Friday, September 30, 2011

First Ride

This was my first real ride on: 1) a hartail, 2) a 29er,  and 3) on my new 2012 Scott Scale Expert hartail 29er!.   I bought this at Caster's Bike shop in Providence and retails for $2500. It's a lot of bike for the cash: super light and beautiful carbon frame, Reba RL fork w/ remote lock, and XT drivetrain, and some yet to be identified DT Swiss wheels (XR 39?).  All the info on it is here!

I'll start out by saying that I have been told by several respectable cyclist that it takes several rides to make the transition from a 26er (especially a full susp!) and to not judge it until I am at least into my 5th ride.  I'll start out by saying that i really really want to like it:  1) It's a gorgeous bike, so visually it's easy to like. 2) It's a hard tail and I would love to have a much simpler bike and not have to worry about my pivots, shock, etc... and 3) It's a 29er and I am a sucker for fads and raves...
Off to Big River I went for the maiden voyage.  Within 20 yards on the trail, I already had a "urgh...this sucks" moment.  Riding down an easy but rooty trail my ass and back were getting a pounding and the rear end was bouncing.  Once I got my ass out the saddle that made it a little bit more tolerable.  Right, not on a squishy full susp anymore...

The second "urgh" moment came a mile later on a set of little tiny hills on "Piney trail"; a trail I was very familiar with and could probably ride with my eyes closed.  On my worse days I can usually handle the two little hills by dropping just one gear.  Not on this bike.  I had to shift down two or three gears and then had to get out of the saddle and grunt my way over the top at 0.5 mph.  (at least now I understand the concept of leverage and the need for those wide bars).  The weight of wheels was so apparent and getting this bike rolling on anything that pointed up slightly uphill was a chore!

On the other hand, on "Barbie trail", a fast and swoopy trail,  the bike handled very nicely, especially through the turns, as the traction was really superb.  At this point I had adjusted my riding style a little to be off the saddle more especially when the rear wheel needed to roll over stuff.  If I didn't,  the price was pretty high as the bike would bounce.  The worse part of the "bouncing" was not the physical cost, though that was certainly not pleasant, but rather the loss of momentum.  The 29er front wheel would roll over things much easier than my 26er, but the rear suspension on my Spech just swallows the trail.  Having susp on the rear is very much like having a very smart independent child: you can give it half assed directions and it will figure out what to do.  On my full squish, if I can get the front over it, the bike will sort out the rear on it's own.  On the other, the hard tail needed to be micro managed.  I use the word "bounce" above deliberately because the bike was not harsh and really took out the sharpness of the trail.  Unlike my aluminium road bike, which is really jarring, I could really tell that this bike was actually muffling and absorbing that direct transmission of the trail.

After Barbie and it's extension, I rode to "I see dead people", a slightly more technical trail. I had to get there  by a fire road with some minor climbing on it.  Again this climb was a out of the saddle mash the peddles experience and felt twice as hard and twice as slow as my light 26er.

My experience on "Dead people" was very good at first.  Some sections were off camber w/ roots and small baby head rocks.  The bike never lost traction and rolled with ease over everything.  My 26er in this section would need to be micro managed.  I was especially in awe by how well the Scale corned in the really tight switch backs and though the bike looks big, it certain did not steer as such.  On my 26er in the these tight switch back climbs, I would at times spin out the rear end, but no chance that was going to happen with the Scott!  The problem happened when I came to the most technical part of the trail: an off camber large flat rock that needed to be hopped on to.  This section is normally quite rideable and hasn't been an issue for me in the past.  Well, I endoed!  And I endoed again on my second attempt!  Thank fully, though my body took a hit both times, I was able to save the bike!  Filled w/ PO energy, I made it the third attempt but it wasn't smooth or pretty.   Sure 29er role over things more easily, but getting them on top of things they can't roll over is not a given!  I noticed that even over log crossings, I was struggling w/ getting the front end up high  (this might be more a results of wimpy arms though).  Someone had warned me that the the timing on 29er is really different and this was clearly a struggle for me. The same happened on the next trail (Elephant) on an angled log crossing.  It took me several attempts to get the front over it and to clear it without having to put my foot down (again this normally not an issue at all).

The usual Big River picture spot!
Where the bike came to it's own though was on the rocky climb to an overlook (see picture).  The bike rolled with ease over the smaller rocks and did not loose it's momentum, and again the increase grip was terrific. On my Epic I will at times get hung up on the rocks since they are in close proximity to each other.  I don't think I made it to the top faster, but noticed I felt more relaxed when I did get there and it had required a lot less body english.  The bike also did very well on "Allen's Ave".  I never needed to slow down for any of the fast turns and the bike rode like it was on rails. This bike really turns so well, whether it's tight or long fast turns.  The technical rock wall decent was a slight disaster though.  But that was mostly out of fear of damaging the new bike and still not haven gotten over that I had endoed twice already!

When I finally made it out to Cardy road, I decided to feel how much air I had in the tires.  I had pumped them up the night before at Caster's  to 32 psi (I had tubes in there), but they felt rock hard.  I let out a significant of air but not so much that I would risk pinch flatting with tubes.   Ridding the climb to the Hopkins Hill parking lot and the decent on the other side, both a mixture of lots of roots and rocks, the bike felt significantly better.  The bike was not as "bouncy" any more and became much softer; the rear end easier to control..

I finished the ride (as the sun was setting quickly) by taking "Shoot the moon" trail, a fast loose trail with lots of sweeping bermed turns.  I think I touched the brakes only once.  The bike never even felt close to being pushed too hard through those turns and if I had the legs, could have easily handled more speed.  Had I had lighter wheels, I would have been in heaven!

When I got back to the car, I checked my tire pressure and it was at 22 psi.  The pressure did not feel too low though.  Must be that high volume thing.  Maybe my "feeling gauge" is way off but to me the 29er tires at 22 felt like what my 26er would at 28 psi.

My phone data showed that my average speed was 8.1 mph for a two + hour ride.  That is way slow for me.  In Big River my avg will usually be at least in the low teens.  That was really disappointing since I felt like I had put in a serious effort.  I need to find someone w/ a light set of wheels to loan me to make a more fair comparison between my Sworks 26er wheels, which come in at 1400 grams, versus the current DT Swiss at 2000+

This was ride 1.  Four more to go before I make up my mind.  Sunday should be a good ride #2 at the NEMBA fun ride in Arcadia.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New Bike

Haven't ridden it yet but thought I'd post some pics.  Will hopefully spend a couple of hours this afternoon seeing what that whole 29er thing is about.  I am pretty nervous as buying a bike sight unseen and un-demoed is risky.  I will say that this bike in person is absolutely gorgeous!

I was a little disappointed the weight did not come in as advertised (23. 57 lbs) but of course not surprised.
The Shimano 520 pedals are of course a boat anchor as are a couple of other components on here.  First upgrade will be a straight seatpost.  34.9 is not a common size so I'll most likely go with an Easton EC 70 (the largest EC90 is 31.6).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Old photo

Trying to bring this blog up to date (contents and visuals),  I was going through some pictures on the hard drive.  Buried in there, I found the below picture of my ride up the Tourmalet last year.  Though I know it's not current at all, I like the picture a lot and it's the only one of all the pics I took while riding (you can't really get off the bike to take pics as that looks way too touristy) that captures the length and height of the climb.  This was only about 3/4 of the way up.


I haven't blogged about my little bike races in a while.  Shame on me. Mostly that my work's fault.  I really only have the time to blog while I am at work (don't tell my boss).  Once I get home, forget about it... too busy.  Well it's been busy at work for way too long!  Which side tracks me to having to say that I am so freaking tired of hearing people say " count yourself lucky that you have a job nowadays".  Really? Is that what our middle class is being broken down to. No pay raises in several years; increase in benefit co-payments; significant increase in productivity due to staff not being replaced when it should; and we should just count ourselves happy and lucky???   People seriously need to be able to discern between two scenarios. If your company is struggling in the red zone and no one has been laid off, then yes indeed count yourself lucky!  But if your company is posting profits, like most large ones are, then let's face it, if you consider yourself luck, you are just being suckered!  It spells out: more work for less pay so someone who already has enough can have even more!  Anyways, back to the important stuff: bike stuff...

There have been several noteworthy races since the world cup in Windham, and I did not do that race justice in the blog below but I needed to get it out of the draft area it has been living in for the past two months.    

After Windham, there was the Wrath of the Boneyard in CT, a new race.  Great course.  First half was very rocky with a nice techy rock garden.  The second half had no rocks at all and was swoopy loamy single track in the woods.  Very nice contrast between the two sections of that race.  Finished 6th.  

Then there was the mud fest at the Annual Hodges Village Dam race in MA.  Boy did it rain that day!  Just driving my car on the highway was challenging.  Best part of the race was jumping in the creek after the race, bike and all, with fellow racers.  Worst part was ruining new cable set, and all the new bearings on the bike I had just paid an arm for.  That race hurt like a mofo too.  Physically and mentally it was painful pushing through all that water and mud.  Finished 5th. 

 Next race was the Millstone Grind Race in VT.  Went up the day before w/ Mike and Stacey since it was a long a** drive.  To add to it, I screwed up the directions and suddenly realize we're heading to Canada on the wrong highway!  That extended the drive by only a couple of hours.  Millstone is such a fun race course.  First lap was great: Sunny, dry, fast, but lots of tight swoopy turns you have to throw the bike through.  Beginning of second lap clouds had settled in and distant rumbling of thunder could heard.  By the end of the second lap rain was coming down pretty hard and the thunder was getting pretty loud.  By the last lap it had gotten really dark and lightning was striking very very near.  One of the lightning bolt struck so close it shook the forest all around.  I was climbing one of the two hills at that very moment which was not very comforting!

By the end of the lap the rain had stopped and the blue skies were back. I did have a slow leak on that last lap and managed to complete most of the lap carefully enough to not require a tube change.  I was completely flat about 1 mile from the finish and decided to ride it out.  Finished 2nd (out of 4! - in other words, another mid pack finish). 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Windham World Cup, 2011

What a weekend!  Weekends like these are not just great biking weekends, but great "life" weekend as well.  A weekend where I will not only remember the riding but the whole thing from start to finish.  Of course it helped that it was, from start to finish, directly related to cycling!  One track mind...

I had the pleasure to share a rented condo for the weekend w/ Mike and Stacey.  It was right off the Windham mountain. Though the condo was comfortable and well located, I could fill up several pages discussing the frightening decor of the place.  All I'll say it that is even in the 80ies it would have been considered awful by someone from New Jersey (I have actually no idea if people from Jersey have bad taste)!  

We took off from home on Friday morning, and were on the Windham course to pre ride at 4 PM.  The course was the same as last year with over 700 feet of climbing over a little more than 3.5 miles. Not exactly very a very long course. It wound it's way up through the open fields of the ski slopes, with the climbing broken up by sections that would cross the slope horizontally and enter singletrack sections in the woods. The down section of the course followed pretty much the same pattern. In the open sections, the course was dry, but in the woods things were quite slick.  There were a couple of deep mud holes, but mostly it was just a thin layer of wetness that made things slimy and very slick.  The course was very fast in certain sections and this slime was going to make things quite challenging during the race.  We used the pre ride to really look at the lines and practice them. Most of it was quite ride-able even wet as long the lines were right.  There was one steep downhill section that presented as a challenge though. It was quite steep and at the bottom of it had even steeper section with one side being wet rock and the other wet off camber roots.  What made it challenging was that this led into a very tight left turn.  Therefor, somehow you needed to scrub your speed to be able to make the turn or risk going over the edge.  The first time down it, I made the mistake to touch the front brake which skid my bike side ways, throwing me over it.  I was thankfully, but somewhat painfully, stopped by a tree from tumbling down quite a distance. The second and third time down  were more successful but were still feeling somewhat out of control as the bike would skid and slip. 
That night a big storm came through w/ thunder, lightning, and lots of rain!  In the morning the storm had passed, and the weather was clear, windy and dry.  We went to see the pro's race and made it in time for the women's race (Bresset won, and it was great watching her fight off Pendrel).  I was expecting a super wet and muddy course but the wind must have dried everything.  Even the sections that were slick on Friday were now dry.  There were just a couple of big mud puddles left in the cross sections of the course.   We watched the pros on that steep downhill section and which lines they picked.  There really seemed two good lines going down and using the side of the off camber roots to drop into the tight turn at speed. 

We sneaked in one more lap right after the pros were done.  The course was very fast.  Everything was rideable and I got to try both lines down the steep section. Both worked fine. 

Race was Sunday morning at 8 AM and again the sun was out and thought it was warm, the air was nice and dry. 

Two months have gone by since I started this way too detailed report.  I can't seem to finish this now and am so backed up w/ other race reports that I'll just cut to the chase:   Race was great fun, but a little short.  Probably one of the shortest cat 1 races of the year.  Not what you would expect for a World Cup Race.  They do really need to add another lap!  Finished 10th in my category which was a slight improvement over last year.   the end....

On a side note, saw some picture of what Irene did to the area and my heart goes out to everyone there!