Saturday, October 26, 2013

Going on 1000 miles

This spring I built up my Santa Cruz Tallboy LTc. My primary motivation in building the bike up is new trails are designed around big wheels with suspension and I'm not getting any younger. Factor in some close calls and dangerous confrontations with motorists this year, I found myself riding mostly off-road again. The Tallboy takes the edge off some of the longest loops I ride locally, increasing the fun-factor of trail riding. I basically fell in love with mountain biking all over again.

The Tallboy has been my go-to bike for much of the riding season. There were a few things I had to adapt to. With 5+ inches travel front and rear with 29" wheels, I could steamroll right over stuff I used to carefully pick my way through with my 4" travel 26" wheel Racer-X. It took a while to gain this confidence.

I have a pretty wide handlebar on the Tallboy. That is the trend these days. Where I used to be able to whiz right through tight spots with the Racer-X, I now need to be exceedingly careful. That is how I broke my ankle a few years ago, riding my 29er hardtail with a wider bar through tight trees.

Perhaps the biggest adjustment riding the Tallboy is wheelbase. Tight switchbacks become much more challenging, as you feel more like driving a school bus than a WRX. I'll take that hit in handling to gain huge increase in stability any day.

As far as the Tallboy frame goes, there is nothing I don't like about it. It seems to be a flawless design. With nearly 1000 miles on the bike, it has gone through the paces.

The only nit I have in the build is the Rock Shox Revelation fork. I regret saving $200 over a Fox fork. The Revelation air fork automatically adjusts negative chamber pressure from the positive chamber that is filled. The problem I'm having is after a few long rides, the negative chamber appears to over fill, letting the fork sag way to far in it's travel (like 30%) when unloaded, and then ramps up very rapidly when hitting bumps. It acts more like an 80mm travel fork than a 140mm travel fork. So after 100-200 miles of riding, I have to release all of the air from the fork via the lower leg screw. This empties and resets the negative chamber. I then re-inflate the fork to spec. The ride is heavenly plush the first ride after, but gets progressively more harsh as the negative chamber pumps up.

I built the bike up with Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires, the snake skin version. I rotated the tires a while back. Interestingly, with almost 1000 miles on the tires, they are only slightly worn. What's up with that? I've always heard the Ralph's were good for only a few hundred miles. From the looks of them, I could go 2000 miles on them. With leaf drop, the Ralph's are a bit terrifying now, so I'm contemplating changing them out for something more aggressive.

Schwalbe Racing Ralph with over 900 miles of trail riding on it.

Speaking of wheels, I picked up a new set in the 4" size. It's that time of year again to start thinking about off-season activities, particularly cross country skiing. I do a little rollerskiing in the fall to begin building up some of the skate-ski specific fitness. I've been using cheap Pursuit rollerskis without speed reducers. That really limits the terrain I can train on, as you cannot go down much of a hill with those things.

I also have a pair of Niflheim rollerskis, which have speed reducers. However, they are quite heavy, and I found the speed reducers to be unreliable and not powerful enough to control speed on steep descents.

So I finally invested in premium rollerskis, V2 XL98's. They utilize a carbon shaft, not so much to shave weight, but to dampen road vibration. They also have a dropped shaft, which improves stability and makes them feel more like a skate ski on snow. Neither of my other rollerskis have dropped shafts. The XL98's have superb speed reducers that are easy to operate and can control your speed on the steepest descents. I was able to try my buddy's pair a while back and really liked them. The company that makes the XL98's, Jenex, is based nearby in Milford, NH, so I was able to swing by and get a CSU club discount on a new set. They still weren't cheap though.

Pretty, eh? Built-in fenders, but not sure I want to take them on wet roads. Not good for bearings.

Four speed reducer set-points. Maximum means you'll probably be double-polling downhill.
Notice the carbon shaft is dropped from the wheel axle.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Not missing a thing (well, maybe just a little)

It's the time of year where Facebook is a steady feed of cyclocross pictures. The CX craze is still getting crazier it seems. I never latched on to CX. Not sure why. With diverse riding background and mad VOmax for an old guy, I could probably do pretty well in CX if I committed to it.

Perhaps there is a subtle reason I never caught the CX bug. It spans the season where I feel most alive as a cyclist. The trails are dry, the air is crisp, and the bugs are gone. Trail riding is at its best in the fall. Competing this time of year would take away much of the enjoyment I derive from cycling I think. There would be pressure to maintain fitness, tapering for weekend races, and hoping you don't get hurt. I don't really do the math on this. My inner spirit just knows this is the time of year to kick back.

Do I miss competition? Maybe just a little. I really don't race that much anymore. This is the second year in a row I've not done a single mass start road race. In fact, I've only put a bib number on nine times this year. I wouldn't rule out one more event this fall. Some guys I know do 10 races a month. I'm on the hairy edge of becoming more of a recreational cyclist than a "bicycle racer." I'm sure some would say I've always been a recreational rider, a Fred even. Whatever. I do what best helps me maintain sanity.

We've been getting a long string of gorgeous riding weekends. This weekend was no exception. Saturday, Mark Suprenant and I hit the North Conway trails. Mark didn't have any races this weekend and was free to check out terrain new to him.  I hadn't been up there since last October. My favorite New England trail is the Red Tail Trail, which descends Black Cap Mountain above town. There's quite a collection of trails around Black Cap. You have to truly enjoy climbing to enjoy riding this side of town. There are rewarding descents, but you have to earn them. We repeated the loop I did last year. It epitomizes Hill Junkie riding.

I took a lot of pictures. I'll let them do most of the talking rather than bore you with details. You can find our track on Strava.

Top of the "wall" on Black Cap trail. Very difficult to clean.  Dog from hikers just over the lip. 

HJ on Black Cap summit with White Horse ledge in background. Photo by Soups.

Soups on Black Cap summit

Another of Soups with Presidential's in distant background

This looks like it doesn't end well, but he avoided catastrophe. I did same thing coming over
that big log. They are spaced exactly wrong.

The quarry

This was probably on Outer Limits trail. Route following became very difficult at times with leaf drop.

Pillar Trail between Quarry and Sticks & Stones

Heading up the Cranmore ski area service road to hit Red Tail Trail.

Red Tail Trail, the final reward of the ride.

Continuous bombing down Red Tail

Post ride we stopped at the Kearsarge Cafe in town for burritos.
Good burritos topped with this amazing hot sauce.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

That's ok, we like honest poachers here!

My weekend plans started falling apart on Wednesday when I brought road shoes for a MTB group trail ride at lunch. Already stressed out from work, I was in a foul mood the rest of the day, to put it lightly. I needed that attitude adjustment ride.

I did get my fix on Thursday. Ended up riding solo and hammered for 90 minutes, riding myself ragged. Was in a much better mental state afterwards. The deal was, Friday was an off day and I hate going into three-day weekends already part way into a hole. So naturally I worked on my off-Friday and did an hour of rollerski drills to ensure I went deeper into that hole.

Friday was supposed to be rain and Saturday was supposed to be nice. Just the opposite happened. It was cold, dreary and misty locally Saturday. I had hoped to do a light local ride and do a bigger ride with the boys on Sunday. But local riding would have sucked. Not sure why I believed the forecast or current conditions for the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, but I did and decided on a whim to head up.

It wasn't until I cleared Franconia Notch that I popped out from under the cloud deck into a brilliant bluebird sky. My motivation level jumped.

Arriving in East Burke, I wondered if I missed that a festival going on. There were hundreds of riders about and almost no place to park. I found a place in a gravel pit adjacent to the normal parking area. Scanning license plates, the biggest percentage were from Quebec, next most from Mass. But there were plates from at least a dozen states present.

Main parking area in town. Auxiliary areas were packed too. Photo taken at end of ride
when clouds started to build.

I went to buy a trail pass. Huh? There was a line out the door almost half way down to the road. I stood in line for a good while, and it just wasn't moving fast enough. I didn't want to burn a half hour of the best daylight just to get a trail pass. I cut out and started riding, thinking I'd pick one up on top of Darling Hill or back at the office after I finish my ride. I did not plan to come back to my car until I finished riding.

After 10 minutes, I wasn't even to door, and there was long line inside.

Trail conditions were mint. There were a couple normal wet bits on the Burke Mountain stuff, but otherwise just enough moisture in soil to keep dust down. With leaf drop nearly complete, it was also much brighter in the woods than I'm accustomed to.

There was steady stream of riders coming down Burham Up, my preferred way to begin climbing up Burke Mountain. Nobody was riding up. I could only assume an awful lot of shuttling was going on. Once I got above the campground, I had the woods to myself. I got almost all the way down Moose Alley before encountering a group.

From Shire Trail, an uphill only trail (doesn't get much traffic). Brought crappy TS4 camera.

Magil Field looking north.

Heading over to the Darling Hill side, there was massive congestion. There many packs numbering 20-30 riders.  I struggled to not let this frustrate me while climbing. A lot like rush hour traffic, really. There's not much you can do about it.

What caught my attention was how many women were out. I'm not talking wives and girlfriends, but moms and daughters too, even groups of teen girls. No slouches either. I'm sure many of them could school me on a trail or two.

I hit the obligatory descents off Darling Hill - Troll Stroll, Tap and Die, and Sidewinder. Sidewinder is beat to shit. A couple of the apexes are trenched out almost three feet deep now, taking away most of that half-pipe sensation. The descents through the bottom of the gully are horribly rutted, presumably from noobs braking. It is not obvious at all how this trail can be repaired and armored up. Might be easier to scrap it and cut a new one. Riders have loved this one to death, literally.

Food stand at top of Sidewinder.

I've been hitting the Kingdom Trails for many years now, and I've never ridden up to Heaven's Bench. I'd see the cute cliche photos on Facebook, and I'd see the trail on the map, but I never put the two together before. So today, riding solo, I rode up to Heaven's Bench. Ah-ha, now I see what everybody sees from this vantage point. There is a bench placed on an open knoll with meticulously groomed grass. The view is grand in almost all directions. I think this will be a staple of all NEK rides to come.

Taking in the view from Heaven's Bench

Looking southwest from Heaven's Bench

Working my way back to town, I hit the Ridge/Rim descent, second only to Moose Alley in my opinion. The consequences of messing up in a few places could be quite severe with exposure to the gully below. To cap off an awesome ride, I finished with Kitchel. A string of groms filed in behind me. The pressure was on. I carried uncomfortable speed on my plush sofa bike. I got the most air I have in a very long time. Think I was even shaking a little when I got to the bottom.

I swung back by the KT office as I finished and asked for a belated trail pass. I believe it was the director that took my $15. I told him I was all set and didn't need a ticket anymore. He said "That's ok, we like honest poachers here!" He gave me a ticket anyway just in case I changed my mind and wanted to ride more.

It was certainly one of my best NEK rides. I finished with 40 miles, vertical mile of climbing in 4.2hrs on the Garmin. Strava tells me I PR'd at least 10 segments.

The drive home

No thanksgiving turkey sandwich for the drive home. There were so many people about I just wanted to get out of there. I didn't drive more than 20 minutes before I was back under the cloud deck. Most of the way home was dark, foggy and drizzly. Wifey says it stayed that way at home all day. Heading up was a major score. Unfortunately, going at it three days in a row put me in a deep hole, and riding with the boys on Sunday buried me. A story for another time...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Nature's Kaleidoscope

On Saturday I revisited a loop in the Upper Valley area of Vermont in hopes of riding through some color and exploring new (to me) trails. I got a little of both. I ended up riding solo, as two buddies bailed on me last minute. I don't get worked up over things like this. Heck, I even go on cycling trips by myself and ride in extremely remote areas. The Upper Valley certainly has a remote vibe to it.

I parked in Norwich and started up Bragg Hill Rd. There's a large network of trails I knew little about south of Bragg Hill Rd that locals frequently ride. Previous times I've ridden here, I've started by grinding several miles up Bragg or Beaver Meadow Rd to get to the first trail. This time I found myself on rugged singletrack much sooner.

The climbing was steep, the terrain rugged. A few dismounts were required. A deep burn in the legs was set upon reaching the ridge. The riding had a rough edge about it, but very satisfying.

A steep plummet brought me down to one of the great trails in this ride, which I believe the locals refer to as Ben's Ridge trail. It climbs a good while on tight, twisty singletrack. Never overbearing, just steady, hard work. There is a seriously steep punch as the ridge is gained.

Ben's Ridge

On the ridge, I noticed long, white slabs of wood scattered about, like 2x4 sized splinters really. To my left was a large hardwood that was utterly destroyed by lightning. Nothing was left of the tree. 20ft long shards were hanging in nearby trees. I found sections over 500ft away. Amazing, what nature can do. The tree was nearly 18" in diameter. I bet a few tons of wood exploded instantaneously.

Force of nature. Tree was about 18" in diameter. Chunks were hanging in trees all around.

Many shards were daggered into the ground

I'm a little skeptical when I meet people who claim they've been struck by lightning. When you read statistics on this, there's no separation of direct hits, secondary hits, ground current, or incidental injury from heat or flying debris. This tree was obviously a direct hit. Imagine what a direct hit could do to a 160 pound human body. Lighting freaks the shit out of me when I'm caught on a treeless ridgeline in Colorado.

After dropping down the ridge and a bit of road, the Upper Valley Dam (UVD) trail system was hit next. There is an extensive network of singletrack here that sees much more traffic than Ben's Ridge. Highly scenic in river gorges and through open meadows. Wicked climby too. Numerous punchy climbs kept the burn in the legs.

A bunch of climbing out of the valley via paved and dirt roads brought me to the final section of singletrack, the climb up Gile Mountain and the several mile ruckus descent, called Blue Ribbon. Leaf drop varied from 20-50%, so I couldn't get too carried away on unfamiliar surface. It was fun having the sofa bike on parts I could let the speed run out a bit without too much risk.

The climb up to Gile Mountain starts out multi-use, then segregates into biking and hiking trails. Hiking basically heads up the fall line, while biking meanders and crosses the hiking path a few times. Before reaching the split, I met an older couple coming down. The clothing, facial hair, body language said it all. My presence was not acceptable at all. I was getting a hefty dose of stink-eye. I smiled and said hi. If the man could have scowled any harder, his face would have cracked and bled!

I finally dared to climb all the way to the top of the fire tower on top of Gile Mountain. Many hikers were out doing the same. I don't like heights, and cleated shoes on skinny steps on a tower that moves with other human movement weirds me out. The view was good though. The reds had pretty much dropped in the area, leaving only yellows and oranges. Driving over the higher points of I-89 in NH, there was more red than yellow. Go figure.

Lookout tower on Gile Mountain

From small tower deck, Mt Monadnock in distance

Blue Ribbon Trail descent

I got back to Norwich with 45.6mi, 6600ft in 5hrs on the Garmin. Despite overcast day with threat of rain, the conditions were perfect. The temp stayed in the 60's all day and the trails were bone dry, much like for the Vermont 50 MTB race the weekend prior.  This is adventure riding at its finest. You won't find the finely manicured trails here like you find at Kingdom Trails. You will find solitude. I encountered only a few people away from trailheads all day. One of my best Vermont rides to date.