Thursday, April 29, 2010

Off-roading in the Alps

Italy is capturing increasing amounts of my free thought time. This will be my first time travelling to mainland Europe. I visited Scotland briefly once. Brett has been to Italy before. We still opted to sign up with a tour group, Thomson Tours, to handle the logistic side of things. I tend to plan my trips to the Nth degree, and planning a first time international trip seemed a bit overwhelming.  I'm already thinking about how once I learn the lay of the land over there, I will plan an independent mountain biking trip. I've since learned that are some pretty good weekly package deals in the Dolomites and endless miles of singletrail to ride over there. The dollar is coming back against the Euro too.

I tentatively plan to venture off by myself one of our eight days in the Dolomites. This will be our second to last day there. What I forfeit is the climb up Mortirolo and seeing the Giro come through. It's not a big mileage day, and I suspect most of the day will be spent socializing near the top. We have three other days to watch the tour, including the last mountain stage on our last day of the trip. We will in fact ride much of this stage, which starts in the village of Bormio where we will be staying, and goes over Passo Gavia.

So what do I have planned for my solo off-road epic? I know what I'd like to do. I probably won't be able to. There's still about 3m of snow at 3000m. We'll see though. It hasn't snowed in this region in nearly three weeks (yeah, I check the webcams every morning over a bowl of Cheerios). I've manged to find three loops of varying length and altitude that I can ride right from our hotel in Bormio. Rental bikes are available.

The green loop crests 2300m and links Bormio with Livigno, another ski town nearby. It goes about 53km when ridden from Bormio in lower right corner. The yellow loop goes slightly higher and covers about 48km.  The loop I'd really like to do is the red one. This crests 2700m and goes about 90km. Both the yellow and red loops cross over into Switzerland, thus they are "multinational rides." In the upper right corner, the red loop crosses back over into Italy right next to Passo Stelvio. Want to know what that looks like right now?

Passo Stelvio at 2758m on Wednesday

Yep, the whole first story of that building is under snow. It is interesting to note that on this day, some kind of motorized tracks showed up at the pass. There hasn't even been as much as a snow machine track up here in a month. I'm told they come through here with heavy equipment towards the end of May to dig it out.

So how do you think this bids for an off-road excursion at the same altitude? Not good I'd say, unless I was up for a few miles of post-holing. I've done it before in Alaska. Not fun, but rewarding none the less if you can get to places you might never see again in your life.

Passo Stelvio is the number one climb I want to hit in Europe, ahead of Ventoux and Alpe d'Huez and others. It is the highest motorable road in Europe. It also has around 50 switchbacks down one side, stacked one above the other. Hope the road is cleared for our trip.

About a vertical mile below at around 1200m elevation, things are looking much nicer in Bormio. The grass has turned green. The snowline continues to recede up the slopes.

Bormio at 1200m on Wednesday

How can you look at this and not get excited? The valley that disappears into the distance leads to Passo Gavia. The road to Passo Stelvio goes to the left of this image.  My desired route would go well above snow line right now.  I wouldn't come over the peaks though.  If it continues to stay warm, I might get lucky. Lots to look forward to.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

So that's what the back of the pack looks like

Turtle Pond Circuit (or Circus?) Race
I was beginning to think I had home court advantage at Turtle Pond. I've won the last two times I raced here. A couple days before the race, the Race Predictor had me pegged as the clear favorite. Then Tom Francis (Bike Barn Racing) signed up. This knocked me down a spot.  I was so relieved, as the Race Predictor said I had to win, else I was a total failure.

I had unsettled feelings going into this race. Like last year, the field was stacked with OA/Cyclemania guys. They weren't going to just let me ride away for a win again. Along with Francis, another guy I was told to keep an eye on was Fabio Piergentili (WH Bagshaw). I think Race Predictor had him pegged for third, just behind me.

Lining up, we were informed that Hot Hole Pond Rd was taken out of the course. It contained a very steep, punchy climb.  It was opening day of fishing season, and this road snakes narrowly through parking and fishing areas at very high speeds. It was just too risky with kids around and stuff. So I thought great, we just lost half the climbing on the course and we have a downhill sprint finish. At least in years prior when this road was not part of the course, the finish was at the top of Oak Hill.

We start off supposedly neutral up Oak Hill, but the pace was enough to get everybody to shut up by the top. It didn't take long before an OA/Cyclemania guy, another guy in a floppy plain blue jersey and one or two others rolled off the front. OA had 9 or 10 guys in place to immediately start blocking. I didn't know any of the riders that rolled off. I wasn't worried at first. I don't think a Sunapee or BOB rider was represented, and surely they wouldn't let this just roll away. I had a few teammates with me too. We played cool for the moment. But they sure did put time on the field in a hurry when we were just putzing along behind the blockers. Nobody wanted to come through and work. I got a little antsy. Tom Francis rolled up along side, perhaps sensing my unease, and commented that we didn't have to worry about those guys. Well, ok, I'll sit tight a little longer. This was my first huge tactical blunder.

We hit Oak Hill on our second lap. I think it was Fabio that unleashed massive killojoules on the upper steep part. Francis and I were right there to stay with it. We actually grew a little gap on the field. I thought this was looking sweet, the three predicted favorites getting away early. We'd catch the few up the road, mince them up, and duke it out three laps later at the finish. Yeah, right.

It was not to be. OA had some strong guys in the field, like Hank Pfeifle. They shut down the minuscule gap on the descent right away. There went a few matches for naught. Coming through the finish, we learned in just two laps, the break away put four minutes on the field. How can this be? I couldn't believe how effectively OA was blocking. Nobody else was getting away either. When you have so many OA guys in a modest sized field, like 15-20% of the field actually, there's no shortage of guys to sit on wheels and not pull through up front.

On lap three, Dave Foley (BOB/Goodale's) comes to the front to set pace up Oak Hill. I thought to myself he must have done a lot of repeats on Blue Hill since the snow melted this spring. On the steeper part, other riders like Pfeifle and myself came by, with the field cresting intact. Hank began the descent. He peeled off the front, and as he drifted back along side me, he looked back to assess the state of the field. As he looked over his right shoulder, he drifted left towards the centerline, unaware Mark Suprenant (Team Type I) was just on the other side of his rear wheel. Wheels crossed, and this catapulted Mark into the air. The sound of the crash was horrific. Sounded like a gunshot going off. Everybody in our field heard it, even guys way back. Not sure what it was, maybe his helmet? Mark hit Hank's wheel with enough force to take Hank down too. Then a third rider cartwheeled over the two of them. We were going pretty fast. This happened at the very front of the field with highly experienced riders. It is a wonder more riders didn't go down.  Just goes to show it could happen to anybody, regardless of how good you are or where you position yourself in the field. This left my nerves in a wreck, like a sick knot in my stomach. I haven't crashed in a race yet, and this was way too close for comfort. With a break gone, I seriously contemplated just riding off the course and going for a long ride instead.

Coming around for lap four, the climb up Oak Hill was more civilized. I let myself drift a few positions back, keeping my eye on Francis. I was surprised he hadn't bolted yet. While I was boxed in, Tom bolted on the steep upper part of Oak Hill. OA/Cyclemania did nothing, even though they were right at the front. I wonder if they didn't perceive him as a threat.  I was stuck. Tom cleared the summit with five seconds on us maybe, looked back, then drilled it. He is quite a bit bigger than me, so I'm sure he can put out mad Watts on descents and the flat. He was gone. It would be interesting to see if he could take probably more than four minutes now out of the lead break. Not staying at the front this go around on Oak Hill was my second tactical blunder.

The rest of our field remained intact. Things were looking like a massive bunch finish for fifth or sixth place now. I asked my teammate Brian if he felt like he had a sprint in his legs. I didn't want to go into a forty man sprint. Especially if a podium spot is not even up for grabs.  I don't practice that stuff, and I'm apt to cause a wreck. I thought I would just go to the front when the pack typically slows down a mile or so out from the finish and string it out, with Brian a couple guys back. I'd bury myself to the line, with maybe 10 or 12 guys coming around me. It was either that, or I'd just stay way back and stay safe. But Brian wasn't keen on that plan. So now I was in a mode of just wishing this race was over. It was so frustrating. I had good legs. I could kill that climb, but not kill it enough to stay away on my own. Nobody else could get away either, unless OA let them. They surely weren't letting me get away.

We climb Oak Hill our fifth and final time. It probably was a hard pace. I don't remember. There were several attempts to get away from the field on the back side of Oak Hill. I initiated a few of these. Keith Button (CCB) launched a few attacks of his own. None were permitted to succeed. Two additional riders did get off in the fourth or fifth lap though. One was an OA guy, so this was permitted. The other might have been Piergentili, so they were golden.

Just before the right hand turn off Oak Hill Rd, two riders were dangling just off the front. Things were beginning to get disorganized, so I launched hard again. The right-hander is a narrow road and easy to miss. It seems our course marshall disappeared. The two guys ahead of me missed the turn, then like a lemming, I missed it, head down, going all out at 30+ mph. I TOTALLY missed the corner and couldn't figure why the other two guys were skidding their tires to stop. I thought flats. But then I looked back to see our field in total chaos, half of them riding through the front yard of the corner house. We turned there only four times already. You'd think we'd have learned it by now. Really beside the point. Where was the course Marshall? That corner is taken at very high speed. What if a car had been coming as we rounded the corner into the on-coming lane without a marshall to warn traffic? Not a good situation.

By the time I got turned around, the field was gone. Along with Jon Eichman (Quad Cycles), we were OTB DFL. Yeah, that just sums this pathetic race up nicely. Jon and I started heading back to the finish at a nice conversation pace. Should we even bother trying to get back on? He said he didn't have much left, so it was up to me. Why not. Let's get this suck-ass race over with. I went into TT mode for a good 7-8 minutes, catching the back of the field just before turning onto the road the finish is on. I thought to myself, I've never seen this view of a race before, from off the back. It was a sea of lime green and double yellow stripe jerseys.

So now with just a couple miles to go, do I stay way back and stay safe, or do I do my kill myself at the front and stay out of trouble that way? As we turned on to School Street, I rode up through the field and kept going, right off the front. I heard yelling behind me. Were they still marking me? For what, 7th place now? I just wanted to go home.  Paul Wonsavage (Onion River Sports) was just off the front too. I caught him, dropped him, now solo about five seconds off the front, knowing full well I just blew everything my legs had left just to get back on this charade and I had zero chance of staying away to the line. It was still over 1km to go. I got caught just as things started winding up. This was exactly where I did not want to be. I have no business mixing it up in the sprinter's realm. Since now we had full road, I just got way over to the left so at least nobody could come around me on that side and hook my wheel. I have no idea what I crossed the line in, maybe fifth or sixth for the field sprint. Who cares. I was ready to go home and enjoy the rest of a gorgeous day. Still haven't seen the results. I wonder if Francis caught the early break and won? It would be awesome if he did. Had I been more careful and gone with him, I doubt I could take him at the line anyway. Sure would have been fun trying.

Mark Suprenant was pretty banged up. A friend drove him home, and he got checked out at the hospital later. He suffered a concussion. I wish him a speedy recovery.  Hank Pfeifle is one tough guy, as he was able to get back into the race, and he was still mixing it up at the front. He's 59 this year! Not sure how the third guy in the crash fared. Guess there was major carnage in the Cat 4 race, upwards of 10 crashes in between the turn off Oak Hill Rd and the finish.  This race left me rather unfulfilled. Doing yard work and shopping with wifey in the afternoon was more satisfying.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

L.A.M.B. Ride

Since I will be in Italy on Memorial Day weekend, I will not be organizing a traditional 6-gaps ride. Instead, a group of us are planning to hit a few gaps on Saturday, May 8. There used to be an organized ride called the LAMB ride, for Lincoln, Appalachian, Middlebury and Brandon Gaps. We'll hit these gaps in a different order since we start in Rochester.

LAMB Ride. Vert is way overestimated by Topo.
Climbs are Brandon, Mid, Lincoln, App.

Last year, about half of the gap riders opted out of the last two gaps, desiring to optimize training value of the ride instead of continuing on in full death-march mode. We plan to do the same on the 8th. The goal is to stop briefly only twice for water over the 6+hour ride and maintain a brisk pace. We will not be racing against the clock.

Not sure how big the group will be yet, we have about six definites with a few maybes. I'd like to keep the group intact over Brandon Gap, paceline over to Middlebury, then pull the stops out. Regroup at the general store on the other side. Then we paceline up Rt 100 to Lincoln Gap. Regroup at summit (it's just too much fun looking at the faces cresting the top), and hopefully stick together again until we get to base of App Gap. Regroup in Waitsfield at our second and final water stop. It is 25 miles back to the cars on Rt 100 with a little blip in the middle.

This happens to be the same day as the Sterling Road Race. Brett and I wanted to get one more distance day in the legs before heading to Italy, and this weekend worked out best. If you're not doing Sterling and would like to join us, drop me an email. I'll send you the details. Don't have a start time yet, but probably in the 9-10am range. Foul weather cancels.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Roadiest MTB Race

Root 66 series Winding Trails Fat Tire Classic
I struggled right up to the night before which bike to bring or even which field to race. I seriously contemplated bringing my singlespeed. After pleading with Charlie for some intel on gear selection, he only commented that my stock setup (46 inch-gear) would be woefully inadequate. Rummaging for rings and cogs, the biggest gear I had on hand was 51 inch-gear. For my anticipated average speed based on last year's race, this would still leave me spinning out wildly on many parts of the course and would put my cadence at a very high average for the race. I bagged the singlespeed idea.

This left me with two other choices. Last year I raced my 26" Dean Ti hardtail, which has been out to Dean for warranty repair six months now. Don't get me started on that one. So I have my new 29" Superfly hardtail or 26" Racer-X dualie. Yeah, I know, I'm spoiled to be faced with such a dilemma. I presumed that since it rained three days straight at my house, it did the same two hours away at the race venue. I didn't want to subject the newest addition to my fleet to the kind of torture it endured at the Burlingame MTB TT a couple weeks ago. The drivetrain on my dualie is due for an overhaul soon anyway, so it was selected for Sunday's abuse.

Arriving at Winding Trails in Farmington, CT, it was surprisingly dry. Locals said it really didn't rain at all Saturday or Sunday. The course looked firm and tacky. Sport riders coming through indicated not all of the course was in pristine condition though.

Warming up, I could have sworn I showed up for a road race. Roadies everywhere. I was definitely in the right place for a mountain bike race. Most of the riders in my field registered day-of like I did. There were 28 of us in the Cat 1 40+ group, nearly double last year's field. No Corner Cycle guys this time, but there were a few other worthy contenders to ensure a lively race. Kevin Hines opted to race in the Pro/Open category this year.

It was around 50F and very windy. The sky went from bits of sun to very dark and threatening rain and back again. Our race got started behind schedule, and we stood there close to 30 minutes in spandex freezing our asses off. Everybody was shivering. It would end soon enough once we got going.

The start was quite hairy. Too narrow, loose rocks and sand with riders squirreling all over the place. At least it was uphill and not fast. I'm not big on hole-shots. Mountain bikers have it all backwards. You should strive for negative time splits. It is essentially a time trial, right? Well, maybe at Winding Trails that is not quite true. More on that shortly.

One rider I was going to mark was Mark Gunsalus (Team Fuji). I knew a couple of the other riders in the field were quite strong, but I've never raced against them head to head. Mark was in my Battenkill field last weekend, and I tried to take a place away from him at Hilltowns last year but failed. Mike Rowell (NEBC) and Brian Cantele (Benidorm) were sure to mix it up at the front.

We go off and I got buried in the hole-shot. No worries. Except the slinky effect was extreme. Brake hard, accelerate hard. Non-stop. I started making some pretty sketchy passes. With younger Cat 1 fields staged just two minutes apart, it didn't take long in the first lap to start passing them. I completely lost track of where the faster guys in my field were. Mark was many riders ahead of me. The course doubles back on itself in many places, so you could keep tabs on guys you wanted to catch or stay away from. Towards the end of the first lap, I finally got on Mark's wheel. I buried myself to get there, a pace completely unsustainable for even another lap. We had three more laps to go.

The course was in mint condition, except for one spot. There was a small extension added to last year's course. Instead of coming down a steep bank into a muddy area, we continued along the ridgeline until popping out near the road. Then we doubled back along the park road, cutting back into the woods just in time to catch the giant wallow pit. This was something right out of a Midwest hog farm. Smelled almost as bad too. The goo was so deep you couldn't keep your feet out of it. It was tenaciously sticky. One pass through this 50ft stretch might as well have been an entire course of mud. It took a whole lap just for the chain to start sounding normal again and the brake rotors to stop making grinding sounds. Glad I took the older bike after all. To add insult to injury, there was a new hill in the course that was uber steep, just nicely doable in my middle ring. From the looks of tracks, most riders chose to run up this sucker.

After catching Mark, he took an inside line at the top of the starting climb and bobbled on the off-camber chicane. Maybe it was deliberate. I kinda wanted to sit on his wheel for a bit and recover. No such luck. I ramped it up, and putting any distance on him was painful. At least I was riding through less traffic now, having passed most of the 30+ age group. Completing the second lap, Mark was no longer in sight. My second lap was my fastest.

Lap three was mostly riding in no-man's land. Every few minutes I would catch and pass another rider from a younger age group or a single speeder that was staged ahead of me. I'm not sure, but I think one of the riders I passed was Mike Wonderly (Nerac/Earth Cycling). Towards the end of lap three, Mike was back on my wheel. He was in my age group, so I had to do something about this. The deal was, I was smoked. We were going so flat-out hard that I couldn't even drink from my Camelbak. I would have just inhaled it into my lungs. So my plan was sinister. The average speed on this course was clearly high enough where drafting mattered. I would attempt to sit on Mike's wheel and then use my newly discovered explosive sprint to take him on the slight uphill finish. Sounded like a plan, eh? I had no idea what place we were going for, but I was reasonably confident it was a podium position.

The fourth lap was a hold on to Mike's wheel and pray ordeal. 25mph and 12" off somebody else's wheel through the woods? Yep, roadie skills to the rescue. Mike made a few sweet passing moves, nearly severing the aero bungee cord I so desperately needed. There were two moderate climbs on the course besides the new wall just before the finish. I could easily stay with Mike on these, so my confidence grew in the outcome at the finish. It was the high speed brushing shoulders on trees stuff that I had trouble with. Mike was super smooth in the tight stuff.

So now we're about 300m out. I've spent a whole lap shamelessly glued to this wheel. Will I have the goods? Mike discretely locked out his fork. Oh, good idea, me too. And my shock. Then he jumps up to the big ring. Oh-oh. If this was going to be a big ring affair, I was doomed. I stayed in my middle ring so I could accelerate more quickly. Mike jumps, I do too, choosing to come up his left side. The finishing chute goes off to the right, and on the previous three times we went through here, we forked to the left. We were clearly warned at the start how to finish.  Finish to the right! So I'm rapidly coming up Mike's left as he starts drifting left. Next thing you know, I'm looking at stakes and yellow tape. WTF! I thought he's going to run me into the tape to keep me from passing him? I didn't want to take both of us down, so I braked hard as he completely cuts across my line. He was finishing in the lap lane! By the time he realized it and tried to come back under the tape, I crossed the line. I guess it was one of those anaerobically induced haze events.  It was all good after we caught our breath.

That was probably the hardest 100 minute steady state effort I have ever done on a bike. There is zero recovery on the course, always on the rivet. The tacky conditions allowed great speed to be carried almost everywhere, but it also increased the rolling friction. This meant you had to work disproportionately harder to carry that speed vs. last years concrete hard dust bowl conditions.

When results were posted, it turns out Mark Stotz finished just ahead of Mike and I to take the last podium spot. Rowell and Cantele took first and second. So fourth place for me again just like last year. My average speed was slightly faster this year, but I had to work way harder for it. It was 40 degrees colder this year too. I would have thought I'd be quite a bit faster this year, as I raced the day before last year and it was so hot. But you can't discount the tackiness of the surface. Great for control, but not necessarily efficiency. Last year I beat singlespeed rider Charlie by 60 seconds. This year, 64 seconds. Spooky how similar my last two races were compared to same races last year. Same place finish, slightly faster. Wonder if that means I'll win Turtle Pond next weekend?

Other than starting a little late, the event seemed to be very well organized. There were over 350 finishers this year. That is more than last year, which was significantly more than the year before. A lot of roadies come out to this one. Winding Trails and the old Watershed Wahoo course are the only two I could go all-out for 100 minutes and not dab once. This race nicely fills the void left when the Wahoo ceased to exist, although the Wahoo played perfectly into my hand with two monster climbs per lap. It was easy to win the Wahoo. Winding Trails has just enough tight twisty stuff to temper the pure hillclimber types.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Surprising Tire Results

I've always believed burly knobby mountain bike tires were slow. You could hear the slowness. Anything that buzzed loudly on pavement has to be slow, right? Likewise, tires that feel smooth and make more wind noise than tread noise must be fast, right? I put these assumptions to the test in a semi controlled experiment.

I tested four different tubeless tires, shown in the chart below. All the tires have Stan's sealant in them.  I meticulously adjusted the break calipers to ensure no rubbing, as even a nuisance amount could skew this test. All tires were inflated to exactly 30psi. The test consisted of rolling down a 1-2% grade from a dead stop, then recording the instantaneous speed on the computer after a run-out on nearly flat pavement. Total distance, slight descent plus run-out, was about 100m.  Max speeds attained were in the 9-11mph range, so wind resistance, while significant, would not totally dominate this test. The pavement is smooth, sheltered in a forested, dead-end culdesac behind my house. Wind was negligible. It was lightly drizzling, temperature around 40F. Kitted up, I weighed 170.8 lbs.

First up were the Panaracer Fire XC Pro's on my Dean Singlespeed. These are 26" UST tires, 2.1" wide.  Tread is about half way worn down. I've always believed these to be slow. You can hear the soft, squishy knobbies scrub on pavement. They grip superbly well in slimy rock and root conditions however. That is why I like them. There was some variability in the speed at the mailbox where I noted it. Average was 7.77mph.

Next up were the Kenda Nevegal's on my Titus Racer-X. These too are 26" UST tires, about 2.2" wide, with tread half worn.  These look burlier than the Panaracer's. The knobs are spaced further apart and buzz noticeably on pavement. I didn't expect these to be faster than the Fire XC Pro's, so I was surprised by how much faster they were. They averaged 9.10mph. I took four initial measurements, then two more at the end of the test just to make sure wind wasn't affecting the result. It is interesting to note how consistent these measurements were, all within +/-0.1mph.

Next up were the Bontrager 29-3's on my Gary Fisher Superfly. These tires are 29" tubeless-ready, about 2.2" wide, and almost new. They are fairly quiet on pavement. I expected these to be faster than the Nevegal's, but they weren't. Note that the Nevegal's and 29-3's are both mounted on wheels with Shimano XTR hubs. Not all hubs coast the same, a variable I didn't want to "control out" in this experiment. At least they were faster than the Fire XC Pro's, and they had similar handling characteristics on dry trails.

Last up were my favorite tires, the WTB Mutanoraptor's. These are 26" UST tires, 1.95" wide, with tread about three quarters used up. I fully expected these to be fastest. They roll very quitely on pavement. I've been riding these for at least five years now. So I was dismayed to see they were the slowest of the bunch. I took an initial four readings, came in to check for brake rub and even removed the chain from the cassette so I would not have freewheel resistance. This made no difference in the final two readings. The rear wheel has new bearings and cassette body in it, but it spins very nicely on the bike stand. I'm pretty sure it is all tires.

Just as a sanity check, I brought my winter beater road bike out for comparison. It has Michelin Pro 2 Race 23mm tires inflated to 115psi. Assuringly, it rolled faster than the fastest MTB tires. The table below summarizes all the results. Note that I use corrected average. I double checked the rollout circumference of each tire against the calibration setting in each computer. There were some minor discrepancies, so I mathematically corrected for that.

Fire XC Pro




Pro 2 Race

Raw Data

8.3, 7.9, 7.4, 7.7 mph

9.2, 9.3, 9.3, 9.2, 9.2, 9.1 mph

8.2, 8.8, 8.6, 7.7 mph

7.7, 7.1, 7.5, 7.6, 7.2, 7.1 mph

10.2, 10.2 mph

Bike Weight

24.5 lbs

26.9 lbs

24.1 lbs

27.1 lbs

22.5 lbs


Dean SS






Mavic Crossroc

Shimano XTR


Mavic Crossmax


Tire Wear






Corrected Avg

7.77 mph

9.10 mph

8.35 mph

7.35 mph

10.15 mph


New bearings in rear


The shocker here is what I thought would be one of my slowest tires was in fact the fastest, and likewise, what I thought to be my fastest was my slowest. I suspect the Nevegal's use a harder durometer rubber than the other three tires. I suspected this before the test in fact, as they don't stick nearly as well to slimy surfaces as the Fire XC Pro's or Mutanoraptor's do. Thus there would be less knob scrub on pavement with this tire.

DaveP actually rode this set of Mutanoraptor's in Tucson, while I rode the Nevegal's tested here. I wonder if my ability to keep up with Dave this time was due to loaning him slow tires? He's going to hate me now. Just because the Nevegal's were rolling 24% faster and the measurement mailbox does not mean they have 24% less rolling friction than the Mutanoraptor's. Far from it. There is way more going on here. There is an integration effect on the initial slight grade that accumulates rolling friction effect. That's partly what makes this test work, so you aren't measuring tiny differences in speed. I expected to measure tenths of a mile per hour difference, not whole miles per hour differences.

So what can you conclude about the performance of these tires on trails? Obviously, in certain conditions a paved roll-out test would not predict at all which tire would provide the best performance on varied terrain. The closest condition to my test here would be dry hardpack. Sometimes we get this in New England. Some of the tires here would be poor choice in muddy conditions. Different course conditions demand different tire pressures too. Dropping another 5psi could shift the results.

The 29-3 was the newest tire in the bunch. I speculate after the tread wears in a bit, it's speed could approach that of the Nevegal. Thus in terms of this test, it seems like a decent tire. My road bike control is the upper limit. No MTB tire will exceed this.  There's not a whole lot of room for improvement for the fastest rolling MTB tire.

One of the biggest take-aways for me from this experiment is that I can easily be influenced by how a tire sounds and feels on pavement in judging its rolling friction. I need to do more experiments like this. The MTB tire industry certainly doesn't. There is good data available on road tires, maybe because most road tires ride over very similar surfaces, so the data is meaningful. Performing a repeatable performance test with MTB tires in a variety of conditions would be difficult at best, if not impossible. Rolling friction is one valuable metric though. I would dare conclude that my Nevegal's will roll with less loss in most conditions than my Mutanoraptor's. This doesn't mean I can race faster with them in all conditions, as the two tires handle very differently in different conditions. I'd like to take this test a step further sometime. All the tires should be tested on the same wheels and bike. I stayed away from swapping tires this go-around, as I didn't want to deal with all that Stan's sealant in the tires.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Abysmal Conditions

It was snowing out when I got up this morning.  With three straight days of precip, the Fat Tire Classic is sure to be nice and juicy by Sunday, even though the area is sandy. I generally suck in these conditions (more than I normally suck), and it wreaks havoc on expensive bike components. I haven't pre-reg'd yet. Have until noon. I may wait until day-of. Bailing out is not really an option either, as I mentioned this event too many times in passing here.

There is an alternative option. I could race my singlespeed in the singlespeed category. I have yet to race my singlespeed in a real MTB race. I did a hillclimb last year with it, heavily modified. The drivetrain is half spent already, plus 8spd chains are far more robust in goop than 9spd chains. The cost in wear and tear on the drivetrain would be near nil. I probably wouldn't fuss with it at all, leaving the current gear (32x18) and tires (26" Fire XC's) on it. I'd likely be spinning out half the time, and the burly knobbies would pick up a lot of mud but grip well on slippery roots. CB2 has no need to worry, although it would be nice if he shared some intel on gearing. I'm chalking the race up to "training value."

Speaking of tires. My Bonty experiment on Thursday actually went well. Earlier this week, I mounted 29-3's on my Superfly, with explosive effect. At lunch, I did a lively Mine Falls + Huron Cove ride with Steve G on his Yeti dualie. I dropped the pressure down, without a gauge. The fast trails in Huron Cove are generally smooth, hard packed, and covered with pine needles. The 29-3's hooked up extremely well when leaning over at speed. The tires felt quite supple over rooty areas too. They did feel sluggish on pavement, probably due to low pressure.

In Mine Falls, I cleaned the rocky chute and steep bank climb by the dam effortlessly. I was overall impressed with the handling. They did not burp, but I never hit anything hard enough to bottom out the tires either.  The tires do have some wobble in them. It could be one of two things. The tires went on the rim very easily, and thus how evenly the beads are seated around the rim is questionable. I suspect though a second reason is the culprit. It appears the tread cap is not perfectly formed on the tire casing. I've seen this a lot in Specialized tires years ago. I did not notice it riding, but I bet if I went down a paved hill at 40mph, I'd feel it.

When I got home, I measured the tire pressure with a dial gauge. 22psi front, 25psi rear. This is lower than I'd want to race at and explains sluggish performance on pavement. What I like about the WTB Mutanoraptors is they seem to roll fast on pavement at any pressure.

There are two truths in tires. The first is they always weigh more than advertised. In the 29-3 case, as much as 23% more. The other truth is they are never as wide as advertised. After a break-in ride, my tires are still about 0.1" less width than advertised. This ain't bad for a 2+ inch tire. I've had tires come in much narrower than this. The tires will stay on for now. If I do decide to bring the Superfly Sunday, this is what I'll be racing. Have to see how Sunday's weather shapes up.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Went out for a checkup today. I was pretty sure of the prognosis but wanted some confirmation. I haven't had a checkup since last season. There are two places I can go for a checkup during the work week. One is Chestnut Hill near Amherst, the other is Uncanoonuc Mountain in Goffstown. Chestnut is closer, about 12 miles away. Uncanoonuc is about 17 miles away. My legs were still reeling from a hard weekend, so I figured a longer warmup would be good. Uncanoonuc it would be.

So what kind of checkup is this, you ask? Benchmark of fitness. I have many year's history on these two climbs. I usually go to Chestnut, and I have more visits there on fresh legs than Uncanoonuc. Chestnut takes 8-9 minutes to climb, Uncanoonuc takes 5-6 minutes. Guess which one hurts more? It's not the longer one. I wanted to experience some real hurt again, something like Stage Road towards the end of Battenkill.

SteveG and I got in a good warmup on the way with some leg searing openers.  Then came exam time. Summit Rd gains nearly 600ft to reach the summit of South Uncanoonuc Mtn. Parts of it are greater than 12% grade. There was an unfavorable wind at the bottom where it is open and not too steep. I gave it a good shot anyway with my Ridley Noah. I reached the summit in 5:40, exactly tying my personal best from August 2008. This PB was a week before Mt Washington when I set my PB on Washington that year too. That was in August. It is only April right now.

I've been feeling pretty good on the bike lately. It is something you just know. A simple timed climb confirms it. Some may say I'm peaking too early. I'd believe that if I was putting in crazy hours on the bike. The months of January and February saw only 4-5hrs per week on the bike, and half of that was recovery pace. The bike hours went up last month after the Rangeley Loppet. I can attribute this level of fitness to two things. The first is several hours of rigorous skiing per week. You can't obtain better cardio stress than skiing up mountains. The other thing I've done a little differently this winter is when I wasn't riding recovery pace, I was riding a big gear at high power. This is not necessarily aerobically intensive. I saved that for the skis. But it surely did put some hurt in the quads. I don't do strength training in a gym. This was the next closest thing I was willing to do. A singlespeed in hilly terrain works well, or repeats on a dirt hill pushing a big gear works too. I did a couple hours per week of this.

So where do I go from here? This kind of fitness is good only for certain things with my skill set. Hillclimbs are one of them. I'm missing Equinox and both Washington's this year. I just may have to see if I can eek out another PB on Ascutney or Whiteface. Mad W/kg for five or thirty minutes also plays well in hilly road races. I was thinking about doing less road racing this year, not that I do many road races anyway. Need to think more about that. Nothing jacks your adrenaline more than contemplating a break move or approaching the finish with others. I love mountain bike racing, which really isn't "racing" in a tactical sense that road racing is. It is more like an individual time trial where considerable handling skill is needed. And therein lies an issue. Even with over 10 years of training, I can still acquire higher levels of fitness. In technical terrain, I seemed to have lost ground in handling skill. Maybe it's just fear of breaking bones getting in the way. I don't know. It's easy to gravitate toward your strengths. It's your comfort zone. I've always been a process driven athlete and need to keep things that way. Chasing results ultimately does not have a happy ending. I think a little exploration outside my comfort zone is needed.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Here I go with tire experiments again

IBC finally got some Bontrager Team Issue 29-3's in. I've been wanting to run these on my new Gary Fisher Superfly. In the interim, when nobody local had these tires in stock, I went with some Hutchinson Toro tubeless ready tires. They are great all-mountain tires but not race worthy tires for dry or hardpack conditions. They are quite slow on pavement. The Hutchinson's went on the rim quite firmly, and I was able to inflate them just as easily as tubed tires with a hand pump. In fact, I ran the rear tire at 19psi through the gnarly Burlingame TT course with nary a burp. That rim bead design combined with the Stan's Arch rims has my complete confidence.

The Bontrager label claims these team issue tires weigh 600g. In the hand, they felt heavier than that. So I put them on the one tool every serious rider has in their basement, the gram scale. Sure enough, one tire weighed in at 725g, the other at 740g. That's 23% over the claimed weight. I could see 5-10%, but 23%? I thought I'd be saving half a pound over the Hutchinson's, but this was a wash.

So tonight I got around to mounting my new 29-3's. The first tire went on the rim way too easily. That right there gave me pause for concern. How secure will this bead seal be when running low psi over typical New England gnar? I tried to inflate the tire with hand pump. No matter how I fussed, the air escaped as if there were no tire on the rim at all.

So I go to the compressor. Even that took some doing to get initial rim seal. My procedure is to put a few pounds in, inspect the bead for even seating, then inflate the tire past normal riding pressure to firmly seat both beads around the tire. The tire is rated to 50psi. I put in about 45psi. I was grasping the tire in my left hand, ready to lift it to my face for further inspection, when the entire bead blew off the rim. W.T.F! My hand went completely numb and both ears were ringing fiercely. I couldn't even move my fingers, they stung so badly. Stan's sealant covered a quarter of the basement - floor, walls, equipment, even the ceiling.

Stan's sealant floor to ceiling

When I got over my initial state of shock, I was pissed. I paid good money for these top-of-the-line racing tires. Sure, I would never race them at 45psi, but if they blow off the rim at less than rated pressure just sitting there, can they be trusted at any pressure on rough terrain?

I did remount the tire, careful to not go above 30psi. Racing pressure would probably be around 25psi I think. My concern is that the bead is too "stretchy" to hold tight around rim. I hope to get out for a test ride on these tires Thursday. I haven't decided yet if I will race my 29" Superfly or 26" Racer-X on Sunday. I haven't had a trail or race mishap due to tires in a long time now. I hope the Bontrager's don't let me down.

Currently, my favorite tubeless racing and all around riding tire is the WTB Mutanoraptor. They don't last very long, but they roll fast and the low profile sticky rubber knobbies grip everything. I've been riding and racing these for many years and have yet to have a mishap with them. They are getting hard to find now and are not available in 29".  I keep trying other tires. I have a whole wall full of barely used tires, a collection that could rival the shoe collection Imelda Marcos amassed.  At least Imelda Marcos liked her shoe collection. I hate my tire collection.  Every time I see it I think about how much money is tied up in them.  Time to have an Ebay clearance sale.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Best recovery drink on the planet

The Tour of the Battenkill has been the informal kick-off to the cycling season for me five years in a row now. I first did the race in 2006, racing in a masters field (35+) for the first time, and won. This year's race was going to be challenging. The Westwood Velo guys would be there again. A heinous wind was forcasted. And it would be chilly. Driving over the Green Mountains of Vermont, there was a light snow dusting on the high peaks that fell overnight. At least the probability of rain was now down to about zero since the front moved out.

As for all long road races, I do minimal warmup. I take my chances I won't have to go all-out first thing in the race. Lining up at 12:30pm, the sun started to come out and the temp broke 50F. I ditched the knee warmers. The only cool weather articles I wore were wool socks and arm warmers. I was nervous. This would be my first group ride this season. Yeah, I haven't done a hard training ride with more than one other person yet this year. Now I'm lining up with the best on skinny dirt roads.

We go, neutral for a bit. As soon as the pace car peeled off. Roger Aspholm (Westwood Velo) bolted. Just like that we're strung out single-file at 30+ mph. We'd catch him, then another Westwood guy would attack. This was the exact opposite of last year's race where everybody was talking the first 5 miles. I sensed a plan in action here. One of these launches would be for real.  I did not want to miss a successful break, but I've learned my lesson too many times chasing everything that goes off the front or trying myself early in the race. The Westwood guys were softening us up, making us complacent for when THE break happened. Last year Roger dispatched Todd Cassan, then single-handedly controlled the rest of the race to ensure his teammate's win.

Well, in all the mayhem, Roger, Fred Thomas (OA/Cyclemania) and Sammy Morse (Corner Cycle) got away. I was boxed in. They rode away from us after we passed through the covered bridge. So this year Roger was going for it, and his three teammates would work to ensure his success.

We reached the dreaded Juniper Swamp Road climb. The gravel was like pavement. Somebody was drilling it. I had no trouble staying right at the front though, unlike last year. It wasn't long after Juniper Swamp that Sammy dropped back into the fold. Now only Roger and Fred were up the road. Our pace became ridiculously slow at times with Westwood blocking. With three strong guys policing the front, all attempts to break away were rewarded with Westwood dragging the whole pack back up to them. This was maddening. Pisses you off, yet at the same time you have to admire how well that team works. I got off the front a couple times. One time Mark Gunsalus (Fuji) joined me, but it didn't take long at all until I looked back and saw fifty riders on our wheels.

We stayed at least 40 riders strong through all the dirt sections of Mountain Rd, Becker Rd and Meeting House Road. The gravel was in mint condition. Becker Rd, where I believe multiple serious injuries occurred last year, was an all-out no brakes speed fest. No fear. This year multiple caution signs and volunteers waving flags were in place warning racers of impending doom. I doubt there were any issues this year.

My computer started flaking out. Think the battery was dying. So I kind of lost track how far it was to the final climb, the dirt Stage Road climb. I was really bumming that we had such a huge group still, at least forty guys. Westwood kept it that way. I think if a few of us, like me, Eric Gutbier (CCC/Keltic) and maybe Gunsalus made a go of it, we could have gotten away. CCC/Keltic had a strong contingent of five guys in the race too, and they conceivably could have thwarted Westwood's ability to reel us back in. Kind of like counter-counter measures. But nothing ever stuck for more than a minute.

Were on Rt 59, strong tailwind, heading up a hill. I went to the front to set pace. Not kill it, but hard work. I felt no wind in my face. That meant everybody in the pack was going to work just as hard. We bomb down the other side. A guy in an orange jersey rolls off the front. We were now in a countinuous stream of smoked Cat 3 riders. It was hard to keep track of who was who from a distance. Nobody wanted to up the pace from what Westwood was setting. So I roll off the front. Nothing happens. I apply some power. No response. The orange jersey guy was way up the road now. I thought if I could catch him, maybe we could work together to the end. Due to my flaky computer, I was surprised to already be at Stage Rd. I thought we had 8mi to go, but I knew this was only about 5mi from the finish, 1-2 miles up, 3-4 miles down to finish. I did the only thing I don't suck at. Put out mad Watts up a hill and dare them to catch me. One other rider managed to latch on to my wheel early in the climb. It was Stephen Gray (IRS Medic). We very quickly overtook the orange jersey guy. I hollered out to him "let's earn some cash!" I figured three of us were better than two with forty guys chasing.

At some point, the orange jersey guy petered out. It was just Stephen glued to my wheel. The pack was not more than 15 seconds back at the mid point of the climb. I made sure the Watt-o-meter (the fictitious one in my head) stayed pegged on the flatter parts of the climb. There were about four steep sections. It'd level off, you'd think "whew, glad that's over," then you round a bend and see more wall. Walls are my friends. I continued to bury myself with Stephen clinging on. Then we see two riders with purple numbers. From my field. Could this be Roger and Fred? It clearly was a Westwood and some other guy. I thought wow, were going to overtake Roger? I told Stephen that it looked like the front of our race. He said no, those guys got away earlier. How did I miss that? Must have been snoozing. As we crested the top, we picked up Robert Lattanzi (Westwood) and I think John Spittal (Thru-it-all). We're up to a four-some now, the pack comfortably behind us. Now just if we could work together for the next 3+ miles, which was mostly downhill. I was suspicious of Westwood though. By this point, Roger was probably finished, so no need to block. How motivated would he be to score that third podium spot? John and Stephen worked pretty hard those last three miles. I did my best too, having destroyed myself on that climb.

Cooperation began to peter out at about 2km to go. One of the guys complained, noting the field was right there. I took a couple more hard pulls. We get to 1km to go, then cat and mouse games began. We had very little margin to dick around here. I didn't know any of these guys. I still think of myself as a pathetic sprinter. Maybe these guys are all climber types and my odds are good. Somehow I ended up front and I could not shake the lead. It was killing me. I did not dare take my eyes off any of the other three, and we were spread out all over. We're now 200m to go, I can see guys coming. Steve started to go. I put my head down and launched, immediately coming around Steve. I never looked back. I easily took the sprint from 200m out, securing what I believed to be third place.

I worked my way over the podium area to congratulate Roger and Fred. I also wanted to confirm it was just the two of them up there and third place was up for grabs. He asked me if I was sleeping, as there were four others that came through behind them. I was bummed.  I guess he assumed if I had to ask, I must not have been in that group of four, which included one of his teammates. Results went up. I did get third. I was less than six minutes back from Roger and Fred, which was surprising because of how slow we went at times. Upwards of 40 others finished two minutes behind me. Perhaps I need to reassess my sprinting ability.

From what I could tell, the results posting went smoothly this year. It did not take long from finishing to awards. Timing chips were used. On the podium, we were going to put our hands up without holding the milk and Pepsi bottles, but we had to hold them up for the sponsors. Turns out Pepsi's last minute sponsorship saved the race from being cancelled this year after a primary sponsor backed out. I gotta tell ya, that Battenkill Creamery chocolate milk is the best recovery drink on the planet. I chugged the whole quart within minutes of awards, getting an icecream headache in the process. I hope podium finishers continue to receive quarts of this fine post race beverage for years to come. It is a nice touch.

Just like last year, Westwood dominated this race. Last year Roger worked for a teammate, this year the team worked for Roger. It seems most races I do with the Westwood guys, I make the podium (Balloon Festival, Battenkill 2x). Probably has to do with how the race is controlled, and I have lots of killojoules left in the tank to do my thing in the last miles of the race. Probability of a win is near nil though. Another Battenkill win would be nice. What if I had made the early break? Would three been a crowd, and would I have been ejected? It's a fine line between being too cautious and too aggressive. I should have been more assertive earlier in the race I think.

Our race was a lot faster this year in harsher conditions. None of the other fields that did 62 miles finished faster than the masters 40+. My energy level stayed high despite hanging out close to the front for the whole race. I ate more than usual, a Mojo bar, bag of Sharkies and a Gu. I didn't cramp, although I sensed precursors. I speculate whether I found the solution to my cramping problems. I've been doing much more low rpm work at moderately high power levels. This basically means mashing. Singlespeeding on the Cape this winter is one way I work this in. Last year I went into this race lacking confidence in my fitness. I now know how well XC skiing preps the body for bike racing. In fact, I had only 100 hours on the bike since the beginning of the year. That's about 7hrs per week. Many of those hours were recovery. Add another 50 hours of intense skate skiing to this, that builds a solid base.

Next up looks like a mountain bike race down in Connecticut. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bike issues

Work has been eating into my internet time lately. Things could stay that way for a while. Better than the alternative, I suppose. Not much on the news front anyway.

Three of my mountain bikes are out of commission right now. Last weekend I had another one of those stick sucks derailleur into spokes catastrophes. This happened on my Titus Racer-X riding at Otis. It wasn't quite as bad when this happened to my Dean Colonel riding at Trail of Tears a year ago. That time I sheared off the derailleur, broke the cable, housing, hanger and chain, but no spokes.  I have bad luck with derailleurs on the Cape. When you consider that I go with singlespeed most of the time, the probability is really high I'll have to sink major cash into my bike when I bring gears. I managed to get my Racer-X working well enough to ride back out. I didn't shear the derailleur completely off, and I snapped only one spoke.

When I built up the Racer-X, I ordered extra Shimano XTR spokes. The factory built wheels use totally custom spokes, and they can only be ordered from Shimano through an authorized dealer. I paid an outrageous sum for five of each length. My derailleur was toast, a brand new Shimano XT Shadow I just put on there. The derailleur hanger was salvageable. I figured a few minutes on the truing stand, I'd have the wheel in good-as-new shape. But no. The spokes are straight pull. The hub end of the spoke is threaded like a regular spoke is for nipples, but it does not thread directly into the hub like Velomax wheels did. A miniscule ferrule threads onto the spoke, and this wedges the spoke into the conical spoke hole in the hub. The ferrules do not come with the spokes, and I lost it in the woods. Do you think any retailer on the planet would have these in stock? Nope. IBC had to place an order with Shimano for me. My dualie is sidelined for a part that is a tenth the size of a spoke nipple. Really blows. I could pull a rear wheel from another bike, but...

My Dean Colonel hardtail is down too. The Mavic Crossmax SL rear hub tossed its cookies. A little research shows the plastic bushing they use in many of their hubs wears out quickly, causing a loose cassette and ghost shifting. I also discovered the main bearing on the non-drive side is toast. More expensive parts and long wait to receive them. That's two bikes out due to rear wheel issues.

My Dean Colonel SS is not operational now either. The Stan's sealant in the tires went dry, and now they don't hold air well anymore. This is nothing more than routine maintenance, and if I had more time, like by not blogging right now, maybe I'd take care of this issue. The rear wheel is even stripped down right now, no cassette, brake rotor or tire. I took it to Tucson as a spare.  I keep more spare parts in my basement than some small bike shops.  These failures exposed holes in my normal high level of preparedness.

I still have my new Gary Fisher Superfly. Nothing wrong with it. Scared to take it out with the streak I'm on. Being a 29er, I have zero spare wheels should something happen. I'll probably be racing it in another week by default.

Here's the Battenkill dilemma I had to deal with. I bought a set of Michelin Pro 3 Race 25mm tires specifically for the Battenkill race. The new course direction last year put the willies in me with the 40-50mph off camber turns on loose as marbles gravel. I figured a quality clincher with a little more width would be less apt to knife into the looseness. I mounted them on my Rolf Prima Vigor wheels, which went on my Ridley Noah road bike. I been riding these tires for a week now. I love the compliant feel the extra millimeters give. The Ridley is a very stiff frame, and the bigger tires dampen out most of the road vibration. They seem to roll just as fast as the 23mm Michelin tires I normally ride. They should be faster on non-paved surfaces.

So here's the deal. The seat stay does not provide enough clearance for 25mm tires. I thought maybe a couple hundred miles on the tires would take the peak of the crown off, and I'd be good to go. Over the last couple days, I've hit bits of gravel. Even sand sticking to the tire is enough to scrape inside the brake arch. I'm guessing there is about 500um of clearance in there. That is about 0.02" or less than 1/32" for the dimensionally challenged. Heavy rain is expected tonight in New York. This potentially will produce superb gravel conditions for Saturday's race, but moisture in the gravel will cause my tires to pick some of it up, and all I will hear will be sand grating in my stay. Not sure if this would actually slow me down much, but it will certainly bug the heck out of me.  The rear 25mm tire came off. The fork has plenty of clearance, so I will race with 25mm up front, 23mm in back. I really wanted the wide tire up front anyway for control on the loosies. The bigger rear tire would have been nice for increased pinch flat margin.

There's a gap in there if you look really hard.

Am I being unreasonable in expecting to be able to run 25mm tires on my Ridley? There's not a whole lot of clearance for 23mm tires either. You'd think Ridley, of all bike companies, would design adequate tire clearance for less than ideal race conditions. I think this frame would seize up the rear wheel if used on the muddy cobbles of the Paris-Roubaix.

Other than a 25mm front tire, I will be running the same setup as last year - 38x27 minimum gear ratio, Michelin Pro 2/3 Race tires, Michelin latex tubes. My race starts after noon. Could be a cold day.  Might even see new snow again driving over on Rt 9 through Vermont. It is expected to be very windy. The Battenkill course is highly exposed to the wind. Makes for some tactically challenging conditions. Looking forward to it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Vitamin D Overdose

When a New Englander heads to Tucson in March to ride, applying liberal slathering of SPF50 is instinct. Despite riding nearly 20 hours in the sun two weekends ago, I did not develop any tan lines. The dermatologist I saw last year would have been proud of me. In fact, he told me my arms should stay the same color as my shoulders. Being of northern European descent, it is apparently pretty important I protect my skin from UV. Skin cancer is a hideous disease.

Today was an off-Friday for me, and Brett was free to hit some hills. He's worried I got in 20,000ft of climbing in Tucson, and he's done very little so far this year. Our daily climbing average in Italy will be 8200ft per day, the last day being over 100 miles and 12,000ft of climbing. Yeah, I'm worried too. It is one of Thomson Bike Tours most aggressive tours. Today we finally had a chance to ride local hills in copious sunlight.

Since the seasonal roads are still closed in the White Mtns, our plan was to do Gonzo Pass (Rt 118) both ways, then Kancamagus Pass both ways. This is good for 8300ft of climbing in 79 miles. DaveP and I did this ride on almost the same weekend last year. It is a heck of a workout. All climbing. Safe descents. Killer scenery.

We parked at the visitor center in Lincoln. No snow there. Temp was approaching 60F to start, so arm and knee warmers were needed. When we took left onto Rt 118, it was free-for-all time. Brett must have been doing something right over the winter. I nearly buried myself on this climb and never got out of sight of Brett. It took me about 24 minutes to reach the top from the stop sign at the bottom. A quality threshold interval to be sure. I was also quite sure I would be punished for this effort later.

Strangely, it was much warmer up higher. This is usually not the case in the Whites. We bombed down the other side, and the temperature dropped again. Climbing Gonzo from the west is slightly shorter, around 1700ft of net gain. The hardest part is the middle section of the climb. I could not resisted turning the intensity knob up again. I owned this mountain.  I knew these were warm-up climbs to the bigger ones on the other side of I-93. Just one car passed us on this climb.

Cresting Gonzo a second time, we had to stop to take in the view to the east. Mt Washington is still 100% snow capped and was brilliantly illuminated. I took my crappy camera with me and it failed to do this scene justice.

White capped Lafayette on left, Washington on right

Back in Lincoln, we shed any remaining long layers. It was now about 70F. Climbing the Kanc from Lincoln is the biggest climb of the ride, about 2200ft net gain in 13.5 miles. The last 3.5 miles are 9% grade. It's a toughy when you have three hours in the legs already, including two sustained threshold intervals.

There was far more snow in this area of the White Mtns, maybe as much as 2ft still in the woods. The roads were dry though. I brought my Ridley out of hibernation for this ride. I swapped the 23mm tires out for 25mm Michelin Pro 3 Race tires with latex tubes in preparation for Battenkill. The rear tire barely clears the seatstay brake bridge. Any sand or grit on the tire rubs and binds up in there. If the BK roads are moist, this could be a problem. Have to think hard about this one. I really liked the road feel of the bigger tires. I've ridden Michelins for many years now, and only the last couple years did I start using latex tubes. Makes a noticeable difference. That high-speed off-camber turn in BK last year scared me. I want to have more control this year. I don't think the wider tires will cost me net time.

Kancamagus Pass

We bombed down the other side of the Kanc to Bear Notch Rd. Another rider came zipping up the Kanc from the Conway and began to head up Bear Notch. I asked if it was open. He didn't hear me. I asked again loudly. He saw I was talking but still didn't have a clue what I said. He was jamming to tunes. He couldn't possibly hear cars. Not smart. Anyway, he said of course Bear Notch is open, it's only closed in the winter. Hmmm, I could have planned a loop ride. Maybe... still looked very wintry there to me.

Brett set a stiff tempo pace back up the Kanc. I was not going to contest the pace, blow up and embarrass myself. I don't know how those Type-I muscle fiber guys do it. Eat nothing, ride all day at hard tempo pace, never slow down. I thought surely one of us was going to pop before the top. Just when I thought about capitulating, Brett shuts it down. Of course, I couldn't let him know I was dying and ready to shut it down too, so I did my darned best to turn it up a notch for the last mile. Yeah, we're all sick like that. I felt early cramping signs coming on, but I knew once the pass was gained, it was all downhill back to the car.

When we got back, I asked at the visitor center if Bear Notch was indeed open. Nope. Guess if Brett and I had waited there a minute longer, we'd see deaf rider coming back down.

I forgot to bring sunblock. A quick check on the web says that 10 minutes in the sun in shorts and tank top can produce 10,000 IU of vitamin D. A recommended daily amount is 2000 IU. By my estimate, I got over 100,000 IU in today's sunlight, about 50x what is needed. I do have tan lines now.

I logged 4.4hrs moving time for the ride. It could not have been more perfect. Little wind, cloudless, dry roads, temp in the 70's, and very little traffic. No need to head down to North Carolina like the last couple of Aprils when opportunities like this open up right in your backyard. I suspect some of our riding in Italy at the end of May will be just like this - riding in short sleeves on warm days with huge snow banks at the passes. Looking forward to it.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Camera made its way back

I'm finally back in possession of my camera I lost on Mt Hopkins near the Mexican border in Arizona. The camera is a Panasonic Lumix LX3. It is not a DSLR, but is about as pricey and takes fantastic pictures for its relatively small size. I absolutely love this camera. Panasonic actually listened to photo buffs who wanted a quality point and shoot that also has full manual control. Panasonic took a step back from the megapixel BS (more megapixels typically means poorer image quality, contrary to what duped consumers believe) and coupled a good lens with a great 10 MPixel sensor. Not much zoom, but very wide 35mm equivalent angle of 24mm. I use it for scenes, so exactly what I need.

I must have taken my fanny pack with the camera in it off at the summit of Mt Hopkins (8500ft elevation) to put my wind shell on for the descent. The one brain cell that was responsible for remembering to put my fanny pack back on must have expired. I rode 19 miles back down without noticing it was missing. Not even when I removed Camelbak and excess layers at the van did I notice anything missing. It wasn't until an hour later and 60 miles away that I realized my error. Even had I realized my mistake at the van, I could not have driven all the way to the summit to retrieve it. The top three miles is gated to public auto access. I would have had to slog up the steepest three miles on totally depleted legs to get it.

There are still honest people on this planet. A University of Arizona research student found my camera, presumably in the evening, as she works the night shift at the MMT summit observatory. The Smithsonian Institute runs a visitor center at the base of Mt Hopkins, a few miles up from where we parked. When I inquired via email if a lost camera had been found the day after I lost it, a kind woman there had just received a report from the summit that a camera had been found. This was doubly good news. My fanny pack also contained the key and address to the Bed & Breakfast we were staying at. The owner Sharon was not too happy with me about losing the key, as she just had all her locks changed and didn't want to have to go through that again.  The Smithsonian just needed me to identify the camera and call in a pre-paid FedEx pick-up to send it back to me.

I finally get to see the pictures from that otherwise great day. I've climbed Mt Hopkins three times now, and this was by far the nicest day. You could see easily a hundred miles in all directions. Despite the snow up top, it was not too cold. Hopkins is not the biggest climb in Arizona. Mt Graham and Mt Lemmon can net more vertical. But those are paved climbs with much more traffic, especially Mt Lemmon with the community of Summerhaven up top. Mt Hopkins is very remote, any further south, it'd be in Mexico. I'll leave you with a few photos from our ride that day.

More than half way up with massive MMT observatory building
at summit

About 3 miles to go. Last part is paved, perhaps to control dust.
It stays steep these last few miles.

Mt Wrightson Wilderness Area to the east

How many switchbacks can you count in this photo? A hoot
to bomb down, but you could never know if a car was cooming.

View to east. Gravel road out to I-19 where we parked 5500ft
below is just visible.

Switchbacks from the summit, looking south. Mexico not too
far away in this photo.

View to north. The Santa Catalina range is visible in distance,
with Tucson buried in smog at the base of the range.