Monday, June 24, 2013

Niner Single Speed First Race!

When I started racing years ago (oooh. almost 20 now!), I never thought I would ever return to the sweet simplicity of one gear.  It's always been more gear combinations for optimum cadence, lighter weight components to offset the larger number of gears, or plusher suspension to ensure a smooth continuous pedal stroke aimed at maintaining 90 rpm! 

Single steal the phrase made famous (well sort of) by the company Niner Bikes....just "Pedal Damn It!" 

This was to be my first race on my "new" single speed.  I picked up a few months ago in a slightly used a word I love it.  "A return to a simpler time", I've said before.  Indeed.  One gear.  No suspension.  Cadence?  Yeah right!  Just "Pedal Damn it!"

So the scene was set for my first race which was to be at Cannonsburg Ski you say?   Last week, a tractor trailer at work had flattened by race bike.  Wheel, front brake and fork were damaged beyond repair and the frame had split on the top tube.  The BB95 bottom bracket had cracks in it and cranks were floppin in the wind.....single speed it is!  Here's an actual pic of the event:

Anyway, aside from the tragedy that befell my trusty Superfly, I was ready.  The venue was not ideal.  I was going to be in store for a fair amount of climbing.  But I figured hey, this bike is like 3 lbs lighter than my Superfly so I should go uphill quick as lightning.....right?  Well, not exactly.  I would say that I made it up the hill and we'll leave it at that.

So I signed up for the expert/elite single speed class.  I've raced plenty of expert races over the years and this is sort of where I've peaked.  I don't train enough to race with the pros but I do well enough to stick with the pack in the expert class.  Somebody forgot to mention that the expert/elite single speed class was made up of anything but normal people! fish

So I'm at the starting line waiting for my turn to go.  The order appears random with single speeds (ss from her on out) and gear bikes all intermixed.  I raise my eyebrows at this as I was always under the impression that geared bikes were faster than ss.  Why slow the big guns down, you may be asking as well.  Did I mention this is where the animals hang out?  I'm looking from man to man seeing a bunch of 4% body fat jackals salivating at there chance to take the hill.  I believe I must've looked a bit out of place as there we're no veins evident in my "softer" physique.  I took a deep breath, and said to myself, "let's just go out and have some fun.  First time out on the ss, don't blow up on the first hill."

Fast forward to the start.  This is a time trial. Riders are going off every 15 seconds to try and split the pack a bit.  I'm seeing all these monsters take off motocross style slinging dirt as they blow off the line.  I clip in and notice a geared bike in front of and behind me.  The guy in front looks about "average" for the expert class.  The guy behind me I believe was actually breathing fire.  What are these guys on?  Anyway I watch the guy in front of me take off and thankfully doesn't bury me in a pile of roost. 

Now I'm nervous.  15 seconds is all I have to try and take off and maintain a gap to the top of the hill.......oh wait the hill. I almost forgot that the starting line was at the bottom of the ski hill.  No we didn't go straight up the hill, but it certainly wasn't flat either.  I mentioned I was on a single speed right? 

Beep, beep, beeeeeeep........I'm gone (no roost, but I think my back tire may have slipped on the rubber mat;)  I hit the hill and I can actually see the guy that took off in front of I pinned it.  I don't know why I do this.  My body certainly wasn't ready for it.  I tried telling myself to relax, this was my first race on the ss after all.  Just relax.  Uh huh.  So up I went absolutely throwing myself at the hill only 45 seconds into a 2 hour race.  Brilliant! 

I pass the guy in front of me with 1/4 of the hill still to go.  He mutters a meager, "go single speed".  My heart rate is north of the Alaska at this point, I'm drooling and I'm 2 minutes into the race.  Great!  After a few more miles of rolling and twisting single track, I settle in and begin to feel in a groove.  Just then the raging, fire breathing, bull scoots past me in shower of sparks as he rams through multiple gear changes. 

After this I settled in for a lonely couple of laps, catching and cruising past a few geared riders while several other geared riders returned the favor.  The only other single speeder I was to see that day was the beginning of a few ripples.

I heard another rider approaching from behind.  I was about two laps in and had started about 3 position (1 minute or so) ahead of another monster looking ss rider.  So far I hadn't seen him since the starting line and was beginning to gain some confidence that I may not get passed.  As I rolled through a twisty portion of the course, I glanced back to see him methodically chewing away at my fragile lead.  I was already running just below the ribbon, so when I kicked it up a notch, I gave up "comfort" for speed and proceeded to hold him off.

When I use the word comfort, this isn't the easy does it, tip-toe thru the tulips type comfort.  This is more of the 170 bpm, snot blowing, comfort.  This is the zone I usually dwell in before my hands begin to shake.  So when I kicked it, I knew I couldn't sustain forever.  And alas as I began to lose focus (and yes, shake a bit), I dipped a little to tight on a down hill corner, lost sight of the trail and rocketed into the undergrowth. 

Crashing stinks anytime it happens.  It really stinks during a race.  There's dirt all over everything, you don't have a second to check if your gear is good, or wipe the blood off.  You just get on with the mud and blood and turn the pedals over until the stars clear......This of course was no longer conducive to holding off the onslaught of the on-coming juggernaut.  He caught and passed me.

I cruised through the finishing area after lap two and must've looked a bit peaked. Christa and the girls were there and while Carys shouted words of encouragement, Christa asked how I was doing.  I felt better knowing that they were hanging out on the ski hill having fun supporting my bad habit....

It took me a mile or so to recover before I started putting good turns together and the nice thing about the single speed....less stuff to break.  No excuses, my bike was fine, and so was I.....yup, step on it!  I kept the big man in sight occasionally and to my delight began to draw him in on the climbs.  I took a few chances and passed a few riders in "less than opportune" patches, but overall was just below the ribbon and doing ok. 

Now I had worked my way to within striking distance (about 6-10 seconds now) when I heard but did not see, what sounded like a grizzly bear crashing through the woods.   I slowed but did not stop as I approached a small withered looking bridge over a ravine.  Off to the left was the ss'er I was chasing.  He apparently was pushing it as well.  He was laying off in the woods several yards from the trail down in the shallow ravine.  I shouted out a quick "are you ok?" and when I received the response, "yeah, that was close" I knew he was good and pedalled on.  He later recovered much like I had, but finished overall about 20 seconds back.  The rest of the day was fairly uneventful.  No sprint for the finish, only a few more passes (both on the giving and receiving end), and a gentle downhill glide to the finish.

My results:

26m 25sec , 27min 44 sec (crash lap), 27 min 20 sec, 27min 10 sec.

10 out of 13 in the Expert/elite ss class
29 out of 60-ish overall expert class

Those ss guys are fast fish indeed!  As always, I hope to improve and stay competitive.  Hoping to do better next time!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Single Speed.....Inaugural Ride with Team Sandbag

I've always had an itch to own a single speed mountain bike.  Why a single speed mountain bike?  It seems odd that there are so many different kinds of mountain bikes  to be had these days.  Cross country racers, all mountain, heavy downhill rigs with 10" of progressive rate travel.  You pick your poison and there's a cure for what ails ya!  A single speed is something different. A simple solution in a convoluted sea of choices to go out and just pedal and ride.  No planning your shifts before that big climb, no dropping of the chain ant that ill timed moment on the trail, no extra parts dangling off the bike to slow you down or complicate your ride or repairs.

A few years ago, I built one on a budget from left over parts in the garage and a few purchased parts on-line.  I invested around $550.00 bucks (which to some may sound like a lot for a mountain bike with no gears), and used it mainly as a commuter.  My ride to work at the time was only 2 miles so it was fun to bounce up and down curbs again and in my mind harking back to a time when things were less complicated.....add some mud puddles (and maybe training wheels) and I'm 5 years old again!

I took my new single speed to the trail and it performed adequately, but was not obviously built to handle my 190 lb frame.  I blew spoke after spoke and stole replacement ones from another old wheel hanging in the garage.  Because of my budget, I chose the cheapest brakes I could find to stop my new ride, which it did poorly when it came to trail riding.  I also had issues with the chain popping off.  Due to my budget minded build, I used a cheap cog for the rear wheel and a recycled front chain ring that was never designed for the loads I was generating on the trail.  I soon was missing teeth from my chincy Shimano chain ring borrowed from an old geared bike.  Alas, this was not the simplicity I was after

The search continued. 

I stumbled onto a guy selling a used Niner One've got to love that name, I don't care who you are!  Niner is the brand (built in Colorado), One 9 is their in house designation for single speed only.  I searched for reviews feverishly wondering what owners had to say about the bike.   As usual people either loved it or hated it.  The basic premise of chain tension adjustment is a simple concept when you're a 40 lb 5 year old on a bmx bike.  Slide the wheel back, tighten, and boom!  Go ride.  When you're a 200 lb adult, the stresses placed on this simple mechanism are simply too much to hold the wheel and maintaining chain tension can be a night mare.

Enter the Niner EBB or Eccentric Bottom Bracket.  Not to bore you with technical detail, suffice to say a picture is a worth a thousand words (well to mountain bikers anyway):

The front Sprocket Moves fore and aft by rotating the spindle inside the EBB effectively tightening and loosening the chain.

Anyway, many complained of creaks and groans, and others say it works just fine as long as you set it up per the manufactures specifications.....I'm a specifications kind of guy, so I'm satisfied.

I looked at the bike in September of last year (2012) and was ready to purchase.  We came across a house at that time however that would derail my plans to return to a simpler time of one gear and no hassles.  The dream (well, that one anyway) would have to wait. 

We bought the house, moved in and were exceedingly happy for it.  That of course is another story.  Fast forward 6 months.  We squared away our financials, rented our old house and once again I resumed my quest for the elusive single my surprise, the same One 9 was still for sale.

I contacted the owner, drove down, gave it a once over and realized, though several years old, this bike was well cared for.  I threw it in the back of the van on a cold rainy March afternoon and admired it in the rear view for the next hour on the return trip home.

The ride already!  Right.

So, the maiden voyage actually occurred a couple of weeks ago in a mud soaked corner of Michigan, slogging through mud in 36 degree weather, wind blowing through the naked trees of spring.  While interesting, this was not the ideal stomping ground for my new machine.

Yesterday was more like it.  60 degrees, Sunny with a light wind.  Destination Pontiac Lake Recreational Area.  2 laps around a 10 mile Loop with some ready and willing Team Sand Baggers.

6 of us in all (even a couple of Canadians) hit the trail without so much as a roll out and I was riding my new trail scalpel turning 120rpm for the first half mile....whew!

We hit the first climb and my trepidation began.  I was nervous that I had no bailout, nor granny gear to save me should I run out of power.  I was also reminded that I was the one who signed on for this as the "Pedal Damn It!" sticker (the moniker for Niner Bikes) on the top tube so subtly reminded me.  I was out front (I was afraid of getting dropped on the climb so I tried to get a head start) as we hit the base of the first major climb.  I settled in to grind it to the top and noticed that it wasn't as bad as I was afraid of.

I was 5 again!  Now I just needed that mud puddle!

I picked my way up the climb and finished the first two miles off the front of the group.  Heart rate was nothing to be proud of as I was pinging north of 190 bpm......but hey, I signed on for this!

The rest of the group joined me a moment later and we began the roughest, rooted, rocky section of the course.  This is where I would test my mettle for certain.  For not only was my new Niner a single speed, but a rigid nonetheless.  That's right, no suspension.  Oh, picture would be appropriate at this point:

So down we went.   I was pleased with the handling and quickly realized that the rider not the machine would be the limiting factor in this pairing.  Overall the carbon Niner fork did a great job soaking up all but  the worst of the bumps.  I was running 35psi in the tires and will likely drop a bit more on the next run. 

We rocketed through multiple sections, transitions, and climbs and I was immediately entranced with the quickness and handling of this surgical instrument!  It's like there's a rail system in the woods as you hook up and carve around obstacles and banked turns.  I was able to hang on with the Team Sand Baggers for the entire ride and was immensely happy with the performance of my "new" bike.  The exit of the trail proved that I could do one other thing I had previously thought unattainable.....we hit 25mph on a gravel section, which likely pushed me near 150rpm!  Yeah it wasn't pretty as I was bouncing and bobbing all over the seat, but we got er' done!

As I hit the parking lot, my hands were the only thing aching.  The pounding at Pontiac Lake was substantial.  I'll be swapping out for a wider handle bar to hopefully increase the leverage for the climbs as well as the bump absorption for my hansds.  All in all though, sore hands were a small price to pay for a return to a simpler time!

St. Patties Day Weekend Bike Ride, Hmmmm...............Michigan in March

Yup, there's always a possibility that it'll be a little chilly in Michigan in March.  My brother and I have a fair amount of stuff going on in our lives so the times we get together are often few and far between.  We (and admittedly mostly me) try to pack in an abnormal amount of activities in way too short a time span.  Case in point:  St. Patties Day weekend. 

My brother and Brooke (his amazing girl friend who puts up with him and his brother on said weekends) were set to arrive late Friday night.  As usual, there were a few things going on leading up to that weekend.  They had committments until 5-6pm and were hustling over to try and get here by 9-10pm.  They arrived with no fanfare to be welcomed by Christa and I (who have lately found it difficult to stay up much past 10pm) and a few cold "Blues" to share before bedtime. 

Me, "We need to get to bed kid.  Big day tomorrow.  Bike ride and Port Huron St. Patties Day pub crawl.  Temps and weather are looking ok".
David, "OK Scotty.  What's the weather look like again tomorrow."
Me, "Little chilly, nothing we haven't seen before"

Fast forward to the morning.  There's some snow on the ground.  Not a lot, maybe a couple of inches.  The wind's blowing a little, but not too bad.  And the sun......well, there wasn't any sun, but it was like 34 least it wasn't freezing!

We had a little breakfast.  I love to cook breakfast on the weekends.  A combombulated version of egg nog pancakes and ham, egg, and cheese sandwiches.  Perfect.  My two daughters (Carys and Harper 3.5 and 1.5 yrs respectively) love pancakes.  I think Brooke has a secret addiction as well;)

I try not to open the shades before we're ready to leave.  My brother has a habit of draggin his feet when it's not 70F and sunny (sorry Hoon), so I hope that he hasn't been hardwired to the Droid with weather updates throughout the night.  Alas, I throw back the shades and yup, it's ugly out there.  I think for just a minute, I may have even flinched a bit for this one. 

Me, "ready for this"
David, "yup, waitin on you."  This said from the couch, still in his leisure suit.

So we suited up and threw our legs over the mountain bikes for what was to be an interesting ride indeed.  We kissed the girls goodbye (all of them....Christa, Carys, Harper an Brooke) and headed out the door.

We cruised out of the garage and thankfully did not head smack into a headwind.  This allowed us to "warm up a bit".  Unfortunately, we were wet 5 minutes after we embarked.  I mentioned it was 34 right?  OK, well then:

David, "Scotty, I feel like this is the stupidest ride we've done to date.  Is it?"
We're getting older and I thnk our memories aren't what they used to be.
Me' " Nah, I don't think so.  Well, maybe ride, but we've run in worse conditions.  Remember Escanaba, Three years ago or so.  25mph headwind.  25F and you talked me into that run?"
David, "Yeah, except the part about me talking you into it.  I don't seem to recall the facts the same way, but yes I remember the run."
As I said, memories.

Anyway, the slush is flying, we're talking like we always do on the bikes, and life is good.  We have about 3 hours until we depart for the pub Crawl.......which was the original reason for gettin together this weekend......Our plan was to meander down the back roads, hit a few neighborhood trails through the subdivisions and keep the pace light.  Thankfully, there was only a few inches of snow on the ground as we pedalled our way out of the subdivision.

As we continued to head south, David begins to ask when we'll be tunring around.  I say we're good, haven't gotten started yet, really.  Neither of us carried a phone due to the conditions, so the exact time wasn't well known.  Time seems to pass easily however when conversation is flowing, and I may have misjudged the turn around point a bit.  Little did I know we had been on the road for an hour already and had no intentions of turning around just yet.

We made the turn nonchalantly a few miles later and began to criss cross and retrace our steps toward home........and there was a headwind......and we were wet......and we had a pub crawl to be on time for....and Christa had planned for some company to meet at our house ahead of time.  I was oblivious to all of this and defer to the fact that I have no real understanding of Einstein's theory of relativity (whatever that means;)

We cruised from back road to school yard, through subdivisions and back yards as if we were still in grade shcool kicking around the neighborhoods on BMX bikes.  We complained of work and both felt better about it afterward.  All in all, it was like a day at the beach (except it was 34 and slushy with a 14mph North wind).

As we pulled back into the neighborhood:

David, "Scotty, we have to get a picture, we look like hell and we need to get this ridiculous event on film for surre."
Me, "sounds good kid, I'll grab the camera when we hit the garage.  We have to go quick, I can't really feel anything below my knees at the moment."

I also hadn't realized we'd been riding for over 2 hours

We hit the garage and Christa must've heard the door open.  She had a look that seemed to combine, "Really, you know we have people coming in 20 minutes - and in only her way - just hurry and don't be late!"  Amazing what you can read in a look;) 

She's the best girl on the planet by the way.  No one, but no one understands me better and I'm the luckiest man in the world to have her support.  I'm addicted to her and the girls and teh bike.  Sometimes the time isn't always there for all three and she gives me the strength, backing, and balance I need when I know I'm short changing my duties.

Needless to say, no pictoral documentation of the ride.  I will say that it took a full 2.5 hours to dig the salt and grime from the drive train.  We were riding singlespeeds by the half way point as neither bike would shift at all.  I kicked the rear deraillure a few times and as the ice chunks ground through the drivetrain, just decided to let it ride.

We made it just in time for the pub crawl gang.  They showed as we were tidying up the mess in the garage (showers came first obviously).  The guys were impressed at our tenacity, the girls rolled their eyes, and all in all I was glad for the time spent on the bike with my brother.

And it was only 1:30pm.........time for the St. Patties day pub crawl.......But that is another story!