Friday, November 27, 2015

Birth of a New Turkey Burner Tradition?

The day after Thanksgiving is typically reserved for "burner" activities. For many years, I've enjoyed the FOMBA Turkey Burner. Held late in fall, weather was pretty unpredictable. Some years were bitter cold with rock hard frozen ground. Others were entertaining in 2-4" of snow. There were a couple years in bone chilling rain, which sucked. Last year the T-burner was cancelled due to pending major snow storm.

This year the FOMBA Turkey Burner was cancelled again, well in advance of the event. Don't know why. The weather turned out to be phenomenal for the day after Thanksgiving, the best in my 18 years here in New Hampshire.

Filling the gap this year, a new cycling club State 9 Racing hosted an informal T-burner event. A different starting venue and very different route were used, something a little more to my liking - longer and hillier! For my non-New England readers, New Hampshire was the 9th state to ratify the current US Constitution, thus State 9 Racing.

The ride overwhelmed the FOMBA parking area on Depot Road. Three groups headed out around 9am, a CX bike group, B-group and A-group. I rolled out with 15 others in the A group, doing an extended route at sporty pace.

A few minutes into the ride, a rider already hit the deck right in front of me. A random diagonal steel pipe sweaty with dew has a way of taking your front wheel away from you. It was so warm out that the ground was below the dew point.  Those of us starting out with long layers were soon removing them. The temp quickly rose above 60F!  Not much recent rain meant the trails were in mint condition too.

The snowmobile corridor Trail 15N took us up to Bear Brook State Park, 10,000 acres with growing network of flowy singletrack. We hit Hedgehog Ledge trail first. I was going to ride the granite staircase, something I haven't done in years. On a long travel 29er, it should be a piece of cake. But then I saw many guys bail on committing in front of me. When I got up to the lip, I hesitated, then it was all over. Once you lose your nerve, its not good to go anyway. I've ridden it many times on a 26" wheeled MTB. Guess I've become more risk adverse over the years. The consequences of botching that drop are severe, but the probability of it going awry is perhaps low. It's a psychological thing.

The hiker-biker lot in Bear Brook was the mid-point of our ride. State 9 Racing had set up their canopy with food table there. Treats graciously provided by one of their sponsors Jake's Old Fashioned Ice Cream and Bake Shop were heavenly.  All three groups followed routes to get us there around 11am, which proved successful. After some socializing, groups shuffled up a bit. The A-group pared down to 10 riders.

We first swung north in the park to hit much of the newer NEMBA built singletrack before working our way south on the famed Hemlock Trail and out of the park. Our route back to FOMBA followed mostly Class VI town roads, often chunder buried deeply with oak leaves. Fortunately, I'm very familiar with this route without leaves and knew where to be careful or what line not to take. More riders hit the deck, fortunately nothing serious.

My sensored Garmin logged 38 miles in 3.3hrs moving time with 2900ft of climbing. Couldn't have been a nicer day, and it was a great group to ride with. Always cool to meet and ride with new people. Everybody has a different riding style, strengths and weaknesses. You always learn something when you see how the rider in front of you plies their strengths and weakness against the terrain. I'll leave you with photos I and a few others captured.

Some of the group gathering before the ride at FOMBA

Andy leading the A-group on Trail 15N to Bear Brook

Group photo op at Bear Hill Pond

Another angle at Bear Hill Pond. Is it really almost December?!

Dodging boulders on Hedgehog Ledge Trail

Hedgehog Ledge. Felt like summer.

State 9 Racing volunteers set up feed stop at the hiker-biker parking lot in Bear Brook.

Mmmm, Jake's baked goods! (photo Doug R.)

Fullest I've ever seen this lot, and we didn't park here! Really cool to see Bear Brook blossom like this, thanks to NEMBA's hard work gaining the confidence of the state to build and maintain trail.

Might be everybody from three riding groups here. Didn't get name of woman who took the photo.

Beaver Pond Trail, sketchy log bridge section. Almost nobody attempted to ride it...

...Jonathan made it look easy.

Dave on Class VI trail, which took us back to towards FOMBA. Note ice on pond and short sleeves. Awesome!

There's no end to the culinary assault I suffer on a daily basis, whether it's our department admin bringing me decadent home-baked goods at work, or in this case Dave Penney giving me a massive whoopie pie post ride. It didn't even list how many calories were in it because you wouldn't want to know. I didn't eat it all (yet). (photo Dave P.)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Rolling quasi-fatty

Finished sealing up the tires this morning and took my new Carver Gnarvester for a ride today. Pretty much flawless out of the box, but I think one tweak will be needed at some point.

The build starts with a Carver Gnarvester alloy frame, which is a "29er+" rig. The "+" means the frame was designed to accommodate an extra wide 29" tire in back, up to 3" wide. That does not make it a fat bike though. Fat bikes can accommodate 3.7" and wider tires. I owned one for two seasons and had to abandon it after experiencing knee pain each time I rode it. To accommodate 3.7" and wider tires, the bottom bracket is widened so the chain and crank arms can clear the tire. This spreads the pedals out away from each other, the so-called Q-factor. I surmised this was behind my knee pain.  A plus-bike uses a standard bottom bracket width, so the Q-factor is the same as all my other bikes. Thus it should not bother my knees. The downside is you cannot put a proper fat bike tire in back for maximum float on snow.

The front-end is fair game for experimentation. The frame does not dictate what kind of tire, or wheel for that matter, you put up front. The diameter of a 29"+ tire is nearly 30".  Fat bike tires come in 26" rim size. Could I mate a 26" fat tire with a 29"+ tire in back? On the surface, there would seem to be huge mismatch, and that could upset the riding geometry and bike handling greatly. But fat bike tires now come in sizes up to 5". What is the diameter of a 26x5" tire? Almost 30"! So there-in hatched a plan. I'd give up some float in back to save my knees but maximize float up front by going as wide as possible. On paper, it looked great.

Over the past few months I collected parts. This was going to be a budget build. I salvaged a few parts from my previous winter beater bike. No carbon wheels. The difference between carbon and steel or even alloy forks is substantial though, so I did invest in a carbon fork. Plus it was critical that I maximized crown to axle distance to keep geometry where I wanted it. The Salsa Makwa fork could accommodate 26x5" and 29x3" tires, so it had generous crown to axle dimension to clear the big tires. Here's the build spec:

Carver Gnarvester alloy frame with sliding 142mm thru-axle dropouts
Salsa Makwa all-carbon fork, 483mm crown to axle, 142mm thru-axle
Sun Ringle 80mm Mulefut rim laced to 142mm Salsa Fat Conversion hub
Vee Tire Co Snowshoe XL 26" x 4.8" front tire, stud-able
Stan's 52mm Hugo rim laced to Halo 142mm Spin Doctor hub
Vee Tire Co Trax Fatty 29" x 3.0" rear tire
Tires and rims all tubeless-ready and set up with Stan's sealant
Shimano Deore triple crank with Gamut TTr 30t wide-narrow ring
Shimano XT 11-36t 10spd cassette
Shimano XT 10spd shifter
Shimano XT pedals
Shimano XT rear derailleur, medium cage
Bontrager saddle
Cane Creek 10-series integrated headset (no standards here anymore!)
Avid BB7 disk brakes with Avid levers
Thomson Elite post
Thomson Elite stem
Easton EC-70 carbon bar

The built weight came in about the same as my Santa Cruz Tallboy, just under 28 pounds. Surprising really, since there are no suspension components.  But when you consider how heavy the front tire alone is, it isn't so surprising (I think I measured 1500g!). The wheel base is about 1" less than my Tallboy. With a light front-end, it should be easy to loft it up on stuff.

The tires set up tubeless flawlessly except for one caveat. When I first mounted the Snowshoe on the Mulefut rim, I did so without sealant as a dry run, literally. It didn't hold air overnight, but no surprise there. So when I went to pop the bead this morning to pour in a few cups of Stan's, I couldn't do it! I don't mean it was hard to break the bead, I mean I tried everything and I could not break the bead in or out of the rim. I even resorted to screwdrivers! No dice.  The rim has a locking grove for the bead, and it locks alright. There is no way, ever, that tire on that rim will burp, even at 0.01psi! It also means if I ever flat with that tire on the trail, I'm walking out.

The Gnarvester at the new Wasserman bridge built yesterday

So how did it ride? In a word, great! The geometry felt spot-on. I started with tire pressures a little on the high side, as it is easier to adjust down than up on the trail. I hit my lunch stomping grounds in and around Horse Hill. Not the most techy area, but plenty of root and rock for a shake down test.

I met up with Arvid at his house by chance. He had a low pressure gauge. I tuned the tires down to 6.5psi front and 9.5psi rear. Those are essentially winter riding pressures, keeping in mind the rear is not a fat bike tire. Arvid joined me for the second half of the ride on a loaner fat bike he just got yesterday. Some spirited riding ensued. What impressed me the most was how the giant tires just steam roll over anything. Not the same as suspension, but still pretty sweet. I nearly wrecked myself several times over steering. The tires behave very differently than the 2.35" Racing Ralph's on my Tallboy. The shorter wheelbase added to the grippier cornering. I repeatedly came close to clipping trees on inside of corners. The 9.5psi in the rear 3.0" wide tire was probably a bit too low. I felt it bottom pretty hard a couple times.

Arvid leading on the Twister reroute the Bully was working on when
we came through.

On pavement, the reduced pressure tires were painfully sluggish. Pavement is not the intended purpose of this bike though. On the trail, I'd say it rides better than my Superfly hardtail with 80mm front suspension. The head angle is a little more relaxed, and the bigger diameter tire makes smooth work of root mazes.

The front tire is so massive it almost looks bigger than the rear, but the
rear is slightly bigger outside diameter.

The one thing I'll have to tweak is chain line. The triple crank places the ring out too far, such that using the biggest cog is marginal. It is very grindy and rough sounding. If I flip the ring to the inside of the spider, it hits the frame. Thus I should invest in a single ring specific crank that puts the ring around a 51mm chain line. That will just clear the frame and tire and give me a little less offset to the big cog.

So now we wait for snow. None in the foreseeable forecast. I'm not eager for snow so I can ride in/on it. I want to skate ski on it. I built up the quasi-fat bike so I can join others on weekend epics and be less disadvantage than struggling with my skinny hardtail on snow machine trails.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Git Yer Flow On

Summer is gone, fall foliage is on the ground. Some wait in dread, others in anticipation for what comes next. It is shoulder season.

When I first got hooked on cycling, that is all I did. Winter came, the bike got put away. Come spring, the bathroom scale indicated my approach was flawed. I learned to ride in the winter.

Similarly to how a friend coaxed me into cycling, other friends talked me into Nordic skiing. It took a while, but I learned to like it.  This took tremendous pressure off trying to maintain fitness and health over the winter months using only the bike. The best part about skate skiing? It was just like mountain biking in terms of aerobic intensity, exhilaration bombing down trails, and mental therapy. Snow had become something to look forward to, not dreaded.

But what about that season in between, you know, where cycling starts to suck and skiing isn't quite ready yet? Well, yet others lured me into hiking this summer. Yeah, anybody can hike, so how could it match the intensity and thrill of cycling or skiing, I wondered?  I learned it can in many ways.

When Soups invited me on a Presidential traverse this summer, I thought that is the quintessential New England hike, and I have to do it before moving someday in the maybe not too distant future. I prepped for several weekends leading up to the Presi traverse in hopes it wouldn't kill me. It didn't. Was that a one and done effort, back to regularly scheduled programming? I couldn't let this new, budding ability simply go to waste.

Mt Hancock on a gloomy October 25, but still oh so green.

Late last winter I bought winter hiking boots and snowshoes but never got a chance to use them. I intend to this winter. Why not maintain, even build on the hiking base I started this summer? I was noticing other little benefits from it that might serve me well in ways not immediately obvious.

For one, I have become considerably more agile on my feet. I have a terrible tendency to roll ankles. In fact, when I first started hiking this summer, I wore ankle braces for descending. Now I don't even bring them with me. Don't even think about it really. How can this be?

There's two parts to this I think. One is simply strength conditioning. Stronger tendons and stability muscles can do a better job stabilizing and ankle. The other is neurological. It now seems, after many weeks of long, technical hikes, my ankles just know what to do when planting on uneven ground. Control seems to be automatic and immediate. I can't help but think this will pay dividends on skis, as balance is such a critical aspect to skate skiing.

Mt Osceola, August 23

Another hiking benefit is upper body workout. I hike with poles and use them like I mean it. The poles aren't there just for balance. I use them to double-pole myself up big step-ups, catapult myself over big gaps, and let myself down big drops. Lots of uphill bounding work. Triceps are sore after some hikes.

I've also noticed improved hip mobility recently, which could only be from hiking.  All of that awkward lateral movement hiking rugged White Mountain trails is stretching parts of me out that have never been limber, even as a child.

Mt Kinsman North, on a frigid November 8.

Hiking shares a common trait with mountain biking: you get to chose your "line." Most of the time when riding a narrow singletrack trail, your line is chosen for you. But sometimes rough terrain offers many lines to pick from. Challenged riders will attempt the easiest path, while more skilled riders will hunt for the trickiest line. Most hiking trails in New England are brutally rocky, and there may be more foot plant combinations to hike a given section than there are stars in the sky. You can dance bounding leaps across the tips of boulders or take a safer, lower profile approach. As I gain confidence, I tend to take more daring lines on foot.

It is this aspect of hiking, the required focus and attention needed while interacting with the terrain, that puts you in a flow state of mind. I used to think only cycling could do this, but then learned skate skiing can work even better with it's rhythmic motions. Now, as I'm gaining stability on my feet and worry less about injury, hiking can also be a good flow state inducer.

Presi-traverse, August 8. Photo by Soups.

I don't intend to give hiking up anytime soon. I suspect long hikes have limited training value compared to structured intervals on the road or skis, but the other nuanced benefits outweigh any perceived shortcomings. I hope to pursue all of these activities for many years to come. Could this balanced, diverse approach be the closest thing to the fountain of youth?