Wednesday, September 30, 2009

USGP Cyclocross

The Professor and I were discussing this race during our ride the other night. Specifically, how awesome and difficult this course looks and what an amazing performance Jonathan Page puts in. He really attacks this course and his competitors. Film courtesy of, a site that deserves high praise for it's incredible coverage of mountain bike and cyclocross events.

Cycling Videos on CyclingDirt

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

more collegiate racing notes

some additional observations from my weekend trip to Boone/Banner Elk, NC.

* There were about 3 other racers kicking singlespeeds, including one guy from an unknown school (he was wearing a plaid button-down shirt and baggy shorts) and one woman who gave me props for riding a singlespeed 29er, but heckled me for not also having a rigid fork like her. She is my hero.

* I also spotted a dude with a vintage Manitou 3 suspension fork. This was the first suspension fork I owned, which I bought used around 1995. Elastomer shock, no dampening. I still have it in my parts bin. It's not a very good fork, but could be considered a work of art.

* I'm pretty sure I spotted Lees-McRae alumnus Brent Bookwalter hanging out around the start/finish line in his BMC Team kit. He should be over in Switzerland preparing for the World Championships about now, but it was cool to see him out supporting his old team.

* Lees-McRae College, along with places like the Colorado School of Mines, is one of those tiny schools that most people haven't heard of. That is, unless you are a collegiate mountain bike racer, in which case, you quake in fear about the humility of having to race against semi-pro kids (probably like Portland State University's basketball team "getting" to "play" Duke). The newest major mtb powerhouse/school I'd never heard of is Union College. Not Union College of upstate New York, I've heard of that one and actually know someone from there. Union College, Kentucky. I'm not trying to dis this school. I really don't know anything about them, except they have a lot of fast mountain bikers. The one thing I found curious (after figuring out they didn't drive down from the northeast to kick my ass) was their team kits: orange camouflage. Style is a personal thing, and many people find all cycling costumes ridiculous. Nevertheless, I found this design fairly terrible. On the other hand, I don't know much about Kentucky (except for Dr. Pirate), but perhaps these jerseys keep them from getting shot during hunting season.

* UNC-Asheville's jerseys feature a dog's ass.

* It wasn't that hot out, but a couple of dudes opted for the bibs-only approach. I don't think that this is technically legal, and perhaps I should have protested. Not out of observance of the rules, but for the sake of common decency.

* While most of the fastest guys were from schools near mountains, school location did not necessarily correlate to skill. During the race, I found myself getting passed by one kid from a mountain-area college who blazed past me on a descent, but who wasn't a very strong climber, and passing another kid from a different mountain-area school who was a terrible descender (and a mediocre climber). That being said, I saw at least one dude from Flordia drop out on the first lap.

* Did I mention that collegiate racers are pretty cool and will let you pass whenever you ask? It's true. Very polite, like a Triangle-series race.

* There was one dude with the last name Haile. A relative of anyone we know? An unknown relative of anyone we know?

* I saw the weirdest mechanical: a guy snapped his chain, which somehow managed to whip back and wrap itself around his tire, then back around a spoke. This appeared to puncture the tire and tweak the spoke (the chain was still lodged in the spoke when he carried his bike across the finish line) in this very rare trifecta-failure. It may have actually broken the rear derailleur, making it a quad-fecta.

* If you stop for a burrito at Black Cat in Boone and are fairly dirty and look mildly shellshocked, people don't seem to mind. I'm not sure if this is a Boone thing or a Black Cat thing or a universal burrito establishment thing. Either way, it was a good thing. (As a side note, when I was returning home from a ride the other day, I received a text from my lady to meet her at Allivia's for a beer. I was reluctant to stop since I was fully kitted-out, but the weather was nice, the patio was virtually empty, the beer was refreshing, and people didn't give me too many awkward looks.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

college kids are rollin'

being a perpetual graduate student has innumerable drawbacks but two advantages: a $1 discount on movies and collegiate racing. Saving a buck on the occasional $10 movie isn't something that I take advantage of very often, but I race the college kids as often as possible. I like collegiate racing because the kids are usually less cranky than the typical Cat-4 road race participants and because they often put together courses that normal promoters won't do. On-campus criteriums, Beech Mountain-top finishes, fun stuff. This weekend App State and Lees-McRae hosted a mountain bike race adjacent to the Lees-McRae campus. Lees-McRae hosted collegiate mtb nationals last year and cut a bunch of trails, including what looks like a cool-looking downhill course. The XC course was hilly and challenging, but several days worth of rain made it downright squirrely.

In the Triangle, riding wet trails is a no-no. But once a race is scheduled, the race must go on, rain or shine. Muddy conditions made some normally fast trails fairly treacherous. Off-camber sections that I normally wouldn't sweat were very tricky since any quick adjustments would cause the front tire to lose traction, sending me down the mountain. There were people crashing everywhere, but funny little crashes, like they should have been played in fast-motion on the Benny Hill Show.

I was worried how my singlespeed would cope with the climbing, but since the buttery mud made climbing in several sections virtually impossible for everyone, I don't think it really hindered me. There was a lot of running/walking/pushing/skating. Definitely more time spent off the bike than in a cyclocross race, which is weird. (Cyclocross should have more running, atmo.) I actually think that the singlespeed may have provided some extra benefit because I saw more mechanicals than in any other race I've done. Broken chains, ripped derailleurs, mud-clogged drivetrains. It was also one of the largest races I've done, with nearly 50 other men in the A's, at least a dozen women chasing close behind us (two closed the gap and flew past me in spectacular fashion), and at least 30 men's B's, who we started passing around our second lap. There were people falling everywhere.

I attribute the fact I didn't injure myself on several factors. Factor 1: moderate skillz. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest where it's always wet, I learned how to pilot a non-cooperative bike down a muddy, rutted, trail. I'm not great at it, but I can hold it together fairly well. I probably helped to ruin a lot of streams by causing massive erosion back in those days, but everyone seemed to be doing it. I think cyclocross has also helped me to feel more confident riding muddy sections where turning your handlebars or braking are suggestions blatantly ignored by your bicycle. Factor 2: equipment. I mentioned that the reliability of the singlespeed was probably helpful. The addition of a suspension fork for racing this year was also critical. A harrowing descent down a rocky creekbed would have demolished my hands on a rigid fork. I am also realizing that the Bontrager Jones tires I won at the Huck-A-Buck race may have also saved my life. They provided admirable traction and mud-clearing and were probably a big improvement in wet conditions than my old WTBs. I normally wouldn't switch to wet-weather tires, so this was a bit of good luck. I'm also thankful I was passing by the Back Alley Bike Shop last week and spotted a 20-tooth cog which I decided to purchase to replace my 18t. Climbing was tough enough, so the easier gearing was critical. I realize that doing last minute changes to your bike right before a race is a cardinal sin of bicycle maintenance, but I felt that it would be irresponsible for my knees to try to do a lot of climbing with the 18t. And, in for a penny, in for a pound--I also decided to replace my brake pads two days before the race. The new pads weren't quite set up right and were dragging a bit, which may have provided a tiny bit of extra resistance, but I think the improved stopping power was more than worth it. But finally, and possibly most importantly, factor 3: that shit was fun. Riding new trails, especially in weird conditions, is a terrific challenge. Add to that national-caliber competition (not that I was competing against them, but I was at least competing with them) and spectators lining the rocky-creek descent, heckling the defeated, cheering the successful. It really pushed me to try and ride as hard and cleanly as possible. Sure, some of the climbing was miserable and I could have very easily injured myself. But this is the type of experience that I really need to experience once or twice a year and that I'll remember for a long time.

To put all of my boastfulness in perspective, I finished in the bottom half (27th out of 44 starters). Nothing great, but I'm happy to have survived.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Sorry if you were misled by the title but NEXT (tm) bicycles (available at fine bicycle shops like Wal-Mart) have not introduced a cyclocross bike. No, actually cyclocross season is upon us. I noticed results from the first pro race of the season: Steenbergcross. (Not to be mistaken by Hollywood-types as the cyclocross race hosted by actress Mary Steenburgen. That's next month.)

If you read this blog and you don't know what cyclocross is, it's basically like this:

And of course I mean that Richard Groenendael represents a cyclocross race and the dude getting punched is you. Is much fun, no?

Other riders, like today's Vuelta stage winner and Euro-mullet proponent Lars Boom have a less traditional style. However, watch for Bart Wellens' spectator kick--he barely interrupts his cadence:

Perhaps it's a good thing that few people ever come out to watch bike races. More spectators would mean that a bunch of jerks would start showing up and we'd just keep having to beat-down more and more fans.

If you want to get a little practice in before the season starts, some folks have started doing some training Thursday evenings at about 6:30 (6:00 set-up time) at Durham's Forest Hills Park. Near the playground, I think. I haven't been this year yet, but I should be there this week. It's a good way to practice some dismounts and low-speed crashes before you have to do them in a race. If you show up rocking a NEXT full suspension bike, I will give you one of these Trader Joe's Red Oval Classic Lagers I just purcahsed. It's no Three-Buck Chuck (which I strongly endorse). They fill the micro-niche between Milwaukee's Best and Old Milwaukee, making Red Oval roughly the NEXT bicycle of beer. I haven't checked Urban Dictionary to learn if "red oval" is also something dirty (it probably is), but in these tough economic times, $2.99 a six-pack is nothing to scoff at.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Transition to Success

This site has been quiet about the on-going (yawn!) Vuelta so far, but former mountain biker Ryder Hesjedal's alpine win yesterday was a bright spot. In his former life, Hesjedal was a top competitor and after bouncing around from team to team he seems to found the support he needs to succeed at the top level in the Protour. His Garm*n team seems to have found its stride in the last month, with Farrar's sprint wins, Dave Z's yellow jersey at the Tour of Mo' (bigger yawn?), and, today, Sutton's win a the Tour of Britain. While these wins are certainly welcome, I'm still waiting for Jonathan Vaughter's Argyle Armada to deliver something more substantial. If they win a classic, perhaps Paris-Tours or better Lombardia later, this season I'll be impressed. But Tommy D as Vuelta d'Espana podium finisher or winner? Let's just say, I'm not holding my breath for the hype.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Has the Leadville 100 Jumped the Shark....

Hopefully not, because I was kinda sorta planning on doing it next summer.....and I don't wanna be "that" guy that is always late to the party. Anyways, based on the upcoming movie about Lance and Leadville.....I suspect everyone's grandma will be vying for entry next year. Ugh. How did endurance mountain bike racing become so popular? Regardless, the scenery looks spectacular and thin air gives you less air resistance....right? Who's in? Lottery for entry usually opens in January.

Practical Jokes

Thursday, September 10, 2009

making up for lost time

went up to Brevard NC this weekend to hang out with some friends in a quaint little cabin. of course, i brought my bike so i could finally ride some trails at Pisgah. as luck would have it, i never did get to ride. it was a combination of factors. no one else brought a bike. we didn't have any firm plans for hikes. i had no idea where i was going. but, most of all, i felt guilty ditching my friends, including the people whose cabin we were staying at and of course my special ladyfriend. does this happen to you? i should feel guilty in this situation, right? i don't want to be "that guy" who bails on social plans to go biking--at least not all the time.

prior to leaving Durham, i did get several recommendations on places to ride from JD. the downside was the suggestions were described by JD as "pretty durn epic", and since JD is a man who loves 100 mile mountain bike races and will go out for a casual 5-hour sunday ride, i didn't know if i could swing that. not to mention the fact that i felt extra guilty telling my friends that i was going out on a bike ride with out them and i might return somewhere between two and seven hours.

in any event, the hiking was nice. on a particularly steep descent, we moved aside for a cyclist climbing up the trail. i recognized the guy from cyclocross races and we chatted for a bit. my friends were surprisingly not surprised that the one dude we see mountain biking is someone i know. this was a funny coincidence, but the main impression it left on me was that i've got to get training for cyclocross season.

after getting abused on the Tuesday Night Ride, i knew my fitness was lacking so figured i could get some good training in on the mountain bike. i headed out to the Carolina North trails after work. my goal was to get a good, hard ride in. get in shape, after a weekend of modest activity and immodest food and beer consumption.

i don't ride the C-Nor (my new pet name for the Carolina North trails) often enough to know the trail system well, but i can at least recognize places i've been. it's not like Beaver Dam, with a few, well-defined loops which can easily be linked together. it's a dens network of well-made trails, which can easily lead to confusion for the easily confusable. in short, it offers choice, an option i found terrifying. i've attempted to diminish my possibilities for difficult decision making when on a mountain bike by eliminating shifters. suspension seemed too complicated, so i opted for a rigid bike for a while, but i soon faced the daunting decision of ride and destroy my hands or not ride and continue my goal of becoming a hand model. so in essense, a suspension fork actually simplified things. it's difficult enough to pick a decent line on a trail to avoid crashing, so having to actually pick the trail to pick a line on gets tiring.

if i sound a little grumpy, here is my quintessential Andy Rooney moment: why is it that they make mountain bike bars so wide and mountain bike trails so narrow? i bring this up because, after squeezing through a number of closely-spaced trees, i clipped one with my handlebar. it was one of those crashes where you're on the ground before you know what happened. it was also one of those crashes where you're sliding along the ground long enough to realize "hey, that's my body making that scraping sound". after friction overcame momentum, i checked to make sure my sometimes dislocatable shoulders were in place. check. then i slowly got up and verified that i was okay. scraped-up, but check. i walked it out for a while and was soon passed by a runner that i had passed earlier. i think i tried to make some joke about how running appeared to be the quicker way through the forest, but he only grunted in affirmation. i was actually kind of surprised, and now that i think about it, somewhat offended that he didn't ask if i was okay. either that, or at least call me a jackass. (as a side note, i saw a lot more runners than cyclists on the trails, except for in the parking lot, where i saw a quite a few cyclists engaged in their pre-ride pumping and preening.)

with blood mostly dried and done soaking through my BCC shorts, i began the slow process of trying to find my way back to the car. it's a long way out, especially when you don't know where you're going. (on the other hand, these trails often have the habit of spitting you out too quickly when you actually do want to keep riding.) the one mountain biker i asked was kind enough to give me good directions and i was on my way. by the time i was nearly back at the trailhead, i actually considered riding some more, but my joints were starting to hurt and it was starting to get dark and i realized with my luck that day, i'd probably end up crashing, getting lost in the dark, and getting taken advantage of by werewolves.

back at home, i bandaged my wounds, watched Obama talk about health care reform, and was thankful that i wasn't more injured and that i have health insurance. woke up today with a sore throat and feeling generally crummy. i'm no doctor (although i am The Professor (although i'm not a real professor (yet))), but i don't think these symptoms are related to the crash, which means i probably have the swine flu. joy. i'm hoping for a quick recovery because i hate having to get back in shape.

none of this would have happened if i had just ridden in Pisgah.

We win! (Well, kinda.)

You may have noticed that a few weeks ago I put up a few links to some blogs that we follow -- Team Dicky, Fat Cyclist, Bike Snob, etc. -- along with one that I like to read on occasion, the Misfit Cycles blog, 'LiesNShite.' While Fatty was probably the most compelling read over the last few months, as he watched his wife die of cancer and started a series of fundraisers in her name, the other blogs provided the RDA of internet snark. (If you haven't read through Fatty's entries during June and July, they are worth a look for his ability to stare unflinchingly at the horror of his wife's death and yet not fall into the abyss.)

As it turns out, Misfit Cycles was having a contest: whoever could direct the most traffic to their blog would win their new dirtjump frame, the Nummers. Misfit is an off-kilter little company that makes a few nice frames, some funky handlebars, and good SS-friendly gear, but the idea of riding their dirtjump frame is pretty amusing. I mean, the General is rad and all, but pure unadulterated DJ-ness? Needless to say I now need it.

Amusingly, BCC came in 10th in the first phase of the contest! (Which is like winning, except with nine people ahead of you. It is also a lot like losing, it seems, as their site only lists ten 'winners.' But we're not going to focus on that for the moment.) I think that pretty much means that we've got this baby wrapped up, and that we'll soon be dirtjumping in fine Nummers style all over Crabtree.

This does, of course, raise the question of who should get the bike should we win it? The most skilled DJer? (Dave.) The least skilled? (Insert other name of choice.) Our fearless leader? (B-Swad?) The winner of an all-team rock-paper-scissors-lizard-spock face-off? (Spock FTW!) Yer mom?

In other news...
I did actually get to hit the trails around Memphis last week, and I've got to say that it gave me a new appreciation for the fine trail network of the Triangle. This is not to say that the trails here are bad, exactly, or that I'm not thrilled to have some a short drive away from me, but when tell you that someone as out of shape as I am is pushing a 32x18 on his 29er and thinking that he really needs a few more gear inches, I think you get the idea of just how smooth and flat these trails are: they're fun, but damn I could go for a New Light weekend.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Portrait of a Cyclist as a Young Man

A few of us have seen this before, a photo appears in our in-box sans description or context. We know nothing of the rider, or the ride. We have a bike in its naked, unadorned beauty and strength. I like those photos because I think bikes of all types are neat and I definitely geek out on them (a bit).

But if those photos told 1000 word stories, the photo I received from Hollywood this morning is Homeric-quality epic. What can we make of this photo?
What do and don't we see here? These are questions that art historians have made their careers on. And dare I say it, when I saw this photo, I couldn't but think that this photo conjures up a set of questions to rival the mysteries that surround perhaps the world's most complexly rendered and masterful portraits, Diego Valesquez's Las Meninas:

I'll let you study up on how Valasquez's portrait confuses the relationship between the viewer and the figures- after all, we need to leave something for art historians to do. But what of this photo. Sure, I see 2010 Gary Fisher Superfly too. But who could it belong to? What rider is simultaneously so rad as to be require a carbon dual supension 29er and so fredtastic to palp wheel reflectors. Gosh, there might be a pie-plate on that bike, to go along with its top-of-the-line SRAM XX kit.

And what of the shadowy figures who appear in the photos. They are literally shadows on the wall. Who do they belong to? One must belong to Hollywood. But which? Does Hollywood have an Entourage? Who's taking the photo? Where did they think it would be posted? Who's it for? And how come Hollywood hasn't told us about his new Ducati?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Pirate's New Ride

We usually spend our time highlighting any one of the many rides that Hollywood has already or is anticipating the purchase of, but today's Velonews has something different in store. Behold: The Pirate's New Ride.

Okay, not our Pirate but Il Pirata, the deceased Marco Pantani. Close enough, right?This is sort of like the bike industry version of all those postmortem Tupac albums. I guess we'll have to go back to profiling Hollywood's new rides.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

fast is fast

Returned to the Orange County Speedway on Saturday night. Not to race, but to watch racing. Not to watch bicycle racing, but to watch automobile racing.

We witnessed a 13 year old kid beat a bunch of adults (i.e. licensed drivers) in a pretty tough race. In the winner's circle, he looked so tiny in his small little jumpsuit next to his giant car--more like a kid in red pajamas getting out of his car-shaped bed. He was barely as tall as the frayed cuff of Miss Rougemont's cut-off jeanshorts.

As a cyclist who sometimes races, it's tough to remind myself that the tactics are different in these races because the physics is different. Yes, cars are like people, because some are just faster than others. And, similar to a bike race on narrow roadways, it can be difficult to pass or move up through the pack at speed. But cars are not like people because they don't really get tired in a 20 or 100 lap race (except for the ones that catch on fire, I guess you could call that getting tired). Therefore, I saw cars lead the entire race and win. There just wasn't enough horespower and/or space to easily pass. I think that this fact would make car racing somewhat frustrating. At least in bike racing, every jackass (especially me) thinks they have a shot at winning, even when we know we're not the fastest person out there. There is that chance, through an ideal confluence of events that you can sneak away at the right time and the pack will bet wrong and will never be able to catch you. It's some complicated equation, that looks like

+ (timing^luck)
- organizational psycology
+ (weather/hills)
+ (length or race/miles driven to race)
+ (price of wheelset/price of car)
- (number of children)!
+ (bartape color/saddle color)
= probability of winning

Maybe I'm missing something but car racing seems to be more simpler:

fastest car
+ best starting postion
- crashes
= victory

I'm probably missing something.

It's no surprise that in North Carolina, a lot more people go out to watch car races than bike races. They even pay money to have this privilege. I guess it helps that you can see the whole race from the comfort of the bleachers. Also, it's byob. Also, dudes crash.

On the downside, it's louder than a chorus of Chris King hubs. Also, I probably cut a few weeks of my life by inhaling car fumes and burnt rubber. Well, that and I ate the funnel cakes.

I still think that this place would be perfect for a cyclocross race, complete with the Paris-Roubaix-style velodrome finish and screaming drunkards. We'll look into it.