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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice work Professor. But referencing the Benny Hill show? You're showing your age. Wait, so am I.