Friday, December 19, 2008

Season Wrapup

Well, everyone else is doing it, so I might as well. Although, like the last drunk at the party, I'm still not done. There are a couple of races left to do in Redding, so I guess a better title would be "End of Year Wrap UP". Whatever.

I don't know exactly where to go with this post. I could do the blog-o-sphere standard and tell you how my races went vs. my expectations and how I plan to do better, but that falls dangerously close to a touchy feely cross version of a New Year's Resolution and I don't make those. I could do something along the lines of a top 10, but that would do two things I'm not prepared for. The first would require me to sit down and think about what I'm typing and maybe even edit it. Bleh. The second is that the interwebs love a top 10 and I might attract more readers.

Of course, anthing I say, I can and probably change my mind about tomorrow. It doesn't mean I'll do another post about it, but I'd mean to and wind up putting that effort off until something else bright and shiny and new entered my line of sight.

So without further adoo (adu? adou? ado? whatever) I'll ramble semi-coherently about the changes I made this year for cross and how that worked out.

I raced a full season of cross including traveling to Yreka, Merlin, Klamath Falls, Bend, and all of the Cross Crusade races except for Astoria. Last year I "upgraded" to the Master A's and had some mediocre and some pretty good results in Portland and a DNF, but I only did 5 of the races and did 4 out of the 5 Southern Oregon cross races. This year I backed off the summer crits and mid week intervals thinking I would need to be fresher to do the fuller calendar. Wrong. I needed to be in better shape to do better in the full calendar. There is no racing yourself into shape once cross season really hits. If you do two races a weekend, then at best you'll manage to get in a fairly tough ride Wednesday. If it doesn't happen by then, just write it off and move onto the weekend.

The plus side of the season was that I got to know some cool guys in the mid to back of the pack. It makes the 4 1/2 hour drive to Portland every Sunday morning alot easier when you can exchange mindless banter with some of your rivals. It also makes moving up easier if you've routinely beaten someone, even if your points don't allow for a call up(or so I hear). I also found out I can do a full season of cross and not crumble under the effort. The effort isn't the racing, it's the packing and laundry and the driving and the unpackig and the driving home for 5 hours with no shower and the hours in the garage getting the fuckups fixed(see below0 and being away from the family unit for the better part of the weekend.

I had numerous flats on tubulars this year. All were caused by me essentially treating my tubulars like shit and daring them to fail on me. I killed a set of Dugasts by not Aqua sealing them and then the sidewalls rotted. It killed me to toss an expensive tire that rode so fucking nice and still had so much tread left. They literally had maybe 10 races on them. Sigh. I also destroyed a couple (3)of my Grifos. Neither was as stupidly done as the Dugasts, but still were my fault. I'd put a good 2 seasons on one tire and a full season on the other and decided I need to start seeing how low I can run pressures. That's great if you are on some mostly grassy courses, but if your doing hot laps in an old quarry or anywhere in Yreka, then the pressures have to be a bit higher. One tire suffered a cut sidewall. No biggie, since that one was the older one with the most miles. The other ones I actually pinch flatted. I think riding them in to the pits for almost a full lap killed them off for good. I tried the Stan's fix, but the goop just poured out of everywhere. At least I can send them off to Tire Alert to have them fixed in the off season. Note to self, at 190-195lbs, you need to run higher pressures.

I'll finish on what was a high note. I went back to a double set up up front. I'd ran a single 42t and after dealing with clearance issues between the inner guard and the chainstay and in really muddy races for the guards and chainrings to fill up with enough mud to make the chain not sit securely on the chainrings, I went back to what had always worked in the past. A 38/44t combo up front. I almost never needed to get out of the 44. If I dropped down to the 38 and forgot to make the shift back up, no big deal. The difference was enough to give me a little extra spin in some really slow sections and still not penalize me on most of the open bits. No dropped chains, no missed shifts, and a left brake lever the same as my right.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Race Report Rant

You won’t find a race report on Blanco Suave’s blog anywhere. I’ve decided that for the most part, I hate reading them. If I wanted to know what happened in a Pro race, usually reading the race report from a journalist is better than listening to the Pro describe it. It’s the same reason ESPN has professional announcers and only a few athlete commentators. And that’s for the Pro’s races. I will read the Pro’s reports for the juicy bits of gossip that leak out from time to time or the sneak peaks at what happens behind the scenes. Very rarely do they ever entertain, let alone inform me.

As far as amateur race reports go, if I wanted to know what happened in the middle of the pack, I’d listen to my own bullshit. About the only time a race report is any good is if it has very little to do with the race at all. Describing to me how you felt on the third run up on the sixth lap doesn’t “put me there”, it puts me to sleep. Telling me about the beer handups and the pit hijinks at least establishes a type of mood I’m familiar with and can appreciate. And as you can tell, I’m not nearly a good enough writer to convey anything that happened in my race that makes me want to read about it. Why should you?

I will however, jabber on about certain events I’ve attended. Yes, if you dig back through my past posts, you can find what would constitute a race report. If you are foolhardy enough to read those and the other craptacular submissions I’ve made, then you’ll clearly see that I am rife with conflictions and hypocrisy in my behavior and am generally okay with that. So much so that I won’t care too much with anything you might feel compelled to put into the comment sections. It’s a lonely place that very (and I mean VERY) few people wander off to. I figure that anyone comments about a post that hardly anyone if anyone at all reads, than they have bigger issues than the original poster. If you feel that strongly about something, then get your own blog that no one can pay attention to and stop cluttering up mine. Of course if I start to get hundreds of comments, expect me to take on a truly earned air of superiority and continue to ignore anything you might still say. Either way, I’m an asshole.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Pre Registration and Timing Chips

There's a lot of talk on the web heading into the cross season about preregistration in regards to day of registration fees and timing chips. Personally, I think before someone starts spouting off about what promoters should or shouldn't do, they should have to put on a couple of races. Once they've done that, they can understand what a time and money suck most race promotion is. Until then, they need to shut the hell up.

First things first. Let's talk about day of race late fees. Let me tell you why a promoter does it(it's not to roll in piles of cash before race day.) There are two reasons. One is pre-race cash for the promoter to get things done and the other is to get the race infrastructure ready to handle a cetain number of racers.

Pre-Reg helps a promoter come up with cash to pay for a lot of stuff. The larger the race, then the more need for the upfront cash. Quite often, parks departments, port-a-john rentals, flyer and form printing companies all require payment up front, or at the least, a sizable deposit. It also helps the promoter in case the weather turns and nobody shows up. There are untold amounts of expenses that pop up in promoting a race. Websites, flyers, insurance forms, flagging, barriers, land use fees, insurance, officials, shitters, signage, etc. etc.

If you are promoting a mtb race that goes over a bunch of different properties, that cash can be very important. If you are putting on a cross race that only deals with one property owner, then usually the deposit isn't too bad. In mtb and road, the weather will play a huge part in determining the rider turn out. In cross, short of locusts, the weather isn't too much to worry about. Cross racers are plenty excited about getting muddy and destroying their equipment.

One thing to remember though, is that the larger and more established the race, the less the promoters need the upfront cash and the more they want to get a handle on the number of racers so they can set up the infrastructure to deal with a large number of people. If everybody registers at the last minute, the amount of volunteers needed to help registration goes up exponentially. The hardest part of putting on a race is getting enough volunteers. You never have enough. Never.

Late registration penalties and and early registration discounts will never go away. There are too many reasons for a large amount of promoters to use them. That said, not all races and promoters will use them, because in their circumstance, they won't need to because their situation doesn't require a large outlay of cash up front and/or they won't need armies of volunteers.

Racers will always say that if their weren't late registration penalties, more racers would show up and race the day of. Promoters always say that they get less racers when they don't make offer a pre reg discount, because racers will flake out the day of if they haven't already paid their entry fees. They are probably both right, although promoters have years worth of event numbers to review, where the individual racer's opinion is slightly less objective and scientific.

Timing chips have no good side in cross races except that it's pretty cool to see your lap times. That said, they flat out suck. They lose racers all the time. If you get too close to the sensor that picks up the chip when you aren't racing, it screws the times of the racers that are on course up and potentially fucks your race as well. The officials still have to spend the better part of a couple of days going over the tapes and reviewing numbers to make the results even close to accurate. The Cross Crusade series used them for a couple years and the results were always messed up. The head officials would spend a couple of days emailing around looking for missing riders and responding to the emails of racers who didn't show up as on the right finishing lap. And they always had to go over the tapes manually. Stop trying to bring triathlon technology into cross.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Summer Night Before Cross

Combine this

With this

And you have a perfect recipe for enjoying the last warm days on the back porch.

If you think Buck Owens is just about HeeHaw, piss off.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Front Brake Cable Routing

Or how eveyone else is mucking it up!

In cyclocross, there are a bunch of compromises you make to get a bike working. It is, after all, a sport forged from road racing with just enough mountain biking thrown in, and a few proprietary goodies for good measure. One of the issues people struggle with is front brake cable routing. A lot of bikes are pretty smooshed for space where the front cable exits the bar tape and gets routed down to the front wheel. While there are plenty of ways that will effectively route a front brake cable, they all are wrong. Either they offend my delicate visual sensibilities, are a shoddy and quick way of dealing with a problem, or they have the potential for imminent death. I'll go through all of these "options", but first I'm going to show you the correct way and give you a little trick to make it even better. Do it this way or you are wrong. (Aren't you glad we got that point established? And by we I mean me.)

First, get yourself one of these from IRD.

You won't need the pinch bolt if your headset is tight, so toss it to save a few grams. Sure there are lighter ones out there, but none are better. Because it's machined from a pretty sizable hunk of aluminum and they leave a fair bit of it intact, it's pretty stiff. Meaning your brakes aren't mushy from your hanger flexing. It's a small step when it comes to eliminating brake shudder.(Another post entirely.) Your brakes may still be mushy because you don't know how to set them up, but not from your hanger flexing.

Route your cable under the stem. I don't care how the TreeFarm does it. By using the LongDrop from IRD you'll have plenty of room for the cable to make a nice smooth bend.

If you want to be extra cool like me, use an old V-brake noodle to guide the cable to the hanger. You can bend it into all sorts of configurations and the cable will slide through it better than plain housing. Plus it will help firm up the feel at the lever. If you don't have any old noodles laying around, go to your local shop. Any shop should have a bin full of the never used but always included 135degree bend ones. You can bend it yourself to any angle you want and if you need to shorten it, just pull the end the housing goes into off and cut the tube with a hacksaw.

Here's where I list all the wrong ways and make fun of them. If you route your cables this way and are offended, then good. You deserve to be. Any idjit that gets offended by teasing and brake cable routing posts on the web needs to pull up their big girl panties and have anther cup of shut the fuck up.

Resist the urge to be "Euro" and route the cable over the stem like this.

It's bad enough that the cable is on the right side, thereby giving the rider "motorcycle" or "Euro" style brake set up, but he's using Nokon housing to make a long loop of housing. Nokon, while a pain in the ass and expensive, does have the sole redeeming virtue of being able to be bent into small arc and still have the cables pass smoothly. This bike looks like he did it this way so he could show off the color matching that Nokons allow just a bit more than if it was tucked away under the handlebar.

The real reason you'll see this routing done on some Pro's bikes is because it's fast and easy to do if you are a mechanic that is replacing housing and cable fairly often. It allows for more latitude in cutting just the right amount of housing. If it's a little long, who cares?

Make certain your hanger is on straight. For the love of God, don't do this.

It makes you look like a fat man with a too short and crooked tie. Think Blimpy from Popeye. Again, if you run the LongDrop and noodle, then you won't have any issues with the stem getting in the way. Show some class and get it on there straight. If it's rotating itself, then your headset isn't adjusted properly.

This next one I just hate because of pure aesthetics.

It's ugly, I don't care how many fast guys do this. When you view the bike from the side, the cable is going dow n to the front brake at a goofy looking angle. Also, there are quite a few stems that don't have the clearance between the face plate and the stem body. If your fork suffers from shudder issues, then this will only make it worse.

If you aren't a fat, chain smoking Belgian professional mechanic, then don't even think about this next little "fix".

Drilling through your stem is stupid. Sure, there are posts on the forums with people claiming "no problems so far", but so what? I'm certain there were Yugo drivers that said the same thing at first. The Pro's bikes will have this sometimes done for special events like Paris-Roubaix. It's designed for a one time use. Not three seasons of Cat 3 mid-pack dominance and summer time adventure rides. Besides, it makes the bike look like it has a "Prince Albert". Turn your filters off on your Google Image search and you'll see what I mean.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I think I might have a problem

Tubular tires are a tricky thing. See, at first I just wanted one set to race cross on. One thing leads to another and before I know it, my garage looks like I abducted Sven Nys and held him for ransom. I don't know what or where the exact tipping point was, but I know I'm way past it now. Working in the bike industry doesn't help me any. You'd think that having access to loads of cool stuff at a discount would be a good thing, but it's not. Do you have any idea then number of times I've bought stuff because it's marginally within my budget? If I had to pay retail for everything, I couldn't afford for it to have gotten so out of hand. Never listen to me if the words, "You can't afford not to!" come out of my mouth.

Most of the wheels I've gotten have been procured over time and I actually do save up for things I want. I came to the belief a long time ago that I'd save until I got what I wanted instead of buying the almost as good but cheaper version. Every time I'd go the cheaper route, I wound either breaking it or wearing out sooner, or I'd find reasons why I needed to upgrade. So when I find a component I like, I tend to put it on all of my bikes. Chris King is a prime example. I rock their headsets on almost all of my rigs (it will be all very soon) and I have, count them, 6 pairs of the hubs. If it seems like a lot of King hubs, you're right, but in my defense I started buying them in 1996 and they all are still running. Some of them were originally different spacings and almost all of have been laced to many different rims. What can I say. I like the product and I like the company.

Here's the breakdown on the cross wheels and tires I have.

These are one of two King hubbed, Reflex rimmed, cross wheels I own. Both sets have double butted spokes and alloy nipples laced up three cross. These have the ceramic coating on the sidewalls and are 28 hole. Both sets are shod with Challenge 34's. They are awesome, stiff, strong wheels that can take a beating.

These babies are the other set. They are 32 hole and are the hard anodized version of the rim. Once again, super tough and shod with the excellent Challenge 34. These are the hoops that go on the rigs in Southern Oregon and at courses like Barton Park. I'll have these longer than any other wheels in the cross stable. As soon as I can justify the effort, I'm going to glue a set of Vittoria Pave 27's onto them and spend all summer riding shitty roads in bliss.

The next two sets of wheels are monuments to my own vanity and lust. I always have a mixture of pride and embarassment every time I ride these. Carbon hoops with stupid expensive, but oh so sweet riding Dugasts.

This wheelset is one of the two carbon hoops I have and a prime example that getting deals in the industry can make you poor. They originally were to be just for sunny day fast courses and road racing, but they've proven to be tough, stiff, and pretty light. I've ran them in muck and mire and they haven't ever complained. I was using them in crits last year and went OTB at 30, sending the bike cartwheeling. They were still true even if I wasn't. I even loaned them to a friend who used them in KC at Nationals and he came back wanting to buy them off me. Part of the allure to them is the Dugast Rynos that are on them. Those tires flat rock. They hook up better than any other I've ridden and the casing allows for stupid low pressures to be used. I'm 195lb and will run them down to 32psi without worries. The only downside is that they have a bit more rolling resistance than some others.

This set is a new one. I sell the Pro-Lites and so I am using them as a demo set. Pro-Lite is a company that makes wheels for Ritchey, Reynolds, and a bunch others. They had some good ideas floating around and decided they needed a house brand. The goofy looking hubs make for shorter spokes and wider flange spacing. All in all, while not the lightest, they are plenty stiff and ride nice. I've been doing the crit thing on them this year to test them out before I get stupid and glue these bad boys to them.

Remember what I said about the Rynos not rolling all that fast? Well these sholdn't have that "problem"! They remind me of the old Michelin Sprint, which was a tire I loved. If they turnout to be good tires, I figure the problem I'm going to have is not riding them at places like Barton or some of the Southern Oregon stuff. Especially if it's dry like it was last year.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cable Routing

Cable routing. People lose their minds over were their cables should be attached to the frames and how to actually attach them. It's yet another minutiae of the sport that makes it what cross so intriguing. From obsessing over tire pressures and casing count or the best way to run a single ring to sourcing obscure brake pads, it's a typical type of obsession that is so prevalent in the sport. I'm as bad as anyone else. I'll spend who knows how many hours and dollars "fixing" something so very tiny and then waste myself and my equipment in an hour long slog fest through the worst gunk and grime possible. If that doesn't kill the bike, I throw it on the roof rack for a four and a half hour drive home in the driving NW rain. So you can see how it makes perfect sense to invest in unobtanium bits and maintenance heavy components(this is a sarcastic comment, in case your internal meter is off). Over the last few years I've come to add weight back to the bike to get reliability up, and perhaps more importantly, time spent wrenching down.

This leads me to cable routing. I've ran all the configurations there are and can honestly say they all work pretty well and all have things that suck enough to drive one crazy. I'll also come out and admit that I don't think there is any "magic bullet" when it comes to cable routing. You'll wind up running whatever works best for you and has the least annoying downsides. I'm just going to lay out what I think are the pros and cons of each. I'm only going to go over how they run in regards to the frame routing. I'll leave the front brake routing's for another day as that is a topic unto itself. So here we go.

Down Tube Routing
1. It's the lightest as there is the bare amount of housing and only one cable stop per cable.
2. You don't need a pulley to run a road front derailleur. Road front derailleurs work better than mountain front derailleurs. It has to do with the leverage of the arm in relation to the cable pull of the shifters, plus the shape and profile of the cage. Bottom line, you can make a mountain front derailleur work OK, but not as well as a road front derailleur. Since no one makes a top pull road front derailleur, the only way to get one to work is either pave a pulley under the front derailleur on the seat tube which loops the cable back up to the derailleur, or run down tube routed cables. Never ind if you run a single ring. (Yet again, another posting and topic.)
3. No loop of housing at the rear derailleur pointing up at the sky for grit and grime to accumulate in a make shifting suck. Because the housing actually points down, it never fills up with slop and gets sticky. Or at least it takes a lot longer for it to happen.
4. It looks all classic and traditional. Not very MTBish.

1. The cables are a pain when it comes time to grab your down tube. They kind of shift around and feel like they are going to pinch your fingers as you're shouldering your rig.
2. More grass and crap seems to hang from them when it gets really messy. No big deal really, but it can make cleaning the bike take longer.
3. It looks all classic and traditional. Not very MTBish.

Top Tube Routing
1. It keeps the cables out of the way. Of your hands, of the slop coming off your front tire, everything.
2. It makes cleaning the bike a bit faster. This matters if you've a limited time to spend cleaning and wrenching before your next race. It really matters when you are in the pits and wrenching for someone else. I wonder if that's why you see so many PRO rigs running top tube routing.
3. It makes for a cleaner and smoother shoulder. I don't mean cleaner in that your gloves won't get dirty, but that the motion won't have any hanging up on cables.

1. The afore mentioned front derailleur woes. No big deal if you run a single front ring, but a bit of a pain if you run a double. If you run a triple, stop reading this and go out and remove your helmet mirror, seat bag, and water bottle cages. What you do isn't racing. This is about race bikes. An aside on the pulley. I don't mind them so much, but they are another moving part that has to be dealt with and on certain frames, can limit tire clearance at the seat tube.
2. Unless you like changing your cables every week (Yeah, that's right. Every week.) or run a sealed system like Gore, your shifting will suck balls in a very short amount of time. It happens because of that last loop of housing at the rear derailleur points up at the sky allowing all kinds of crap to run down the cable and deposit itself in the housing. Even though the cables are up and out of the way, any grime and slime that gets on the bike will be funneled right down into that last bit of housing. That's why pros get new cables and housing every week.

I've come to run the rear brake and rear derailleur on the top tube and use sealed cables. I like running a road front derailleur so my front derailleur cable goes on the down tube. I had the guy who built my bike use a single split stop at the 6:00 position on the down tube which keeps it as tucked up to the frame as possible. I think this offers me the right balance of performance and limited maintenance. If I had more limited wrenching skills (they're way mad) and never wanted to change cable and housing, then I'd have the cable routed on the down tube. If I had huge ducketts, I'd run regular cables on the top tube with a pulley and have my personal mechanic deal with changing them out on a constant basis. As is, I think running a sealed system is the way to go. It costs more up front, but the shifting lasts the whole season. Just don't use that Nokon crap. I'd have to hit you.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Back From the Long Grey Void

We'll I'm back blogging again. Like a cold sore that won't go away, this blog is just about as reliable and annoying. This winter after cross, Blavco Suave was pretty fed up with the bike industry. After getting the shaft put to me by the "officials" at the Portland USGP, and then getting fired from my job in January, it was a little tough coming up with anything decent to say for a little while.

But then the snow was good and the time on government "unenjoyment" tit was nice and spending a bit more time with the little ones was fun and I was in a pretty good place. I still wasn't riding, so the no post habit continued to form and infest itself even deeper. It was creating a perfect cycle.

After the weather turned nice (Some of you are thinking this never happened. It has. Harden the Fuck Up!) I started riding and even training again. Only this time, solo was the theme of about 95% of Blanco's rides. Somewhat because I was still a little crusty with the bike industry, and just didn't want to field questions regarding my job status and "So what are yo going to do now?" type stuff.

But Blanco found out that he liked riding sans group better. Mostly because all the people who he usually rides with were all about the early season races and were already flying. It sucked going out for every ride and have it turn into the "Wednesday Worlds". I was still skiing part time and riding an even smaller part time and getting the wood put to Blanco in March wasn't my cup of tea.
Pros will tell you that they spend most of their training time alone because it allows them the best opportunity to maximize the type of ride they need to do that day. No responding to the groups seemingly random efforts and no drifting along safely ensconced in the pack when they should be busting their asses doing motor pacing. That's what the pros will tell you.

Blanco Suave can't tell you that. A training plan for me is that I'm planning to train, but plans change. What really makes training alone work best for me is that I don't allow myself to be slotted into my assigned pecking order of the pack during those "group rides". If I get thumped weekly by the same people, when it comes time to race, I already know where I'm gonna wind up, whether or not I actually deserve that placing. Trying to get your season to peak later than most people's is hard enough without spending the better part of your build up time getting discouraged.
The potential downside is that you can be deluding yourself in regards to your actual fitness. You can show up to the first race thinking your flying and get the old doors blown right off. But even if this happens, it's easier to justify your fitness and get back to getting better.

Every now and again this "ostrich head in the sand" style of training actually works for Blanco Suave. This last week Blanco turned the pedals in anger for the first time this year at the Thursday Night TT kickoff to the weekly crit series. I didn't exactly set any one's house 'a fire, but I turned out a pretty respectable result. Most importantly, all the other racers when I've ran into them this week, have commented on how strong the Blanco Suavester is riding. It seems like I caught them by surprise. Not that I'm actually all that strong right now, but they have nothing to gauge me against and automatically assume that if I haven't been getting thrashed on them since February, then I must not be riding too much. Bam! Instant insertion a few rungs further up the pecking order. Beware Blanco Suave, for he rides with the force of Solo!