(Author's Note: I apologize for the tardiness of what I hope was a hotly anticipated breaking story nearly a week ago when it was still current. I would blame India for tying the computer up with thesis papers and the like, but I'm not one to make excuses. Anyway, it's the best I could do with limited time and energy. I'll do my best to be more prompt with next week's race report. -RK) The course was dusty, bumpy and very fast after a solid week of clear, crisp beautiful Northwestern fall weather. Two sequences of twisty, off-camber corners, one abrupt run-up, a creek-hop and a grueling gravel climb were connected by hoof-marked downhill straightaways and little slices of woodsy single and doubletrack. A classics specialist would excel here. The best riders would be the ones with the power to hammer the flats and levitate over the bumps, those who weren't afraid of taking the bad line to make a pass and who corner with one eye on the apex and the other on the rider ahead, threading the needle to squeeze by on the exit. Lady luck must have been on our side, because India and I were awarded with yet another solid starting position out of the bib number lottery. The crazy-8s would be called to the start third from the front, same as last week when I managed to drag 20th place out of the muddy scrum at Rainier High School. This would be a good opportunity to secure the coveted and elusive series points awarded to the top 18 finishers. Not only would some points put me in the running for some prizes at the season's end, but would also get me called up by name to the start of every subsequent race. Since I earned only a single point for an 18th-place finish at the last race of the 2009 season, I have never gotten to enjoy the benefits of the all-access pass to the front of the race. If things went my way today, I would have a real shot. My confidence was bouyed by my scary-fast and shockingly beautiful new bike (still yet to be named) who would be lining up for her very first race. I knew I had the right tool for the job, but did I have the talent? A summer of long, dusty rides on the open roads of Oregon has worked wonders for my overall fitness, but did little to prepare me for the white-hot intensity and quick turns of speed required in a 'cross race. I've barely gotten a chance to practice my remount through the craziness of the last few months. I tried to remain confident and relaxed despite the self-applied pressure and nerves, and I arrived to my start warmed-up and ready to give this course my best shot. Despite my best efforts, I was a twitchy bundle of anxious energy by the time all the riders were called to the line, the race officials gave their talk, the singlespeed field took off and the two-minute wait between starts started to wind down. When the horn finally sounded, the charge for the first corner took off. I quickly found myself forced off-line by an aggressive race and ran over a cone on the left margin of the start chute, but managed to stay upright through the first series of dusty, hoof-marked s-bends as the 100-rider phalanx snaked its way into the woods. The particularly fast and bumpy section of ground leading into the wooded section must have caught a rider or two off-guard as a handful of riders hit the deck, causing a pileup right in the middle of the bottleneck. I managed to sneak by on the right side and entered a zippy section of wide, smooth singletrack. This brief respite was cut short by a 90-degree uphill corner leading to a steep, sticky run-up packed four-abreast with riders and shouldered machines. Usually I'd be able to thread my way through lesser runners and move up a few positions on these sections, but with a group this dense there was no chance. I'd have to wait until next lap when things spread out a bit. After the run-up and remount, the course carried us immediately downhill to pick up speed for the second section of powdery switchbacks that would give me fits all day. I never quite got the line dialed, but still managed to pass a plenty of riders through the corners. Then it was a quick descent, followed by a punchy little climb and the twinpack of barriers set into some very bumpy grass. I had to twist backward on the handlebars in a vain attempt to keep my saddle from bouncing around as I remounted. A straight section of relatively smooth doubletrack allowed a moment of recovery or an opportunity to pass before heading over the ditch of doom and up the gravel climb back up to the staging area and start-finish line. After the first lap, the field began to spread out and I was able to choose better lines and make some good passes to move up the field. I had plenty of people to chase down after my less-than-stellar start and quickly started picking off B riders while threading my way around singlespeeders off the back of their race. The new bike and I settled into our groove about 3 laps into the race and proceeded to speed around the course, chasing the derailleurs ahead. I put my faith in the side knobs of my Challenge tires and leaned a little deeper into the corners, trusting that my treads would stick and carry me through the apex and out with speed. I winced in pain when I heard the chain brutally flogging my unprotected chainstay on the bumpy descent. A wave of sadness washed through me and I apologized under my breath to my poor bike for chipping her otherwise pristine paint job, but that's racing. You're gonna end up with scars. She knew what she was getting into and didn't complain. In fact, I think she might have gotten a little pleasure from the pain. I finished the race totally worn out and leaned on the top tube to support my failing legs that wobbled like those of a transoceanic sailor setting foot back on land. I slugged down some water, wiped the dusty tears from my eyes and blew the concrete boogers from my nose while I struggled to catch my breath. I was beat, but felt certain I had finished well and would be rewarded with a good result. I would have to wait a day to find out just how well I did, but was elated to learn of my 6th place. While I was busy rallying to 6th, Ira Ryan Cycles team boss and framebuilder extraordinaire, Ira Ryan was smiling his way to a strong 17th place in the stacked field of singlespeeders. Although there are plenty of doughboys off the back of this race, the guys at the front are some of the strongest riders in the event. Many could, should or used to race with the As, but prefer to take their 'cross a little less seriously. But there was no time to think too much about that, as India's B women were being called to the line. I dropped my helmet, grabbed the camera and a cold bottle of my delicious, well-hopped recovery drink and headed to the start. I hobbled around the course for the next 45 minutes, sipping my Belgian-style IPA, snapping photos and cheering India on to a lucky 13th place finish in her new category, earning a handful of points and a start-line callup for the remainder of the series. She looked strong, though she might not have felt so mighty at certain times, and really seemed to be getting a feel for her new bike and tires. We lowered her tire pressure pretty significantly from what we ran last year, and she reported a major improvement in traction with her Hutchinson Bulldogs rolling a little softer. Her cornering technique has also improved, adding to her increased speed. She has become so taken with the act of cornering on skinny, knobby tires that India's "perfect day" would now include railing perfect corners on her 'cross bike in addition to soaking in an eternally warm bubble bath while reading Jane Austen and sipping a mug of delicous coffee. With both of our races done and out of the way, we were free to relax and watch the elite ladies and gentlemen turn themselves inside out for a full hour. Former National Champion and 2009 USGP overall winner Ryan Trebon showed up to give Crusade series leader Chris Sheppard a run for his money. Local superwoman Sue Butler was in Aigle, Switzerland taking on the world's best in the first round of the UCI Cyclocross World Cup, leaving the women's race wide open for challengers. The pair of Trebon and Sheppard put on a good show, duking it out off the front for the majority of the race. They entered the woods together with only a scant handful of laps remaining, but when Trebon emerged up the grinding climb toward the start/finish line, Sheppard was nowhere to be seen. Wether he was dropped, cracked, crashed or just plain beaten I don't know but Trebon rode the last lap all on his own, threading his way through lapped riders like they were flags on a slalom course. The battle at the front smashed the field across the racecourse like a double-deuce of Old English across a cracked sidewalk and left the regular humans struggling to pick up the pieces. Only seven brave mortals managed to hold onto the coattails of the frontrunners to finish on the lead lap. Ira Ryan Cycles rider Matt Hall was one of the infantrymen caught in the carnage. Hall's engine redlined from the start and began to overheat as he fought to maintain the furious tempo set by the masochists at the front. "I had to sit up for a whole lap just to recover," he said at the finish while wiping the dust from his eyes. Despite his struggle for survival, Matt held on for a mid-pack finish in one of the strongest regional fields seen this side of Gloucester. Alice Pennington took home the win for the ladies, followed by Brigette Brown and Serena Bishop in 2nd and 3rd place positions. The race for the series overall features the same trio, in order at the top of the standings, separated by a scant 20 points. Perennial strongwomen Wendy Williams and Tina Brubaker are also still in the hunt for the Crusade title, only two and four points off the podium after Sunday's race. The fight between these five will be a great one to watch as the season rolls on. One bobble or off-day by any of the top three could turn the leaderboard on its head! After a tough day in the mud at Rainier High School the previous week, Rachel Bagley rebounded with a smooth, confident ride for a solid 11th place finish, bettering her 15th place at the Alpenrose series opener and bumping her to 16th overall. Trebon may have won the day, but he'll have bigger fish to fry this season. Sheppard earned another 20 series points for his second place and held on to his commanding overall lead with 72 total points. Shannon Skerritt who was eighth on the day and is the closest potential usurper to Sheppard's throne sits well in arrears with 47 points. Barring disaster, it would appear that Sheppard has the series crown secured and waiting on a velvet pillow after only three races. We're looking forward to next Sunday's race at the Portland International Raceway. The proximity to the city always results in a big field and great crowd of spectators, and while we can't expect the kind of insanity we saw last year at the Singlespeed Cyclocross World Championships held at PIR, it looks like we will see some of the muddy, wet conditions that the venue is famous for. Until then...
Finally! I've been working and waiting for so long for my new, handbuilt bike to get finished that I had started to think of it as this distant, abstract concept that would never materialize into a rideable bicycle. The frame construction took a while, mostly because I was unable to put in very many full days of work on the bike and still have a job. I was tempted to build her up and ride her unpainted, but Ira encouraged me to relax, slow down and make it the bike I really want. Good advice, but dang does it take a long time to get a bike powdercoated! I've been a nervous wreck the last few days while I waited for the call that the bike was ready.
But at long last, it's done! Picked her (no name yet...) up from Class Act Paint and Powder on Wednesday morning, built 'er up that afternoon. Class Act did a beautiful job. The color is even better than I thought it would be. It's more of a pumpkin orange than I expected, but the wet paint on the carbon fork matches perfectly and it looks really good with a liberal spattering of Northwest mud! All the components bolted on just as smooth as you please, only had to file a little of the powdercoat off the dropouts to allow the rear wheel to slide in and out easily.
First ride was this morning with Matt and Ira out at Pier Park. We sucked chilly morning air into our tender lungs, threw down some hot laps in the dirt and gravel before the disc golfers started to claim their space. I held back a bit on the first lap; afraid of crashing or washing out and damaging my freshly-finished beauty. After a little while of following Matt and Ira's lines and letting the awesome tires do their thing I was railing corners as fast as I ever have. The bike fit like a glove, felt totally natural and did everything I asked it to do without question or hesitation. It was much quicker, nimbler and more precise than any other bike I've ridden. The third episode of the Cross Crusade takes place this weekend at the Sherwood Equestrian Center, and my new baby and I are ready to carve up the racecourse! Here are a couple of photos:More photos on Flickr.
Sadly, I'm at a point in my life where I can tell a better story through photos than with words. As hard as I try, I just can't seem to pull together the mental faculties and use my small amount of free time effectively enough to create worthwhile blog posts. Maybe as the fall rolls along into winter, the rain really starts and life starts to slow down I'll be able to get the flow of words uncorked again. In the meantime, I've started a Flickr account to help keep our interested parties abreast of developments in our life. This will be welcome news to anyone who isn't on Facebook or who (like me) can't be bothered to keep up with all that nonsense. I'll do my best to let the world know when new photos are posted through 'ahem' Facebook and this blog. Drop a comment or two if you are reading, checking out the photos and generally keeping up to let us know that you're paying attention and help me find the motivation to open the floodgates of creativity and communication ever wider!
Enjoy the photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rspinnaking/
So, while we continue to work towards our larger goals of getting India through graduate school, keeping Vera from leaping out of our second-story window to chase the squirrels in the tree next door, and endeavoring to sample every beer offered by our friendly neighborhood beverage depot, we have also been putting a good deal of energy into the expansion and refinement of our bicycle stable. If you visit our apartment building on Fremont Street, you will doubtless locate our door quite easily even if you didn't know we lived in number ten. Ours is the door with the bikes stacked three and four deep against the walls outside, and the ranks just got one deeper. Before I reveal the identity of our newest two-wheeled steed, I'd like to review some of the other major changes to bikes in our lives, as they have been many and varied. However, I've been advised by our legal team to preface this post with a disclaimer, so here goes. I am a self-avowed bike nerd. The rest of this post is written for my fellow bike nerds. If you don't have at least a basic knowledge of bicycle jargon, styles and varieties of bikes for particular purposes, differences in components, gearing, and the associated numbers, sizes, and other bike nerd stuff, you'd might as well just look at the pictures. Feel no shame if you choose to ignore the words and numbers in between the photographs, as the photos tell most of the story anyway. So, let's get down to it.
We'll begin with the Steamroller, previously my city-riding fixed-gear beater with riser bars, wide tires and fenders. With track racing season approaching, the Steamroller will be called into service on the Alpenrose Velodrome here in Portland. She'll see a few key upgrades between now and the first races in early May, including a set of track-only tubular wheels with low-flange Dura-Ace hubs, Velocity Escape rims, 15 and 16-tooth cogs and a 49-tooth chainring for proper track gearing. I haven't settled on a tire choice yet. Currently, she is set up for training rides on the road, with a 46t ring, 15 and 17t cogs on the rear wheel, a front brake and cyclecomputer:
The biggest changes so far were in the cockpit. For a more aggressive, sprint-oriented position, I've bolted up a zero-offset Thomson seatpost in silver, a 40cm wide 3TTT Mod. Grand Prix road bar, and a 120mm Mutant knock-off stem from Origin-8:
Heinous, I know. The lack of new stems available with a 26mm clamp is painful. I'm all for standardization and component interchangeability, but do we all really need bulbous, grossly oversized 31.8mm stems and bars on all our bikes? So, the Steamroller is still in a transitional phase, and I will be sure to update when she's ready for racing on the banks.
Now, on to the bigger developments: Many of you will remember Milo, India's good old Peugeot that was purchased from Ben's Bikes in Athens for a whopping $120 with 27" steel rims, stem-mounted friction shifters, and 12-speed gearing with a Maillard Helicomatic rear hub. He/she (Milo's gender tends to change based on environment, much like a certain species of tree frog) has been constantly upgraded, seen two seasons of cyclocross racing and plenty of road miles to boot. However, after India and Milo's 2009 Cross Crusade campaign that resulted in an overall season win in the beginner ladies category, the time came for Milo to retire from racing. So, Milo has been sent out to pasture as a 3-speed internally geared city rider:
Variable gearing is provided by a new Sturmey-Archer AW wide-range 3-speed hub, laced with 36 14g DT spokes to an eyeleted, box-section Sun M13II rim, in polished silver:
The handlebars are a basic alloy three-speed bar that Origin-8 calls the CitiClassic. They're nice and wide with a comfy rise and bit of backsweep. The cockpit is finished off with a set of Shimano canti levers, purple Snafu BMX grips India won in a GoldSprint competition, and the classic "brrring-brrring" bell:
These sweet arabesque Shimano 600 cranks remain, but with a single 40-tooth chainring rather than a 40/48 for 'cross or 40/52 for the road. The chain is the same KMC 410HX that has seen two seasons of singlespeed cyclocross and countless city and road miles on ol' Rosie. Either my legs are weak or this chain is crazy strong, because it's barely showing any signs of wear or stretching. The pedals are Odyssey's super comfy Twisted plastic BMX pedals:
The cranks are seamlessly integrated into a super-beefy bottom bracket junction for maximum lateral stiffness and brutally efficient power transfer, while still retaining plenty of vertical compliance for comfort:
So, you may be wondering where all the road components that once adorned Milo have gone. No, they're not floating in the quagmire of my parts bin, nor have they been sold off via Craigslist or hustled on the street corner for beer money. The main beneficiary of Milo's city-bike conversion was none other than ol' Rosie. She's been riding as a singlespeed of one kind or another ever since the frame was resurrected from some Athenian dumpster, stripped, repainted, and rebuilt in several different configurations, from a fixed-gear path racer to pre-derailleur Tour de France road machine to one-speed cyclocrosser. Recently however, I've been feeling the lack of a go-fast road bike with a range of gears for tackling the climbs up in Portland's west hills. Multi-mile climbs and descents are not much fun on a fixed-gear setup like the Steamroller, and the trusty Long Haul Trucker is plenty comfortable for long rides (especially when carrying a load) but is a bit too bulky and upright for fast rides when I'm traveling light. So, please allow me to present the newly made-over and road-i-fied Rosie:
She sports the Shimano 600 8-speed STI group scraped together out of the parts bins at Sunshine Cycles, Ben's Bikes and the Bike Recycling Project in Athens and saw India and Milo through two seasons of 'cross racing and road riding. The shifters needed a bit of a soak in a bubbling jacuzzi of mineral spirits to reawaken their pawls and shake the old grime off their springs, but they emerged shiny and ready to click away the miles:
The rear derailleur has seen some tough times, but the linkage is still nice and tight with no slop or bends. It covers the 12-23 cassette with ease, though I find myself wishing for a bailout gear on some of the steeper climbs. But hey, if Pantani can win mountain stages with an 11-23 and 44-tooth ring, why should I seek the comforts of the 27-tooth cog? Maybe I should just shave my head and don a bandanna instead...
Compared to il Pirata, my crank sports a pretty wimpy set of 50 and 38-tooth chainrings. Note the new, gold-trimmed Crank Brothers Candy pedals. Very shiny:
To facilitate the swapover from fixed-gear/singlespeed duty to a derailleur setup, my old boss and I brazed on some new cable stops for the rear brake and rear derailleur. Of course, when I was setting Rosie up for the first time, I couldn't imagine ever wanting to put anything more than a front brake on, as that was all I needed in her first, fixed configuration. After fitting a coasty-type rear wheel (As Dr. Jones says: "Free the wheel, free the mind.") and spending a year or so with a rear brake cable zip-tied to the top tube, the need for a change was apparent. Here are the results. Not so attractive with the burnt paint and raw metal, but they get the job done nicely. Maybe one day the old girl will get a trip to the paint shop or powdercoater. But for now:
The saddle is a Selle Italia Flite that I found caked in mud in Weir's basement a couple of months back. It took a good deal of cleaning to get back down to the actual leather and kevlar cover, but like an archaeologist carefully unearthing a mummified Egyptian house cat, I was pleased to discover that the saddle had been preserved remarkably well inside its protective shell of Northwestern soil. There is also a distinct possibility that it once belonged to a certain Mr. Ira Ryan who built lovely bicycle frames out of the shop's downstairs before moving into a space of his own. Ira, if this is your saddle and you would like it returned to you, let me know and we'll strike a bargain:
Beneath the saddle sits one of two hand-me-down items passed to me in the matrilineal style from my bad-ass bike-riding mom: a trusty old Blackburn saddlebag stuffed with all the essentials. I seem to be afflicted with some disorder that causes me to destroy the zippers of all saddlebags I purchase, but this thing just keeps on going. It's probably nearly as old as I am:
The other heirloom bequeathed to me is this CatEye cyclecomputer, which keeps track of my mileage as well as counting my pedaling RPMs. I've really enjoyed having the cadence feature to remind me to quit mashing gears like I'm sometimes wont to do and get that spin going. The computer sits right next to the clamp of my 100mm Thomson stem, gifted to me by the one and only K. Sakai, the illustrious Duke of the Mallet and one of the famed and feared Zealots of the Winter Bike League. This little chunk of CNCed aluminum may be my favorite component on this bike, especially considering that Thomson doesn't even offer stems with 26.0mm clamps anymore, and certainly not in silver:
So, with no further ado, I'd like to present the newest inductee to our stable; India's brand new, fresh-out-the-box, 2010 Redline Conquest Pro cyclocross bike:
She (we're pretty sure this bike is feminine, but it is still yet unnamed) sports a set of Sram's Rival shifters and derailleurs, complete with saucy and oh-so-light 'crabon fibre' lever blades that caress the fingertips:
Avid's Shorty 6 cantilevers have proved to be effective slow-downers. I especially like the brake pads, which are a road-type pad and shoe mated to a mountain-style post with cup and cone washers for easy adjustment and less brake squeal compared to full-size mountain pads. Also, we've gone ahead and swapped the stock Hutchinson Bulldog tires for a set of S-Works All-Condition road skinnies:
The two-piece, outboard bearing FSA crank carries a 'cross-specific 36/46 double. Okay for now, but we'll want to add a 50 tooth big ring for road riding. The Rival front derailleur shifts reliably and with a firm 'ca-CHUNK' that really lets you know you've dropped into the little ring. Upshifts require a bit of hand strength to overpower the mighty return spring, but feel nearly as solid:
Sram's road derailleurs can cover reach up to a 28-tooth big cog, so Redline spec'd an 11-28 for the Conquest Pro. The rear derailler also incorporates stronger-than-average springs in the paralellogram and tension cage, resulting in strong, reliable shifting and a nice, tight chain:
The other immediate component changes (in addition to the tire swap) we made were in the seatpost and stem. The bike came out of the box with an absurd white-and-carbon FSA stem and matching seatpost, which are viewable here on Redline's website. Of all the silly places to put white components! Surely they'd have better judgement than to put a white seatpost on a cyclocross racer! I guess it is the Conquest "Pro," and we all know that nothing says "Pro" like the color white, especially in cycling events that involve a lot of mud. The bike also came with white handlebar tape, which was thankfully not yet installed and allowed us to wrap the bars with a more unassuming but decidedly less "pro" black. Well, there's no accounting for taste or good sense these days. Fortunately however, my good old singlespeed beater of a mountain bike happened to take the same size stem and seatpost, so we did a little trade. The bright, gleaming white stem and post make the dirty, beat-up white paint on my frame look pretty disgusting, but I think it's hilarious. Anyway, here's the setback Thomson on India's bike, topped off with the stock Selle Italia XO saddle:
And here's my old Race Face stem, bolted to the FSA compact drops to finish the cockpit. I made fun of these little 'dork drops' when I first saw them, but they are pretty darn comfy. The shallow drops certainly make descending rough, steep sections a little less sketchy and the Sram hoods make me feel like a fighter pilot. Me likey:
Yeah, so I'm a little jealous, but she's certainly earned the upgrade. This is the first brand-new bike India's had since she was a little kid, so it's been a long time coming. Hopefully it will carry her to some good results this fall in the Ladies' B category of the Cross Crusade. Oh, and lest I forget, her prized little yellow fishy valve caps swam upstream all the way from Georgia to chew on the ends of her presta valves:
So, I've been on an extended hiatus from the world of bloggery, but since the sun has finally re-emerged from its cloudy bedclothes here in Portland, I feel that the time has come for me to end my period of literary hibernation, wipe the dust from the keyboard and put a little of my upwelling spring of sarotonin-fueled energy into the flexion of my fingers to tap out the drum-beats of a new season of life. There has been a great deal happening here: friends and family in town to visit, major changes in the bicycle stable, the adoption of a new furry friend, developments in the school/work saga, and a change of seasons. I will endeavor to keep you, my reading public, abreast of all these changes and events with an electronic assault on several fronts. For the most in-depth coverage of specific life-altering events and realizations, including Vera's (the cat's) journey toward small, furry enlightenment, look no further than this very blog. This chunk of the Northwestern blogosphere will also be undergoing some aesthetic and structural renovations as we are no longer on our Transcontinental Odyssey, but have settled in North Portland for the foreseeable future, or at least until India or I get a job offer in Crested Butte. I will also offer regular news headlines and photographic coverage via Facebook and/or Flickr, which are so thoroughly intertwined that it is hard for me to distinguish them at times, like a pair of conjoined twins who are slowly melting into one another as they grow. Also, in a horrifying act of heresy and flagrant 'shark-jumping' that flies in the face of all of my recorded precendents and statements concerning internet-based life and communication, I may indeed be Twatting, Tweeting, Tweedle-dee-dumming, or whatever you want to call it. Follow if you must, but reader beware.