Sunday, July 27, 2008

Gettin' High

I had a few minutes to play around after our meeting at the REI flagship store.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Big Dumb Plans

The carpocalypse is coming.  Gas isn't getting any cheaper, and despite the host of folks who refuse to get it, the plain fact for anyone who cares to open their eyes, is that more driving is not the solution.  Since inheriting my mom's car, it's been useful on occasion, particularly in the winter when I'm feeling lazy.  But more often than not, it's a crutch, resulting in a prolonged debate between the devil and the angel on my shoulder about how I will get where I need to go.  As the weather gets warmer, the devil wins less--but when she does, I'm almost always the loser, ending up stuck in traffic, frustrated and thinking how much more fun, faster and more pleasant my task would have been by bike.  Even though traveling by bike is hardly a utopia these days, for me, it still beats the alternative 99.99999 percent of the time.  For those .001% times, Jess's car is usually available, since she rides as much or more than I do (having a job and not being a shiftless bum like myself, she actually *has* to leave the house at least four days a week).  We also both have Zipcar accounts (received gratis as perks for involvement with different bike-related projects), giving us the flexibility to get the right car for the job if we need say, a pick-up truck for a dump run.

With that in mind, I've decided to make good on a long held dream.  I've been lusting after an Xtracycle A vacation day of returns.ever since I first saw one seven or eight years ago.  For those who haven't heard of the X, it's a frame extension called a 'Free Radical" which attaches to a regular bicycle.  The wheel base is extended about 15 inches and Freeloader bags are attached to two V-Racks.  A snap deck sits over the rear tire.  That plus a host of optional accessories allow you to carry just about anything on your bike: groceries, ladders, 80 lbs bags of dog food, people, oversize loads.  The size of your load is limited only by your creativity, the length of your tie-down rope, and the strength of your legs.

I never had the money, the space or the need to justify getting one, but I light up every time I see one, and, if the owner is stopped, usually pester them with questions about how they like it.  I've read through pages of testimonials on the Xtracycle website about how it literally "changes your life!"  One of the pros of an X over a more traditional trailer system is the quality of the ride.  The long wheel base means your bike rides like, well, a bike.  I've heard lots of reports that an X rides even better when loaded.  So, you don't have to try to decide whether to hook up the trailer that day, it's just always there.  And we're not just talking nice paved roads here either.  Xtracycles can tackle gravel, dirt and singletrack as well or better than a regular bike. 

Now Surly has teamed up with Xtracycle and made a frame that's purpose built for Xtracycle components. The frame being all one piece means an even smoother ride and less flex in the frame when carrying loads.  They call this new frame, the Big Dummy.  Last week, I got lost in the rabbit hole and spent a whole evening watching Big Dummy porn on YouTube.

So it seems, the time has come to make the leap.  The car will go on sale next month, and the resulting funds will be use to build the bike collection I've always wanted.  Yes, I said 'collection.'   After all the traveling I did last summer, and the $600 I spent on rental cars while visiting folks in California, I swore I would not go down there again without a bike.  After spending a few weeks checking out folding bike options, I took the leap and ordered a Bike Friday Tikit.  Sure, I could spend less on a Dahon, but the general consensus is that Bike Friday has the nicest riding folders of anyone around.  You can get a lot of bike for car money, and I want these to be in the stable for years to come, so I decided not to skimp. 

If you're not a bike person, you might think deciding to get a folding bike would narrow down the choices--but at Bike Friday, they have a folder for every occasion.  Touring? Multi-modal city commuting? Off-road? High end performance? Tandem, triple, four person that comes apart and fits in two suitcases? You get the idea.  So narrowing down the final choice was pretty tough.   I called and talked to Hugh, one of the sales associates at BF and based on my needs, he suggested the Pocket Crusoe or the New World Tourist.  But I couldn't quite get the Tikit out of my head.  The wheels are smaller, which usually means a harsher ride, but Jess and I went down to Coventry Cycles on Hawthorne and tried some out and the ride was pretty smooth. Plus, the folding package is smaller, and you can roll the bike by the built in handle.  And for travel, the breakdown and packing process is a lot quicker than the larger Crusoe and Tourist models. 

After much deliberation, I decided on a custom built Tikit with 24 speeds, touring H-bars and the travel case that doubles as a trailer when you get to your destination.  It'll be yellow and I'm still deciding what to put on my custom name plate.  I'm open to suggestions.

The final steed is arguably the be-all end all of mutt do-it-all bike utility.  It is will also be based on a Surly frame and it's called the Cross Check.  It's one of three bikes that Surly sells as a complete bike, but I'm getting the frame only so I can build it up with just the parts I want.  It will serve as my main commuter bike, but it could be pressed into service for light touring, or as an actual 'Cross bike (I'm getting a lot of pressure to race Cyclocross this year to which I say--we'll see).  I hear nothing but good about the ride quality and versatility of this frame and so far, my test rides have been pretty sweet.  Check out Vik's blog to see what a chameleon this bike can be.

The only really sad part of this affair is that for reasons of space, I'm going to have to give up my trusty Scott Sportster P4, which has been my dream bike up this point and is almost as versatile as the Cross Check.  It's a cushy ride around town, but has front suspension in case I get the urge to go off-road.  I even took it to Bend and took it on some trails that definitely tested it's limits.  I hate to do it, but our garage is not very big.  The Scott has been feeling a little slow for the past few months and I've been wishing for something a little zippier for around town trips.  I can easily rationalize having having five bikes with different purposes, but not two bikes with the same purpose.  That's just crazy. :-)

Jess is also trading her Scott for a Cross Check.  She swears she had the idea first, but I don't know if I'm willing to give her full credit. :) However, it does mean that, once again, we will have matching bikes in the same color (Misty Mountain Grey).  The components might be a little different though.  I keep trying to get her to embrace our twin dork pride, but she's not quite there yet.  The problem is, I've always done my shopping by noticing cool things that other people had and then going to find that thing.  She just happens to live with me, and also have excellent taste in just the kind of clothes/gear I like.  It's really quite convenient.  And besides, I had my Timbuk2 bag first. So there.

So that's it.  By the end of September, I hope to have a completely revamped bike stable.  To sum up the final list:

Trek 1500 (road, speedster, distance events)

Cannondale Rush (MTB (stay tuned for reports from the first shake down rides at Mountain Bike Oregon last weekend)

Surly Big Dummy (Hauling machine for big art portfolios, groceries, girlfriend, granny and whatever else I might pick up)

Surly Cross Check (Do it all commuter, cross, light touring)

Bike Friday Tikit (Go anywhere, stealth superhero travel bike--in bright yellow)

The revolution will not be motorized.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It's Just a Bike Race

Against nurses orders, I stopped taking narcotics just in time to go out for this week's Short Track race. The main goal was not to fall on my face (or any other part). As I rode out to the course, I saw a guy pushing a tall/chopper bike who seemed to be headed towards PIR. Hmmm, strange place for a freak bike, I thought.

I arrived nice and early so I could pre-ride a couple of times. For once I didn't have the sensation of freaking out before the race. The course was surprisingly sane this week. The back field was too wet to use, so no extra start loop and no gravel hill. Can't say I missed it. It was a fast course, with long gently curving grass sections, the usual tight twists, some bumpy descents but nothing really hairy. And they even left one of the logs in for the beginner race. This was no big deal, unless the person in front of you didn't clear the log and you weren't ready for it. The infield was pretty fast too. No huge ruts like last week and only one hair-pin downhill turn. All in all, a perfect course for someone who recently had teeth yanked out.

Before the race, I loaded up on some more Ibuprofen and my post-surgery antibiotic. If I do well, I'll give the credit to doping. If I do poorly, I'll blame it on doping. At the start line, there seemed to be a lot of women who had either never been on a mountain bike or were very very new to it. Beginner doesn't necessarily mean slow, however, as the woman who had never been in a mountain bike race, left the rest of us in the dust. I assume she'll be upgrading next week...

The race itself was even more fun than last week. I didn't have anyone directly slowing me down like last week, until I started passing juniors (and a few men, whoo hoo). I just took it as an opportunity to rest. I started out well, but a couple of women got ahead of me and I couldn't find another gear. I did however, finally stay ahead of Sharon (my neighbor). She already confessed to having spent the weekend doing epic rides though, so we'll see if I can repeat my performance next week (when I will be zonked from three days of MTB Oregon).

I also met my other goal, which was to get air at the finish line on every lap. Last week, the announcer started a big air/style contest and even laid down across the finish line for certain riders to jump over him. Now that's trust. The section just before the finish was a perfect lead up, down hill and then a long straight away. I couldn't really tell how high I was getting, but I was pretty sure my wheels left the ground every time. Despite this effort, I could not get any love from the announcer! I was so annoyed. He had a lot of trouble getting any air from the women last week, so I think he was just not looking, not expecting any air from the women, especially in the beginner race. I had a little chat with him after the race, and I think he'll be giving me a little more love next week.

I'd especially like to thank Rick from Seven Corners/Team Beer for yelling at me to go faster on every lap. I didn't always obey, but it's nice to have a cheering section. I made sure to return the favor.

Just before the final race of the day, there was an exhibition lap by the Zoo Bomber crew. Pictures say it better, so check out the video below:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Crashing and Passing

6/30/08: Another Monday night, another short track MTB race. This week I had my act together but a trip to the vet (sick kitty) put my arrival time only slightly earlier than last week. The difference was, this time I just marched up to the check in counter, where there was no line, said my name and race number and went on my merry way.

A quick visit to the Chris King tent took care of some nagging brake rubbing in my front wheel. I'm still experimenting with the tire pressure thing, so this week, I tried 28 psi, just for grins and giggles, 'cause that's what Sue said she ran last week. I set off on my pre-ride lap and before I got too far, I saw our new Jr team member, and gave her a shout out as I was passing.

As I twisted and turned and twisted through the course the word 'sadist' kept popping into my head for some reason. It seemed much harder than last week. A scientific poll of a core sample of other racers in a number of categories revealed that I wasn't the only one who thought the course designer was just a little bit evil. The worst offender was a steep climb followed by a sharp right turn followed by a quick but hair-raising decent into a hairpin left turn. Sadly, as the beginner women's race lined up, the starter announced that we would be skirting that hill. Darn. Yeah, I had already developed a love/hate relationship with it.

I got a little better start this week, and settled into the middle of the pack just behind Sharon, my neighbor from two doors down. Not a good enough start though, because I got caught behind a lot of slower people going up hills and through technical sections. Right after the start, I had to slow down near the top of the first crest. The rider behind me was yelling "PEDAL PEDAL PEDAL!" but alas, that didn't make the woman in front of me go any faster. I managed to stay in the saddle, but I think she had to get off and run up the rest of the hill.

Next, I got caught behind four people who all died at the top of the gravel pile, and then it was my turn to get off and run. The descent is a lot harder when you're trying to remount your bike at the same time, but I pulled it off.

Once we got into the trees, things settled down. I focused on staying on course and working on my turns. The field got strung out, but this time I could actually see most of the women in front of me for the majority of lap one. That got me thinking foolish thoughts about a top ten finish. But I do come out for fun, so I didn't kill myself trying to catch anybody, just kept to a pace I could maintain.

Things were going pretty well, when I came past the finish line and up into a big hill. The decent is pretty loose dirt and before I knew it, I was on the ground with my bike on top of me and one foot still trapped in the pedal. Oh, I crashed, I thought, even as I was trying to figure out how to get up. It was a stupid rookie mistake really. I had my weight too far forward. A quick inventory revealed only minor scrapes. I hopped on and kept going, but despaired of ever catching Sharon again.

I settled back into a rhythm and as the race went on, I started feeling better and more confident. At the end of the final lap, I had Sharon in my sights and found an extra gear to pass her just before the final turn, which made my night and gave me bragging rights for the week. So imagine my surprise when results came out on Thursday and I was placed 17th, two places behind Sharon. I wrote to the officials and learned that in fact, I'd been sent on a wild goose lap. I got passed by the leader of the men's race and should have been done on lap three, but they were slow figuring things out and passing that on to the races. "Turn on the after burners sooner next time," was the parting advice.

7/7/08: Jess was off work this week, while we hosted her dad, who was visiting from Santa Fe. They came out to watch this week's race. After my course pre-ride, Jess came over to the back side and I gave her my bike so she could try out the whoop-de-doo hills, the only part of the course I thought she would enjoy.

I'm getting used to the pattern now. The courses seem to get more evil every week, and every week, during pre-ride, I freak out and think, no way am I going to survive this! When the race starts, I have little time to think, and more time to enjoy myself. Since I'm still riding beginner, they usually take out the narliest section of the course. In this case, it was a couple of logs that required bunny hopping in the wooded section and a steep downhill into a hairpin left turn. I always make a point to try them out in pre-ride and I successfully got down the hill twice and over the log once.

The race started way over on the back side this week. I've been making it a goal to get better starts and hopefully position myself in front of the people who end up stalling on the technical sections. I did better this time sprinting to the first turn, but then lost some ground by the time we got to the single track and ended up in my usual mid-pack position. This was OK till we got to the gravel pile, where I once again got stuck behind four other people. I had to bust out my non-existent cyclocross skills, run up the last bit and then remount while sliding down the steep gravel pile. I almost bit it at the bottom but saved myself just in time.

After that, things settled down. I started the race already tired and for the first lap, I complete forgot everything I ever knew about shifting. I went up when I meant to go down and vice versa. The heat, plus the huge meal of fish and chips, walla walla sweet onion rings and Burgerville shakes a few hours before weren't doing me any favors. Afterwards, Jess commented on how much slower my cadence seemed than everyone around me (see video). I am known to be a masher by trade, but after looking at the short clips of dad's video from the week before, I have to conclude that I probably had no legs going in.

Still, the woman ahead of of me was pissing me off. She slowed down at every little bump and hill (video 1:30), destroying any momentum I was trying to build up. I made it my goal in life to get by her, and I was finally able to cut her off in the woods at one of the 90 degree turns going between two narrowly spaced trees and up a hill.

After that I just tried to survive, but as the final lap came up (for reals this time) I found another woman just ahead of me and managed to again sprint around the last corner and pass her right at the last hill before the finish line. That felt good.

I yelled to the guys on the side, "Are we done!??" but couldn't get an answer. But I'd heard the announcer talking about seeing the leader finish, so I pulled off, and hoped it wasn't premature. Results are up and I got 8th this week, my first top ten finish. But I still didn't catch Sharon, so I have a nice carrot waiting for me tomorrow. I'm disobeying nurse's orders and racing tomorrow, despite still being sore from having my wisdom teeth out this past Thursday. Priority number one will be not to fall on my face (or any other part), and number 2, will be to see if I can finally catch that elusive neighbor of mine.