Thursday, January 22, 2015

62 Miles of Mud and Snowpack

Triple D 2015
Mostly mud.

Utah Steve, PhD and I drove down to Dubuque on Saturday for the eighth running of the Triple D Winter Race. The weather had been warm, and the worry was that we'd be riding 62 miles of mashed potatoes. Turned out on the pre-ride that most of the snow was gone, but thankfully the ground was still frozen. We also attended the pre-race the night before and got some valuable insight into the course. Had dinner at an Italian place downtown and turned in for a long but somewhat restless night's sleep.
(Utah Steve and I at the start, photo courtesy of Utah Steve)

It was just below freezing and sunny at the start. race director Lance had wanted to say a few words, but the natives were restless and a couple of long-time vets sounded the rollout gun at 10:00 sharp. We were supposed to stage and sort into groups by speed at the actual start line, but the field just took off.

The ground was frozen and the trail pretty fast through the first couple miles of singletrack. Even the water crossings and farm fields didn't slow us down much. In the time since last year's race, I had adopted a more conservative and aerobic training style, but at this stage I was mostly ignoring my heart rate alarm—not burning all the matches, but definitely putting my shoulder to the proverbial wheel. The arm warmers, beanie and gloves came off, and I rode the rest of the race with my jacket unzipped.

(yours truly, rocking a cornfield, photo courtesy of Rob McK)

Tough climbs were to be had between the fun downhills, and the Humke B road (but really ice and rock chute, complete with downed tree blocking the main line) did not disappoint. We found a cold west wind up in the highlands, so the gloves went back on. I hit the Heritage trail before noon and grouped up with a couple guys. Drafting on the now-wet trail, we rolled into Chad's looking like Roubaix riders at about 13:30.

Fifteen minutes was longer than I had wanted to stay, but it was busy and I wanted to stick with newfound company Duane. Refilled water, crotch creamed, ate a little, and were well out of Dyersville before 14:00. It was still sunny and the trail was pretty soft all the way to the Holy Cross tunnel, where we found a few substantial, fast stretches of hard-packed snow.

Duane was good company and we rolled along not stopping much and picking up a few places as the trail continued downhill. We caught up to his pal Drew and became 3 for a while before getting another pulse of energy. The checkpoint in Durango had a lot of bikes out front, and Duane decided it was time to change his sweat-soaked base layer. He was cold enough, and his hands weak enough from his handlebars' bad ergonomics that I had to help him zip up his jacket. Riding again, he was chilled at first but warmed back up quickly.

We finished off Heritage and turned onto the Dubuque bike path along the Northwest Arterial, uphill and into the wind and setting sun. Pavement, road, grass, ditch, pavement and then onto the final section of singletrack before the gentleman's finish line. The course markings in the last section were really sparse, and Duane said he would have gotten lost repeatedly had he been by himself.

We cleaned the last few creek crossings and mucky hills, crossing the railroad tracks just a couple minutes before a long Norfolk Western freight rolled through. Ever the gentleman, Duane ceded me a place, I guess for serving as tour guide. We humped it back up to the hotel and put our names on the list at 16:58 for 32nd and 33rd places, respectively.

Tyler U. from Madison won it, Utah Steve, PhD took fifth, and Nick took 18th—so Wisco represented. There was some confusion about the final leg of the course (not surprising, given some ambiguity at the pre-race and less than ideal marking) and a bit of a dispute about the top placements.

The bikes and our clothes were well and truly a mess, covered in limestone from the Heritage trail. We left a trail of it in Chad's and back at the hotel. We ended up not taking our bikes inside and just locked them up on the hitch rack for the overnight.

So overall, a success for me. Not great time or placement, but I felt good for the vast majority of the race and recovered quickly afterward.

Now, a couple of weeks off before training commences for the Race That Shall Not Be Named.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Time For Fat Bikes

Snowy Ride
Winter is the best time for fat bikes. Yes it is.

It's funny to have been in on this fat bike thing from pretty early on. Ruby was one of probably the first dozen fat bikes in Madison back in 2010, but they seem to be everywhere now. I spent a lot of time on the MTBR Fat Bike forums in the beginning, when it was mostly Alaskans and other adventure types using fat bikes to go where no bicycle had gone before.

There's been a trend lately that amuses me quite a bit, with people I've met in real life and on the interwebs saying that they love fat bikes so much that they've sold off all of their other bikes. That sentiment sure smells of fad.

Sure, fat bikes make pretty good mountain and trail bikes, but honestly, riding them on pavement just isn't that much fun. They really shine on snow, sand and other loose material where floatation makes a big difference. Those are the occasions that make it worth dragging those big tires around, and the idea that I'll get to ride my fat bike more also helps me have a more positive attitude toward winter.

Though it may puts me in the minority, I just think bike fun can be had in a lot of different forms.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Another New Bike (Sort of)

New Ogre
Last spring and summer I did a lot of thinking about how many bikes I own and whether I need to own as many as I do. So I wrote up a matrix of bikes (which will be the subject of another post) and decided that the slot currently occupied by my old garage sale winter beater could be filled by something better and more versatile.

So I looked at what was available and settled on getting a Surly Ogre, with the idea of building it up with parts I already had. Surly had begun ED coating a number of their offerings in 2012, so I emailed to ask whether the Ogre was ED coated, and ended up getting one of the first ED Ogre framesets to arrive in the states.

I also decided to give singlespeeding a try, since maintaining a derailleur drivetrain in the winter can be quite a chore. Because conditions can vary widely, I came up with the idea of creating a dual-singlespeed with two rings on the crankset and two cogs on the cassette body.

So this is what I came up with:
  • Ogre frameset, size Large, tan
  • Front wheel: Shimano DH-3D71 dynohub with 160mm Centerlock rotor, laced to a 32h Sun CR-18 rim with butted spokes. Handbuilt by my LBS.
  • Rear wheel: unknown Shimano 6-bolt disk hub with 160mm rotor laced to an Alex rim. This one was a gift from my neighbor, who took it off some Specialized hybrid.
  • Tires: Schwalbe Marathon Winter
  • Crankset: Suntour XC Pro square taper 36/34t on a Shimano BB-UN-72 bottom bracket.
  • Cogs: 17/19 Shimano 9-speed cassette pair for the moment, will replace with Surly when I decide on a final gear combination.
  • Chain: from the parts bin.
  • Headset: FSA Pig
  • Stem: generic takeoff from a Kona
  • Handlebars: Nitto Albatross CroMo 560mm
  • Seatpost: Easton alloy 2-bolt (taken off my GT Peace)
  • Saddle: Bontrager RLX 146mm
  • Brakes: Coda-badged DiaCompe SS-7 levers pulling Avid BB-5 road calipers (the latter suck and will likely be replaced with TRP Spyres)
  • Lighting: first-generation Schmidt Edelux headlight with B&M DToplight XS Plus taillight
  • Fenders: Planet Bike Cascadia 29er (purchased new and worth every penny)
  • Rack: Bontrager BackRack S Disc, gifted from a different neighbor.
That's the current build. My other wheel options include:
  • current wheels with Clement MSOs or really any 29" tire I have around.
  • Speed Disk wheels with Clement MSO 40s, Big Apple 2.35s or Nokian Extremes
  • 26er XT/Rhino wheels with Freddies or Vredstien Black Panthers
I also have an Alfine dynohub and a Salsa Delgado that might become yet another front wheel.

The most unusual feature is a second stem and a bit of 1" aluminum tube from the hardware store to make an accessory mount for lights, etc. A 1" star nut holds the Edulux.

New Ogre

Rides really well so far. Can't wait to see how it does over time.