Sunday, February 26, 2012

Back in the saddle again

The last couple weeks haven’t been too motivating for riding, but that’s all changed now. 

After the last ride where I wrenched my knee I wasn't too excited to push Virgil around. I gave it a few days off and went for a short test ride where I could also meet another Boulderite who is doing the Dirty Kanza. Adam has many more years in the saddle than I do and was able to do the first 130 of the DK200 in 2010 before knee issues forced him to bail. I was happy to have someone to learn from as well as ride with.  Alas, my own knee wasn't quite healed yet and I bailed early.

Later that week I learned my frame would be finished in just a few short days. Aaron let me know that he had the tack welds done and he would be doing the finishing welds that (last) weekend. I came by Sunday and got to learn a bit about welding Ti as well as watch the process.  (thankfully I didn’t burn out my eyes).

Knowing the frame would be ready soon, cleaned and prepped the wheels for the guys at ProPeloton to finish the build as soon as the frame arrived. Lucky man  that I am, the frame actually arrived while I was in the shop delivering the wheels! Chris was kind enough to pencil me in for the final fit the next afternoon. There wasn’t much to the final fit since I had already dialed in most of the geometry before the build. Essentially the only tweak necessary was getting the fore/aft of the saddle finalized. This gave me just a brief window to go for a quick test ride. The bike was amazing, but one thing was off – the rear cassette.

The fault lies in my thinking I got a deal. I had originally ordered and paid for a new 11-28 Ultegra cassette, but what arrived was an 11-26 Red cassette. Since the Red cassette costs about three times as much as the ultegra and it’s a fair bit lighter I kept it even though it had seen some use. I didn’t know till I got it on the bike and rode that it was worn out – at least it was worn beyond use with a new chain. This was an easy enough fix. I picked up the new 11-28 Ultegra cassette I wanted in the first place. Unfortunately, the weather turned to crap the next day. Wind gusts clocked up to 88 mph were knocking down power lines, starting fires, ripping shingles off of roofs and preventing me from riding. 

Lucky for me, Friday dawned crystal clear and relatively warm. After a few morning meetings, I prepped the new steed for a multi-hour ride. Leaving at noon the sun had warmed the air to almost 50 (not the 40 that the weather prophets had predicted) - there were no complaints from this department on that. I headed out the LoBo trail toward Mead to do a loop above Longmont and back down the dirt roads north of the Res. The LoBo was a bit mushy and slow, but all the gravel roads were in amazingly perfect conditions – smooth, fast and just slightly tacky.

The ride
The ride was amazing. I had ridden all of these roads multiple times in varying conditions on both the carbon CX bike and the steel Vaya, so I had a great comparison. In the past the crabon (sic) frame always beat up my back, while the Vaya was smoother but always gave a deeper burn in my quads from pushing the added weight. I could really tell the next day. Recovery always took longer (sometimes several days longer) after a long ride on the Vaya. The Mosaic is as light as the carbon, but even smoother than the steel. It was love at first ride.  The geo feels fast but also like it will be more maneuverable on the light singletrack it will see.

The fit
The fit is far more comfortable than I would have expected. I really thought I needed and wanted my bars at or above my saddle height. The other three road frames I’ve ridden were not comfortable until I had them set this way. The Mosaic is currently set with the bars slightly below the saddle with a 90mm 6 deg down stem. Chris did a fantastic job on the fit and I’m extremely happy that I have the guidance of an experienced fitter in the design of this frame. (To his credit I have never heard so much unsolicited positive feedback about someone’s skills in the bike industry as I have about Chris Soden and his ability as a fitter.)

The build and drivetrain
The build and the drivetrain have been amazing. I had a hard time deciding on components and nearly went with a Dura-Ace grouppo because I had always been unsatisfied with the front shifting on the Rival group. It had a very long throw, took a good measure of effort to push and only caught on the upshift about 60% of the time. Even my low-end Tiagra always shifted perfect upfront. The problem is, Shimi stuff doesn’t fit my mitts. The blocky square levers do not fit my hands the way SRAM levers do and I notice this every time I brake. I never really liked the tiny paddles on Shimano brifters either, I tend to shift a lot and this becomes even more of an issue with bulky gloves. In the end I chose SRAM.  After one ride I can say all my reservations are gone – I’m a SRAM man all the way.

The front shifting is flawless. It takes very little effort to shift up to the big ring and catches all the time, every time. It’s hard to say what did it (the Red shifters, the Force derailleur, the Gore Ride On housing, the expert build From Jon at ProPeloton) but I can say that I am supremely happy with my setup. There are too many reasons to love SRAM and I doubt I’ll ever go back. Looking forward this is even more assured since SRAM’s 2012 Red group makes the hoods even more comfortable, improves the front shift even more, and a hydraulic version of the Red group is set to release this summer. Red hydro shifters and hydraulic road calipers are probably in my future – albeit not immediate – they’ll drop significant weight from the reliable but lardy BB7 setup and provide somewhat more power and better modulation. (don’t get me wrong the BB7’s are great and work perfectly fine… for now)

The short version is that this new bike, while nameless for now, is a beauty and a wonderful performer. I highly recommend contacting Aarondirectly or heading down to see Chris at ProPeloton if you’re in the market for a custom Ti of steel beauty. I’ll continue to provide ongoing updates and ride reports, but I can tell you now that this bike and I have a long happy future together. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The other side, weight loss, and the plan

Last weekend was a bit frigid. I knew that it would be, so I rode on Friday. Being a weekday I couldn't venture far, so I chose to do a really big loop around Longmont and break on through to some of the roads farther East of I-25. I'd been over there once and didn't love the roads - they just weren't that scenic and for some reason they were far more bumpy, muddy and washboard infested. The second time wasn't a charm.

Something about the dirt there doesn't make for the best riding. I'd planned on a five hour tour and these roads were a bit too bumpy and sluggish to keep up my usual pace. I cranked what I could but still got down to the wire on time (I had lights but the temps go down fast with the sun). Somewhere around 50 miles in my right knee started complaining a bit, so I decided to take the easy route home. By easy I mean paved. There wasn't much in the way of options for making this shorter, but at least I could do easier. About an hour after I stepped off the bike the knee really started talking back. This lasted the next two days, but abated thanks to vitamin I and the RICE gang. It was kind of a bummer, because otherwise I was feeling fine on this ride, and my legs felt like I could go farther.

So why did this happen on a bike I've ridden so many times? My theory is that it was a combination of a few different things. The bibs I wear are great, but a little restrictive. They're Gore Fusion with windstopper through much of the legs. I don't know what it is about them but they do seem to put an unhealthy pressure on this joint. I'd probably be better off in a size up for these bibs just to have a little more movement. For a couple hours at a mellow pace they're fine but I was out for 77 miles and really trying to push. Add to this the fact that I had the bike fully loaded to do this route without stopping and I think we have our recipe: not a lite bike + water and gear for 5 hours in winter + clothing that's restrictive on this joint + pushing to keep up a fast (for me) pace = a bit too much strain.

Dropping 7 Pounds
Ah well, live and learn. At least I got some great news yesterday - my frame should be finished by the end of this week or early next week. Woohoo! Awesome timing as this gives me the lighter ride for my next big training day (closer to 6 hours). I'm really not loving the long rides on Virgil. I keep joking that it feels like I'm dragging a boat anchor (BA-Virgil rather than BA-Baracus) and it's beating me up. The Vaya is a fine ride, but doesn't want to go fast. Every time I ride Virgil I feel it in my quads. I never really got that on the lighter CX bike, even on long rides. At 24 pounds I'll be dropping nearly seven pounds just off the bike when the new beauty arrives.  Same wheels, but everything else is considerably lighter.

The original BA

New Training Plan
I'm self-coached now and began a new training plan for DK200. It's rather different than what I was doing before. Esentially I'm following a 12 week plan that's aimed at doing a 200mile brevet from this book. I simply added another four weeks to the front of the plan following the template of progression. The training plan has little mid-week riding, but one long ride on the weekends. Based on a four week cycle each block looks something like this:
  1. Ride time base
  2. Middle distance (3:30-4:30)
  3. Ride time base + 1 hour
  4. Recovery week (2-3:00)
Weeks two and four are always the same length of ride time on the weekends, but the long ride time continues to bump up nearly an hour each ride. The midweek rides are all no more than 90 minutes (two at tempo and one or two active recovery) so there's plenty of recovery time between the long weekend rides and the very long rides are each two weeks apart. This is a much greater focus on pure endurance and works out perfectly for the timing of the long events I'm already doing. For example San Ysidro, AntiEpic and Voodoo Fire are all two weeks apart. Ironically though, to stay on this schedule of progression I'd have to shorten the AntiEpic and do some more riding after I finish the Voodoo Fire race. Perhaps I could do another lap ;). My only concern is that this schedule calls for a 12 hour training ride two weeks before the peak. I'll have to see just how fully I'm recovering between these training rides and races before making the call to ride this far. Two weeks is a good amount of time when it's all recovery, but I want to make sure I'm 100% when I roll up to the line in Emporia.  

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Year of the Gravel Dragon

2012 is the year of the dragon for the Chinese. It's looking like the year of the gravel dragon from here!

Last year was my first year on a bike, first time racing and on the one year anniversary of a MTB demo, my first hundo. This year (year two) with the new beauty on the way, a spot in Dirty Kanza and a ton of other new gravel races in the area, 2012 definitely has a gravely theme. The icing, is that AntiEpic Ben has talked me into provided the nudge that led me to host the R2G2 (it didn't take much of a push). I'll probably also toss out a November/December ride on the prairie. I haven't mentioned this to him yet but one of the few nicknames that stuck was Epic Shane. It's not something I came up with though.

HC100 finish - great way to end my first year on a bike. 
Long, long ago (the '90s), in a state far, far away (WA) before I ever got on a bike I spent a lot of time alpine climbing. I admit to having a few trips that did qualify as "epic". In the climbing world that means something a little different than the increasingly popular and randomly tossed about term it has become. In climbing it usually requires at least one unexpected open bivouac, and probably some other nastiness. Not long ago 100 miles seemed like a big deal, now I'm doing several events well over that and with the big stage races, Trans Iowa and the Tour Divide I honestly don't know what would qualify as a true epic in terms of biking.

Leading out of an ice cave in beautiful frozen Canada.
In any case, it seems I got this name from some other locals with more of a sport climbing bent. It wasn't an endearing term. In fact it was plainly derisive. I only learned about this moniker as I was about to leave town as it had only been used behind my back. To be honest you'd have to screw up pretty damn bad to have a true epic while sport climbing at a crag. (I did and do still clip bolts.)  It's not that I was a complete dunce either - the more you look down the barrel, the greater your chances are that one day you'll get hit. I've been nearly taken out several times in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons. (Thanks to the kind folks at Petzl who replaced the helmet that was broken by a rock - while it was on my head.) Whatever I got out of alpine climbing seems to be in the past for me. I never expected to leave that realm and I never saw myself as a cyclist, but somehow it happened. I'm glad it did.

Clipping bolts in the Red River Gorge.
I understand now that the desire for adventure exploration and excitement I felt at going to new places "out there" are now fueled in a different way. This blog may be about gravel riding, but I still do a good deal of singletrack. I'm not avoiding danger on a bike; I fully accept that I'll probably crash and have a hospital trip some day. I'm simply less likely to be crushed by falling rock or ice, or fall into a glacier on a bike. Whatever that desire is that lives in me that drove me to explore those peaks and gain the moniker of Epic Shane still exists - it just has a new method. I'll keep upping the anti on myself every year to see just how far I can go and what I'm capable of. I'm still that guy, but I'll take my scarlet letter (I suppose it's an E) and wear it in front. Our personal challenges that we set for ourselves are just that - personal. This year will be "epic" for me, and this year some of the events are on gravel. Next year, who knows?

Spreading the word

Getting the route together for the R2G2 is the easy part. To get the word out and convince folks this is "a good idea" might take a little help.

Thanks to a very little bit of work the R2G2 is now listed on the XXC events page and has gotten a little press from Gravel Grinder News, the AntiEpic blog,  Living Colorado, and Gravel Bike.

Tons of snow out there today. I'm wondering if I'll end up with a Bully some day...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

It's official!

The Rampart Rumble Gravel Grovel R2G2

Gravel Quest presents the R2G2. The full description has it's own page on this site as well as a description as part of the COES series (R2G2 on COES). If you decide to join, please sign up through the registration on the COES site (keeps it easier for me).

I'll be checking the course conditions through the Spring and Summer so you'll see segment previews here. As things finalize I'll also add course maps.

The route is something I've had in mind since doing the Foxton South Platte route. A tiny part of the G2R2 follows the best of that route. Thanks to the nudge from AntiEpic Ben for making this happen, and for the inspiration to make it a bit longer.

The R2G2 is on September 22nd. It's later than most grinders and it gives you ALL summer to get those legs in shape so there's no excise for not coming along for the ride (unless you're doing some silly 45 minute CX race, psh).