Monday, October 29, 2007

Dumb and Dumber

Eric and I recently had a little, friendly competition: who is dumb and who is dumber? We started at 7:20 am, just before it was getting light and headed up Spiro. I was on my steel, rigid, singlespeed 29er. . . . I just went and weighed it. It weighs in at 27 lbs, including pedals and a thin coat of mud. . . . And Eric was on his 19 lb cross bike. Eric told me it was dumb to ride a heavy singlespeed, and I told him it was dumb to ride a wimpy cx bike. And thus, the Dumber Competition began. Suffice it to say, at the end of day, from my perspective, I did not have the most Dumber Points. The scoreboard looked something like this.

Climbing up the steep, switchbacking, 3 mile Spiro trail: Jared +3. I was rolling a pretty "easy" gear -- a 32x20, but there were some parts of the trail where I thought something was going to blow. I decided then and there that I'm putting my vintage anodized red bar ends on my riser bars. Eric nimbly climbed the trail, and I think he might have had to wait for me. I got a Dumber point for the number of times he had to wait. (And yes, I like to ride in my PJs sometimes.)

Cruising the buff trails: 0 points awarded. The fun factor was equal for both me and Eric. It was fun, really fun.

Riding through snow: Eric +1. Needless to say, a 2.3 inch tire rolls through the snow much better than a 32mm cross tire. There wasn't much snow though.

Amount of luggage: Jared +1. My bike is heavy. I have to carry a heavy tube and an end wrench because I have bolt on wheels. But, as was proved, sometimes heavy duty is better.

Riding through the rocks: Eric +5. Funny thing is, an hour into the ride, Eric was calling me "Dumber." So, I decided to put the hammer down. Given my ride, I have to admit that the hammer didn't really go down that far. Even so, I was laying it down through the windy sections on the trail and really liking the gyroscopic effect of the big wheels. Eric tried to keep up for like 2 minutes before he got a big fat snakebite. We fixed it. Then about 2 minutes later, he got another one. Of course, he only brought one tube, so we broke out the patch kit and went to work. It took us a couple tries, but we finally made one of his tubes hold air.

Riding back to PC on the Olympic Trail: Jared +2. I was spinning the 32x20 really fast, and got going up to 17 mph.

Eric trying to ride a 15 inch Frame: Eric +1.

In case, you're keeping score, according to my arbitrary scoring process, Eric won the Dumber Contest.

And for the record, I decided that riding a heavy rigid single speed is not that dumb at all. That's also not to say Eric didn't have fun either. I haven't had that much fun on a bike for a long long time. But, then again, I have a short memory. I wonder if a lighter 29er single speed would be funner? Hmmm. . . . .

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Thing About Cross aka CX (Part II)

Here are some things that I should have known or wished I had known when I jumped into CX racing:

Remount: Sometimes it hurts. One of the first observations/questions that newbies like me make/ask is: whoa, does the superman remount hurt? Take it from me that if someone tells you that the remount never hurts they are either: (a) a eunuch, (b) a female, or (c) lying. The idea is to land on the saddle with your inner thigh and then slide onto the saddle. But the reality is that in the heat of the moment you will likely jump too high and miss the intended target, and it will hurt. But, as the saying goes, no pain, no gain. So, my recommendation to you is to simply go for it. Sure, you might get hurt, but if you don't simply throw caution into the wind and launch like superman, you will never experience the thrill of sticking a perfect, fast remount.

Dismount: Forget the "Step Through." Fast, experienced CX'ers often talk about the "step through" dismount, a move by which the rider swings her leg over the saddle, steps through between the frame and the other leg, and then unclicks from the peddle. Confusing? That's what I thought. Add to that the furor and pandemonium of a cross race and it really gets confusing. Is it my left leg or right leg? Do I step through before or after I unclick? How do I push my leg through the small gap between my other leg and the frame when I am about to smash into the barriers? What happens if I step into my front spokes? Chances are that you will be confused on race day. That's why I suggest that you simply forget about executing the "Step Through." My advice is to simply not think about it, but to simply react. Yes, it's risky and it's a slightly Zen approach in that it is purely spontaneous, but you will be surprised at how fast your reflexes can be. I call this the "Banzai" tecnique. Most of the time, the results are surprisingly good. I'm speeding into the barrier, the leg quickly swings over, the foot unclips, the legs spring over barriers, and voila . . . success. Occasionally, I catch myself even doing the step through technique. It's all about letting the body mindlessly react. Our bodies have this built-in survival/defense mechanism, which if nurtured, will allow us to clear the barriers with ease. Maybe one of these days I may catch myself hopping the barriers ala Ali. Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, you should be aware that there will be times when the Banzai Approach turns Kamikaze and you piledrive a barrier and go down in a ball of flames, which leads me to my next point.

Crashing. I maintain that if you aren't riding on the edge of your ability, then you aren't really CX'ing and that you are depriving yourself of the fun of CX. Obviously there is a downside to this: crashing. I've tried to think of a preparation program for the inevitable crash, one that will allow me to crash, but emerge unscathed. I've taken somewhat of an old school approach to this. You know how in the old days cyclists raced into shape? Rather than doing pre-season, structured training, cyclists would go and race, and eventually, after doing many races, they would find their racing form. Applied to crashing, rather than doing exercises to prevent or mitigate crashes, I simply go race. Inevitably I crash, but after crashing several times, my "crashing form" emerges. Just like many seasoned pros report that they feel racing sensations in their legs, I often develop a sense of good crashing sensations. I can tell when I have crashing form when I am off the ground before I even realize that I was on the ground. I can tell when I have crashing form when I slide for 10 meters and emerge unscathed. I can tell when I have crashing form when someone tells me, "wow, you crashed 9 times in that race," and my response is, "really, that many? I only remember crashing once" (true story . . . almost).

The alternative to racing into "crashing form" is to simulate crashes -- like racers nowadays train under simulated race conditions. I've never attempted this, but if I were to develop such a plan, it would involve making high speed turns on an off-cambered layer of pea gravel, riding my bike straight into trees, fences, and/or small buildings, and riding through quicksand. Revel in the crashes!

Ride With Humility, but Never Give Up. Mental toughness is required in CX'ing. Likewise, humility is also required. You won't learn how to go faster if you don't keep an open mind, don't accept criticism, and are unwilling to change your ways. It's kind of a paradox: be strong and tough, but be open and willing to change.

Let me illustrate: in the recent race at Wheeler, I felt like I got a crappy start, I forgot to turn in a muddy singletrack section and went zooming into a bush, I was off the back in virtually last place, and doubt began to seep in. At one point, for some weird reason, I heard myself ask myself if I was the Rudy (not NY Rudy, but football Rudy -- the wannabe football player) of the Utah Cyclocross A Flite. I was tempted at one point to say, stuff it, I'm just not cut out for this. But I didn't. I rallied. My thought process went somehting like this:

Me: Okay, so you got a "bad" start.

Me again: But when have your really had a good start? You never get a good start so why should your "bad" start affect you now?

Me: True. I need to forget about using the bad start as an excuse and get to it. Be tougher. But it's pointless since I lost time in the bushes.

Me again: So what. Once you crashed 9 times and still had a good finish.

Me: True again. Never give up . . . never give up . . . I think I can, I think I can. But wait a minute. The simple fact is that I'm not as fast as all those guys in front of me. They have skillz. I don't.

Me again: That's not humility. That's self-pity. Get over it. This is your chance to learn to be faster. If you're not fast, or if you think you're not fast, then figure it out. Rather calling me "Rudy," focus your energy on picking the right lines and putting the power down. Dork.

Me: That's not nice.

And so the dialogue went between me and myself. . . . Eventually, I caught the group in front of me, and did not ultimately finish in last place (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Look Forward to Be Treated Like a Rockstar. One of the cool things about CX is that it is spectator and family friendly. One of the really cool things about CX is the announcers -- Gardie and Bruce. These guys are the definition of charisma. They have a knack for simultaneously calling the race and infusing the racers with energy. Part of their aura likely has to do with the fact that the populus (male and female) have determined that they are in the top 4 of Who's the Hottest Cyclist in Utah, and this list includes both males and females. To hear your name over the loudspeaker is sufficient reason to race. And if that doesn't get you there, just come to see Hot Gardie and Hot Bruce in action (not that there's anything wrong with it).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

24 Hours of Moab Part II

Here is another picture of the Nose Dive:

In the short time I've had to think about the race, I've decided that I need to go back and do the race for the sole purpose of riding, not walking, the Nose Dive.

In that same short time, I've also decided to add some new riders to my I Want to Ride Like That List. The criteria for this list is hard to describe, partly because I use a "know it when I see it" criteria, but suffice it to say that all the people on this list are more or less locals and people I like. Bart, of course, was already on it. I'll give Jon an honorary spot -- kind of like Sandra Day O'Connor has an honorary degree from BYU, but really didn't earn it -- because he rode 5 laps. The new inductees include:
  • Jake Pantone
  • Jonny Hintze
  • The Jack Mormon Militia (all of 'em)

Jake and Jonny, fellow Biker's Edge'ers, rode Duo Pro this year and between the two of them logged 17 laps. They got third place and a big cardboard check. The Jack Mormon Militia is a bunch of single-speeders. I likely will do a whole entry sometime devoted to this phenomenon, but for now, just accept that these guys are some tuff dudes (or really dumb, depending on the way you look at it). Their bikes have one gear and totally lack any form of conventional suspension. I say "conventional" because their legs, arms, butt, back likely take the shock that your or my Fox shock takes. In any event, these guys took 1st in their single speed category and 2ND PLACE OVERALL. They routinely rode sub-1:10 laps -- again, that's without gears or conventional suspension. Chucky is my hero.

Back to the race itself . . . . One of the things I like about doing epic races or rides is that, even though I have ADD, I am thoroughly entertained for a solid week after. That's because I replay, over and over again, various things that I thought or encountered, or should have done or would do over if I had the chance (by the sound of it, I might have mild paranoia as well). Incidentally, this is also the reason I have to race every week -- to fill it back up. Several things have been replaying in my head and have kept me occupied:

The Penguin

I tried to go all out my first lap, but with 400+ people on the course, I kept getting stuck behind people. Because the course was TECHNICAL, sometimes it was hard to pass. On one occasion, I found myself stuck behind a guy with a stuffed penguin on his head. You can see it here: Penguin Head. I think his whole team had penguins on their heads. I don't know why, they just did. I came across Penguin Head right before a longish super sandy, windy decent. I made an attempt to pass Penguin Head on one of the berms, but failed, and was about to make another attempt when Penguin Head yardsaled (that's a verb) it. Luckily, I avoided the human, but sadly, the Penguin had a mean brush with my spokes. I got past without crashing though.


My first night lap was ok at 1:17. I felt like I put out a big effort though and felt that I wasted a lot of energy slamming up and down the rocks. I nearly cramped up. My second night lap didn't go so well. At exactly the same place where I nearly decapitated the Penguin and while I was kind of chuckling about it in my mind, I had my own yardsale. My front wheel dug into the sand, I launched over the bars, flipped, turned around just in time to see my bike flying through the air, and because I have Samurai reflexes, I reached up in the air and caught it! I caught the fork and the seatube, gently put it back down on the ground, did my CX mount, and I was off an running again.

When the Light Goes Out.

I saw some unfortunate souls who were struggling to make it without lights. One of the "ambulance chasers" showed some gumption when he got out a few miles, realized that his light was not going to hold out, rode all the way back to camp, got a new light, and then went and rode his lap. It kind of makes me think: does karma or the Good Samaritan Rule apply when you are racing? I mean, ethically, should I have stopped to lend a helping hand? After all, I tell my son that so long as he is not on the soccer field he has to be nice; but when he's on the soccer field, he's supposed to be mean and kick the crap out of . . . er be a good sportsman. Well, I didn't stop and help and I think I may have even given one of those lightless persons a sand rooster tail. Sorry.

Next Year, When I Do it Again.

Time's up. . . . to be continued.

Monday, October 15, 2007

24 Hours of Moab Report

I just woke up from 12 Hours of Jared, my own little event that involves me being in a sleeping coma for 12 hours straight. 10 hours into this event, my wife sent my son down (one of my little recovery secrets is that I often retire in our guest bedroom downstairs) to check on me -- "just to make sure I was still alive."

Well alive I am. I'd say I'm even more alive because right before the 12 Hours of Jared, I participated in an event called 24 Hours of Moab -- a mountain bike race that goes for 24 hours. No, I didn't ride straight for 24 hours; although several people did. I was a member of a 4 man relay team. It consisted of me, Jon (both lawyers), and two doctors. We called ourselves the "ambulance chasers" (get it?). Our team turned out to be a loose experiment that (in case you're wondering) yielded the following results:
  • Doctors are generally smarter and more spontaneous than lawyers. They can arrive at an event like 24 Hours of Moab without much training, less than 1 hour before the event is to begin, and then perform like they have been preparing for months. Lawyers, on the other hand, analyze over and over and over again what the plan is or should be, and then because they are so flustered, forget to execute. Note to self: remember where you put your bike so you don't run around in several circles while you're supposed to be racing it.
  • Doctors function much better when normal people (like lawyers) are usually asleep. Lawyers tend to oversleep . . . ahem . . . Jon.
  • Lawyers are more cynical than doctors and accordingly often underestimate what humans, i.e. doctors, can really do. Case in point: "Oh, he won't be able to do it in 1.5 hours. . . . Holy crap! That's Mitch," says Jon as he grabs his bike and races to the start tent.
  • Lawyers ride their bikes faster than doctors. Obviously, that's a function of the fact that lawyers have more spare time than doctors. But doctors are able to recover much faster than lawyers.
  • Lawyers are more likely to ride with reckless abandon knowing that they have doctors on their team that can perform anesthesia and knee surgery.
  • Doctors should be more likely to ride with reckless abandon knowing that they have lawyers that can sue on their behalf, but choose to ride in control given (a) the general (and possibly justified) distrust for lawyers, and (b) the fact that when the blood is gushing a lawyer really isn't worth much.
  • The price of a doctor's or a lawyer's bike is not a function of how much money they make, but very well could be an indication of the size of their ego.

None of the ambulance chasers had ever participated in the event before, but we were lucky enough to be mentored and supported by team "Why Try," a group that has participated in the event for several years. Why Try had it down. Why Try shows up to the venue several days before it begins and stakes out their territory. Keep in mind that during the event more than 2000 people are camped out in the middle of the desert. Why Try's territory is optimally placed -- a few hundred yards from the start tent and right next to the trail. Great for racing and great for spectating. On their territory, they park 3 trailers/motorhomes, in the shape of a "U." Inside the U, there were propane heaters, halogen worklights, bike stands and tools, chairs, hammocks, a giant love sak, food, motorcycles, etc. . . The best part about team Why Try was the support crew who fed us, cleaned bikes, ushered us to and from the start and finish line, encouraged us, and listened to the same stories lap after lap after lap. Rumor had it, that Why Try's camp was the Four Seasons of the Moab camp. I believe it. I even got my very own puffy plush complimentary bathrobe and slippers.

Regarding the event itself, most of you who read this know that I'm a roadie and am getting into CX. Jon is too. That's why we were encouraged when people told us that the Moab 24 course wasn't that technical, "lots of double track . . . it's just a jeep road." It's not that I dislike the technical aspect of mountain biking, it's just that I'm a bit challenged. Let me just say that if the law requiring disclosure of certain facts when selling securities were to be applied to discussions about the Moab 24 course, I would be a very rich person and several people would be in jail. To all those who told me not to worry and that Moab was not technical and was pretty easy, WHATEVER. In the words of Jason Hendrickson, another fellow roadie, No Freaking Way (sorry Jason, but I had to censor). Is this your idea of easy?

(Photo pirated from Jeff.)

The picture above is a picture of spot called "Nose Dive." The tire tracks on the rock are from jeeps and the like trying to climb or descend it; some of those black marks may also belong to unsuspecting cyclists -- they actually park an ambulance at the Nose Dive during the event; some of them might belong to crazies like Bart who actually ride it. In fact, Jon said the most spectacular moment of the whole race was when he was tip-toeing down the Nose Dive, delicately trying to pick his line on foot, and the Bartman came flying over the rim, and with a bouncity bounce and a hoppity hop, ripped the Nose Dive with nary a touch of the brakes. Jon was equally impressed with Bart's sprint out of the Nose Dive.

Because people told us the course wasn't technical and was just a double-track jeep track through the desert, Jon and I were a bit over-confident about our expected lap times. Even so, we both put in some respectable times (for us) and had a bunch of fun doing it. After a Le Mans start, involving several hundred bike racers stampeding through the desert on foot, Jon put in a 1:18 lap and had four more solid laps after that. He was the only one on the "ambulance chasers" team to put in 5 laps.

My first lap was decent at 1:12 -- 1:11:53 to be exact. Both my second and third laps were in the dark.


Sunday, October 7, 2007

Check This Out

I wasn't convinced that jumping barriers is actually faster, but after I pulled my groin midway through the race, I sure wished I could do the hop. Plus, it sure is impressive. In fact it was because I was running the barriers that I pulled the groin. I think that the barriers this year are higher. I'm considering bringing a lawsuit against Utah Cyclocross for discrimination against short people. I'm sure I could turn it into a Title VII action by alleging that the high barriers discriminate against "my" people, who are height challenged. Hopefully the groin strain will heal quickly. I've tried to hasten the process by using an ice pack, but due to proximity issues, it requires temperance.

Actually, the race was really fun. I've never raced in mud like that before. It's yet another aspect and skill in CX'ing.

I've learned a lot by racing with the fast guys. There's an upside to getting lapped by Bart and Ali -- for a couple of minutes, you can follow them, watch their lines, and observe what you didn't know what was possible. It wasn't until I saw Ali ripping through the mud that I figured out the "fast" way of getting through it. I still can't figure out how they get through those hair pin turns so fast. I negotiate them like I'm driving an 18 wheeler. It's a mystery . . .

I still think CX is weird, but I can't deny that I have the bug.

Credits for the pics go to Stupidbike.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Thing About Cyclocross aka "CX" (PART I)

I'm a relative newbie on the cycling scene. I just finished my third year of road racing; I raced my first real mountain bike race this summer; and I am launching into my second season of cycloross. My newbie status qualifies me to offer, perhaps, a fresh perspective on what CX (note that I am sufficiently educated to refer to "cyclocross" as "CX"; that is because I am innately hip) is and how to ride a CX race. Arguably, my "fresh" perspective differs and, depending on which way you look at it, is a bit more informative than one who is established and entrenched in the CX tradition. You can think of me as a John Calvin of CX, and think of Bart or Ali as the Pope. (BTW, Ali, are you muslim or are you related to that boxer whose name was Ali? Just wondering. And Bart, was Bart Simpson named after you or the other way around? Again, just wondering.)

Most of the time I try to be politically correct. I'm relatively conservative though I tend to lean toward the green (the trees, not the money). So although it pains me to say this, there's really no way of avoiding saying that CX is the mongrel bastard child of cycling. It's a "cross" between the elegant form of road racing and the highly efficient form of mountain biking -- mountain biking's achievement is taking the cyclist over mountains that used to require walking, which cyclists are adverse to, or horses, which cyclists . . . actually, no comment. For those CX purists, I know that cross existed before MTB and there is the argument that CX was quite possibly was the first form of RR, but this is my analogy and I believe that it is quite illustrative -- to a Newbie anyway. And the analogy actually furthers my argument that CX is a mongrel bastard. I ask you, if RR is CX's father, then why the knobby tires, and why the ugliness and messiness? If MTB is CX's father, then why the drop bars and why the skinny tires? Hah!! Clearly CX was abandoned in its youth by its father and was denied "proper" nurturing. By way of another analogy, CX is like the child of burly Alaskan husky and a sleak Greyhound. That's right, eeewe. . . .

Just because CX is the mongrel bastard doesn't mean that there are not compelling reasons to try it or that you shouldn't try it. After all, there is a lot of hype around CX. It is being heralded as the fastest growing niche in bike racing. Soon, any noteworthy stable will include a road bike, mtn. bike, and a cross bike. Of course, you don't want to own a CX bike just because it's hip, which leads me to an astute question: what is my cross bike good for?

What is my cross bike good for?

Any CX apologist, which I declare that I am, must be able to address this question. After all, face it, a CX bike can't keep pace with a road bike on the road or with a mtn. bike on the trails. A shallow-sighted roadie or mtb'er might immediately write off CX bikes as being "slow." Fair enough, but what if you want to ride the pavement AND the dirt? In a sense, only the pure cyclist will understand the value of a CX bike because the pure cyclist will be driven to explore and ride all roads and trails, whether paved or dirt. The value of the CX bike is that you can effectively ride the road and a lot of dirt in one ride.

I have to acknowledge, that in SLC, there aren't a lot of unpaved roads, and that the trails in the mountains are generally unsuitable for CX bikes. There are exceptions though. For example, I don't like to drive anywhere. So, it's convenient for me to be able to ride my bike up Millcreek Canyon, hit some of the mellow trails, and ride home. If you're inclined to ride from Jeremy Ranch to East Canyon, a CX bike can come in handy. However, if you live in a non-urban environment, I daresay that the CX bike is the ultimate machine. For example, I grew up in a rural town in central Utah where the only paved road was Main Street (if anyone from Gunnison reads this, you know this is an exaggeration and hyperbole on my part). If you were lucky, you could find a rough, pot-holed chip seal road, but usually, you were relegated to hard-packed gravel dirt roads. And in rural towns like Gunnison, there are endless dirt roads through the hills, linking other towns, mountains, and canyons. The possibilities are endless and all of these roads are suited to a CX bike. Of course, a mountain bike works, but in many cases, I think it is overkill -- a CX bike is actually faster. In fact, I dream of a road-style race on a CX bike on rural dirt roads. Maybe one day I'll try to make that happen.

I've postponed the obvious: perhaps the single, independent reason to own a CX bike is so you can race it.

What is a CX Race?

CX races, like CX bikes, are the mongrel, bastard child of road and mtb. races. If you think about it, cyclocross courses are comical. That's because everything in CX is a paradox -- yet people, for some weird reason participate. In a CX race, the sprint comes at the beginning of the race, not the end; skinny, but knobby tires are used; parts of the courses are on pavement, other parts are on dirt, other parts are on grass; mud and single track is involved, yet road racing tactics sometimes come into play; good CX'ers use lots of fast twitch muscles and sprint several times a lap, but competitive CX'ing requires major slow twitch endurance; and then there are the barriers. Who the heck invented barriers? Barriers are, in and of themselves, paradoxes; is CX's father a horse? I mean, horses jump barriers, but why cyclists? Perhaps this is what happens when a bunch of drunk Belgians on bikes get together in the off-season. "Hey, let's ride our bikes through the mud in the park. . . . Bet you can't ride your bike over that barrier. . . ." Note that I've refrained from even mentioning sandy run-ups. All these characteristics, and many more, combine to make cyclocross so comical, so gruelling, and so paradoxical that doing it is actually fun. To the dude whose idea of fun is a bag of chips and Sportcenter, whatever . . .

How do I prepare for my first cross race?