, when my legs still felt good, and I was powering through the mud of the logging road. But no matter, this was what I had to do to recover.

It took another few miles, but I did recover a little. I didn’t get all of my power back, but I was at least able to accelerate again, and grind up some hills. I started passing people here and there, and that felt good enough to convince me I was back in the race, even if I was a half hour behind where I’d hoped to be. I was having fun again, if one can call being soaking wet in mid-30s temperatures, covered in mud and sand, and riding a bike that’s barely working, fun.

It didn’t like it, but it got me there. The Airborne Bicycles Goblin Evo held its own in the worst conditions Iceman has ever thrown at his riders.

I had started the race with a 2×10 drivetrain, but as the mud and sand packed its way into every nook and crevice of rider and machine alike, my selection of gears became somewhat fewer. By the midway point  it was reduced to a 2×7, although with my lack of pace, losing the top three gears wasn’t a huge penalty. Then I had only a 2×5, and then a 2×2-and-sometimes-five-if-I-hit-a-bump-just-right. Front derailleurs may not be in vogue in the mountain bike community, but having one saved my bacon in this race, as it doubled my swiftly dwindling list of options.

We were finally reaching parts of the course I recognized from my map study, including Anita’s hill, and 11% grade punch in the face around mile 25. I trudged up that hill on foot, pushing my bike with legs on the verge of spasm, while I cheered for the handful of spunky riders who managed to climb the whole thing in the saddle. There were spectators at the top of this hill too, perhaps warmed by a bottle or three, cheering wildly for those bold enough to climb. At the top, many riders paused to catch their breath, even if they walked it, but I threw a leg over and started down the descent, knowing I was close enough now to start taking chances against my fatigue.

At last we crossed a road I recognized from our pre-ride, and I called up whatever reserves I had left. I knew there were two little hills left, and that I could climb both of them. I started passing people again, trading places with a girl in a white and yellow jersey as we weaved and dodged around riders who were only a bit more spent than we were. The final 3 miles were a microcosm of the race in full, with rutted sand, deep mud, and slick, tight singletrack, interspersed with the occasional punchy climb. But now I knew where I was, and what to expect, and I put forth everything I had.

I’m honestly surprised anything on this bike worked at all, by the end.

The finish area at Iceman Cometh is something truly special. You can hear the music and the party from a long way off, and it has a way of motivating you to push harder than you thought you could. The course brings you just close enough to see the finish, to smell the food trucks and make out what the announcers are saying, before heading you off back into the woods for another half mile. For many of the riders around me, this was the last straw, and they were demoralized. But thanks to my pre-ride, I knew it was coming, and was able to keep the hammer down! I was passing people in clumps now, carving up the inside of them at every available opportunity. I passed six of them in one corner, as they all swung wide, searching for traction. I put every ounce of energy I had left into my screaming legs, fighting to keep the pedals turning and my momentum up, until at last I dove under the bridge, swerved  to the left, and crossed the finish line!

The area just past the finish line was awash in shattered riders, broken bikes, photographers, fans and family members. I pedaled on slowly until I was through the throng, finally unclipping gingerly and sitting on my top tube to let my legs come back from the brink of catastrophic spasm. After a few failed attempts to rally up with my brother in law (who was very happy to hear I was alive), I decided the best thing to do was get showered and changed, and warm up. The steam and hot water of the on-site shower trailers were a godsend, even if the wait to use one was a half hour long.

In the final tally, I finished 51st in my age group, and 2078th overall. I had a target of cracking the top 50 in my age group, so I’m relatively satisfied with that result. I learned a lot this year, and hopefully will have solutions to some of my mistakes for next year. In truth, I have to be satisfied with finishing at all. Of the over 5200 entrants, only 3500 or so managed to complete the race. Everyone I spoke to who had raced Iceman previously, even those with decades of experience, said these were the worst conditions they had ever seen. So despite not riding as strong as I had envisioned, I rode as well as I could have hoped. And I’ll be back.

Dec 152013

349If you’re looking at the trail in front of your tire, it will only slow you down. All the rocks and roots and hazards will overwhelm your vision and exaggerate your sense of speed. Keep your eyes up, and feel your lines and flow get smoother, and your speed and confidence rise.

If you’re looking at the ground in the weight room, your shoulders will follow and your form will collapse. You’ll be working just to stay upright and balanced, and the weight will seem impossibly heavy. Keep your eyes up, and the weight will stay centered, allowing you to use all of your strength for power.

If you’re climbing a hill, looking at the ground only makes your misery seem indefinite. You end up inside your head, inside the pain, enduring instead of attacking. Keep your eyes up, and pull the summit back to you with your mind, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you get there.

When life gets difficult; when you’re struggling, distracted and stressed by the problems lying all around you, it’s hard not to get discouraged and look down, defeated. The details and petty periphery of day to day life can infiltrate and demoralize even the most motivated people. But keep your eyes up. Focus on your goals and your progress, and keep working, keep grinding, keep fighting. The only way to fail is to look down, get discouraged and quit. You’re better than that.

Eyes up, and go get what’s yours.

Dec 122013
Like beer koozies, but for your feets.

Like beer koozies, but for your feets.

Once upon a chilly Thanksgiving morning in Virginia Beach, I managed to squeeze in a pedal. It wasn’t much, but as they all are, it was better than no ride at all. My brother-in-law loaned me a pair of toe covers for the ride (very clutch), and I was suitably impressed. Despite temps in the 30s, my feet stayed warm through almost the whole ride.

I had been skeptical of their benefits before, but I was sold after actually using them. So it was off to Amazon to pick up a pair of these from Pearl Izumi. They’re the same series as the scuba pants I bought on the way to VB, so I expect that they’ll be just as effective. But I have to confess, as of yet, I haven’t worked up the motivation to get out in the cold and try them!

Dec 092013
This picture was taken in a dark room.

This picture was taken in a dark room.

I’ve been in need of a pair of cool-weather road gloves for awhile. When I was at Performance to get my new thermal tights, I spied these on the glove rack and thought they might be just the ticket.

The good: the overall fit is excellent, the grippy overlays on the fingers and thumb are a nice touch, they have good dexterity, and I can use my phone without taking them off. The snot wipe on the thumb (a must!) is big and soft.

The not so good: they’re from the same series as the tights, but aren’t nearly as warm. I’d say they’re only good down to about the mid-30s. PI seems to have lost their usual attention to detail with the thumbs, which are awkwardly square at the tips. And I’m not a huge fan of the color, but that’s mostly down to me being impatient, and just buying what was on the rack, instead of ordering some.

I’ve used them on a few rides (and to shovel snow a couple times), and have found them comfortable and effective at blocking wind. They could stand to have a touch more insulation against colder temperatures, but they beat the heck out of my leather MTB gloves, for chilly road rides!

Dec 032013
I did not desaturate this photo. It really was this gray.

I did not desaturate this photo. It really was this gray.

The forecast for today called for mid 50s and breaking sunshine in the afternoon, so I threw my bike stuff in the car and brought it all to work, envisioning a glorious late afternoon ride. I could already see myself streaking along the road, soaking up a little warmth, and cheating the oncoming winter out of one last day.

That did not materialize. Oh I got my ride in, but the sun never quite found its way through the overcast, and the temperature accordingly missed it’s mark. I suffered through about 15 miles, underdressed for the chill, before calling it good. Some riding is better than no riding, but when I was done today, I wanted to find a local weather guy to punch.

Dec 022013

Action pants!

With an eye to the unseasonably cool conditions, I picked up these Pearl Izumi Elite thermal tights on the way to Virginia. While presented as a step up from the Select series tights I’ve been using since February, I would consider them to just have a different purpose. The Select tights have a built in chamois, and are good down to the low 50s or upper 40s. The Elites (at least the ones I got) do not have a built in chamois, but are constructed for winter riding on the North Pole.

Seriously, these things are really warm.

The outer material is something like a scuba suit, tightly woven and, so far as I can tell, totally windproof. The interior layer is insulating fleece, and it’s all bound together with an intricate design of seams and stretch panels that make them very ergonomic. I picked up a size Medium, and while they’re certainly snug, after a few minutes on the bike you don’t really notice. I still wish there was a M/L option for all of my cycling gear. I’m always an in-betweener.

Something you get with all of PI’s top-level cycling gear is attention to detail. On these tights, the back of the waistband flares up, to make sure the wind can’t find a way between the tights and your upper body base layer. Smart. The calf zippers are positioned just far enough back to be out of the wind, and when fully closed, the zipper tucks into its own little pocket to maintain a tight seal around your ankle. The whole assembly is (at least) double stitched, and decorated with reflective logos to help keep you visible on dreary winter rides.

The only downside of these tights is the price point. Even there, it’s hard to object, for what you’re getting. Prior to getting these tights, I had figured that winter bike training just automatically meant cold legs. I’m happy to have been proven wrong!

Dec 012013
All of these bikes are better than their riders.

All of these bikes are better than their riders.

A few weeks ago, I read an article on MTBR wherein the author opined that people are buying “too much bike” for themselves. And it’s exactly the sort of judgmental, elitist, old-school-is-the-only-way nonsense that keeps people out of our sport.

The column is chock full of contradictory logic. The author claims that the skills he learned on a rigid bike, namely how to pick clean, safe lines, are indispensable. He then admits that those lines changed as soon as he was on a suspension bike. Further, he discloses that he rides a rigid now, but it’s a 29er with fat, tubeless tires, and that it’s a far more accommodating ride than the 24″ or 26″ rigids he grew up riding. Well which is it? Make the ride harsh so you have to learn, or embrace just enough technology (carbon fiber handlebars, really bro?) to preserve your sense of manliness? On a second read, it becomes clear that the author’s perspective is rooted more in his sense of nostalgia and machismo, than good sense in general.

Even his value proposition is poorly illustrated, as the model he’s chosen to use as an example, a hand-made boutique bike called a Vassago VerHauen, comes at a price just for the frame that most beginners don’t want to spend on a whole bike.

He goes on to talk about how riding a rigid will make you more proficient and safer, while simultaneously acknowledging that making a mistake on a rigid will likely send you over the bars. Talk about barriers to entry! Maybe, if your target is rider safety, it’s better for newbies to start out on a bike more forgiving to boneheaded line choices. How much fun are they going to have when they’re constantly getting beat up by the trail, worn out because they have to stay out of the saddle, and teetering on the edge of disaster at every turn? And if they aren’t having fun, how long do we expect them to keep coming back?

Another neglected detail in his post is how the march of technology has changed trailbuilding. A lot of the trail built over the last 15 or so years has been built with modern, suspended bikes in mind. For all but the most proficient riders, a lot of those trails would be unassailable on a rigid bike. Is less trail use what we’re going for? It’s not about line choice when it comes to some drops and obstacles, it’s about the bike’s ability to absorb a hit.

How “good” a bike is depends largely on who’s riding it. I know that my Fuel is capable of more than I do with it, but I can also do things on my Fuel that  I never could have done on my old 4300. I sold the latter, an entry-level hardtail, because I wasn’t enjoying it on the kind of trails I was riding. It wasn’t about line choice, it was about the best tool for the job, and having fun. There’s not a bike out there that some other rider couldn’t ride better, and that applies all the way up to the World Championship level.

Certainly, there are skills and techniques that you will learn on a rigid that you won’t learn on a hardtail, and on a hardtail that you won’t learn on a fully. The skills emphasized on one bike will transfer to other bikes, at least small ways. But it begs the question: if your intent is to ride a fully all the time, why do you need those skills in the first place? If a rider is perfectly happy banging along his local trails on his 150mm travel rig, letting the suspension do the work for him, why shouldn’t he? It is vain to think that every rider on the trail wants the same thing out of a ride.

We can’t forget that bikes are art, to lovers of bikes. We all pore through the magazines and websites every year, ogling the new models and new technology that manufacturers and custom builders have come up with. If a guy wants to drop 6 grand on a carbon full suspension rig to commute down the bike path because he thinks it looks cool, who is he hurting? Let’s face it, if the only people who  bought high-end, full suspension bikes were those capable of riding them to their potential, nobody would be making those bikes for any of us to buy.

The truth is that every style of bike has something to teach you, as does every trail. Every rider will benefit his or her own development by riding on a variety of equipment, on a variety of terrain. But to say “thou shalt learn on a rigid” is unfair to many riders who simply won’t enjoy getting beat up riding their local trails without suspension, and will abandon the sport altogether after a few weeks. Maybe we, as a community, should spend a lot less time thinking about what other people are riding, and more time helping them ride. Jacking up the barriers to entry in a sport that already struggles for attention and legitimacy won’t help any of us, in the long run.

Nov 262013

Our new (to us) BMW may be my dream car, and it may also be the nicest vehicle I’ll ever own, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have to earn its keep. All of our vehicles end up on transport duty for rides and races at some point. Thanks to folding rear seats, I can fit a bike in the back with the wheels off, but that gets old quick, and isn’t really an option with a muddy mountain bike. It’s time to add some utility to our growly German sedan!

By virtue of it being a diesel, there is only one company in the country making hitch kits for our car. There is a urea tank for the diesel exhaust emissions system that sits behind the rear bumper cover, which results in a slight modification to the available mounting points. That one company is UHaul, about which I was not thrilled. I ordered the hitch in what I thought was plenty of time, but it took SIX FREAKING WEEKS to get here, meaning that I had to install it the day before needing to use it on a trip! I wasn’t pleased.

Thankfully, the design and manufacture of the hitch kit was better than their shipping department, and it went together tightly and smoothly. Then end product is more than acceptable, and most importantly, allows me to use a hitch-mount bike rack, instead of a roof rack. Roof racks look cool, but I’ve found them to be fuel efficiency killers, and less than practical for people of less than average height to use.

The hitch rack I chose, the Yakima Holdup 2, is a brilliant little piece of engineering. It’s easy to install, easy to load bikes on, has integrated locks, and folds up like a pretzel when not in use. Best of all, it holds road bikes and mountain bikes with equal ease, despite large differences in tire width, wheelbase or weight. I also bought an adapter to install on the truck, so that I could easily ferry 6 bikes, should the need ever arise!

What this picture did not capture was how hard the cross bar assembly was to wrestle into place. Equal parts finesse and brawn.

What this picture did not capture was how hard the cross bar assembly was to wrestle into place. Equal parts finesse and brawn.

Impressive that this is all that shows below the bumper!

Impressive that this is all that shows below the bumper!

And I did all that, to do this! TA DAAAA!

And I did all that, to do this! TA DAAAA!

I think every car looks better with a couple bikes hanging off the back.

I think every car looks better with a couple bikes hanging off the back.

Folds up nice and tight, but far enough out that you can still open the trunk.

Folds up nice and tight, but far enough out that you can still open the trunk.

Possibly my favorite feature. It's the little things!

Possibly my favorite feature. It’s the little things!

Nov 222013
Better, but by how much?

Better, but by how much?

You may remember my travails earlier this season with trying to find the right saddle for my road bike. While the fi’zi:k I bought to replace the stock unit was an improvement, it still didn’t totally solve the problems of pain and numbness, especially on rides over 40 miles.

A few weeks ago, I scored a deal on this Selle Italia from a friend of mine on Facebook, and it’s a step further in the right direction. The split design seems to alleviate some pressure, while not being overly flexy over bumps or while pedaling. I’ve had the chance to test it on rides up to 46 miles, and it seems more comfortable for me than the fi’zi:k, but not yet perfect. I don’t know if it’s the firmness or the shape, but my sit bones are still begging for mercy after 20 or so miles, causing me to stop for a break. With my endurance racing goals next year, that won’t do.

So the search will continue. Once I find the right saddle, I’m looking forward to being able to steam through 50 miles at a time, weather and hydration permitting, without a stop.

Nov 212013
Whatever it used to be, it's now a metaphor.

Whatever it used to be, it’s now a metaphor.

It’s not often that, out for a ride or a run, I’ll come across a symbol so appropriate.

I was out for a road ride, my activity of any kind in five days, owing partly to crappy weather and more to my sinus bug. But today, I just couldn’t take it any more. I needed a pedal, the weather was just warm enough and I felt just good enough. A nice, flat road route would do the trick, and with the remaining daylight, I could get just over 40 miles in. I mapped out an easy loop, sucked down some coffee and hit the road, happy to feel my wheels rolling again after a too-long break.

I intended not to push. The point of the ride was just to burn some energy out of my legs and breathe a little, not hammer out PRs. I rolled south through Yellow Springs, stopping to adjust the angle of my new saddle once. Between Yellow Springs and Xenia, I ran across these bones along the side of the path. Picked nearly clean, the symbolism of seeing them on the trail beside me was too strong to simply pass by. Some scavengers had removed every morsel from the carcass, getting every ounce of nutrition they could before the onset of the harshness and scarcity of winter. And there I was, wrapped in thermal tights, trying to do much the same thing.

It wasn’t a particularly nice day, as days for cycling go. It was overcast and chilly, with highs hovering right around 50. I thought back to the brilliant skies and warm breezes of July, when the only reason I had not to pedal was fatigue from doing so much already. This was a day that I would have stayed in, only a month ago. But the coming winter had me out, gnawing at the bones of the riding season, getting every last pedal stroke I could get before there wouldn’t be any more to be had.

I didn’t intend to push. But between the weather, and the bones, and my legs having had so much rest, there was an urgency about me that made speed come easy. I coasted through Xenia and headed east, accidentally riding 6 miles down the Jamestown connector before realizing my error. I linked together some country roads back north to catch the Ohio-Erie trail, and as I stood and charged up the overpass at U.S. 35, something in me awoke. I like going fast, and recovering from a cold, or riding in the cold, doesn’t change that!

I poked a couple buttons on my cycle computer and saw that I had been sailing along pretty well already, judging by my average. I cruised northeast for the next ten miles, all alone on a remote stretch of pavement, with my head down and my cadence up. When I reached my turn for my last leg, I was out of the saddle again, charging up the rollers on Selma Pike and spinning down the other side, enjoying the rush of adrenaline and burning in my legs made sweeter by its absence over the preceding days.

My accidental detour towards Jamestown had added 6 miles to my planned route, but the surprise pace I found helped me get back before the sun was down, anyway. I turned in 46 miles at an average of 17.8 mph, which is the longest distance I’ve cleared in one shot since the second day of the Young’s ride. Not bad for just getting over a cold. I just hope I can get another couple rides like that in before the weather closes me down for good.

On a lighter note, hey look! Alpacas!

On a lighter note, hey look! Alpacas! Or llamas. I never can tell.

Nov 142013

Cue the old western music.

Spring days always feel warmer than the forecast calls for, and fall days always feel colder. Today was a case in point, where the weather was supposed to be mild, in the low 50s, but it felt much more brisk. Nevertheless, I had to get some miles in for Movember, so I layered up and headed out to try and squeeze in 30 or so miles before the sun started to set.

The ride itself was nondescript. The leaves are mostly off the trees, the sky was gray and featureless, and the route was nothing spectacular. I went north along the Great Miami to the southern edge of Troy, a tailwind making the miles easy on the way up and tempting me to go further than I should. I paused at Dye Mill Road, looked at the angle of the sun and the distance remaining, and decided to turn back into the wind, toward home. If I wanted to tack on a few more miles, I would have a chance to take the long way back to the house.

My return leg reminded me of so many of my rides in early spring of this year, when headwinds sometimes made me wonder if I was ever going to really enjoy this road bike thing. I pulled my buff over my chin and tucked into the wind, trying to shrink my profile to decrease drag. I was encouraged to look down and see my speed was still respectable, despite the headwind, and I made it back to town a full 20 minutes earlier than I had estimated.

As serious as I was taking the ride, because it just wasn’t a lot of fun, I had to have a chuckle when I realized what I must look like to the casual passerby. A lanky dude, out for a recreational pedal on a day that simply wasn’t meant for it, dressed in cycling tights, a pullover, motocross gloves and a buff pulled over his face, pedaling into the wind as fast as his skinny legs would take him. What an idiot I must look, like some misguided spandex bandit. But I’ll take looking silly, if it means I can get in my miles this fall, without getting hypothermia.