Saturday, November 29, 2008

Rollerskiing Is Going to Suck After This...

With a healthy dose of skepticism, I drove up to the Great Glen Trails this morning. Reports were they were skiing on a nice base of natural snow, but they said don't bring your good skis. My skepticism remained high for nearly the entire drive. There was a little snow in Plymouth, but most other areas were quite devoid of snow. Even arriving in Gorham, the snow looked old and burned off by the sun in open areas. However, as I drove up Rt 16 towards Mt Washington, the landscape changed dramatically in just the last two miles. There was snow there indeed.

After buying a reduced fee trail pass (bonus!), I was eager to see what they had. The temp was quite mild, around freezing and rising. Skies were intermittently sunny. The summit of Mt Washington remained socked in with clouds all day.

They hadn't yet filled the tunnel under Rt 16 with snow. Once I put my skis back on after walking through, I was skiing in near mid-winter conditions. The coverage was excellent, and the snow was surprisingly well packed. I never pushed through the base. I could just as well brought my best skis. Nearly all of the trails were groomed for skate and classic. Just a couple short "black" trails were closed. I skied four full perimeter loops.

I had skied Great Glen only once before, and that was earlier this year for the Ski to the Clouds race up Mt Washington. That time, the trails were very hard and icy. Today was vastly better. After four laps and two hours of skiing time, I was thoroughly cooked. I had forgotten how hilly it was there. You won't find big elevation change climbs, but you will find non-stop steep rollers that really wear you down after a while.

By late morning, there were a lot of skaters there, especially young women that looked very fast. Good thing they were always going the opposite way, else I would have been girled. A lot.

On my fourth lap, my left ski inexplicably came off. I was just cresting a climb and surprise, foot came down with no ski. This results in immediately face plant. I bought these used skis with bindings late last season. Don't know if previous owner had a problem with that binding or not. So cleats yesterday caused me to hit the dirt riding, and bindings today caused me to pack it in on snow. If that weren't enough, in my bonked state on the next decent, I bit it pretty hard near the bottom. This hill faced the sun and was pretty soft and chewed up. I somehow caught an edge. First time out this season, and I no doubt skied a few more kilometers than I should've. I logged 32.5km in 2:21hrs skiing time.

I have a list of climbing numbers to choose from:
GPS 2173ft (barometric)
DeLorme Topo 2540ft (ver 7.0)
Garmin Connect 2609ft
Motion Based 3478ft (uncorrected)

I know from experience that barometric altimeters under measure total vertical on rolling terrain. I also know that Motion Based can give high numbers when not applying their mystical correction routine to the data. That leaves DeLorme Topo and Garmin Connect, which are surprisingly close. They are based on GPS track and high-res smoothed digital elevation map data. Truth is probably in the 2500-2600ft range. Not bad for first time on snow this season.

It will be back to rollerskis during the week. It will suck.

Friday, November 28, 2008

SSS Ride

Sleety Single Speed ride. The weatherman got it wrong today. It was supposed to be dry in the morning with rain moving in later in the day. Instead, we started with rain and a little sleet thrown in for good measure for the FOMBA Turkey Burner ride. It was 32F. I had prep'd my Racer X last night, but after checking the radar just before leaving the house this morning, I made a last minute bike swap. The Dean singlespeed was already dirty and is a lot easier to clean up. Plus it had good mud tires on it.

Detail of the FOMBA spaghetti singletrack network. Longest trail, Fireline, is 3+ miles in lower left corner

There may have been upwards of 200 people at the Massabesic Lake staging area by 9am. Mountain bikers are a pretty hardy group I must say. Most roadies I know would not go out in 32F rain and sleet. I was late, and the southern New Hampshire NEMBA contingent rolled out when I was still putting my shoes on. Didn't take long to catch them. Dave Penney and I bolted on ahead about 2-3 miles into the ride.

It really wasn't that muddy. Might have been some frost in the ground in a few places, which can help. But the intermittent drizzle kept things nice and greasy. I was very happy how well the Panaracer Fire XC Pro's hooked up in this stuff. I ran about 26 lbs rear, 22 lbs front. I was cleaning a lot more than I expected to, given FOMBA is one of the rootiest places I ride.

32F and rain/sleet mix to start

About half way into the "Hero Section," we ran into Thom P and his posse of riders. I almost didn't recognize him at first. He was on his big burly doubly suspended geared rig. There was something wrong with this picture. Mr Singlespeed with gears, Mr Hillclimb who often cannot get enough gears with a 1x1. Thom filed in behind me and Dave on Ladyslipper trail. Funny how the pace picks up when somebody you know is right on your heels. Paranoia of slowing someone else down can be a factor. Dave had time constraints, so we kept rolling on to Deer Run trail when Thom waited for his ride mates.

I hit the deck on Deer Run. Don't even know how it happen. One instant I'm hauling-A, the next I'm bouncing off the ground hard. Some cut off saplings nearly poked my eyes out too. I speculate a foot came unclipped. I was having recurring problems with this during the ride. The Sidi sole treads are badly worn, so the cleat interface is a little sloppy. I replaced the cleats and tightened the pedals recently, but this has not improved the problem.

Dave on Fireline

The last six trails went well. Carried good speed with no dabs. When we got back to the start, cars had filled the lot across the street. I'd guess at least 250 showed up to ride. Dave and I finished with 28.3 miles in 3:01hrs riding time. We never got cold.

I've done this ride at least the last seven years in a row now. I didn't keep a log before 2002. The number of singletrack trails has grown over that period too. The ride took 1 minute longer than last year, but I did Fox Tail trail twice last year in less greasy conditions. Slowest year was in 2005 with 3-4" of snow on the ground. That took 3:33hrs with less miles ridden. We never race this fun-ride, but I always hook up with one or more similarly minded folks that like to maintain a healthy pace.

Sun was coming out as we finished with nary a breeze. Go figure.

Guess what I'm doing tomorrow?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

T-day Ride

Went out for a pre-turkey burner ride this morning at Great Brook Farm State Park. For the first hour, there was nobody there and everything was frozen. The wooden bridges were uber dicy, many glistening with black ice. The second hour, people with dogs came out of the woodwork and the sun softened things up a bit. I took my still almost new Titus Racer X.

I previously commented how I did not like the Bontrager XDX's because their utter lack of capability to hook up on anything but pavement or hard packed gravel. Now I have another reason to hate them. I pinch flatted. This is only the second time I've had to put a tube in a tubeless tire on the trail in many years of riding tubeless. The XDX's are essentially regular tubed tires Bontrager labels as "tubeless ready." Either they are tubeless tires or not. They had very flimsy sidewalls, yet this flimsiness offers nothing in terms of grip. The Bontrager "Super Juice", which looks a lot like Stan's, did nothing to plug the small pinch hole. I worked the pump a while to get it to seal, but no luck.

To think of it, I have never used a set of Bontrager tires I liked. My Ridley road bike came with Bontrager race tires and I flatted on the first ride I believe. After asking around, I learned others had frequent flats with them. Off they came. I will now add to the collection of barely used Bontrager tires that adorn the walls of my basement. A set of real UST tires came via UPS yesterday. I had planned to replace the worn Panaracer Fire XC Pro's on my singlespeed with them, but now they will go on the Racer X. I wouldn't race with the Panaracers, but they sure are great all-around trail riding tires.

As I was wrapping up my ride around the cranberry bogs, I passed a woman with a very large, loose, aggressive chocolate lab. The thing had a mean, deep growl. He got right along side of me, growled against my calf, leaving slobber trails on my tights. I'd yell at him, he'd back off, then come up along the other side. He did this three or four times until he nipped me and backed off. I didn't want to ruin anybodies holiday, so I bit my tongue and rode on as if nothing happened. But wouldn't you know it, about 15 minutes later my loop brought me past that woman and dog again. Rather than go through that again, I stopped. The dog was much less aggressive while I was stopped. I told the woman "you know, he nipped me the last time I went by." She was all like oh, really, with an attitude of serves you right. I told her it was a good thing I like dogs, and I didn't quite understand what she said as she pulled her dog back, but it was something like "well like your own dog then." Signs there clearly say dogs must be leashed. I don't fault her dog. He was just doing what dogs do. But lady, if you have an aggressive dog, it behooves you to restrain it.

We haven't owned a dog for a few years now. I grew up with labs and we've owned two over most of our 24 married years. The last one got very aggressive as he got old, snapping at young relatives on a couple occasions. A few years ago, my sister's family visited us here in NH. We put Boris in the basement told the kids to not go down there. One did, Boris attacked, leaving marks around the rib cage (Boris was big enough to get mouth around Ryan's torso). We decided to put Boris down a short time after that. My neighborhood is full of small children. Owning an aggressive 90 lb lab is a huge liability. I could not risk a neighbor child wandering into our yard with Boris tied up and having a catastrophe happen. Harsh measures, sure, and it was not an easy decision for either of us. But we felt it was the responsible thing to do.

Anyway, looks like the weather may hold up through Friday morning for the FOMBA Turkey Burner ride. I expect to see a lot of familiar faces there. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for readin'.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Secret Gems

On Sunday, seeing conditions were still more conducive to off-road riding than road riding, I took the singlespeed over to Andover, MA. Many people are familiar with the trails in Harold Parker State Forest, but there are many other great riding areas in Andover. I used to work in Tewksbury when I first moved here in 1997. Venturing out on lunch breaks, I soon discovered lots of trails nearby. These are located in an area roughly north of Rt 133, west of I-93, and along the southern bank of the Merrimack River. The various reservations (I'll explain why I won't name them shortly) are all close to each other and can be linked together with virtually no road riding.

There is a small parking area at Haggett's Pond. Bits of singletrack hug the large pond shoreline. Don't get caught dipping in the pond in summer months though. It is Andover drinking water supply. Crossing over 495 on High Plain Rd, the hill section of the ride begins at the Andover composting facility. A loop of a few miles climbs several hills, including a few hundred footer that is barely doable for most folks with gears. Today, with deep oak leaf cover, trashed legs from riding hard over three hours the day before, and having only one biggish gear to push, I capitulated a third of the way up. I cleaned the rocky stream crossing and the next climb right after it though.

The hill section at the compost piles

Crossing High Plain Rd, the route enters another reservation. A new school built here a few years ago destroyed some of the trails, but there are still many miles to ride. Plenty of rock gardens to test your mettle on, but mostly high-speed open stuff.

Eventually the route pops out on Chandler Rd near 93. A bit of pavement takes you down to a linear park along the Merrimack River. I first do an out and back heading east, then out the other way all the way to Trull Brook golf course. Doubling back part way, alternate trails are taken back to the start with little repeat.

The steep banks high above the Merrimack

Some of these trails are technically closed to cycling, but I know guys that have been riding them for 20 years and never had a confrontation. I have ridden variants of the route over 100 times and never had an issue either. Referring to the reservations by name could attrack undesireable search engine attention, so I leave it to the reader to do their own research if they'd like to explore this area. Great riding, especially when the ground is frozen solid like it was Sunday. I covered 22 miles in just over 2hrs. There were a surprisingly large number of hikers out, especially along the river. I saw one other mountain biker, hauling-A over the big communication tower hill.

I finally completed a Colorado trip report. Pretty much all of the commentary was lifted from blog postings during the trip or from posts shortly after I got back. Dozens of additional photos with captions have been added however. I'm already scheming about my next Colorado trip. Whether you ride road or off-road, everybody must make at least one pilgrimage to the high peaks state.

Buff river shore cruising

The hillier section, even scary to look down

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Rice Krispy Bar Ride

I had really hoped to get on snow somewhere with skis today. Readers had made some great suggestions. Gas is dirt cheap again, but I'm not willing to drive 5-6hrs to find groomed snow.

I called Trapp on Friday. Although they've been blowing snow most of the week, they don't plan to groom until Thanksgiving. Then I got my hopes up for Waterville this morning. No, they don't make snow on the XC trails. They were supposed to open with top to bottom runs on the alpine side of the valley, but high winds kept the lifts shut down. I thought perfect. I have to go to the alpine village anyway to pick up my Nordic season pass. I'll just skate a couple runs while the lifts are down. But the runs they had ready to go are very steep. They weren't opening the long, gradual Valley Trail yet. Basically all I had to work with were blue trails right up the fall line. Given the temp was +11F and the wind chill scary below zero, I would have fought not only Mr Gravity, but Mr Friction too. With my cardio fitness, I'm sure I would have shredded my body to bits skating in those conditions first time out. Wachusett was opening too, but with just a couple runs open with massive numbers of punk boarders, it would have been suicide to skate up one of those skinny trails. I know skaters that go there pre-hours and do fine. I opted to ride today instead.

From Wachusett summit, Boston skyline out there somewhere

I hadn't been to Leominster State Forest in a while. Wachusett is right there, and I always TT up it as part of my warm-up routine. Today I got a little more than I bargained for. Princeton sits higher than us folk in the greater Boston area. It was cold there, never getting out of the low 20's. Add 40mph winds, and you have a perfect day to stay in the woods as much as possible. Traffic to Wachusett was heavy. It was a steady stream of snow boards. Riding up Mountain Road, the surface changed from new asphalt to heavy sand covered. The snow making blows across here and the road becomes a death trap without constant winter maintenance. So much for rollerskiing up this over the next couple weekends.

Standard fare for LSF. Leaves were laden with frost.

I knew I would have to cross a couple ski runs with deep machine made snow. The first two were miserable. The snow was piled about 10ft high. It was firm enough to walk on without post holing. But they had the snow guns blasting at very high volume. They were spewing semi-frozen slush. With temp probably in the teens up here, the slurry instantly froze on contact. I had to cross two runs like this. After crossing the second one, my bike and body were completely covered with over an eighth inch of ice. It did not brush off either. I could not read or use the buttons on my Garmin 705. It was that thick.

One of the trickier bits that always used to weird me out

It was so windy up top it was hard to stand in one spot without having to catch yourself. You could see the Boston skyline on this brilliant day. The climb turned out to be the easy part. The windchill up here was no doubt well below zero. My initial descent was straight into the wind. Talk about an icecream headache! Instead of taking the "up" road all the way back, I took a left where there is normally a closed gate. A second left took me down a gravel fire road. Wish I had known about this before battling the ice storm. I had to really keep an eye on the Camelback. It would freeze in an instant if I left any liquid in the tube.

Leominster is the rockiest place I ride. Most of the trails are non-stop baby-head action. Throw in 6" of oak leaves with frost layered up between them, you have yourself a real test of skill (or temperament if you suck). I lie somewhere in between, and I managed to not keep telling myself "you suck!" while dabbing at least once a minute. Many trails were like riding on Rice Krispy bars, if you can imagine what that would be like. The ground was super saturated with moisture before it froze. When it did, it heaved up in a delicately crunchy ice cushion. Without warning, your tires could crunch in 2-4", almost stopping you dead. This required a very defensive riding posture and made for hard work on some trails.

Rocky Pond. Should've brought the ice skates. Looked 3" thick and crystal clear.

The tires on my new Titus suck. They are Bontrager XDX's. They have no lateral hook-up whatsoever. I kept dropping the pressure. The tires seem to have very stiff sidewalls and do not conform well around off-camber rocks and roots. I let air out of these tubeless wonders until they were ridiculously soft. They started to hook up. Later when I hit some pavement, I was sure I had two flat tires. The bike was uber squirrely turning hard. I checked the pressure when I got home: 19psi front, 22psi rear. Too low, a sure recipe for burping, and any rolling resistance advantage they claim is totally defeated running this soft. Maybe I have to order another set of the Panaracer Fire XC Pro's, the best all around tire ever designed.

Crow Hill over Crow Hill Pond

I narrowly escaped unscathed riding most of the singletrack in the forest. I did my normal full loop and never saw another person in the woods. The perennial muddy sections were frozen solid. I was a little bit disappointed when I ran out of trails to ride. I wasn't ready to quit. I logged 30.0 miles, 3885ft of climbing, in 3.1hrs riding time.

Oh, I had my first cup of Clover machine coffee this morning. It was one of the best purchased cups of coffee I ever had. Starbucks bought the company that produces these wonders. That infuriated many coffee aficionados. It was the one weapon small independent coffee shops had doing battle against giants like Starbucks. The fear now is Starbucks owns the company and may chose to not sell them to anybody else. Is a Grande cup of Clover machine coffee worth $3-4? Maybe once in a while.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Anticipating Snow

With the return of frigid weather, snow guns are cranking up all over New England. Multiple alpine ski areas plan to open this weekend. This includes Crotched Mountain in southern New Hampshire. I'm tempted to break out the skate skis and sneak in some hill repeats. Not sure I want to fight a barrage of belligerent boarders coming at me though.

I also heard a rumor that the Trapp XC touring center might open too, on machine made snow of course. Could a minuscule sub-kilometer loop possibly be worth hours of round trip driving? Maybe. I would make a day out of it and bring a bike along. I don't get to ride Smugglers Notch too often.

Work sucks lately. Lots of year end madness going on. Our company's fiscal year matches the calender year. I work on research projects, and funding for these gets shut down in December. It becomes a race of use it or lose it. Happens every year. 10-12hr days plus weekends become the norm. I still get out though, but at random times throughout the week. Group rides have ceased as a result. Key riding mates on the injured list or finding themselves "in between jobs" in this f'd up economic situation doesn't help the lunch ride scene either.

I did get in a respectable trail ride with my new Racer X yesterday. While some folks are complaining about the dip in temps, I barely even noticed. Any soft or muddy spots were frozen solid. Perfect. I hit a whole bunch of stuff I can't disclose here before wandering into Wasserman Park in Merrimack to bomb down the bony half mile plummet to the lake. Nearly soiled my chamois a couple times. All I can say is the Racer X suspension is pretty near dialed. I covered 18 miles on my lunch break, mostly on singletrack. This is what lunch breaks ought to be.

I managed to squeeze in three rollerski workouts last week too. Averaging two hours per week for the last couple months ain't much though. I'm hoping all the technique work pays dividends this winter. I'm banking on the hope that I do not need any cardio work on the skis, as I already bring a fairly elite level of fitness to the discipline from cycling. So far I've accumulated 430km on my Pursuit rollerskis this fall. That would be a good week on the bike.

Tuesday I rollerskied with Arvid. He started later than I did on a loop near work. When I came around the bend on my 5th lap, he was kneeled down on the road with his forehead to the pavement. I wondered if he discovered Islam. As I got closer, I saw he was peering into a storm sewer grate. It seems a car cut him off and he caught a pole in the grate. The grate ripped the pole from his hand and ate the pole hook, line and sinker. At first, there was no sign of the pole. We nearly gave up. It appeared to be buried in the depths of liquid murkiness. But I just caught a glimpse of the grip protruding from the surface many feet down. The grate surprisingly was not that heavy. We lifted it off. Using my poles like chopsticks, I was barely able to snag the strap of Arvid's pole. But wouldn't you know it, after all that, the pole was cracked in half. Arvid got a fine workout in without poles that day.

Next planned cycling event is the FOMBA Turkey Burner. Nearly 300 riders show up for this the day after Thanksgiving most years. It's always a riot. Miles and miles of singletrack. Marked course, fun ride event, but always a few that like to hammer off the front of the masses. I've done this ride in every condition imaginable, from shorts to 35F pouring rain to 5" new snow on the ground to bare ground frozen hard at 20F.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Chasing Waterfalls

Ok, I'm a wuss. I signed up for the BRC Shedd Park CX race and bailed on it. It's even just 8 miles from my house. It rained three straight days here. My only asset racing is putting power down. Crashing once per lap trying to do this on slimy off-camber grass is no fun. I figured the cinder track part of the course was under water. The last time I raced there, I ruined a jersey. That black substance is harder to wash out than diesel motor oil run 10,000 miles. I have only one IBC jersey.

So I got up this morning to assess my options. I few teammates were doing a long road ride in the afternoon. Hmmm... the rain was supposed to stop, but the wind was supposed to pick up something fierce along with plummeting temperatures. That didn't sound too appealing to me either. Fortunately, with an assorted quiver of bikes, I had plenty more options to consider. Trail riding was pretty much out of the question. How about a dirt forest service road ride? Last weekend I offered a couple options to Dave and Glen. We picked the road bike option over the 'cross bike option. So today I headed north with the 'cross bike. Wind and cold temps are not nearly as much of an issue grinding up climbs in the woods.

Eastman Brook along Tripoli Rd

It's only 80 minutes driving time to Campton from my house. I parked at the school where we register for the Waterville Valley TT. My plan was to ride dirt Sandwich Notch and dirt Thornton Gap. I had several options to throw in more along the way. Roads were just starting to dry as I headed out.

Sandwich Notch Rd was a little soft, but not muddy. As I usually do, I hit this first climb anaerobic. I had ridden this twice before, only with MTB. I never used the granny ring, but I must have underestimated how low I went in the middle ring. I died pushing a compact double up the steep parts. Probably just as well. I haven't been doing much other interval training and a little low cadence/high force once in a while is a good thing.

Heading back towards Campton on two-track Algonquin Rd was a little bit more dicy. No mud, but lots of standing water. It continues downhill along the Beebe River for many miles. The tendency is to rip 25mph, but risk of pinch flat was too high. It was much colder here than at home. I saw a few snow flakes.

Pretty much everywhere I rode, the sound of rushing water drowned out my deep breathing. Generally, the water was ripping downhill faster than I could rip downhill. There were waterfalls everywhere I looked.

Campton Falls on the Beebe River

I went past my car on Rt 175 without stopping, heading for Tripoli Rd next. I thought about doing the Hubbard Forest climb too, but Sandwich Notch took more time than expected. I told wifey I'd be back by 4pm. A little ways up Tripoli, Russell Pond Rd forks off to the left. I've looked at it in Topo and noted it climbs a butt load further. I had never ridden it, and it was gated now. I gave it a whirl. It stays paved and climbs a persistent 7% grade to the camping area by the pond. From the Pemi, net gain is 1200ft. The bonus was a clearing near the top offering a killer view of Thornton Gap, which I was heading over next.

Looking down white birch tunnel on Russell Pond Rd

It started to sleet heading down Russell Pond Rd. Sleet in face at nearly 40mph really hurts. Makes my eyes tear up all over again just thinking about it. Tripoli Rd climbs a lot higher than Russell. From the Pemi, it is more like 1600ft, mostly on gravel. It had been graded since I was last through here a couple weeks ago. It was softer, but smooth as butter. I was pretty much cooked upon reaching Thornton Gap. With any luck, I'll soon be skiing up the side I was about to ride down. I hit speeds in excess of 40mph on this rough, skinny road. I've never broken 30mph on skis. Mostly too scared to go any faster, plus skaters coming up take most of the lane.

Looking across to Thornton Gap from near top of Russell Pond Rd

When I was approaching the summit of Tripoli Rd, I saw movement up ahead. A fairly large animal hopped off to the left. As I passed that point, I kept looking up the steep bank. I almost missed him at first. The biggest coyote I ever saw was standing still maybe 20ft away and looking down on me. I stopped and we just stared at each other for a moment. When I went for my camera, he disappeared. I did look over my shoulder for a few minutes after that. Winter fur no doubt made him look bigger than he probably was, however Eastern Coyotes are much bigger than the western variants. I bet he was over 50 lbs.

The last 10 miles were straight into a hellish wind on Rt 49. I couldn't even tell I was dropping 800ft in those 10 miles. The wind totally dominated any gravity benefits. I had three layers on up top too, and I still got chilled. Not the nicest way to end a ride, but the nearly 4hr ride was well worth the trip.

Sandwich Notch, Russell Pond Rd, Thornton Gap

Friday, November 14, 2008

Titus Racer X

My quiver of bikes, once dominated by Dean titanium rigs, just got diluted again. I picked up my new off-road racing platform today. It is a dual suspension Titus Racer X. I chose to go with the alloy version, traditional 26" wheel set. Titanium is overkill for for full suspension in my opinion, and a 29" wheeled version would stretch an already longish wheel base even longer. A 29er would also have weighed quite a bit more, although weight was only of secondary importance for this bike.

So why a Racer X? I love FSR suspension designs. Specialized patented the FSR many years ago. Only a couple US companies still license this design from Specialized. Many European bike companies sell FSR type suspension bikes. Specialized's patent does not apply in other countries. Recently, Scott challenged Specialized's FSR patent in US courts. They would dearly love to sell their FSR copy-cat bikes here. But Scott lost. Note the Scott Genius sold here has pivot in different place than Scott Genius sold in the UK. If you want FSR here, you have to buy from Specialized or from one of a couple other licensed bike manufacturers like Titus.

Over the years, I have rented bikes many times while on travel. Many of these times I was outfitted with a Specialized dualie. When dialed in properly, they just feel so right. There is very little pedalling induced bobbing. The suspension behaves well over root farms. It also climbs very well. I've owned my Ellsworth Isis for a long time now. It is a fun bike to ride, but an efficient pedaller it is not. I plan to get back into MTB racing next year, and with my body not getting any younger, a hardtail doesn't cut it for 50 miles or more of roots and rocks.

So why not a Specialized? Specialized started using their own suspension components recently. I have not heard good things about them - prone to failure. The frames tend to be built a little lighter too, and I've gotten past the stage of buying weenie weight bikes that break all the time. I think the industry has gotten past this for the most part too. I like a high level of customization in the bikes I ride. I didn't have a nearby shop that could custom build a Specialized for me.

Note the FSR patent disclosure on left swingarm

IBC, my team sponsor on the other hand, picked up the Titus line a while back. You can buy just a frame or have the shop build one up any way you want. So a couple months ago I put a dream build kit list together and got a quote. At first it was hard to digest. But I put it on order anyway. Then the global economy tanked. Writing that check out today went against all common sense. But hey, I made a major contribution to propping up our economy today. What was your contribution?

So here are the details:
Titus Racer-X, anodized black, large, 4" travel
Fox RP23 shock
Fox Float RLC fork (100mm travel)
Shimano XTR tubeless wheelset
Shimano XTR shifters and derailleurs
Shimano XTR crankset
Shimano XTR chain
Shimano XTR pedals
Shimano XT cassette
Hayes Stoker disk brakes
Thomson Elite stem and seatpost
Chris King headset
Bontrager X-lite carbon riser bar
ODI Lock-on grips
Terry Fly Ti saddle
Bontrager XDX tubeless ready tiers

The bikes weighs about 25.8 lbs muddied up from my first test ride. My only goal for weight was sub 26 lbs. My Ellsworth weighs over 28 lbs.

I went for a short ride just before it got dark this evening. It will take a while to get the fork and shock tuned to my liking, but I immediately could tell this bike is right for me. It pedals almost as efficiently as a rigid on pavement. Fork lockout and shock pro-pedal features enable this efficiency. The new Bontrager XDX tires feel fast too. Also new to me were the Hayes Stoker brakes. Modulation feels nice, better than the older versions of Hayes brakes I've grown to like since 1999. Many people don't like Hayes' on-off modulation characteristic, but it suits me just fine.

The 14 mile ride broke 'er in proper. It was pretty greasy out there after two days of rain and drizzle. Lots of hunters about too. A couple guys warned me there were more guys with guns out there in the direction I was heading. At one point I swore I smelled cigarette smoke but saw no one. It was getting dark too. Spooky. I couldn't help but wonder if somebody was lining up a bead on me just for practice.

Anyway, competition on this bike will have to wait until next spring. I only hope I get a few good rides in before winter arrives. Once I start heading down to the Cape this winter, I'll more than likely be taking a singlespeed. It is now time to unload a few bikes. I will probably start by listing my Ellsworth Isis and Dean Torreys on Craig's List.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Mountains Keep Calling

Gonzo, Long Pond, Franconia, Kancamagus

Despite it being a so-so day for riding in the mountains, three of us headed up as planned anyway. Overnight rain was slow to move out, and we had the wipers on most of the drive up. We parked in Lincoln at the visitor center.

Glen had late afternoon commitments, so I planned a loop that got him back to the cars in time. Then Dave and I had a couple options for continuing the ride, including out and backs on the Kanc and/or Tripoli Rd.

Starting off just before 9am, it was still raining lightly. Gonzo Pass was first on the list. The climb pretty much starts right away, the steep stuff starting about 3.5 miles from the cars. Not much of a warmup, but when the temp is in the low 40's and it's raining out, you don't want to dilly-dally about. You'll freeze before you get to the real stuff. Coming out of a packed work week (I worked all day Saturday), my legs were fairly fresh. I planned to kill the first couple climbs and pay the consequences later. Once bearing off on Rt 118, I quickly dropped Glen and Dave. The rain stopped, blue patches started to open up. Life was good. I reached the top in 40 minutes into the ride, probably only 25 of this going hard on Rt 118. I'm sure it's one of my fastest ascents up Gonzo. Nothing like a good endorphin buzz in the morning.

Gonzo Summit

Regrouping, dirt Long Pond Rd was next. Perhaps I rave here too much about Long Pond Rd, but I have a particular fondness for big dirt road climbs. A few of my favorites are Mt Hopkins in AZ, Mt Wilson in CA, and back side of Mt Lemmon in AZ. I can't think of anything not to like about them and many things to like about them. Some days we encounter zero cars on Long Pond Rd (we saw three today). There is zero development on this road. No power lines. Just a single lane of gravelly goodness. I attacked this climb pretty hard too, but climbing Gonzo at near race pace left my legs a tad limp.

Long Pond Rd

Since Glen didn't have time to do the Kanc or Tripoli, I showed Glen and Dave an alternate route to Franconia via Sugar Hill to spice up the ride a bit. It is a series of rollers that lose almost as much vertical as is gained each climb. Eventually you reach the village of Sugar Hill at the top and are rewarded with views and a nice 600ft descent to Franconia. Our only food stop was here. We continued on Rt 18, a 10% climb to the base of Cannon Ski Area. Now I really felt the two earlier efforts. My 38x27 minimum gearing was not sufficient. I had to wait much less time for Dave and Glen on this one. Either they were getting faster, or I was dying.

Franconia Notch from Rt 18 overpass

I normally avoid the Franconia Notch bike path at all costs. In the summer it is packed with clueless tourists. It has many abrupt turns and changes of pitch too. It was nearly vacant today. I feared it would be covered deep with juicy leaves, but leaf drop was complete a long time ago in the Notch and the path was clean. However, it stays pretty wet in the notch this time of year, and there was a brilliant green film of moss covering it in places. Way scary when tempted to rip 30+mph on a four foot wide curvy path.

The three of us exercised some caution and survived the path. Popping back out of the Notch in Lincoln, Glen headed back to his car and Dave and I head upward one more time. We saved the biggest and baddest for last, the Kanc. From Lincoln, it gains over 2000ft, the last 3.5 miles at 9% grade according to the sign up top. I don't think I could even muster tempo pace at this point. My quads were useless blubber. As the summit neared, it started to sprinkle again. It was warm and sunny in Lincoln beginning the Kanc climb. It's funny how quickly the weather changes in the mountains. It never got very wet though, and the sun came back out during the descent.

Summit of Kancamagus Pass in light rain

The 13 mile descent back to Lincoln was sweet. That was going to be it for this ride. Dave and I tallied 87.2 miles, 9062 feet vertical in 5:15hrs riding time. Pretty slow average, but when you consider one of the descents is riding brakes on dirt the whole way, the other riding brakes on moss covered slimy path, average ride speed is irrelevant. The hill intervals made it a hard ride. I've ridden variants of this loop in all seasonal conditions. One thing that is cool riding after leaf drop is you see so much more. Plus hydration is not an issue. In 5:15hrs saddle time, I consumed 3.5 bottles of water. I'll do 2-3x this rate on 6-Gaps when it's warmer.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rollerski Cheering Section

Work has really been interfering with quality workouts lately. Each day, I don't know when or if I'll get out. Hill Junkie gets ornary going a couple days without an endorphin fix.

I've been trying to hit the rollerskis twice per week. Election day, I went over to a culdesac near work. It is a 0.77 mile loop with a small hill in it. Schools were closed. The streets were packed with kids of all ages. Kids are mesmerized by rollerskis, especially when you go flying by in a fast V2. There must have been a dozen kids around the loop that talked to me or commented most times I went by during my 15 laps. I found it to be as good of a motivator as hecklers around a CX course. Two young kids, probably around kindergarten age, wanted to know my name, what those things were, why I was doing it, why I kept doing it. It was a conversation where they screamed out a question and I answered it each lap. Pretty funny. A couple older kids thought I was on scooter bases.

Closer to home, I have another 0.95 mile loop I do with a more serious hill in it. This climb has a peak grade of 7% and gains nearly 100ft. It too is at the end of a culdesac, so traffic is light. The descent is spread out so speed reducers are not required. I do go over 20 mph though, and there are four driveways and one side street on this section. For those not familiar with rollerskis, they have no brakes. I can control my speed somewhat by snow-plowing, but this would never work in time if a car suddenly pulls out in front of you.

This is the first season I've been able to V2 on rollerskis. I'm actually comfortable V2'ing now. V2 is the skate technique where you double pole with each leg push, like pole right-push, pole left-push, pole right-push, etc. It requires very good balance and timing. My core and upper body have never felt stronger on skis. I think I retained more from last winter's skiing than in winters past. Core work is not part of my routine during any part of the season. Most of my workouts this fall have exclusively been V2 technique training. That is twice as much poling than the V1 or V2a techniques I've used in the past. It will be very interesting to see how this translates to snow this winter. I do plan to dabble in more races, perhaps even trying the Lake Placid Loppet again. Those scars (my first ski race was there) have finally healed.

It is time to transition to interval workouts on rollerskis. Most of my work has been focused on technique improvement without a lot of climbing, averaging around 10-12mph (easy to moderate). I'd like to get out to Wachusett for some sustained climbing drills. They don't allow rollerskis on the summit road when the park is open, but it is gated now. Mile Hill Rd to the entrance can be trafficy though. 1000ft climbs makes for nice threshold intervals. Hiking back down kind of sucks though. I would not trust the speed reducers on my Jenex rollerskis. The 5" diameter pneumatic tires would burst into flames before I reached the bottom.

Hoping for a repeat of last winter - copious snow in the mountains, bare singletrack on the Cape. Life doesn't get any better than that.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bike Spectrum

I've done some pretty big rides lately on my Ellsworth dualie. It's actually a wimpy machine compared to offerings today that tout 5"x5" or 6"x6" travel. The Ellsworth is 4"x3.75". Still though, in rooty, rocky terrain, that little bit of suspension makes a world of difference in how I feel after 3-4hrs in the saddle.

My Dean singlespeed has been hanging from a hook, neglected for many weeks now. Both tubeless tires were flat. Since I've pretty much abandoned VOmax intervals for for a while, it is important to find other ways to maintain cycling specific muscle strength. This becomes increasingly important as XC ski season begins. This is one reason I own a single speed. You have to tough it out climbing with just one gear. Steep jump-ups also require explosive force, something I tend to use the granny gear for normally.

I rode the singlespeed to Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro State Forest from my house, only about three miles away. I have a nice 14 mile route I follow in the state forest that is mostly NEMBA built singletrack. Many features challenge me with gears. They become all the more challenging with just one gear. LDT-SF is a lot like Harold Parker - not much vertical change but more than enough roots and rocks to go around.

What a stark contrast it was to bring the singlespeed back out to play. It is so nimble with steep steer angle. It is 5 lbs lighter than my Ellsworth. No gears. No rear suspension and shorter travel front suspension. You just can't recklessly plow through stuff without carefully choosing a line. It was fun though. Despite nearly complete leaf drop, I was cleaning a lot more than I expected to. I did run very low pressure though, about 24 lbs front, 28 lbs rear.

Upon entering the state forest, I noticed the dormant large jumps appeared to have new life in them. In fact, a group of about six guys were working and practicing on them. These ramps are doubles, several of them cascaded down a big hill. The ramps progressively get bigger towards the bottom, about six feet tall. Dug holes between the jumps were about 4ft deep, thus top of jump to bottom of hole was about 10ft. The doubles were about two car lengths apart. These kids were the real deal. They'd push bikes up to the top, then come down in a tight line, catapulting about 20ft above the cavities between ramps. Unbelievable. It was so hard to capture a photo at their pinnacle of vertical due to digital camera shutter lag.

I never saw so many people in this forest before. Numerous families out hiking. Several other groups of mountain bikers, from 2-8 riders. Solo dog walkers. You name it, except hunters. I believe deer archery season started in Mass. It is muzzle loader season at my house, one reason I chose to ride south of the border today. As the crow flies, I live about 0.25 miles from the border. Conditions were very dry on this mild fall day. Not having to deal with 8 miles of ice and snow like yesterday's ride was a bonus. I finished with 21.5 miles in 2hrs.