Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Divide stories: Bike evolution.

My interest in the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route started back in '99, when John Stamstad did the original ITT on the route.  My head was still way-too-deep down the 24-hour and 100-miler rabbit hole, thus I didn't yet appreciate what John was doing.  I was a part of a few conversations between he and Pat Norwil re: rules to govern the ITT, but it took two more years of racing the Iditarod before I could really wrap my head around an ITT of my own.

And, when that day finally came, I was both too broke and too tired (from a season of the aforementioned lap races) to do the whole shebang.  I decided, with inspiration from Pat Irwin, to attempt a single-state ITT, from the Wyoming border to the New Mexico border, traversing my home state of Colorado.

The more I looked into the route the more it seemed that any bike I owned at the time was really unsuited to the endeavor.  Thus I borrowed a bike from Wes Williams -- his own personal touring machine.  He had it built with huge gearing, tiny tires, and drop bars, and although I rode it for a few days that way, I knew that it wasn't going to fly for an all-out TT effort.

Pictured below, I installed some ubiquitous Nanoraptors, flat (and narrow!) bars, bar ends, lots of grip padding, friendlier gearing, and aero bars.  Notably absent was any sort of reasonable frame bag: Back then almost no one had a frame bag, and the days of oversized seat bags had not yet arrived either.  Moots used to make a product called the Tailgator, with two oddly shaped bags slung off of a gossamer light titanium frame.    When I look back at this setup I remember how impossibly smooth the chassis was ("noodly" or "whippy" would be apt descriptors), how poor my lighting was (two OG Petzl Tikka lights zip-tied under the aero-bars, and that was *it!*), and how much wasted real estate there was in that main triangle.

For all of my divide attempts I used a "navigation system" similar to the one below, with paper maps and cue sheets inside of a BarMap OTG, at my fingertips on the bars.  Spare rubber bands in there, too...

Note state-of-the-art lighting under the aero bars.

This setup saw me through CO in what felt like a blazing fast time back then.  I liked it but I didn't love it, and knowing that I was going to attempt the whole GDMBR ASAP I asked Willits to create something similar but -- at least for this event -- better.

And man did he!  Below is my Willits B2, with the oh-so-supple Action Tec fork, a Moxey suspension post, Zipp 404's, 3 x 9 gearing, and a whole lotta manipulated tubing intended to give me a comfy ride.  This bike was amazing, but a drought that year meant uber sandy trails as well as searing heat and massive forest fires across the west.  Thus I (barely) finished an ITT of the Kokopelli on this bike, then DNF'ed the Grand Loop and DNS the GDMBR ITT.  Just too hot/smoky/sandy.

Pat Irwin and I teamed up with Airborne the next year, collaborating with that company to produce an affordable, comfortable, and durable chassis with next-gen (keeping in mind that it was '03, and 29" wheels were still seen as a redheaded stepchild) geometry.  Big changes from the Willits were disc brakes, slacker HTA, more upright position, a resurrection of Zoom Brahma bars in a massive ~610mm width, and, for the first and last time, cranks that rotated on an ISIS bottom bracket.  This bike was good -- especially given the price.  But it didn't really improve on the Willits.  That, and on my '03 ITT of the entire GDMBR, I found cracks in the seatstay bridge before I'd made it 1000 miles into the route.  Catastrophic failure seemed unlikely so I just kept going, but then my seatpost rack failed coming into Steamboat, and my achilles tendons and psyche cratered not long after.  I'd been pushing everything a bit too hard, and paid the price with a DNF at ~halfway.

Cockpit view of the Airborne during that '03 ITT.  Zoom Brahma's wrapped with 3 layers of cork tape were comfy, but still not quite enough padding.  Also note the 90* off orientation of my cue sheets.  I think I was already unraveling if I couldn't be bothered to stick 'em in there straight.

Airborne the company cratered in '03, leaving lots of dealers high and dry.  I liked that chassis but with no support behind it I moved on -- to Moots.  Kent Eriksen was still there and was interested in working with me to build a ne plus ultra bike for my return to the GDR.  Pictured below with YBB suspension, Zipp 404's, a not-nearly-big-enough frame bag, a custom rear rack, and my Kenda Klaw training tires.  I remember being super excited about these tires when they came out -- thought they were way too big (they were 1.9"...) but loved having that confidence when riding local trails.

By now I'd learned that I didn't have the motor to go mano a mano with the fast guys, thus I needed to outsmart 'em to have a chance.  To that end I had no choice but to shave every last gram from my kit, not waste any time in transitions, and cut sleep.  Among the many ways I shaved weight was to use a car sunshade sleep pad (~5oz, warm, not comfy enough to oversleep...) -- note below how I trimmed it to keep my calves from brushing it on every pedal stroke.  The lower parts of the rack's forward stays were originally round tubing, but my calves made contact with those, too, so Brad Bingham @ Moots cut the tubing and fabricated the plate variation -- literally while I waited.

I always opted for a rear rack for the GDR and other bikepack races -- even if we didn't call 'em that yet.  Proponents of the uber-sized seatbags tout their lower system weight and lower likelihood of failure.  And they're right on both.  What they don't factor in is the time spent stuffing/unstuffing them.  I liked the rack/bag system because it was so easy to get everything in/out, easy to keep things organized, easy to strap stuff to the top of it (like a rain shell, when I was overheating but could already see the next storm bearing down on me) for quick access or to dry it out.

This setup was incredible.  Were I to head back to race the GDR today (Ha!  Not in a million years...) I'd use something very, very similar.  I'll give detail on that below.  I kept a tube and spare parts (chain links, spare cable, spare cleats/bolts) in a small pack in the seat tube bottle cage.  Always had Gatorade or similar in the downtube bottle.  The bottle under the downtube had a simple charcoal filter in it -- which I used every few days to purify stream water on long stretches between towns.  Inside that tiny frame bag I always had what you see pictured below: A Crank Brothers multi-tool, a pile of jerky, a pile of Twizzlers (usually Pull and Peel...), a few Salted Nut Rolls, and sometimes I'd even cram in some gummy something or other.  Pure nutritional bliss...

Part of my disdain for the GDMBR stems from how much time you spend not just on pavement but in the aerobars.  It is emphatically a quality touring route but calling it mountain biking just doesn't fly with me.  The shot below was maybe 6 miles from the finish of the '04 race.  You can see Pete Basinger just coming into the picture behind me.  Stories about Pete and the GDR are coming, including the situation pictured below -- trust me...

I rode fairly fast in that '04 race but I had so many mishaps -- like melting my sodden gloves when trying to dry them over a campfire, or breaking a pedal spindle and having to ride 30 miles on just one, then having to detour off route and then wait overnight to buy a replacement, or killing two cyclometers just in Montana, plus having a spate of flat tires on that same day, or having my bottom bracket unthread itself, then having to backtrack *downhill* 15 miles to the nearest town, so that I could buy a monkey wrench and some superglue to mickeymouse it back in place, only to turn around and re-climb that 15 miles in a monsoonal downpour -- that I could only look back and think "what if?"  As in, what if I took all that I'd learned, all the fitness I possessed, and somehow strung together a mistake-free ride?  I figured I could knock at least 36 hours off, and maybe over 40.  With more favorable weather I thought I could knock more than 2 days off, but then I started to see the flaws -- or misplaced optimism -- in that sort of thinking.  How can you ever plan for ~2 weeks of ideal weather in the mountains?  You might just get it, but you certainly can't schedule it.

It was that line of thinking that had me asking Moots to better my current steed.  I even succumbed to the trend of using drop bars for a bit -- as pictured below -- but no amount of padding or positional tweaks could keep me comfortable on them for long.  Too much nerve damage had already been done in training for and racing the GDR in '03 and '04.  Ultimately I came to just accept that I'd done the best I could with what I had, and pretty much let go of the idea of going back.  Zero regrets there.  This bike is currently on long-term loan to my friend Brian.  Keep it clean, B...

I build wheels full-time, and get asked about once a week to suggest not just a wheelset but a whole bike build for some aspiring GDMBR racer.  Not everyone has the same goal of just scorching the course, thus not every suggestion adheres to a wrote formula.  For those that want the end-all-be-all no-compromise get-me-there-as-fast-as-you-can-with-nothing-left-in-the-tank setup, I tell them to put together a frame that fits them perfectly, preferably made from titanium or light gauge steel.  I would personally not use carbon for the frame -- largely because there are so few custom builders using it.  I recommend custom because fit is everything when overusing your body in this way -- any tiny blip in the fit and you have an overuse injury.  You're courting overuse even with a *perfect* fit.

To that frame I'd add a Bodyfloat post, a Lauf fork, 29 x 2.2 (or so) low-tread tubeless-ready tires, quality carbon rims laced to DT 240s hubs, and a cockpit that fits you and spreads out the weight on your contact points.  Some swear by drop bars but they didn't work -- at all -- for me.  Aerobars for sure.

Some these days swear by dynamo hubs to power their lights and GPS and smartphone and other non-essential devices.  I believe in all of that technology but I'm not sure I'd want or need it for a stripped-down race on the divide.  

I'd use a 1x drivetrain for sure -- ditching the front derailleur would be a no-brainer.  Precise gearing would have to be figured out by riding the thousands of miles you need in the bank to arrive at the start line ready.

Plus tires?  Comfy as all get out but slower than regular 29".  I wouldn't go bigger than 2.2", and would insist on no smaller than 1.9".  That air volume matters.

Ful suspension?  Well, I kind of already suggested that with the Lauf and Bodyfloat.  Think critically about how those two units work and you might come to understand that the high-frequency/low-amplitude bumps (read: washboard and small chatter) that you'd most want to filter out aren't really removed that well by modern bicycle suspension.  Thus, rather than take a complicated bike that weighs more than it has to and doesn't function as well as it should, I'd opt for a supple (<-key hardtail="" non-traditional="" p="" suspension.="" the="" with="" word="">

And yeah, I'd probably still take a rear rack.  But maybe not.  I'd carry all of my water in an easy-access dromedary in my frame pack, with a hose routed up to the bars.  I'd keep all of my tubes/tools/pump/spares in there too.  I'd keep my sleep kit behind the saddle.  Since it'd only be needed once a day, and stashed the rest of the time, maybe one of Eric's smaller seat bags would work.  I'd have food close at hand in twin top tube bags -- one against the head tube and one tucked up to the seat tube.  No feed bags hanging off the stem -- don't need 'em (too much crap!  simplify!!) and they rub my knees when standing.  Rain gear would be easy access in an under-bar bag.  I wouldn't wear a pack.  I would emphatically not have bags on my fork legs: In addition to being the opposite of aerodynamic, they represent added mass that you just don't need to go fast.

I'd skip the filter and carry a bit of Aquamira.  I'd eat more fat and less sugar.  I'd still minimize sleep to 4 hours or less, and I'd still be uncomfortably sprawled on a foil sunshade when doing it.

So there you have it -- my slightly out-of-touch but utterly authentic and rooted in experience take on what works best for divide racing.

Don't hesitate with questions.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Hidden Gem: Nevada.

Some gems are hidden in plain sight, like this one in Eastern Nevada.  We rode it on Sunday of a holiday weekend and saw no one else in almost three hours out.  I noted one set of bootprints in the dust but precisely zero tire tracks other than our own.  Being far from a population center is preferable when touristing.

Straight out of the trailhead I note a preponderance of what I think of as old-growth sage: So tall, so succulent.  One hand immediately and automatically reaches for a few tender leaves to crush and mash between gloves, the better to be infused with it throughout the ride.  Each time I mop sweat, wipe nose, or bring the camera to my eye I am brought screaming back to the moment by the sweet intensity.

We leave the small creek and begin climbing a reasonable grade into the hills to the east.  Sage gives way to rabbitbrush, creosote, p/j, aspen, and eventually doug fir and engelmann spruce, each bend of trail revealing an aspect better or worse suited to certain species.  The ascent is engaging and requires attention, yet when possible I swivel my head and try to keep up with the changes.  In the end I can be certain only that sage vanishes on northern hillsides and doug fir doesn't exist on the southern aspects.  

The desert recedes and I struggle to identify an increasing amount of flora, and am then flustercated by an inability to recognize the cheeping and tittering of so many LGB's in the trees around us.  I snap a few pics to help with identification once back home, then note that Jeny is far, far ahead.  Time to catch up, or at least dawdle less and hope that she takes a break soon.

Soft, unseasonably warm breezes caress and cool us as we continue our ascent.  Trail intersections tempt us with options: Jeny uses the time spent waiting for me to deduce the best route given daylight and energy levels, such that when I arrive she is ready to go.  No rest given, nor is any needed at my tottering pace.

Already overloaded with flora and fauna, I turn attention to the land itself.  I note volcanic intrusions, alluvial fans, vague sedimentary layers, eroded pockets in limestone, and the bigger picture of the basin and range stretching west.  And then, a change: Tight switchbacks appear in the trail, demanding focus, precision, intensity.  When we fail to put them all together, we walk bikes back down and try again. 

The grade steepens and we wind into a sort of inner basin, views immediately different -- more intimate -- than any from earlier.  And then, although ridges reach far above us to the east, the trail goes no higher and we glide and carve, swoop and giggle, all attention focused on the sinuous, playful path stretching ahead.  We both note and comment that the trail is really well thought out and built.

Eventually we close the loop, refreshed from the sunshine and invigoration at least as much as from the new-to-us trail and scenery.  We had no expectation for what we might find when we started, and find ourselves delighted with the place, the trail, the day.  It's a keeper.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Just Swell.

One of my top five favorite rides on the planet is a mere 2 hour drive from home.  Due west out to the San Rafael Swell, then a bit south to 5 Miles of Hell.

Skippy, Pauker, Morris and myself adjourned from our everyday lives and met out there last Friday to ride.

Even though it was a mere day ride, the place is special enough that I've devoted a page on my Exposure site to it.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Preserving Moore.

There's this trail in our backyard.  Pretty technical, in an old-school, slow-speed, rock crawling sort of way.  It is one of our favorite trails because it requires a delicate blend of skill, finesse, and horsepower to ride well.

The trail is called Moore Fun.  I helped a tiny bit with walking the ridge, laying out the route, and building this trail way back in the late '90's.  Not positive which year exactly, other than it was a long time ago.

In the intervening years I have enjoyed riding this trail maybe a hundred times.  Probably more.  I've never, not once, cleaned every move, end to end, all on the same day.  I know very few people who have.

But I have been able to clean every move on it.  Getting to where I could say that took years.  Delayed gratification.

It's the sort of trail where you have to be in a certain frame of mind: Patient, committed, and focused.  Otherwise the wheels come off pretty quickly and you just frustrate yourself trying too hard.

We've ridden it on hardtails, full suspension, full rigid, singlespeeds, fatbikes, and plus bikes.  All sizes of wheels.  They all work just fine on Moore Fun.

Honestly, the bike matters little here.  If you like the bike you're riding, it's good enough for this trail.

This trail has never been heavily used relative to anything else around it.  Not exactly sure why that is, but I'd conjecture that most people prefer to have a little more speed and flow on their rides.  My proof for that guess is that many (most?) other people I see on this trail are usually walking.  And bleeding.  Seriously.  I've heard it referred to not as "Moore Fun" but instead as "Moore Walking".  One friend simply calls it "Uncle".

It isn't for everyone.

I've gotten to ride it three times this fall, and each of those times I've noticed that Moore Fun is changing.  Being dumbed down, sanitized.  

Several of the marquee moves now have go-arounds, or ramps, or have been butchered such that a unique, well-designed, engaging move is now a straight line with zero challenge whatsoever.

Why?  I really don't know.  By whom?  Don't know that either. 

What I do know is that we have very, very few tech trails left.  So many of the classics have been neutered, brought down to the level of the least common denominator.  And then the tiny fraction remaining is being sanitized by the least common denominator.  Or stravatards.  Or maybe on accident.

Probably ignorance is the theme tying all of the above together: They don't realize that in cheating themselves out of becoming better riders, they're cheating all of us.

Clearly this is a first world problem.  Not something that needs attention from lawmakers of any ilk, nor even from those that administer these trails.  I'm not even certain they ride bikes.

What this problem needs is for us, this community of riders, to stand up and say enough.

If you see someone sanitizing a move on *any* trail, educate them.  Maybe they don't know any better.

It comes to this:

Elevate yourself to the level of the trail.  Don't bring the trail down to your level.  Can't ride it?  No biggie -- walk it this time.  Next time, give a few of the moves a try.  The time after that, try 'em twice.  Eventually, you might put it together and experience the intense satisfaction of delayed gratification.  It is addicting, in ways that the instant kind can't be.

Moore Fun is literally one of the last places that that experience can be had, locally.

Tech trails are vanishing fast.  Please share this around while we still have a few worth saving.


Mike Curiak
Grand Junction, Colorado

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A ride, recently: The last of it.

A few weeks back, when the dregs of the leaves yet lingered in the high country, Doc, Greg, and I went to suss a new-to-us route.

In the sun the temps were glorious.  In the shade they were decidedly less so.  

Most of the ride was silly steep: Grunt in your granny for a few brief moments, awkwardly grab a limb, then gasp for an equal duration.  Then repeat.

The bulk of the ride was deep within mature forest, meaning our views were more often like the shot below than the one above.

Most of the route was unknown to us, and as such there was a hint of anxiety carried silently within as the day progressed: Would we make it out before dark?

The truth is that, one way or another, we had to: None of us had enough layers or calories to survive a night out at this elevation with what little we carried.

We saw few people on our traverse, all with a very different agenda than the one we pursued.

Just beyond the high point we skirted a fresh elk carcass, wondering if it was placed so to bait in bears, but unwilling to stick around to discover the real answer.  Daylight was burning.

We reached familiar ground as the last direct sun vanished, then finished the descent in luminous, indirect, and decidedly chilly twilight.

The loop was not one that we felt bore repeating, but some yet-to-be-explored permutation of it will likely make it into the annual repertoire.  

Thanks for checkin' in.