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

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hampshire 100 Race Report

On August 18 I completed my fourth consecutive Hampshire 100.  It was hands down my hardest race of the season.

It was only a few short weeks ago, but in many ways it feels much longer than that.  Leading up to the race I'd had some awesome days out, like the Catamount 6 Hour race.  I'd had some breakthroughs at races and was riding really, really strongly.  My goal was to carry that form through August, but a series of events, fatigue and an especially intense weed pollen season made that very difficult.

Since the flood we had some drainage issues around the house, and during one particularly intense rain storm (the day after Catamount, believe it or not) we got about 4" of rain overnight and had some water in the basement.  It wasn't that much water, but I went into full-on PTSD panic mode.  In short, it consumed me.

On one of the hottest days of a very hot summer Ben, Carrie and I worked for 10 hours to move 7 yards of gravel with shovels and a wheelbarrow to sure up the ground under the bulkhead and raise the driveway up a little further.  Our work paid off, but it was a very arduous task that took as much out of me as an endurance race.

The next weekend we went camping, which was fun but robbed me of some much needed sleep.  I never felt right that weekend and was having a hard time getting out of my own way.

Leading up to the race I got some decent sleep, ate well, but felt beat up.  My last Wednesday night race was fine but not awesome as I got tangled up with an overly aggressive single speeder who crashed into me as he tried to pass at an inopportune moment.  The Saturday before the race I felt inexplicably terrible.  I didn't want to get out of bed, and I certainly didn't want to race.  By late afternoon I decided to make the trip and after an inadvertent detour I got the venue, set up my tent and went to sleep knowing I was going to give it a shot without expecting a great outcome.

Stsrtline 2011- I'm the third white helmet in from the right.
You may be thinking that I went into it with a defeatist attitude, but in truth I was just being honest with myself and what I thought was possible.  When I got up Sunday I felt alright, and after the gun went off I had a solid first 2 hours on the mostly flat, wide open dirt roads and rec paths.  I was still not pushing the pace too much as I knew I wasn't ready to let it all hang out, but when I got to the Hedgehog climb with its 28% grades I ran out of power.  It wasn't that I was tired, fatigued or otherwise beat up- I just couldn't get my heart rate up, and I certainly couldn't pedal with any force.  Shit.  I knew at the race didn't start until that climb, and I was staring down the barrel at a long day without my diesel climbing legs. 

A little further along was the Powerline climb which is steeper still than Hedgehog and approaches 30% in spots.  Nobody rides the whole thing, but I rode more than most.

I rode this unnamed section, but I wasn't fast.  Photo jacked from have2run blog
Believe it or not I pass most people in endurance races on the climbs.  For whatever reason I can stay smooth and aerobic when others have a hard time keeping their bikes moving, and by doing that I can move up.  The same was true at Wednesday Worlds at Catamount this year- on climbs under about 5 minutes I was able to maintain my gap or even close them down slightly.

And none of that was with me on the course.  Every uphill was a struggle, and as soon as I felt like I was finding a groove my heart rate would drop.  I decided to settle in and push along with what I had.  By riding smart and pacing I figured I'd be able to at least finish, even it wasn't going to be the inspired ride I was hoping for.

My edge over last year's finish was that I have been working extensively on my handling skills.  It wasn't that I could ride anything that was super difficult, but I rode almost everything I felt comfortable on, and I was maintaining what speed I did have on more of the course.

At around mile 50 things started to even out.  My lack of early horsepower meant that I couldn't dig deep, which meant even though I had less to work with I was far more fresh than I would have been if I could have put the power down.  It was weird.  I wasn't really able to pass people, but I was ready to get the race over with so I did most of the remaining climbs standing in the big ring.

What I wanted was a Coke.  As I rolled into the last aid station a handful of women ..."manning" the station were buzzing around offering chain lube, snacks, etc.  Then she said it- the blond haired ring leader uttered the words I'd wanted to hear all day.  "Do you want a Coke?"  "Fuck yes I want a Coke!" I exclaimed.  In the next 40 seconds I drank about 20 ounces as another woman politely lubed my chain.  I have no idea who they were or what they looked like but they were all absolutely awesome and made my day.

From there it was mostly downhill, and damn it felt good to finish.  Remarkably enough that sub-par performance was good for 6th which made it all worth it.  My streak of finishes is still intact so that I can go for my Hampshire Hardcore next year if I can finish 5 years in a row, so that's definitely a goal for next season.

Maybe I'll even go for the full 100 miler. 

For more perspective check out Graeme Street's race report podcast.  

Friday, September 21, 2012

Review- Moots MX Divide

After a month's worth of riding I'm ready to publish a review based on more than my initial "oh wow this is really cool look at my pictures" post a few weeks ago.  My schedule hasn't allowed me to race on it yet, but I have put it through its paces on a variety of rides around the area.

The front end is very similar to my trusted RSL- 44 mm headtube, PF30 bottom bracket shell, curved downtube, butted seat tube and 30.9 seatpost, but obviously the carbon Fusion link, Fox RP23 shock and Zen Fabrication aluminum rear end are markedly different.

The rear triangle is a solid, welded aluminum unit with slick machined dropouts.  The brake mount allows for replaceable threads- a nice touch for post mounted calipers.  The frame comes with a 142 x 12 DT Swiss axle but is convertible to a standard 135 x 9 qr with a dropout conversion kit.  My bike is built up with the standard qr configuration as that's the way my wheels are currently setup- but I would consider running the 142 x 12 and switching dropouts is a 5 minute job. 

Before riding the Divide my concern was that the bike would feel uncoordinated or unbalanced with the mixture of ti and aluminum halves.  The RSL is plenty stiff up front, but it doesn't have any linkages, pivots or a shock to complicate it.  Ti full suspension bikes have been offered from boutique builders before, and they've often failed because the inherent characteristics that make it great for a hardtail (smooth, compliant ride) make it really bad for a full suspension bike (excessive flex).

For the suspension design Moots collaborated with the Sotto group, an independent consulting firm specializing in bicycle-specific suspension solutions.  The net result is a faux-bar single pivot design with a chainstay pivot similar to the Trek Superfly, Yeti 575 or Scott Spark. 

First and foremost Moots is a high end fabricator of titanium bikes, and while they are remarkably good at designing and building ti frames it takes an entirely different skillset to design suspension.  Outsourcing that design work was a good move and something that wasn't an option for small builders ten years ago.

The build comes in at a respectable 25.4 lbs. as shown.  Considering the kit is nearly identical to my RSL (with the exception of the Avid XO Trail brakes yielding a 30 gram per wheel weight penalty for their beefy 4 piston calipers) the extra three pounds is from the frame.   

So how does it ride?  After a very quick attempt to get the suspension dialed I headed out on my normal midweek loop.  The first grass section is short downhill with some bumpy tufts of grass where I normally land after semi-launching off the lip.  I took my usual line and I touched down without any chatter or feedback.  I can't exactly recall what I said aloud as that happened, but I vividly recall how smooth it felt- and that I was already completely sold on the bike 1/4 of a mile into my ride.

Out on the trail the Divide didn't disappoint- stable and smooth I was able to pick (and maintain) my well-worn hardtail lines with more speed and comfort.  The bike tracked up, over and around everything I threw in its path; the feel was remarkably consistent end-to-end.  I've ridden other full suspension designs where the stiffness and ride feel was dominated by one end being too stiff or too soft- and neither was the case here. 

I'd summarize the overall feel as smooth, predictable and confident.  The bike feels very composed and predictable at any speed.  It's not a fun, flickable, playful, twitchy or overly plush bike, but rather it zips along with a smooth, even-handed feel.  In spite of its size it also never felt too long, rakish or like a tractor-trailer. 

Weight balance is a big part of off-road handling and is tough to divine from a simple geometry chart.  Head angle, front/center distance, offset, chainstay length and bb drop all factor in, but it's all academic until you get the bike out on the trail.  As I said before the RSL is my benchmark, and pretty much any full suspension design is going to mean a longer back end than short and tight 17.55" chainstays on the RSL.  Turns out that's a benefit as the cockpit lands a little more centered between the wheels and the bike goes where it's pointed and arcs through turns very predictably.  One of the few negatives of the RSL (or any other XC racing 29er hardtail) is that the weight distribution is slightly rear-biased and keeping front end traction in the wet requires some attention. 

While the bike didn't change the way I ride it did allow me to maintain more speed on stutter bumps and provided me with quite a bit more confidence-inspiring traction in all conditions.  I'm still not taking the huck lines, but I am riding my XC lines smoother, faster and with more confidence.  Rough, chattery uphill sections were easily conquered with a snappy acceleration and some subtle steering input. 

Setting up the Fox shock took a little fiddling, but I found my optimum setting with the air pressure at 90-95% of my bodyweight, rebound 2 clicks in from full open and the ProPedal setting on 2.  With the ProPedal wide open the bike felt very plush, but the falling rate suspension needs some mid-stroke damping to keep it from feeling too bouncy under pedaling forces.  Using the ProPedal settings allows you to use more sag as the shock stiffens up through the midstroke so you can run lower pressure so some air pressure readjusting is required as you work toward your optimal setting.  Most of the civilized world has figured out how to setup their RP23s, but for me it took a little dialing to really feel like I was getting the most out of the bike.

At the Ryan Hawks Memorial at Catamount there were a few chattery descents where this bike would have been a godsend- not only to save my back but also to eek out a little more speed and carry some momentum further into the climbs.   

The extra 3 pounds (compared to the RSL) are noticeable when climbing...and that's to be expected with any full suspension bike.  Under torque the properly setup suspension doesn't move too much under pedaling forces and you still feel like your effort is being put into forward motion.  On some very smooth climbs I went into the 3 ProPedal setting, and in that configuration I could throw down all the square pedal strokes I wanted.  I don't think it's worth using that setting on the trail as it doesn't really allow the suspension enough latitude to do its job, but on some exceptionally smooth sections I'd consider it.  As I said above the 2 setting is what I found to be the right mix of bump compliance, damping and pedaling efficiency.  I would consider running it on 1 for pedaling over very chattery, square-edged impacts like a Pennsylvania rock garden or for high speed, buffed out swoopy descents where you want to really compress into the corners.

In the rough is where the bike really shines, and the ti front end smooths out the high frequency chatter unlike any other full suspension bike I've ever ridden.  The multi-material approach is truly the perfect blend of the modern ti front end and a smooth, efficient, tried-and-true suspension design. 

All in I'd say Divide is more like an M3 than a 911.  The ride feel is amazing and designed for racers in a package perfectly suited to all day epic rides and endurance races.  While it has legit trail chops and is a stable platform for pushing the limits of traction it's really most comfortable with a number plate on the front.   

You may find bikes that are lighter, stiffer, or cheaper, but none of them provide the total package and mind-blowing ride feel of the MX Divide.  Racers on a budget will look elsewhere, but for ride quality connoisseurs there's no comparison.

As much as I'd love to own an M3 it's not in the cards, but fortunately the Divide is already in my stable.

Update- here are some additional photos of the front derailleur cable routing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Interesting Random Bikes

Here's an assortment of stuff that's caught my eye recently.

First up is the integrated custom carbon awesomeness that Ergon put together for their team rider Irina Kalentieva for the Olympics and World Championships this year (from the Ergon fb page).  It's a an integrated bar/stem/barend/grip combo with special clamp mounts for her brakes, shifters and fork lockout already molded in.  There's also a cool integrated Ergon GS-shaped grip with some thin padding attached.  Nothing actually clamps around it- all of her controls have molded mounting points or are totally integrated into the design.  

Next up is the carbon Zaskar that Cecile Ravanel raced in the first Eliminator World Championship race.  Standard 26" wheels, singe ring up front with an MRP guide, dropper post and American Classic tubeless wheels.  Nice setup.

This one is from the roadie-centric slam that stem.  Not sure what's so captivating about this, but I really like the simple 1 x 10 drivetrain with the two color paint, Reba and Thomson post.  Looks understated and put together- not to mention fun to ride.

And since I put together my Moots Divide I've been checking to see how other guys are setting theirs up.  This one is a 26" wheel version built up by one welders at Moots as featured on their blog.  It's a pretty sweet and versatile setup with a Fox up front, wide Answer carbon bars and sweet matching Answer Rove XC stem.  This is the second one I've seen with a dropper post, and since it's a 30.9 you've got plenty of options including...

The new dropper post from Thomson.  This looks like the usual Thomson fare- well made, machined aluminum pieces that use their existing mounting bolt and clamp configuration.  I don't have a dropper post, and at this point I would wait for this one.

And that would be a cool addition for non-racing outings on my MX Divide.  It's pouring right now or I'd offer a better image than the shitty iphone/dishwasher shots featured here.  I'm still deciding on how I want to dress it up, and since Tomas just sent me the Race Space SDG kit it's now looking pretty dope in green and blue.  The new Moots kit is navy with some green accents so if I can stay on the program next season (please?) I'll likely run it like this.  I'm really digging it right now with the blue topcap, blue seatpost clamps and blue Pro-35 sticker next to the green/white saddle and very vogue green grips.

Here's another angle.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

You Talkin' to Me?

I've made some tweaks to make it easier to comment, and as long as I don't get too many offers to enlarge my penis I'll keep it that way. 

So if you have something to say go ahead and drop it in the comments box. 

Monday, September 10, 2012


I've added the blue "M" logo to the sticker collection.  If you're interested in any drop me a comment or email me.

The last few weeks post-Hampshire 100 have been nuts, but I'll have a full race report (with words) and some more reviews posted soon.