Training, racing, gear, facial hair styles and thoughts from my push to become an elite cyclist.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Weekend Skiing

It's February, and amazingly it's one of few days we've had where the conditions have been conducive to decent skiing. 

Last weekend was a total bust.  Saturday started with a short and very icy ski, then a very windy and equally unfulfilling road ride.  I was determined to get a decent workout in somewhere, so after three hours of driving I had 20 minutes of very slick, muddy riding.  

And then there was yesterday.  After snowing much longer than expected we were treated to almost a foot of new snow.  

Spinney and I took his Subaru up to Trapp's, and I was encouraged to bring a helmet for the "rally". 

A friendly landmark.

We took the back way up, and it was as amazing as it looks in these pictures. 

Parking lot with a view.

Right outside the touring center the trails were in pretty good shape, and as the groomers made the rounds they got even better.  Out skiing around we bumped into local fastman Jake and fought to hang with him for the next two hours.  After finishing top 20 in the Stowe Derby earlier in the day he was out to get some more time on snow.  Any other year that would be odd, but considering the conditions were the best they've been in six weeks. 

Spinney getting ready to pin it.  His Garmin wrist computer stopped counting accumulated ski time when he stopped moving so it had a very pessimistic view of how long we actually skied.  I was ready to throw that fucking thing in the woods about halfway through.

No pics of Jake- I was too busy trying to keep up or get some tips on handling the numerous off camber, twisting or rolling sections where I seem to lose speed.

There's the top of my hat covered head, just to prove I was there.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Review- Maxxis Ikon 29 x 2.2

Last summer I tested out a set of Maxxis Ikons in the 29 x 2.2 size.  After testing them on a variety of conditions they became my go-to tire.  

In some ways a 29er tire that's 2.2" wide and weighs 500 grams doesn't seem possible within the laws of physics.  Just a few years ago I was happy to run 26" tires that weighed 500 grams and were 2.0" wide.  Achieving that low weight for such a large tire is done through a low density, sticky rubber compound and a relatively thin sidewall and tread casing.

For most of the conditions around here that's a good compromise- the soil is usually soft, sharp rocks are minimal and the low mass helps on the frequent climbs.  There's a slightly heavier EXO model with reinforced sidewalls and that would definitely be a better option for areas with more rocks and frequent sidewall cuts.

The tread pattern is fairly small but aggressive, and the casing shape is square across the top.  That adds up to mean a fairly wide patch of rubber is in contact with the ground, and as the bike is leaned over the cornering knobs transition smoothly onto the trail.  The tread blocks are in slight chevron pattern so they don't all hit the ground at once (which increases rolling resistance and slows down forward progress), but there are enough of them spaced closely enough so that there's consistent bite.  

The treads are shallow to medium depth and moderately spaced as shown in the photos below.  It's not a tightly spaced hardpack pattern with low treadblocks like the Aspen or Small Block 8, nor is it a widely spaced lug/paddle pattern like the mud-specific Beaver.  The tread design and the squarish-casing make this tire very much aimed at the middle of the trail condition spectrum.

Most of the conditions I normally ride in would be considered intermediate- the ground is firm but not quite hardpack, and there are almost always some slick sections and thin mud.  In that environment the Ikon is very fast and predictable.  As the terrain gets muddier the Ikon really shines when you lower the air pressure a few PSI.  That holds true for most tires, but I found myself running these 2-4 PSI lower than my normal range and it made a huge difference when it came to cornering confidence and wet weather performance.  In general I've been running my 29er tires with slightly less pressure than comparable 26er models, and I think the additional width of the 2.2 casing makes the optimal pressure even lower.

When I did run this tire in dry conditions it worked pretty well but didn't quite roll as quickly as other options.  Last summer we had so few dry days that this was the option for me for pretty much every ride.  On one particularly rocky ride in Upstate New York I did get a cut through the tread casing, and it was big enough that it wouldn't seal up on the trail and I had to walk out of the woods.  In places like that the EXO casing would be a good investment and worth the weight penalty.

On wet, slick trails, these tires really shine as they're supple enough to conform to the terrain so the knobs can bite on wet roots and rocks.  In my mind that is a tough combination because the tall knobs on pure mud tires are too squirmy yet shallow or closely spaced treads quickly get packed with mud and are equally useless.

The sticky, low durometer eXCeption rubber adds to the wet weather performance, and although the increased grip is palpable they seem to wear remarkably well.  The pictures show the rear tire after three months of regular use and the knobs are still fairly sharp.   

Overall I would summarize these tires as very capable.  They're fast and stable throughout the spectrum of conditions, and although they may not be the best in pure hardpack or serious, sticky mud, they're predictable enough to be a great option if you're not sure what to expect or like to only run one set of tires.  These are definitely race tires, and accordingly their lightweight casing favors riders who go around rather than over trail obstacles.  

For more information visit the Maxxis website. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

J Bailey Cycling Cap

People have strong opinions about what a cycling cap should or shouldn't be, and how it should or shouldn't be worn.  For me it's an on-bike piece of clothing, so if I'm wearing one I'm either riding or about to be.

As a cyclist I definitely have a fair number of cycling caps in my collection. My new favorite is indisputably the handmade J Bailey that arrived yesterday.  The design is simple black with a Tricolor visor stripe that appeals to my Francophilic tendencies.  

The cut is a pretty basic three panel that fits smoothly under a helmet.  The material is cotton, but has a nicer feel than any other cycling cap I've ever worn- and with my shaved head there's a lot of hat-on-scalp contact.  I would describe it as the difference between this and a normal cycling cap to be like the difference between a high quality ringspun cotton t-shirt like an American Apparel and a Hanes Beefy-T.

What I really like about this cap is the visor.  Most visors end up being too long when they get pushed down by a helmet, but this one is the right length to sit just at the top of my line of sight across the upper edge of my glasses.  It's out of the way but still provides some protection from the elements.

Another benefit of the handmade, small production approach is that there are sizing options beyond the usual one size fits all that's usually on offer (has one size ever really fit all?).

If you ride a high end, handmade bike why not wear a high end, handmade cap?  For more information or to buy one visit his Etsy shop.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Endurance sports require a difficult balance of training and recovery.  Of course that's nothing new to anyone who's done any semi-serious training, but for me that balance is remarkably elusive.

When I think about champions I imagine them to be like Bernard Hinault- strong willed, fiery, competitive and indestructible.  Of course much of that is genetics, but mentality plays a role as well. I've learned how much you think you can take is almost more important than what you actually can handle.

Cycling lore is filled with stories about riders building up that toughness: Tinker Juarez training with a backpack full of rocks, or Erik Zabel riding around town while his teammates stopped for coffee on training rides.  It's those little anecdotes that add to the legend of people whom we already admire, and I'd be lying if I don't think about them when I'm out training.

Since Christmas I've been building my way back, and it's been a mixed bag of some good, some terrible and some great days.  Although I stayed active through the fall I was too overloaded to do any serious training, and most of my workouts were necessarily short and infrequent.  I really didn't know where I was starting from so instead of getting further demotivated by some terrible benchmark tests I decided to slowly work my way back into the swing of things with regular workouts.

I was pretty haggard at first, especially on skis, but I stayed with it, and I felt like I was starting to work my way back.  Remembering how hard I worked last year I ratcheted it up a notch and decided to try to ski two days a week and do a double session on Wednesday with a midday run and a post-work roller session.  That was fine, but it left me so fried for the weekend that I had a tough time getting motivated to get out the door to head up to Trapp's until the last minute.

Of course weekends aren't solely for long workouts so my procrastination, short daylight hours, questionable ski conditions and a general feeling of malaise all added up to make me feel like I couldn't get out of my own way.  Then on the days I did ski I was so hell bent on skiing with perfect form and being out for a suitably epic workout that I was completely blown the next day.  It's as if I forget that Nordic skiing is tough.  In an effort to curb calories and fast track my lean-up program I was short-changing my fuel with predictably disastrous results.  Basically I pushed it hard enough in one particular workout that my blood sugar was still so depleted two days later that I almost went into shock after a light workout.  

Now in hindsight this is all laughably obvious, and I suppose during this process it was to those around me.  Fortunately this is the time of year when you experiment and make mistakes, and I've reacquainted myself with some of the underlying principles I'd lost sight of in recent months.  Really this effort is all about my own expectations.  Nobody except me cares if I lose 5 more pounds or finish 3 places higher.  I'm doing this on my own terms with a five year timeline because I didn't want to push too hard and burn out.  Right now that sounds really funny because I didn't follow one of my own rules.

A conversation with George at the shop yesterday helped me put that in perspective.  As we talked about the prospect of riding outside this week and what we were doing to get ready for the season he pointed out the obvious- that now is not the time to push it.  His two brief sentences completely crystallized the idea in my head and things made sense.

With my rediscovered clarity I'm taking a step back and trying to build fitness rather than auger myself into the ground.  After all, even the Badger wasn't out killing it in February.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Just In- Gaerne G.Keira

Over the last few months I've lamented the many pairs of mountain bike shoes that I've had that haven't met my expectations.  Since I retired my Specialized Comp Carbons I haven't gotten more than a season out of a single pair of shoes.  

Last week my new Gaerne G.Keiras arrived, and I'm hopeful that my search is over.  If the mild winter weather continues I might be able to get some time on these in the next few weeks, but I won't post a full review until I have some real hours on them after the season gets rolling.

Right out of the box I noticed the quality of these shoes.  They have a very solid feel, and by that I mean that although the uppers are lightweight and breathable they hold their shape and have a certain amount of stand-alone stability.  Many cycling shoes have gotten more and more slipper-like, favoring lightweight construction and minimal treads.  That's fine for the road, or even shorter mountain bike races where there's little to no time off the bike, but in endurance races there are always hike-a-bikes, deep stream crossings, unrideable climbs or other obstacles that require walking.  In those instances a shoe with an actual grippy sole is a necessity.  Admittedly I'm a racer snob, but when I was riding sketchy, slick and muddy terrain because I was worried about falling while walking at the 6 Hours of Pat's Peak I realized I needed something a little better suited to my riding.  

Other Italian brands tend to hog the limelight, but like their more widely known competitors Gaerne has a background in motocross boots and their lineage shows through with rugged but not overbuilt offroad shoes.
I opted for a size 44.5, which is what I normally wear for cycling shoes.  The fit is superb, and the heel counter has an aggressive but not obtrusive feel that seems very secure.  For my average to slightly narrow foot these feel perfect, but they're likely to not work well for wide feet.

The ratcheting top strap has an adjustable pad that can be moved around so that it can be properly aligned to alleviate pressure points. 

The straps feature a mini ratchet mechanism that helps to keep the straps at the desired tension.  It's a cool idea, and in my living room tests it really works. 

The buckle is aluminum and has a much more solid feel than anything else I've used.  I broke two sets of plastic buckles this past summer, and I'm optimistic that these should prove to be more reliable.  You can see that the strap length is also adjustable on the outside of the pad.

The solid construction of these does make them slightly heavier than other offerings in this price range, and the standard G.Keira model shown here does not have a carbon sole.  That said, I'm done with flimsy, poorly constructed mountain bike shoes that are slippery when walking on dry pavement.  I think it's worth the trade off.  All of this handmade Italian craftsmanship does add to the pricetag, but if these last as well as I expect them to they'll be around for several seasons. 

I'll offer a more detailed review once I've used these more, and I'll post more details in the coming months.  I'll also post my new shoe setup process for break in, cleat setup, etc. 

For more information visit www.gaerneshoes.com.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Review- Fischer RCS Skate

Like most cyclists I have a complicated relationship with winter.  Over the last ten years I've changed my tact to go with the grain rather than against it, and around here that means using the snow instead of fighting it.  

I've put a lot of effort into skiing and have been working out with an organized master's group twice a week for the last three years.  Between that and skiing both weekend days (usually at Trapp's, but not always) I usually get 4 days of skiing per week as long as there's skiable snow on the ground.  In a roundabout way I'm offering this up as a means of explaining my position before I offer my first review of a ski product.  

So with that out of the way here are my thoughts about the venerable Fischer RCS Skate.  These skis are a common site at any Nordic Center and are one of the most prevalent models on the market.  

Fischer athletes essentially own the Nordic World Cup, but as in pro cycling what the elite use is not always indicative of the what the best option is in the marketplace.  Obviously equipment needs to perform to be used at that highest level, but I usually find the best indicator to be top amateur or regional pro athletes who are still paying for their own stuff; amongst that group Fischer has a solid following.

For a long time the RCS was the top of the heap, but the recent introduction of the RCS Carbonlite (referred to universally as "the hole ski") with its distinctive hole in the shovel has moved the RCS down a step in the hierarchy.

See- no holes.

So now there's the RCS Carbonlite halo ski (you heard it here first), and if I had the opportunity to get a set of those I would have, but honestly this is more than enough ski for me.  

Fischer offers two base treatments for this ski- Cold and Plus.  The plus base has a moderate linear grind and a graphite treatment intended for humid conditions like we see here in Vermont.  The cold has less graphite and a flatter base grind so that it handles extreme cold and dry snow more effectively.  The flex and sidecut are identical between the two models.

Truth be told I got 2 sets of these this winter- one set to be run with the stock "Cold" base treatment and one that I had ground to be more of a New England conditions all-rounder.  This particular set pictured here was ground at Edgewise in Stowe, VT with a grind used by many of the VTXC ski team members.  These two models were intended to round out my quiver by replacing my Hypersonics, but more on that later.

So how do they ski?  In a word- amazing.  They're both faster and more stable than anything else I've ever used, and I instantly felt comfortable on them.  They are exceptionally good when the snow is firm.  

Underfoot the RCS seems to find its edge more easily than other skis in firm conditions.  Interestingly there's not much of a trade-off when the going gets soft.  It doesn't spring off the snow or float on top like a condition-specific soft snow ski, but they do still outperform other all-rounder and middle of the road models I've tried.   

The all-around set of skis with the Edgewise grind are the ones I use most often.  When running those I can hang with or out- glide most of the guys I ski with using just normal hydrocarbon wax.  I find myself reaching for these skis in every condition regardless of the snow conditions or temperature because they are so predictable and reliably fast.

The stock Cold set also has its place, but since this winter has been so mild I've only used them a handful of times so far.  When it's below about 10 degrees they really shine and are palpably faster when the snow feels like sandpaper.   

Also I'm running them with the Salomon SNS Pilot bindings.  They come stock with the plate for the Rottefella NIS binding, but since I'm already committed to SNS with boots and binding on all of my other skis there wasn't really another option.  Although I was chided by an NIS fan for using this setup it's not at all uncommon even at the World Cup where athletes could theoretically have better access to a special run of standard topsheet skis. 

The bad news is that I like my all-around RCS skis so much that I'm running them pretty much everyday.  So much for rounding out the quiver.

For more information visit www.fischersports.com.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Objects of My Attention

The untraditional winter we've been having has been well publicized, and it's made for some interesting conditions both on the road and the trail.  Skiing has been very hit-or-miss, and I've had days that are either awe-inspiring or completely humbling- sometimes even back to back.  Folks in other parts of the state have been able to ride right along in November-like temperatures and only mild accumulation of road grit.

Fortunately bike geekery is not weather dependent, so here is a sampling of some of the bikes that have been on my radar recently.  And no, I don't own any of them.  Yes, I wish I did.

The first in a trio of IF's is this Planet X Cross.  IF is known for their cool paint schemes and this is no exception, but what I find most interesting about this bike is the Campy build kit.  I can't tell from this image if the bike is Ti or steel or whether the gruppo is 10 or 11 speed, but regardless it's a cool setup.

This Ti Factory Deluxe is the sole mountain bike in this post, and yes I'm partial to titanium 29er hardtails.  This bike has a cool blend of new (Crank Brothers Cobalt wheels, ENVE cockpit, Ergons) and classic (ti, XTR) wrapped up in a simple but well-executed paint scheme.  Mountain bikes aren't often considered elegant, but I think this one might convince people otherwise.

The last of the IF's is my undoubted favorite- the Ti Factory Lightweight (all IF images from the Independent Fabrication blog).  Sure the paint is rad, but the innovative ti/carbon design makes the ISP seem relevant on a metal bike.  The stealth Campy Super Record 11 and Mavic SSC Carbones keep with the Ferrari-esque aesthetic.  No battery powered shifting here.

Not quite an ISP but still a high performance ti frame, this Hampsten Gran Paradiso is an update one of their long-running models.  The extended seat mast as a recent change within the last 18 months and I think it makes this bike more race-inspired.  Hampstens aren't widely used as race bikes and their geometry reflects that, but they're carving out a niche with the ever growing gran fondo crowd.  According to Steve Hampsten this bike as pictures tips the scales at 15.5 pounds with pedals so it's still more of a performance piece than a Porsche Panamera.

In some circles Australian custom builder Baum has started to make a name for themselves.  Their offerings are straightforward steel and titanium designs with remarkably eye catching paint work.  This one pictured above was featured on their website, and every single one of their bikes has a similar simple yet jaw dropping aesthetic.  Make sure you check out their Giro tribute bike from May of 2011.

Right now the weather for this weekend looks like it will be pleasant (for February), and with any luck I'll be able to get some more workouts in.  I did manage to reassemble the Race X Lite rear wheel bearings, but they aren't quite as smooth as they should be so it'll take some more tinkering before I feel comfortable riding them.

So for now, it's daydreaming during the week and keeping the matches dry for the weekend.