Monday, November 5, 2012

2012 Iceman

I just got back from Traverse City where I did my 14th Iceman. 2:32. 10 minutes slower than my previous slowest time, 38 minutes off my best time, but the course was a few miles longer and I was only 3 minutes slower than I predicted. My bike worked flawlessly and I chose my clothes and food perfectly. I had a good time with friends. I will chalk this up as a good race.

Denny and Barb broke the derailleur on their tandem and had to walk the last few miles. I met them at Sue's car after the race to give them their dry clothes. They looked like they were on the verge of hypothermia, but still positive and smiling. It is a crazy race, cold and sloppy, yet I can't wait until next year.

Maybe I don't try hard enough. I saw a grown man have a total meltdown because his chain broke. He swore, threw his helmet at his bike, and paced around as if this were a tragedy too great for words. Just a broken chain. A minor issue that that should set him back maybe 2 minutes. He was my age and in my group. He wasn't going to place. Ever. I always consider the possibility that I am looking at things wrong. I would have shrugged off a broken chain with little more than a sigh but maybe I need more passion. Maybe, but I'm pretty sure that guy was just a dickhead.

Denny said our mutual friend Steve was doing the race. I haven't seen Steve since we rented a house together after college. This is the only picture I have of him; we were visiting Mike who was going to school in Toronto. Steve is on my far right, Denny on my left. Denny told me Steve's daughter was racing the Iceman too. I briefly though this was impossible, Steve was only 21, but then I realized that was 25 years ago. He was a football star in high school. He made girls swoon. It took him just over 3 hours to do the Iceman. Life is okay.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Single Speed World Championship

Today was the Ninth Annual Single Speed World Championship. I'm not sure how official it is, I mean, it isn't sanctioned by anyone, there is no sign in, no waver, no emergency contact or ambulance on standby. The trail isn't marked, there is neither registration nor registration fees, and no official results. In previous years, racers were given tiles that they stacked as they crossed the finish line; the order of tiles showed the race results. The DNR made us do away with this system because keeping track of results made the Single Speed World Championship look like a race and the DRN hasn't authorized a race.
They didn't have awards, exactly, but they gave away pint glasses to the first 48 finishers. There were about a hundred racers and free beer so there was a lot of incentive to finish above the median. Finishing above the median is always my goal and the pint glass just added to my resolve. This very well may be the best race ever.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Want it Wednesday: Garmin Edge 800

This week's Want it Wednesday is the Garmin Edge 800. I need this computer. Kevin loaned me his to help me pre-ride the Iceman last weekend. The Iceman is a point to point race made up of a network of seasonal roads and single track. Although I’ve done this race every year but once since 1997, it is difficult to follow before it’s marked. Kevin only had the first half of the course loaded on his Garmin so I took it to work to try and load the second half. Sean, a co-worker who rides, looked at the Garmin and said he must get one. I pointed out he already had a Garmin Edge 800. Sean said he had the older version; Kevin's is thinner and had carbon fiber trim. It amazes me how we as riders can’t imagine living without something once we realize it exists.

The Garmin Edge 800 does everything a good bicycle computer does (measures heart rate, cadence, speed, etc.) but it is also a GPS that does all sorts of amazing stuff, like lays a map of your ride over images from Google Earth. I am technologically inept so I don’t care about all that. I must have this Garmin because it records ride information so you can then race against stored data. Last weekend I was racing against a virtual Kevin. One arrow represented me and the arrow a mile or so down the trail represented Kevin, like a video game. The course is highlighted on the screen which accurately tells you where to turn. This was helpful on a course like the Iceman where you go from one trail to another for 27 miles. Kevin virtually kicked my ass. He will realize this when I return his Garmin. I have a few days to come up with an excuse. Lately I have been blaming my wheel circumference but Kevin is the other guy in Michigan still using a 26er. If I was thinking, I would have secretly strapped the Garmin to the bars of my vintage 2-stroke Yamaha and did the entire course in under an hour just to give him something to struggle with.

The ride was excellent. A bus makes a few trips every weekend between the finish line at Timber Ridge and the starting area at the Kalkaska High School. This saved Sue and me the bother of leaving a car in Traverse City and driving another one 25 miles to Kalkaska, or riding the course both ways. I wasn’t able to figure out how to load the second half of the course onto the Garmin, which was fine since the first section is the most complicated part. It took the stress away from trying to pick out which trail to go on. Before Kevin offered me his Garmin, I figured I would follow tire tracks but that would have been a poor plan; tire tracks went this way and that way, an indication that the people who have been pre-riding the course were as lost as I would have been. The GPS couldn't help me after Williams Lake Road but all I had to do from there was stay on the VASA cross country ski trail (which is well marked) and look for the large white sign for Timer Ridge, which I missed, highlighting how helpful the Garmin is when you are riding one trail but your mind is someplace else.

The course was crazy sandy in spots but it was beautiful. I was just over an hour off my worse time but that wasn’t really the point of the ride. I rode for the pure enjoyment of riding. The Garmin helped.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I had a good ride tonight. I like riding in the fall but I spend too much time considering winter this time of year. Winter is useless when your only hobby is riding. I secretly considered racing cyclo-cross this season but I'm not where I want to be right now and my goals have evolved to just getting through Iceman without embarrassing myself.

A problem with riding in autumn is how quickly it gets dark. If nothing goes wrong, I can feed my daughters, get them off to dance, and squeeze in an hour ride before night. Although Em and Allie would have preferred Chicken Tenders from McDonald's, I cooked. I browned chicken in a skillet, added scallions, fresh grated ginger, soy sauce, and mirin. I served it over Soba noodles tossed with a little organic peanut butter and rice vinegar. The girls liked it but didn't appreciate it. I didn't expect them to appreciate it so my expectations were perfectly aligned with reality and everything was in sync. I got them to dance and took off on my ride.

I flatted 10 miles from home. It only took a few minutes to repair but it didn't fit neatly into my schedule. I used my only spare tube and CO2 cartridge. I get a little uneasy when I have to finish a ride without a spare.

It was getting dark when I got back into town. I wasted spring; I would have done things different if I had another chance. I squandered summer; I didn't realize this at the time but it was over while I was busy doing other things and when I poked my head outside it was autumn. Winter is still a ways away. I think I will slow down and enjoy where I am at now.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

California Part V, or VI, or VII, or Something

I am getting old. I know this to be true because my youngest daughter just moved up to a 26 inch wheeled bike. Allie picked it out for the most part. Pink is her favorite color and we looked at pink bikes but she said she didn't want a bike that looked like it was right out of a box (her words, not mine). Allie wanted a white bike so we could customize it with pink cable housings, grips, and water bottle cages. Words can't adequately express how proud I am.

Shortly after we assembled the bike I went to California for work, again. San Francisco is beautiful and the weather is perfect and the food is amazing and everyone is fit and rides carbon-fiber Cervelos with full SRAM Red but I have been to California enough times that I shrug these things off with luke-warm indifference.

San Francisco still made me self-conscious over my lack of fashion sense, and I had just relayed that thought to a friend back home when I saw three men in assless leather chaps. Suddenly I didn't care I wasn't on the cutting edge of West Coast style. I like California. I'm concerned it could be devastated by an earthquake. I'm much more concerned that Iceman is five weeks away and I am not ready.

This was my first business trip where I didn't rent a bike to take advantage of riding opportunities; the logistics seemed a bit much. I did a few uninspired rides on a stationary bike in the Hyatt's workout area. I'm afraid my change in attitude is just another atrocity of getting old.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Road Trip

I mentioned before how Allie likes baking and adores Buddy the Cake Boss. After my trip to Nashville with Em, I told Allie that we, just her and I, would take a vacation this summer, anywhere she wanted. Anywhere.  She decided she wanted to take a cup cake decorating class at Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken NJ.

Me: “Hum, that is a clever idea Allie-Bear. You realize this is a 1200 mile trip?”

Allie: “Yes.”

Me: “That is over 20 hours of driving ya know.”

Allie: “You said anywhere.”

Me: “They call New Jersey the Garden State but in reality it is a cesspool of …”

Allie: “Dad!”

Tuesday night after work we drove straight through to New Jersey and right to her class.

When I made the reservations for the class, I had asked if there was any chance Allie might meet Buddy. They said it was possible but unlikely. Buddy showed up just as we were leaving. Allie was ecstatic
Wednesday night after Allie’s class we drove straight through to Michigan.

I dropped Allie off at home then went right to a meeting this morning.

I haven’t really slept in 60 hours. New Jersey was a pretty long drive for a cup cake decorating class. Allie and I talked a lot along the way. Best vacation ever.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Brighton Cross Country Race

Last year I stopped doing any real training. I had poor race results and whined as if somehow it wasn't my fault. Then I rode even less over the winter, raced at Mud, Sweet, and Beers in the spring and got clobbered. I decided I was through with racing.

Last weekend some friends needed me to complete a relay team for them. I warned them I wasn't in race shape. I suppose they thought I meant that in an "aw shucks", humble kind of way. No, I was serious. After the relay I thought to myself I am never ever racing again no matter what. Period. I mean it this time.

Monday I took Allie to one of her friends in Brighton. I brought my bike to ride Murray Lake while I was there. I use to live by the trail and rode it often before I moved to the ghetto, er, I mean Canton. I ran into someone on the trail who explained he was pre-riding the course for a race that was coming up. I had no idea they were racing at Brighton. I did the trail in just over 35 minutes. This was a good lap time for me.

I got second place in Sport Single Speed at the Brighton cross country race yesterday. It was a small field but still, this is a huge result for me. Later this month is the Maybury Time Trial. I am looking foward to this race. I can't seem to stop racing. I suppose as far as addictions go, racing isn't a horrible one to have.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tree Farm Relay

Saturday was the Tree Farm Relay. I decided this spring that I wouldn’t race anymore because I have come to terms with the fact that I really suck at racing. I was pulled out of retirement Saturday when three friends needed a fourth person for the relay. Last year, fueled by peer pressure from being on a relay team, I did an impressive 48:11 lap and sent Randy off with a nice gap over third place.

The Tree Farm Relay is a popular race. It is limited to 125 teams (which is about 100 more teams than can fit on the trail). My theory why this race is so popular is the award to the top three teams in each class is a nicely engraved blue anodized headset cap. I am consumed with envy every time I see one on a bicycle. We talked before the race how cool it would be to podium and get this highly coveted award. Silly but true.

This year I did the 10 mile loop in 53:36. Ouch. I sent Randy off in the middle of an overly crowded field. Computers were set up at the finish line so everyone can see who on each team dropped the ball. Clearly I did. We missed the Sport Co-ed podium by 9 seconds. This sent me into a pissy mood.

Last year our relay team’s name was: “We’re Gonna Beat Pete”, hinting at a good natured rivalry. This year our relay team's name was “Riding for Pete.” Pete had a heart attack and passed away while pre-riding Boyne before a race earlier this summer. The Tree Farm race was a fitting memorial service for Pete and a good reality check for me.

Monday, June 4, 2012

2012 Milford Trail Challenge

Saturday was the annual Milford Trail Challenge, a very cool ride that links together 5 MTB trails for 90 miles of riding. Your $15 registration fee gets you a very vague map to help follow a very complicated network of dirt roads and trails, and a wrist band for $1.50 beers at the Milford House afterwards. I did an excellent job talking 7 friends into blowing off races and other obligations to do this ride with me. I did a horrible job leading the expedition; we spent most of the time lost and accidentally riding horse trails that are technically closed to bicycles. It was a great ride and nice catching up with friends. I noticed I was the only one still using 26” wheels. We didn't manage to do all 90 miles but I rode further than everyone else because my wheels are 11% smaller.

Sunday I took Allie to Ann Arbor for dinner. We always have fun walking around the University of Michigan campus, part of my secret plan to get my girls to go to U of M. Allie announced she was going to college in Florida and that Em was going to school in Tennessee. They’re both in middle school so I’m not getting my panties all up in a bunch just yet but it served as another reminder that they will not always be around. I try to make every minute I have with them count.

My brother just returned from Japan where he was visiting his daughter who works for Boeing. He fell in love with Japan while he was there. Apparently they don’t lock their bikes in Japan because people don’t steal them. Allie and I cracked up when we saw a bicycle wheel locked to a rack in front of the U of M school of Engineering. In Ann Arbor, if you only lock up one wheel, someone will steal the other 95% of your bicycle; that is just a fact.

Someone stole my dad’s cargo trailer from his farm last week. The thief underestimated the persistence of my 85 year old father. My dad drove around Hillsdale County until he found the tool box from his trailer behind a weld shop on Michigan Ave. He talked to the owner. No one admitted to taking his trailer but on Sunday my dad found his trailer next to his barn with the tool box in back, like nothing happened.

This was the third time someone stole something from my dad and all three times my dad got his things back. About 10 years ago someone stole his 1969 Mustang from his garage in Florida. It was a pretty car but when it got hot it would stall and wouldn’t restart until it cooled down. It was fine for running quick errands or going to the local car show. My dad just hooked up his car trailer to his truck and drove up and down the Bee Line Expressway until he found his Mustang on the side of the road, loaded it on the trailer, replaced the knocked out ignition cylinder, and put the car back in the garage.

About 20 years earlier someone stole his beautiful 1967 Mustang convertible from his house in Dearborn. It was missing for 3 years. My dad was returning from a dealership that Ford sent him to so he could investigate a customer’s concern when his Mustang pulled onto I-94 right in front of him. There are a lot of 1967 Mustangs in Michigan but probably only one with a St. Cloud Florida City Employee parking sticker in the window. He followed the car for a while until the car thief realized he was being tailed. A chase ensued and my dad eventually blocked him in a dead end ally someplace in Detroit. My dad got a hold of him but before he could land a clean punch and take this string of events to its natural conclusion, the man locked himself in the car and cried out to the people who had gathered to watch to call the police. Normally car thieves don’t beg people to call the police but my dad was much younger and angrier back then and the car thief must have seen his own demise in my father’s eyes. The police came and arrested my dad for assault and battery. This must have mystified my dad because he has a very clear sense of what is right and wrong. My mom showed up with a key to the Mustang. They opened the trunk and there were all my dad’s tools with his name carefully engraved on every one. The charges against my dad were dropped and he got his car back. Life isn’t fair but sometimes there is a flicker of justice.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Want it Wednesday: Kenda Nevegals (Tires and Self Discovery)

This week’s Want it Wednesday is the Kenda Nevegal. It’s just a tire but I think it is one of the best all around tire. Everyone is confident they figured out what is the best all around tire, the only difference is I am right.

I just bought Sue a used set of Kenda Nevegals off the MMBA classifieds, 29 inch version of the tires I am currently using, because that poor girl hits the ground often. They are more aggressive than the tires she is currently using so I think this might be the trick.

I went through a lot of tires before I settled on Nevegals. I purged about half my used tires when I moved into an apartment but the tires I have left show an evolution in my way of thinking. I can trace my current collection of tires back to 2004. Back then I used parts like a fragile Scott thermal plastic bar (that snapped in two, like a twig), flimsy Kooka Racha brake levers, and a super flexy RockShox Indy SL to keep the weight of my Litespeed under 21 lbs. To make this bike a total deathtrap, I used 1.5 Geax semi-slick tires. These tires were light and had low rolling resistance but going around corners was downright scary. They were a poor choice for racing but worked out well when I put them on a spare wheelset for riding on dirt roads.

The Geax were completely useless in slick conditions so I used 1.5 Continental Cross Country tires when racing in the rain. These tires were slippery in the rain. I think all tires are slippery in the rain but mud would cling to the Cross Countrys making them heavy and slippery. They served a second life as OK cross tires when I cobbled up my Felt mountain bike to race cyclocross. At first they discontinued the Kevlar version of this tire, then they discontinued it all together. My theory is the kind of people who would want this tire migrated over to cyclocross bikes.

I went to Maxxis Maxxlite 310s when I bought my Felt in 2006. They only weighed 310 grams and were a little less sketchy than the Gearx but they were still sketchy, and prone to flats; another poor choice. I quickly replaced the Maxxlites with Continental Twister Supersonics. I really liked these tires. They only weighed 370 grams and were a huge improvement over the Maxxis. In the brief period of time I did OK as a racer, these were the tires I used. I was horrified when Continental stopped selling them in the States. The only issue I had with Twisters was they wore out quickly and they did not work well when they were worn. I had to replace them a few times a season. If they were still available here I might still be using them, on dry, non-technical trails anyway.

I replaced my Twister Supersonics with Hutchinson Pythons. Pythons were about 100 grams heaver than the Twisters, which was still pretty light, and had a little better traction, at least on hard packed trails. Their Marketing hook back in 2007 was they were high volume tires. They may have been on to something because all tires seemed to have migrated to a high volume design; I don’t see this even mentioned anymore. I learned my lesson about watching a tire I like get discontinued so I stocked up on Pythons. I still have a supply of brand new Pythons that I should probably think about selling. I think Pythons enjoyed a bit of a boon when they were quick to jump on the 29er tubeless bandwagon. I though tubeless 29 inch tires was just a fad. I’m not always right.

The Tomac Type-X I bought off the Kenda race team in 2010 came with 1.9 Kenda Karmas. I know pro teams use the tires their sponsors tell them to use but apparently Karmas are capable of winning races even if I’m not. I was happy with these tires and put a set on my Inglis single speed too but sometimes my bikes would get a little loose around corners. Last year I put a 1.9 Kenda Nevegal on my front wheel and this seemed like the way to go. The rear tire would start to slide around corners but it was very controllable and served as a gentle tap on my shoulder that I should pay attention before my front tire started to washout. The only real issue I had with this set up was a little tire spin on steep, loose climbs.

I knew the trail would be slick at Mud, Sweat, and Beers so I went through my tire collection looking for a rear tire with a little more tread. I found a brand new 1.9 Nevegal that I honestly do not remember buying. It worked out perfect. I intended to put the Karma back on after the race but I rode at Maybury before I had a chance. The bike hooked up really nice so I will keep this combination for a while. If I can find a Kenda Slant Six for less than $30, I will put that on back to save weight and improve the rolling resistance. I think I have it all figured out; it only took me 16 years.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fixing Creaks and Emotional Distress

In addition to a detachable showerhead for cleaning bicycles, Sue gave me a roll of plumbers tape for Christmas to fix my Tomac’s creaking bottom bracket; the best 75 cent gift ever. I didn’t get around to taping the bottom bracket thread until last night. This project gave me a chance to use my super expensive XTR crankset removal tool and to inspect the Wheels Manufacturing bottom bracket, which, incidentally, still rolls smooth. I’m officially keen on the use of ceramic bearings in a bottom bracket.

I started working on my bike after the girls were in bed so I didn’t finish up until late. I test rode the bicycle through the halls of my apartment complex which, of course, is the best place to test ride a bicycle: it is protected from the elements, well lit, acoustically perfect for zeroing in on creaks, and carpeting provides excellent traction for sprints. And it feels like you are going really, really fast when there are walls two feet on either side of you. Sometimes I feel like a 14 year old boy trapped in a middle-aged man’s body.

Creaks from my bicycle drive me nuts. I envision creaks diverting energy away from my rear wheel, rediculous. I start to wonder if the creaks I hear aren’t the carbon fibers shearing in the frame, ready to impale me with a splintered carbon fiber top tube which would seriously suck because I really like my Tomac Type-X and it has been discontinued. When I hear my bike creak at a race I get self-conscious, as if I showed up unprepared, or like I’m sitting on a bus with a whining child on my lap. It isn’t clear if the plumbers tape was a gift to elevate the emotional distress caused by unfortunate noises coming from my bicycle or if it was given to me because I complain about said noises incessantly during rides. Either way, all is quiet now.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Some Days Are Perfect

Saturday I made plans to ride with Brad at Island Lake. He seems to have converted solidly over to his single speed so I decided to take out my Inglis for the first time this year. I hadn't put my new(ish) Fox Forx on yet; I figured this would be a good time to change it. Changing a fork should only take 10 minutes but often I run into problems, like the old brake cables aren't long enough or the star nut goes into the fork tube crooked, especially when I decide to change the fork 10 minutes before I have to leave. And I do not like being late for a ride, certainly not when I'm riding with someone whom I don't ride with often. I miss my garage where I had a work bench set up with all my tools and parts. Working in an apartment is like living out of a suitcase, you have most of what you need but it is just inconvenient. Amazingly, I installed the Fox Forx is in less than 10 minutes. The fork worked perfect, like I assumed it would.

It began to pour right before I got to the trailhead. I would have turned around but figured Brad was already there so I should at least show up. It rained hard all around Island Lake but only rained on the trail briefly, just long enough to mat down the sandy sections. I guess god decided to cut me a little break. It was a perfect ride. I forgot how much I loved my single speed. As I was leaving the trailhead I saw Hometown Bicycles was having an event there at Island Lake. I stopped by and they fed me lunch. As I was leaving the picnic FedEx called and said they had a package for me at their Canton office. I stopped by FedEx on my way home. It was my Santa Cruz Stigmata. The girl went back to get it. I offered to carry it to the front desk for her since it was a large box. She said not to worry, it was surprisingly light. I smiled to myself; of course it was. The bike was perfect. Sometimes everything just falls into place.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Want it Wednesday: Salsa Mukluk

These week’s Want it Wednesday is the fat tire Salsa Mukluk. Oh man this bike is so stupid I cannot believe I want one so bad. I think full suspension is silly excess and I am suspicious of 29ers (though I’m starting to like both) yet here I sit lusting after a 34 lb. bike with 3.8” wide tires (that's tyres for my friends in the UK). In the neighborhood where I grew up there was a kid whose dad somehow laced Yamaha dirt bike rims to the Sunshine hubs on his Schwinn Scrambler. We all made fun of him but I secretly envied his bicycle. Maybe my affection for the Mukluk is just some type of manifestation of unresolved childhood issues. Who knows.

I considered trying to write a real review but, as a rule, I try to keep my posts to 400 words or less to match my puppy-like attention span. Plus I would probably just plagiarize this review. The first time I saw a Mukluk, or Surly Pugsley (I honestly can’t tell the difference), I just rolled my eyes; what a silly set up. People started showing up on winter rides with fat tire bikes and they began to make sense. Daniell Musto averaged 17.2 MPH this spring at Barry-Roubaix on a Mukluk. Daniell is a local pro so I am under no delusion I could make one go 17.2 MPH. When I raced expert, sometimes I would see her briefly as she lapped me, skinny little legs with a Slingshot tattoo flying up climbs. Anyway, the Mukluk isn’t as slow and lumbering as it looks.

Last weekend there was a bike demo at the Vasa trail. I rode the Vasa on a borrowed BMC but tried out a Mukluk on the BMX track by the trail head. It really is an interesting ride. It rolls over everything, like a tank. Someone else was on the BMX track with a borrowed Mukluk. We were both as giddy as 11 year old boys, a sure sign a bicycle is doing what it is suppose to. Or maybe that’s just another manifestation of unresolved childhood issues. Either way, it is a very cool bike.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Mud, Sweat, Beers, and Riding Bicycles I Don't Own

Saturday was my first race of the year. I finished in the middle of Sport. I’m not exactly disappointed since I finished where I assumed I would, I’m just frustrated. Very frustrated. But I’m keeping this positive. My Tomac worked flawlessly as usual, 20.5 lbs of crisp shifting carbon fiber goodness. I finished, changed, and made it to the beer tent before it rained. I guess this makes it a good race.

After the race, Sue and I went to a Derby party. I met the host last winter at a birthday party; he was interested in the Chevy Volt and I knew enough about this car to carry on a conversation. Saturday he introduced me to someone who imported electric bikes from China. I suppose since I know a little about the electrification of the automobile and I had just done a bike race, they assumed I knew something about electric bikes; I don’t, but had fun trying the bicycles out. One model had a motor in the rear wheel which I have seen before. The other model had a motor in the bottom bracket that assisted your pedaling. This was interesting. Twisting the throttle rocketed you up from a Cat V racer to Fabian Cacellara just like that. One of the old men watching was from Sweden and said he sees bike like this there. He said old roadies use them to drop young racers practicing on climbs, turning to smile at the kids as they pass. I see the charm in these bicycles.

Sunday morning Sue and I left early for a ride, trying to beat the rain. I don’t mind riding in bad weather so much but rain and mud is hard on bicycles. Sue pointed out BMC was having a demo day. You don’t say? We went to the display and faked mild interest so we could ride their bikes and leave ours protected and comfy in the back of the truck. I chose the Speedfox, a full suspension 29er with SRAM XO, not the kind of bike I would buy but I thought it would be interesting to ride. It was actually a really nice bike; I forgot how smooth full suspension was and it almost convinced me that 29 inch wheels are the way to go. It had wide tires and a more upright riding position; a good bike when I give up racing, better than an electric bike anyway. I’m not ready to give up just yet.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Want it Wednesday: Santa Cruz Stigmata

This week’s Want it Wednesday is the Stigmata, a cyclocross frame Santa Cruz quietly introduced in 2009 then quietly discontinued at the end of 2010, making it about as rare to spot on the road as a yeti (the ape-like cryptid that inhabits the Himalayas, not the ARC-X cyclocross bike). The Stigmata doesn’t look special on paper, an aluminum frame with normal cyclocross geometry, but it is so gosh darn cool that it got me to sell my Kona Major One so I could buy one. Well, that and I decided I wanted gears. I used the single speed Kona on a trainer during the winter and it wasn’t ideal for following any type of structured workout. Plus Sue is now faster than me and I figured I needed 19 more gears to keep up, or a tandem.

I've wanted a Yeti for a while (the ARC-X cyclocross bike, not the ape-like cryptid that inhabits the Himalayas). I bid on a few on ebay over the years but they always went for more than I am willing to spend on a bicycle. An ARC-X showed up on the MMBA classifieds recently, the very same month I didn’t bother to look. Part of my attraction to an ARC-X was because Yeti is a mountain bike company that decided to offer a cross frame, and I am a mountain biker who decided he wanted a cross bike. A pure road bike isn’t right for me because even on road rides I tend to gravitate towards dirt roads. And I have a fantasy of racing cyclocross; road racing is out of the question. 

Like Yeti, Santa Cruz is a mountain bike company that decided to sell a cross frame but a Stigmata lays more towards the road bike end of the spectrum than an ARC-X. Since I will be primarily using a cyclocross bike on the road, this appealed to me. A 54 cm Stigmata frame only weighs 2.85 lbs which is close to what a road frame weighs; 9 ounces lighter than a 54 cm Yeti. I am less of an irrational weight weenie now than I use to be but 9 ounces is nothing to sneeze at. Hum, apparently I am still an irrational weight weenie. Maybe I just have an irrational obsession with bicycles. I’m getting off point. The Stigmata has a lower, more road bike-like bottom bracket than an ARC-X. I imagine the Santa Cruz’s Easton EA6X butted and tapered aluminum would give a more forgiving ride on the road than the Yeti’s Pure Tube Set, but this is only a hunch.

Another emotional reason why I chose the Stigmata is because it was made in America and, while some Yeti’s are still made in the States, the ARC-X is made in Taiwan. Look, I have nothing but admiration for the manufacturing capability around the Pacific Rim and I know frames made in Asia are every bit as good as the ones made here. I love my carbon fiber Tomac and it doesn’t bother me it was made in China. I understand how antiquated the “buy American” mentality is but still, I was sad to see Cannondale, Slingshot, and, well, basically every major American bicycle company ship their manufacturing overseas. I liked Nuke Proof and appreciated their decision to keep building frames in Ada Michigan right until that decision put them out of business, RIP. The fact that I even considered where my frame was made wasn’t rational. Buying a bicycle is emotional.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Florida 2012 Part II

I just got back from my second trip to Florida in 5 weeks; this time with my daughters. I like working only 3 weeks a month. It improves my attitude. My sunny disposition lasts until about the third work email.

I took my Kona single speed to Florida again. I am serious about my conviction not to ride when my daughters might miss me so riding last week was limited to short, early morning rides. This will be my last picture of the Kona, a silly pic I sent to a friend back in Michigan. I have another conviction: the only money I allow myself to spend on bicycles and bicycle parts must be first made by selling other bicycles or bicycle parts. I started this back when I raced BMX as a kid. I am always looking to sell my bike for more than I paid for it and, strangely, an opportunity to sell my Kona came up in Florida where cyclocross racing is becoming popular but used cross bikes are somewhat rare. I drove back to Michigan without my beloved Kona.

Selling bikes and parts before allowing myself to buy bikes and parts serves two purposes. First, the net cost of riding is reduced to only race fees and maintenance parts (maintenance parts do not count as an expense that has to be offset by selling something, in my convoluted way of thinking, unless I try to sneak in an upgrade under the umbrella of necessary maintenance in which case I force myself to sell something to make up for the additional cost of the upgrade over what was on the bicycle, unless the upgrade saves 1 gram of weight for every dollar spent, which was grandfathered in a long time ago. It's complicated).

The second purpose for this zero sum gain philosophy is to keep my inventory of bike stuff to a reasonable level. I know myself well enough to know I could easily turn into the crazy cat woman of bicycle parts. My apartment could become so packed with bike parts that I would have to make tunnels to move about and this would not bother me at all. I don't think I am materialistic but it hurts to sell my bicycles. Somehow they seem more than just stuff. My dad has the same feelings about vintage car parts. He will enthusiastically explain how Ford Designers used this little chrome trim piece on the 1965 Mercury Comet as a last minute fix to hide a body weld in the car’s rear quarter. I love his passion. I hate his piles of car parts.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Want it Wednesday: Surly Tuggnut

Today’s Want it Wednesday is my Surly tuggnut. I like Surly. I am impressed by a lot of bicycle part manufactures, like Chris King. Chris King cogs are so beautifully machined that I swear it almost brings a tear to my eye, but Surly cogs are wonderfully practical. The base on Surly cogs are wide so they don't damage the hub’s cassette body. Not randomly wide but the width is such that multiple cogs can be stacked on a cassette body, without spacers, and the spacing is perfect for using a derailleur.

If Chris King made a tuggnut, it would have this super complicated articulated camber adjustment screw that somehow allows a wheel to move forward and back and the tuggnut would remain stationary. A Surly tuggnut, on the other hand, has a bottle opener built in. Two bottle openers actually so it will work on either the drive side or non-drive side of the wheel. I don’t drink much, not enough to invest in my own bottle opener anyway. And even people that drink enough to justify buying a bottle opener often forget them when they go on group rides. Bells is a huge supporter of Michigan mountain biking so often someone brings Bells Beer but Bells doesn’t use twist off caps. Lines form at the back of my bike post ride all because the person who designed the Surly tuggnut actually rides and paused a minute to use common sense. Pausing a minute to use common sense…that right there is a philosophy I can embrace.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Different Hemispheres

I like the people from Marketing, those free spirited right brained folks who are unhindered by practical concerns from plans they sketch out on bar napkins. My job is to fret over those practical concerns. Their phone calls all start the same way: "Neil, I know this is an odd request but..."

In that brief pause after "but" my mind goes back to school, back when I was a landscaper. God I loved that job. I'm not bragging or anything but I was a very good landscaper. The gentle witness marks left on lawns from my Bunton walk-behind mower were so straight and even that builders could use them like chalk lines to stake foundations for homes they were building. I liked working on the lawn equipment and the smell of cut grass and gasoline. I liked working outside. I liked the total lack of responsibility. In college I had to take an aptitude test to see what job would be best for me. I took this test during my last semester so results were pointless. It said I should be an Arborist. I was curious enough to look up what an Arborist was. It’s like a tree doctor. I remember thinking “oh hell, that makes sense.” Perhaps I should have taken that test in high school.

Back to reality. "Neil, I know this is an odd request but [insert some super complicated half baked scheme, like changing the engine in a car to one that the car wasn’t designed for yet]."

Last weekend I stopped by work and got one of those calls. "Neil, I know this is an odd request but [I take a deep breath] can you get a hold of a bicycle, put it in the back of a (prototype) Encore, and take pictures?" Marketing was working on a commercial and they want to make sure a bicycle actually fits. Finally a request that I can get my little mind around. I keep a bicycle in my truck in case an opportunity to ride opens up.

So I bring my bike into the garage, spend about 2 seconds figuring out the best way to get it to fit, and send them pictures. I wrapped this project up in less than 5 minutes. All week I have been getting emails thanking me. A silly number of emails really. My bicycle might even make it into a commercial. The techs think I just made this request up so I could make sure my bike fits; I do like the new Buick Encore and made it clear to everyone I am getting one once they are in production. It was a good day; Arborists don’t get paid to put a bike in the back of a car.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

One Year Later...

Thursday would have been a good day to ride; Emilie was in New York on a class field trip and Allie was spending the night at her mom’s. The Poto chapter of the MMBA just started their Thursday night rides but I was tired and didn't feel like socializing. A friend from work and I talked about riding at Island Lake but he dropped me so bad at Pontiac on Tuesday that I was still embarrassed. I drove to Maybury to quietly ride by myself. I fought falling asleep on the drive there then sat in my truck near the trail head wanting to curl up and sleep more than I wanted to ride. I decided to go home.

Sleep deprivation is one of the unexpected side effects of my divorce. It was final a year ago. I realized it was inevitable long before then but my brilliant plan was to stay together until the girls where done with high school; that would have been the classy, standup thing to do but apparently I didn’t do as good of a job isolating them from reality as I intended.

Filing was the right decision for me but I feel horrible about it. Allie who, like me, doesn’t talk much is finally starting to ask questions but there is nothing satisfying in my answers. I’m glad I didn’t fully comprehend all the ramifications of my divorce because if I had, I may have procrastinated longer. I may have continued trying to fix a problem that was unfixable. Unfixable problems is a concept Engineers have difficulty grasping. We aren’t allowed to respond to a Technical Incident Report by saying: “Well, shit happens” but the reality is sometime shit does just happen. Hardly a mantra to live one’s life by but it’s true nonetheless. Sometimes shit happens for the best.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Want it Wednesday: Fox Float Forx

I see Want it Wednesday is gaining momentum. Anyway, I finally have the Fox Forx I always wanted. The SID on my Inglis single speed locked up at the end of last season. Rebuilding forks is something I am not real comfortable with so I decided to just hang that bike on the wall and deal with it some other time. That time is now. I started to rebuild the SID. I read the manual. Apparently the first thing I needed to do was grind down a ¾” socket. Great. I had a nice upright grinder once but it, like most of the things from my big garage that wouldn’t fit in my little apartment, ended up at Bill's. Figuring there must be an easier way to deal with (i.e. avoid) this problem, I looked at the MMBA classifieds. Someone was selling a Salsa frame with a Fox Float. I sheepishly gave him a low offer for just the fork. He accepted. It was beat up but held air and worked fine.

I have been a strong proponent of the previous generation SIDs. The SID's 28mm stanchions feel like wet noodles but the fork weighs less than 3 lbs and nothing else mattered to me. Twice I rented bikes that had Fox Floats with 32 mm stanchions. The difference these forks made was amazing. People who know much more about forks than me tend to like Fox Forx, from riding them to rebuilding them to dealing with the company itself. Even with the two pound weight penalty, I’m sold... but I feel a little stupid using the titanium Chris King cog I bought a couple years ago to save 8 grams.

Monday, March 26, 2012

2012 Florida Photo Essay

Back to work and back to reality. Seven days worth of problems were waiting for me this morning after marinating in their own juices all week. For a minute I considered never taking another vacation but that’s just silly; riding in Florida was really nice.

The weather was perfect. I got a good start on my biker tan.

Continuing on with crazy weather this winter, Michigan was just as warm as Florida last week but Florida has things that Michigan doesn’t, like nuisance alligator trappers,

and nuisance alligators. Yet. It will be interesting to see how this global climate change thing plays out.

Crazy strong South winds created a hard ride as we started down A1A but the return ride felt like riding a moped.

Most people in Florida were super nice but one concerned senior citizen pulled over on the side of the road to force us to stop. He asked why we weren’t riding on the (super crowded) sidewalk. The side of the road was marked for bicycles and it was wonderfully wide and smooth. This scenario seemed odd to me. I asked if he was serious. My question enraged him to the point where he struggled and stammered to verbalize his response. I thought he was going to have a heart attack right there, hanging halfway out of his car in the bike lane. He called me an asshole, gave me the finger, then sped off. There were so many bicyclists using the bicycle lane that he couldn’t possibly stop everyone, or it seemed a silly use of one’s golden years if he did. Sue and I cracked up.

Then I realized what I thought was a bicyclist icon indicating we were on a bike lane was actually an icon of a person in a wheel chair trying to screw a bicyclist and it dawned on me that maybe I was the one mistaken. Maybe he was in fact doing what the icon indicated the lane was for. I felt bad. If you are reading this, bitter driver, I sincerely apologize for questioning your seriousness. Thank you for reminding me that no matter how bad my first day back at work is, I'm not you.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Want it Wednesdays: Magic Eraser

This week’s Want it Wednesday lowers the bar a bit; however, I am in aw how well Magic Erasers work. "Aw" might be overselling it a smidgen. One of the problems with, and advantages of, living in an apartment is my bikes are stored on my bedroom walls. No matter how careful I am when navigating the bicycles through the halls in my apartment, the tires brush against the walls leaving black witness marks.

There is nothing that can remove tire marks off walls like a Magic Eraser.

You get it damp, brush it across the mark and, walla,

just like that, no marks.

It delights me every time I use it. No seriously, I get giddy when I see tire marks on the walls. And for bonus points, Magic Eraser has fought back the urge to market themselves on infomercials. People buy them because Magic Erasers work the way they say they do. A greater compliment cannot be given.