The Orbea vs the Kona

As I have mentioned lately, I am getting used to a new bike that I borrowed from a friend. My MTB, a 2013 Orbea Alma H20, tragically ended its useful life with a broken seat stay about a month ago. The borrowed bike, a 2013 Kona Big Unit, has been a blessing as I wouldn’t be able to do the upcoming races without it, but there have been some changes that I have had to get used to in making the switch. What follows is a breakdown of the differences between the two and my opinion of those differences. Although both are 29’er mountain bikes, they are far from the same. I’ll try to toe the line between explaining things so the layman can understand, hopefully without boring the avid cyclist with details.

For reference, here are a couple pics. First, my old ride, the Orbea Alma, setup with gravel tires for Trans Iowa last year, and my substitute ride, the Kona Big Unit setup pretty much how I’ll ride it on the OT100 and Wolf Creek 12HR races.

At the Trans Iowa 2016 finish

 

The Big Unit does Middle Fork

The single (see what I did there!) biggest difference between these two machines is the gearing. The Orbea had a triple crankset upfront and nine speed cassette in the rear for plenty of gearing options when climbing hills or zipping along on the flat sections. The Kona? One gear. One simple chain ring and a solitary cog mean that the climbs are more intense and the flat sections are sometimes slower. This completely changes the way

you can ride, potentially slowing you down on both the hills and the flats, but in the end I haven’t been that much slower. I find that without gears I am reduced to the minimum and left with no choice, I buck up and climb a bit harder than I would have geared. Comparatively, with gears I would just down shift because I could. It was easier. The drawback to the extra effort I end up using on the SS is that I can dig too deep too fast in a ride if I don’t rein in my exertion. I have had this happen a couple times and it is no fun. It won’t be an option for the OT100, so the plan is to swap out the cog with an easier gear. I’ll be slower, but it should be a more manageable output for 100 miles.

After the difference in gearing, the next big thing I noticed right away was the bars and stem. The Kona has handle bars that are 4.5″ wider than the Orbea and the stem is significantly shorter.

Skinny vs Wide bars

The wider bars are to give you a better lever when cranking up hills with only one gear. It just makes sense for climbing when you’re out of the saddle. With your hands spread out farther, you have a much stronger position with which to use your whole body to pull the bars from side to side while cranking down on the pedals. The shorter stem with the longer bars makes sense too for steering. If a longer stem was used with a longer bar,

you would have to move the bars farther to turn when descending, creating the feeling of a big lumbering beast. Imagine driving a bus with it’s huge steering wheel. Add a shorter stem and you get a faster reaction when steering, making the steering more like a sports car. At first, I hated this new setup. I felt like I had to really watch trees on either side of the trail because I was used to 2.25″ more clearance on both sides and the short stem made the steering feel too twitchy for me. Soon I got used to it and I am really liking the added power I can put to the system with my upper body on those long bars. Another advantage I have been told about is that with a wider bar, your chest is opened up more, making it easier to breathe. I’m not completely sold on that idea as the bars on the Orbea weren’t so small that my chest felt compressed when I rode. The interesting thing to do would be to swap out for wider bars on the same rig, wear a heart rate monitor and see if there was a marked difference climbing between the two setups. Maybe I will try that one day.

As I have continued to ride the Kona, I have also noticed the differences of the fork and frame as compared to the Orbea. The Kona has a carbon Niner fork vs the steel Salsa fork I had been running. The carbon is much stiffer, which does several things.

The stiffer carbon Niner fork

First off, you will hear people say that carbon eliminates vibration really well, despite its stiffness. I cannot say that I agree when comparing to the steel fork. The steel was very compliant and I never had an issue with vibrations in my hands or soreness. With the carbon I immediately noticed the vibrations and have had to get used to my hands getting some numbness and soreness in my palms. On the plus side, the stiffer carbon fork has made me much more confident on descents as I feel like I am feeling the terrain better. I think the steel fork was flexing so much that the feel of the trail was lost. It is certainly a give and take. In that same vein, the Kona, being a SS is built with a very strong rear triangle to transfer power well and stand up to much more torque for the long haul. The Orbea had a very compliant rear triangle, which was great for giving a cushy ride, but I feel like I lost a lot of power with the flexion in the frame. Once again, give and take.

Overall I must say that I am very pleased with the Kona thus far. I am enjoying the SS life and I love the sporty feel the steering, frame and fork give. Of course I am giving up a bit of comfort for those attributes, but so far I feel like it has been a good trade. When you add in the simplicity of not shifting gears and the reliability of not worrying about bashing a derailleur on something, it is a wonderful experience where you can just submerse yourself in the ride and enjoy the woods. And that’s the way MTB’ing was intended to be.

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Getting used to the SS

**You will notice that I have started adding pictures to the blog. Historically I have had a terrible time uploading pics and in frustration, went with text only posts. I recently gave the extra effort to figure out what I was doing wrong. The result is hopefully a more pleasing experience for the reader. I hope you enjoy!

As I mentioned last week, I am learning to be a single speed MTB’er. At first, I thought it was crazy to go with just one gear. I could only imagine how much I would miss all those other options when it came time to climb. As I have gotten out this past week and spent some time on the SS, I have been pleasantly surprised.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Climbing hills isn’t easy with only one gear. I grunt. I sweat. I swear. Sometimes I walk. However, when everything is reduced to the minimum and you have only one option, you just do it. When I borrowed the bike from Matt, he said it well when I mentioned something to him about only having one gear. He said, “You may only have one gear, but you have three speeds- sitting, standing and walking.” Touché salesman.

I got out for 5 training rides this week. There were other rides on my commuter bike around town, but those are just chill and I don’t keep track of them. My mileage hasn’t been what I want it to be, but it is what it is. On the bright side, I’ve been consistent and my knee isn’t giving me problems. That makes life pretty good in comparison to some of the issues I have had over the last couple months.

My rides through the week were close to home on the 7 mile MTB trail at St Joe State Park. For the weekend, I have made a point to get out and go ride other stuff to keep things fresh. If all I do is ride the same thing over and over, I get bored with it.

My plan had been to ride Berryman Saturday. It is a 26 mile loop that incorporates a portion of the Ozark Trail on it’s west side, which will be part of the OT100. I figured doing that portion of trail would be good prep and I love riding there. I packed everything up and headed out Saturday morning, feeling good about the day and excited to hit the trail.

The 45 minute drive was wonderful as I enjoyed the warm late summer air and the windows down. When I turned up the road off the highway to get to the Berryman trailhead, I started getting excited. It had been awhile since I was last out there and I was looking forward to some alone time in the woods.

My excitement waned when within a quarter mile of the trail head I started seeing cars parked along the sides of the road. There was probably a couple hundred cars parked in and around the trailhead parking lot. I saw someone walking along the road and stopped to ask him what was going on. He informed me that there was a 100 mile trail run being put on. He said there were over 100 racers, but he encouraged me to go ahead and ride. He said the trail was still open and there were 4 or 5 MTB’ers already out on the course. I decided to change my plan and go somewhere else. I wanted some alone time and hated to go out and potentially disturb some runner’s groove.

So with Plan A out, I took some sweet backroads and headed for an impromptu Plan B.

Sweet backroad chill

My backroad destination was the 32/DD trailhead of the OT for some Middle Fork section action. I figured I would be alone. Most every time I drive by that lot, there is not a soul to be seen. Much to my surprise I saw some Noah kit when I pulled in. It was none other than teammates Adam and Chuck out for some sweet single track.

Adam!

Chuck!

After some small talk, I got ready quickly and we all pushed off together, heading south on the trail. Not only are Adam and Chuck faster than I am any day, on top of that they were on full suspension geared bikes. I let them know I would likely be sucking wind on the climbs and not to wait for me.

I hung with them for a couple miles, even up the first big climb. Once the second significant climb came along, they started getting away from me. It was all good as I really just wanted to take my time, get used to the SS and enjoying the day in the woods. Once I was alone, I found the ‘third gear’ of SS on some climbs and hopped off to hoof it. I stopped here and there to grab a few shots for the blog.

Beautiful creek on Middle Fork

The Big Unit does Middle Fork

Middle Fork

Middle Fork

He was camera shy

Due to my changes in plan and location, I was pressed for time and I turned back at Hwy 49, about 8 miles in on the trail. On my way back, I ran into another guy I know, Anatoli. We chatted for a few minutes and I then rolled on back to the car. I ended with just shy of 16 miles for the day, which was way short of what I really needed to be riding, but I needed to get back home as we had plans for the evening. Despite the shorter mileage, it was a great ride and a great day!

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Time to switch gears

Last Friday evening, I traveled about 40 miles north to Festus for an event sponsored by Team Noah, the racing team I am a part of. Festus has their annual town fair, Twin City Days and our team put on the Moonlight Ramble, a simple little three mile bike ride to get the community involved and out on their bikes.

It was our second year putting the ride on and it was a resounding success! We had a great turn out and it was a blast. Especially the little guys and gals that came out. There was one little girl, maybe 4 years old, who had just learned to ride without training wheels two weeks before. She was a trooper and rode the whole way on her tiny bike, climbing a hill that several adults got off for. It was so cool to see her intensity as she worked that bike. Gotta love budding love of cycling!

This little lady rocked it!

After the public ride, four of us from the team (myself, Adam, Ian and Matt) gathered up at Matt’s house and went out for a short night road ride. It was so cool to get to ride with the guys as I don’t normally get a chance to do that, being that I live over an hour from the majority of the team. We enjoyed the cool night air and chatted the whole way.

After the ride, we hung out on Matt’s patio for post ride pizza, beer and a general good time. Of course the topics of conversation revolved around bikes- what was new on the market, geometry preferences and upcoming rides. Along the way, I told the guys that I didn’t know what I was going to do for the OT and Wolf Creek as I had broken my MTB frame the week before and didn’t have anything lined up for a replacement. Immediately they all offered that I could borrow a bike from one of them! I was floored.

After realizing that they were serious, we quickly fleshed out that I couldn’t borrow from Ian as he is several inches shorter than me and his bikes wouldn’t fit. Both Adam and Matt had bikes to offer, but being as we were at Matt’s house, he had one right there to try out. I went home that night with Matt’s Kona Big Unit. It was setup single speed, but my intention was to gear it for my races. I was stoked!

On the drive home, I thought about the bike and how I would set it up. Mental calculations mounting, I had a crazy idea. What If I just road it single speed? I had a little bit of experience a couple years ago riding a SS a few times. Was I ready to do that? I drove home, went to bed and slept on it.

The next day when I woke I thought about it over a cup of coffee. That was it. I decided to give it a go. Worst case I could ride it SS for a few rides and if I didn’t like it I could set it up geared.

Busy on Saturday, I got up Sunday and did some maintenance on the Kona since Matt hadn’t ridden it in awhile. I had to refresh the sealant in the tires, switch out to my pedals and put the rear cog on, as Matt had removed it for another bike while this one was stored. Once I had it fixed up, I loaded up and headed out to ride some Ozark Trail.

In the end, I had a really short ride due to time and running into Jim Davis at a trailhead. He was out cleaning trail in preparation for the OT100. He and I chatted quite awhile and then hiked in to clear a couple trees that were supposed to be there, but weren’t. Someone had taken care of them and not reported it. Once back to the car, it was too late for me to get anymore for the day and I just went home.

In the short few miles ridden, I got to do a few good climbs and had no issue making the single gear work for me. I did expend more energy in those climbs that I am not used to. It is too early to make a judgement, but I may go to an easier gear ratio and swap out the rear cog for one with a couple more teeth. That said, I love the simplicity and lightweight of the SS setup. There was so much less to worry about. No need to be concerned with that stray stick that could get in a derailleur. No bother from having to change gears. Just pedal. It was cool! I am excited to keep working this platform and take on the OT in a new way.

I would be remise if I didn’t mention again just how cool it is to have great folks to be involved with on Team Noah. I can’t thank you enough guys and especially Matt! Thanks to you I will have a ride for the upcoming races. Bring on the OT and Wolf Creek!

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Here we go again

Drama. I’m really not a fan. It makes for interesting TV, books and movies, but nobody says they want drama in there life. We hate it when we have ‘that’ friend. Something is always going on with them. We think, “life can’t be THAT hard, can it?”

The positive things aren’t an issue. We want positive drama, but not so much the negative. But is a little bit of negative really that bad? It’s that old adage that we have a better appreciation for the ups because we went through the downs. If only the swings from positive to negative can be held to a slight chop instead of huge waves it helps.

Well, I have been dealing with a bit of drama over the last month or so. First it was the fact that I was way behind on training with two upcoming races. Positive drama happened and I got to training. Things were great! Then I hurt my knee. I spent three weeks nursing the knee and dealing with my drama downturn. But wait! Things swung back up last week when I got on the bike and realized the knee was performing better than expected. Life was back to good!

Toward the end of my MTB ride last Saturday I noticed the rear wheel felt a little squishy a couple times. I actually thought I had a flat at one point. I glanced down and saw that the tire was plenty full, so I kept riding. When I got back to the car I grabbed the rear wheel and noticed some side to side play. I assumed the cone nuts had managed to back off a bit and the bearings in the hub were a little loose. It was time for a bit of maintenance.

Although it was Labor Day weekend, our schedule was a bit full. One thing lead to another and I pushed my bike maintenance to the back burner. Monday evening I decided to take care of it. I pulled the wheel off the bike and almost immediately Jeneen hollered saying supper was ready. I quickly gave the hub a once over and noticed that everything seemed fine. Curious, but it would have to wait until after dinner.

Dinner came and went and I didn’t go back to the bike. Tuesday morning, I walked past my bike in the work stand, glanced over and I shuddered. Where the seat stay met the seat tube the frame was broken. Not just a little crack, but completely broken in two. How in the world did I not notice this?!?! I suppose that when I was sitting on the bike, my weight kept the tube together and somehow I didn’t have a catastrophic crash. That is certainly the bright side of it all.

The down side? I now have to replace my MTB frame. I am working on a warranty claim, but I don’t know that it will be accepted and it isn’t likely to go through before the OT100. Even if it does all go smoothly and I get it done before then, I REALLY need to be riding a MTB over the next three weeks to prepare for the race, so waiting for the warranty is not a good plan.

In the interim, I am looking for a way to replace the frame quickly that won’t cost me a fortune. Worst case scenario, I won’t have a bike and I won’t be able to ride the OT100. At first I was rocked by that, but now I’m ok with it. I don’t want that to be the case, but it certainly isn’t the end of the world. With things like hurricanes, flooding and rampant wildfires taking people’s homes and lives around our country, I have no place to complain. When I put the last month in that perspective, I’ll take a broken bike frame and a bum knee. I have it pretty good and bikes are just stuff.

 

 

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Knee pain, recovery and a return to the saddle

Three weeks ago yesterday I went for a run and ended up with a significant injury to my right knee. I hobbled slowly home, thanking my stars that I had only made it a half mile away. Right away I began eating Ibuprofen like candy and icing my knee about every hour.

The first two days I couldn’t walk and most of the first two nights I couldn’t sleep because of the pain. There was no position I could find that would work to get comfortable. I was miserable and planned to go see a doctor if things didn’t improve the next day. I really didn’t want to do that because my health insurance has a very high deductible and frankly, I couldn’t afford what I figured the doc would want to do. I was pretty certain that I had a meniscus tear and the first thing would be an MRI, followed by some sort of orthopedic surgery. If I could figure out some way to avoid that, my daughter could continue to go to college and we could eat. That would be nice.

On the third morning, I swung my legs off the side of the bed, stood up and the pain was much less. The reprieve only lasted an hour or so, but that gave me enough light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel to think I might just be able to make it without a $7000 financial hit.

Slowly over the course of roughly a week, I got to the point that I could get around ok. Stairs were still a problem and I would have painful bouts, especially in the evenings, but at least I could walk. It was still frustrating though. I had big plans to do a couple events this fall, but beyond that, I just wanted to be able to get around and ride. As time wore on, I was beginning to think that I would have to get used to a new normal of no riding or hiking, unless I wanted to buck up and go see an ortho.

By the end of the month, I was in pretty poor spirits. I was able to walk around fine in normal life situations, but I still struggled with stairs and had little confidence in my knee overall. One evening in the last couple days of August, I took a short walk- about a half mile. Later that night my knee throbbed. How could I get back to normal if I couldn’t even take a little hike? I just wanted to get back to my normal activities.

In the last week of August, I saw that the local bike shop had scheduled a group MTB ride at a trail just outside of town. I had a great desire to go, but the idea of getting out of the saddle to climb hills and using my legs to work the descents seemed improbable. I couldn’t imagine my knee holding up to that with the way it felt. I spoke with a few guys around town about it and made the assertion that I would try to go. As the week went on, I was pretty stressed about the idea of riding. I didn’t want to set myself back any more.

Friday evening, I decided to take a simple road ride. I would try out the knee and see what it did. If I made it through and still felt ok with it the next morning, I would try to go on the MTB ride. I did a super easy 11 miles on the road bike that evening, staying in the saddle the whole time and keeping it to the little gears. Much to my surprise, I felt really good. No discomfort in the knee. Could there be hope?

Saturday morning I woke and got ready. My plan was to start with the group and hang in the back, only doing what I thought I could. I would try to keep it in the saddle and small gears to keep the pressure down. I met the guys at 8AM and we headed into the woods.

I was super pleased that there was a guy there who never rode MTB before. He is an older gent who rides road with us regularly and he wanted to try out the trail. Of course, he was very timid and went slow, walking many parts of the trail. I hung back with him and thought it was working out perfectly for me. I had no reason to try to keep up with the others!

I took the chance a couple times to gently get out of the saddle, just to see how it felt. I was surprised, but the knee felt fine. Next was a few pedal strokes standing up. No issues. I even took a shot at climbing out of the saddle on a short climb. Once again, no problem. My confidence was starting to return.

After about a mile, the noob friend decided to bail. We were right next to a local paved bike path and he thought that was his best bet. I tried to convince him that he just needed to keep riding, but he felt very unsure and just wanted to get on the blacktop for a spin. I wished him well and latched on back of the group, as they had stopped to wait for us.

I kept it pretty simple for a time, but slowly tried to add a little more effort to the equation. Each test was successful and gave me more confidence. By midway through the ride, I was taking a few shots at full on power and climbing some hills of the harder hills out of the saddle. It felt so good to be moving and not hurting!

Here I am two days later, still feeling good about the knee, when cycling anyway. I’m not sure why, but although I still feel unsure in certain circumstances, like climbing or descending stairs, the cycling seemed to have only good effects on the knee and and pain I have felt. I am super stoked to get back to riding with a cautious eye on the joint and see how things progress. There is no way for me to be ready for the OT100 in just 30 days, but I will do what I can and see how I feel. If I can stay pain free riding some longer distances over the next few weeks, I figure I can give the OT a go. I’m good with a bit of suffering over the distance as long as the knee has its integrity. Stay tuned for updates as I prepare for my fall races!

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What motivates you?

Months and months of nothing- that is what has happened here on the ole blog. Once in awhile I will pop in and give a little update, promising to be more active and regular with posts, only to do the exact opposite. I could continue to give my apologies and promise to do better, but will it happen? I don’t know. I really don’t.

Frankly that is how my physical activity has been this year- sporadic at best. I have searched for ways to maintain motivation. Those searches have been fruitless. The fact is I truly WANT to get out and ride. I want to run. I want to train and prepare for racing again. The motivation just doesn’t come.

That brings up the question: what is it that keeps us motivated? I’m not convinced I have the answer. I have some ideas, but they require a bit of back story.

After TABR16 I spent the majority of the remainder of the year recovering. The physical recovery was slower than I expected. My legs and lungs seemed to have nothing to give for a couple months. The mental recovery was longer and more difficult. What I found as I waded through the dark waters of post-race life was a giant hole. I fell in, sinking deeper as the days got shorter through the fall. By the first of the year, the issues had gone beyond what I felt I could deal with and I sought help with a therapist. I went in thinking that I had anger issues. I felt like I was lashing out at those closest to me. In just a couple sessions it was brought to my attention that the anger I was feeling was only a symptom. What I really was dealing with was depression. Slowly I worked through some things and by the time the local flowers were blooming, I felt like I had a better handle on things.

Through spring I had my sights set on a tour with my buddy Nathan. I didn’t ride much in preparation, but I was excited to get back out on the road. June 4th my wife dropped us off at the Amtrak station in St Louis. We took the train to Chicago, our bikes in the luggage hold, with the plan to ride to Memphis via St Louis over 6 days. That would put us on track to put down 100-130 miles each day.

The first 3 days were an absolute blast! We were fortunate enough to have tailwinds and cooler temps. We were on the road, doing as we pleased and loving every minute of it. The fourth day saw a bit of elevation gain, followed by a hot afternoon and a solid 130 miles. By the time we reached Cape Girardeau that evening, we were both toast. The accumulative effects of 4 days averaging 119 miles a day was weighting both of us down. When you add in the fact that the total mileage over those four days eclipsed my previous 6 months of riding, I was certainly pushing my limits. The next morning we slept a little later, hoping to get a little recovery. Day 5 had much higher temps (near 100F) and a solid 10MPH headwind. More heat and stronger winds were forecast for the following day. In the end, we decided to pull the plug on our trip in New Madrid, MO. Our wives were supposed to have met us that next day in Memphis to spend the weekend. Instead of continuing to torture ourselves, we got a hotel room and waited for our wives to pick us up on their way through. They did and we had a blast on Beale Street that weekend.

There were little to no regrets about stopping short. We did 561 miles in 5 days and had a fantastic time hanging out together and exploring Illinois and Missouri. That said, I found myself questioning my ability. Just a year before I rode 4238 miles in 24.7 days. In my efforts to recover from the race, I had slipped into inactivity and lost my mojo, so to speak.

I came back from that trip to a very busy season with work and lots of tasks to take care of around the house. Needless to say, I didn’t ride much over the remainder of June and July.

August brought thoughts of fall and the upcoming OT100 MTB race on 9-30 as well as the Wolf Creek 12HR MTB race on 10-7. Realizing that time was short and of the essence, I hopped back on the training wagon. I was riding, running, doing yoga and some body weight workouts. In just a week or two I started feeling fantastic! I was feeling more flexible and generally stronger.

On the 13th of August I went for a super easy evening run. Just a half mile from my house, my right knee gave way and searing pain ended my run. I spent two days unable to walk on it. I got used to RICE (rest-ice-compression-elevation). Oh, and plenty of Vitamin I. On the third day I was able to get around a bit, but still quite a lot of pain. Since then I have been resting- no running, riding or anything, other than an occasional super easy bike ride to the coffee shop. Slowly it is getting better, but I am going nuts waiting. I really just want to get back to training.

That gives you the back story, but the question remains: what is it that keeps us motivated?

As I look back on the last year or so I think for me the answer is to just do it- just get out there and get moving. Being in training has a snowball effect and the more I do, the more I want to do. If I stop for too long, the snowball melts and I have nothing with which to create momentum. I get lazy and everything seems to get in the way. My best bet is to stay moving. That is easy to say after I have started training, but difficult to tell myself when I’m ‘on a break’.

Some folks believe that the best motivation is a deadline. Sign up for a race and you will find the motivation to get going. Others enjoy the planning and prep cycle. Buy some maps and start gathering your kit. What do you think? Post a comment and give me your thoughts or suggestions. Maybe we can motivate each other!

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A Life Well Lived

Life

If you are reading these words, you have it. We sleep, wake, eat, work and play. Life is what we know, how we experience the world and what we give when we help another person. It is the thing we treasure and cultivate. It is what separates us from things like rocks, dirt and water. It is precious.

One definition I found for life is “the experience of being alive”. This experience is unique for every person, but the funny thing is, most of us take that experience for granted very often. Because we are inside the experience of the day-to-day, things begin to run together. Before we realize it, days, weeks, even years go by and we find ourselves asking where the time has gone. It can be difficult to step back, take a minute and see that regardless of our circumstances, whether good or bad, up or down, fortunate or not, we are all living.

My experience has shown me that it is the things that are out of the norm, the peaks and valleys of life, that make me recognize I’m living. Experiencing something out of the ordinary makes ripples in the flat calm of the day-to-day. Stepping even further and getting out of your comfort zone makes those ripples turn to waves. It is a volatile and turbulent way of life with many high highs and low lows, but the experience is rich, vibrant and fulfilling. Don’t take me to say it is all pie in the sky and rosy. That same volatility that creates astronomical heights will also bring giant abyss-like lows. It takes both to be fully alive I believe. The perspective of a deep low accentuates the mountaintops and makes them all the more grand.

I have had the pleasure of doing life this way, particularly over the course of the last 6-7 years. The bicycle has been my primary tool for getting into these rich experiences and it is by bike that I have met some absolutely amazing individuals.

In June of 2014, as I watched the inaugural Trans Am Bike Race begin to unfold out west, I sat at home watching dots on Trackleaders. I found myself completely enthralled in the process and fascinated by the folks who were racing. I had toured the Trans Am in 2011 and felt like I had some semblance of an idea of how the racers felt as they traveled quickly across the map. I couldn’t wait to have a chance to meet these curious folk racing bikes across America.

I made every attempt to meet as many racers as I could that year. Of the 25 finishers, I went out to at least cheer on if not meet 22 of them over the course of about 2 months. It was uplifting to see them fully embracing life and it inspired me to want to embrace it the same way. None of the racers inspired me more than the man in first place at the time, Mike Hall.

Mike was from England and in 2014, had already assembled a monster endurance racing resume. He had raced Tour Divide as a rookie in 2011 finishing 10th. Tour Divide is a 2745 mile mountain bike race from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, NM roughly along the continental divide. In 2012, Mike took on the World Cycle Race, racing a bike around the globe, covering ~18,000 unsupported miles finishing 1st. In 2013, Mike came back to North America to tackle Tour Divide again, crushing the fastest finish of the race at that time, although he wasn’t given the record due to mandated course re-routes in New Mexico to avoid wild fires.

As Mike’s dot neared my hometown of Farmington, MO during Trans Am Bike Race in 2014, I was star struck and eager to go out and meet the man. I rode my bike to the edge of town and waited. When he appeared coming into town, I rode up to meet him and was surprised with the experience that followed. Here was a man who had done some amazing things, yet he was quiet and humble like none I had ever met. I rode and chatted with him as we made our way  downtown to our local bike shop. He purchased a few items and set out to head east again. I rode with him and chatted more on the way out of town. I mentioned that I was inspired by him and I planned to race TABR the next year. He was encouraging and thoughtful. He offered that I could reach out to him via social media if I needed any help getting started. I also expressed an interest in racing Tour Divide. I told him maybe in 2016. He said that he planned to do the Divide again 2016 as well.

After only 5 short miles or so, I had to turn back. I didn’t want to, but work beckoned. As I slowed down, I wished him luck and let him know I would be cheering for him. The last words he said to me were, “Hope to see you on the Divide sometime!” as he smiled, waved and rode away.

Mike went on to win TABR14 in impressive fashion, setting a time that has yet to be eclipsed. Although I did race TABR in 2015, I DNF’ed, pulling out in Colorado. With unfinished business to attend to, I went back for another go at TABR in 2016 instead of doing the Divide. Mike did race the Divide that year, finishing first again and absolutely destroying the time record, setting a bar that many think will be difficult to reach.

In March of 2017, Mike took part in the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel Race, a 3400 mile self supported race across Australia. Tragically, on March 31st, he was killed while racing when a vehicle along the route hit him.

Despite the very short time I was given to spend with Mike, we became friends on social media and I followed his pursuits. We would chat a bit about gear and whatnot as I prepared for TABR. What I saw of him in June of 2014 was confirmed over and over with the interactions I saw him have with people online and countless others who have spoken in the name of his character- Mike was genuinely humble, graceful in his approach with people and charitable to those in need. Along with those traits, he was a fierce competitor and never settled for less than his best. He poured himself into his dreams and lived life to the full. I looked up to him and view him as a hero.

On May 2nd there was a memorial service for Mike in Harrogate, Yorkshire. I couldn’t make the trip to England, but Mike was in my thoughts. I have been thinking since I heard of Mike’s passing that I would like to do some sort of memorial of my own- something fitting. A few weeks ago I realized what it was and have since began preparing.

In tribute to the first self-supported endurance racer I ever met and the inspiration that I received from him, I am going to make good, albeit late, on the last physical conversation I had with the legendary Mike Hall. I will be in Banff on the second Friday in June 2018 for the Grand Depart. I will race the Divide.

Mike, I hate that I will miss seeing you, but somehow I think you might be watching. Thank you for your inspiration. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for living. I imagine this song was about you. Cheers and ride peacefully my friend.

Posted in Inspiration, Tour Divide | 2 Comments

The Art of Falling

Usually my posts are text only- just a story about my adventures. It has worked well for me and I have liked it that way. As of late, specifically the past few days, I have taken on a little something new. I am learning to ride a unicycle! My intent had been to sit down and wax eloquent on my repeated attempts to stay on board the little one-wheeled contraption, but upon the suggestion of a few folks and having been inspired by a couple great creatives on Youtube, I have decided to try my hand at a vlog. So, new apparatus, new medium and new avenues for me to learn things.

Please check out my creation below. Be easy on me. It’s my first time shooting video in this manner and editing. If you find it interesting, please like the video and subscribe to my channel. If you have comments or suggestions of things you would like to see, feel free to comment here or on my Youtube page. I am really looking forward to sharing with this new-to-me tool. Without further ado, here is my video!

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And so it begins….

First, a little bit of back story.

Last spring I was in the throws of training for Trans Iowa and Trans Am Bike Race. As often as I could, I would be out on the bike and regularly found myself doing long rides. After hours of saddle time alone in the hills of Southern Missouri and Illinois, I welcomed anyone who wanted to come out and ride with me and especially so if they wanted to do a long ride.

Bring in Jason Kulma, fellow TI vet and someone I see at local events off and on. We had met at the inaugural OT100MTB in 2014 when Jason hung out at the finish line after finishing up with the relay team he was on. I came in much later, actually in the middle of the night. He was hanging there at the finish cheering folks on as they came in. He chatted me up and a friendship was born. With Jason living right about 75 miles away in the outskirts of St Louis, it just made sense that we would then get together as we both prepared for TI and TABR for 2016.

One day as we were on the phone planning out a bikepacking weekend of training, we talked about our regular rides done around home. Jason commutes to and from work some 17 miles one way and I told him I was a bit jealous of that built in training. I also mentioned I would love to have a commuter-type bike, something cheap and unassuming that I wouldn’t be worried about leaving outside shops in town. I just hadn’t stumbled across what I was looking for. He mentioned that he was getting a new adventure rig to use for TI and TABR, which would bump his old adventure rig to the commuting role and in turn, leave his old commuter unused. I offered to buy it and he refused saying it was pretty wore out and he wouldn’t feel right taking money for it. I told him I could work with that and a deal was struck.

The next time I went up to meet Jason at his home and ride out on a weekend of training, I picked my new-to-me commuter up. It was a Voodoo Wazoo in metallic blue. I believe he said it was late 90’s vintage. It was steel frame and not rideable at the time as he had grabbed some stuff off of it. He sent me home with the bike minus saddle, tires and pedals. I could deal with that, seeing as it was F-R-E-E!!!

With my focus strictly on TI and TABR, the bike sat tire-less and saddle-less for months. Before it was all said and done, I cabbaged the set of carbon Easton handle bars off of it for my TABR rig replacing the heavier aluminum bars I had, leaving the old Wazoo looking more like a carcass than anything.

After TABR, one day it struck me that I had just about everything that I needed to get the old girl going, I just needed to do it. So….I did. I put my old, stock aluminum bars that the carbon Eastons had replaced onto the Wazoo. I then added a pair of pedals I had laying around that are flats on one side and Shimano SPD on the other. Those would be perfect for a towner. I pulled the Clement USH 35’s I used in Trans Iowa out and loaded them onto the wheels. The final piece was the saddle, which I did not have. I went to my local bike shop and was able to grab one that had been a take-off for $15. I added the killer saddle deal to the mix and had a finished product! Well, not really. I didn’t wrap the bars, but it was rideable. I never even threw my leg over it, but instead my son used it occasionally to ride to the school or park to play soccer. It was being utilized a bit and that was good enough.

Back to present day, or at least the last week or so. After months of not doing much at all and eating WAY too much, I have found it difficult to find the motivation to get out and ride. Even when the new year rang in, I still didn’t saddle up. I was starting to get the itch though. I decided to try out some things with the Wazoo. Maybe, just maybe, I could make a TI rig out of it?

I pulled my hand-built front wheel off of my road bike since it has a dynamo hub and loaded up one of the WTB Nano 40’s that I was graciously awarded for being a finisher of TI last year. Once I saw that the tire would have clearance, I then put the other tire on the back. I considered going all out and adding the B&M Lumotec from my road bike, but realized that I didn’t have a way to mount it on the Wazoo with its cantilever brakes. That could wait until I could get a new mount. I dug through my box of parts and goodies to find a package of new bar wrap and finally got the bars covered. Then just for kicks, I pulled my partial frame bag off the road bike and tried it on the Wazoo. It fit! Score! With a spare bottle cage and a quick pedal swap with the Crank Brothers pedals from my MTB added to the build, it was complete.

Having finished getting the Wazoo ready this evening, I decided there was no time like the present to finally get my first ride of the year. It was after 8:00pm and 3 hours after sunset, but I suited up and headed out with the intent to just ride south of town to Engler Park where there is a crushed limestone walking/biking path to test out the Nano’s.

Right away, I knew something wasn’t quite right. I clipped in on the walk in front of my house and pushed off, only to feel like I was about to endo over the bars. Had it really been that long since I had been on a bike? I adjusted the way I was sitting and headed out into the street. As I turned, my right shoe rubbed the front tire hard, nearly throwing me off the bike. That was something new. I rode on down the street feeling things out.

I headed south of town and out to Engler, then hit the gravel trail. It was a bit mushy in spots, but the Nano’s had no problem. When I found some areas with new, loose gravel, I stopped and aired down some. Too much I was afraid, but I rode on and the tires felt great! Perfect really!

In the end, I rode the path and then turned and came back the way I had come. I ended up getting back home with a gigantic 7.3 miles, but hey, I got my first one done!

The bike is what it is. In its time it was a nice ride. Times have changed and so have geometries. It has a short wheel base and the saddle sits forward, putting your center of mass more over the front end. It isn’t a comfortable ride for me at all, but I can appreciate it for an old steel bike.

I am a bit disappointed that I won’t be able to use it for 340 miles of gravel in April, but on the other hand, it will make a great little bike to ride around town occasionally to grab coffee or run an errand. My son will ride it and that is even better. I will likely do as I did last year and convert my MTB to a gravel grinder simply by adding different tires. My choice will certainly be the Nano 40’s. Those puppies were great on my little jaunt!

The best part of it all- I am finally back in the saddle. That makes me a bit excited. Quite a bit really. Ride on!

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TABR16 Setup

I’ve been asked about my setup and what I changed from TABR15. Here is a rundown of the major bits and bobs I took with me for TABR16.

  • Bike- 2009 Giant Defy 3- This was the same bike as last year and has been the backbone of most of my adventures. Last year I ran the low end Sora drive train that came stock on it. That may be something that makes other racers raise their eyebrows, but it never failed me in anything I asked of it. That being said, I found a smoking deal on a full 105 group set this past spring and did a complete group upgrade before the 2016 race. The 11 speed 105 was 50/34 in the front and 11/28 in the rear. I must say, now that I have ridden the 105, I can’t believe I rode all I did on the low end stuff! It is a much nicer ride now. My wheels were the same as last year. DT Swiss 32 hole RR440 rims. The front was laced to a SP dynamo hub which provided power and charging. The rear was a DT Swiss 350 Classic hub. I hand-built them myself and I love them. Tires were Conti Grand Prix 4000sii 25mm. My handlebars were Easton EC90 Equipe carbon with a set of Profile Design ZBS aero bars clipped on. The seat post was an Easton EC70 carbon and the saddle was a Bontrager Affinity. Lastly, I upgraded the pedals this year from Look Keo Classics to Look Keo carbons.
  • Bags- The saddle bag was a Revelate Designs Viscacha. Everything else was custom stitched by your’s truly- frame bag, top tube bag and feed bags. Yes, I would be happy to entertain making a set for your adventures! 🙂 Details about that coming soon!!!
  • Sleep system- Last year I had my hammock- oh so comfortable, but limited on where I could use it. I ended up sleeping on the ground a few times and my setup didn’t support it well. This year I went with an Outdoor Research Helium bivy, Klymit X-lite sleeping pad and Enlightened Equipment Enigma 50 degree quilt. This system was versatile enough to handle the extremes that were found on the Trans Am in June, yet came in at a respectable 32oz (922g).
  • Clothing- I was sporting my Team Noah kit made by Borah Teamwear. I have to say that if I had to grade it I would give it a C. It did most of what I needed, but wasn’t perfect by any means. When the temps dipped, I had a hand-picked system that works for me. Some things could’ve been lighter, but I was comfortable with this kit. My base layer shirt was a long sleeve tech fabric by Remington. I had a super packable Camp anorak wind shell that always seems to see more use than I think it will. It has been many thousands of miles with me and is great for mountain descents. When things got cold, I had a synthetic Patagonia puff coat that doubled as an additional sleeping layer when necessary. I wore it a few times on the bike, but only for awhile so I didn’t sweat it out. My last line of defense was an Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket. On my head and/or around my neck I used a UV Buff. I used it at all times on my head to protect from sunburn and pulled it down when needed around my ears. I also had a lightweight sock hat for sleeping in, but really didn’t need it. Hands were covered with Outdoor Research Versaliner gloves when the weather got rough. I also carried Pearl Izumi leg warmers, Giant shoe covers and Swiftwick sun sleeves.
  • Electronics and lighting- For navigation, I had a Garmin Etrex 30x in the cockpit to take the place of the ACA maps I carried last year. I’ll also had my iPhone as back up nav and all round electronic device. I was a bit nervous about going without paper maps, but it worked fine. The dynamo lights were the same B&M lights from last year. On the front was the Lumotec IQ Premium Cyo and on the rear was the Secula Plus. For this year I upgraded from a small Princeton Tech head lamp on my helmet to an Exposure Joystick MK10. This provided me with extra light for fast mountain descents and an in-camp light when used on the low setting. Everything was charged with the SP dynamo and a Sinewave Revolution coupled with a Fuel+ cache battery. I did end up charging the cache battery here and there from an electric outlet when staying in a hotel and a few times while stopped to eat.

Some weigh their setup, some don’t. I know from experience that the important thing is to have a setup you are used to and comfortable with. That being said, I did weigh everything and it totaled out a little shy of 31lbs (14kg). There were things I could have done to trim weight in my setup, but not without spending quite a bit and I just didn’t feel it was necessary. I was confident this setup would do everything I wanted it to do, and it didn’t let me down. The only purchase I made after I left home to add to my kit was a light pair of pajama pants that I cut to shorts. I bought them at a store in Astoria the day before the race and used them when I needed to have something to put on while doing laundry.

What would I change?

If I was to do the race again and had the funds to do so, here are a few things that I might do different. Overall I was happy with my kit, but there is almost always room for improvement.

  • First off, a disk frame bike would be nice. Necessary? Nope, but nice. There were a few times that I was on the brakes hard on descents and would have felt more comfortable on discs.
  • With a change in frame to discs, I would make sure I bought one that was able to run a wider tire. I like my Grand Prix’s, but would love to run the 28mm model. My current bike won’t accept them.
  • Di2 would have been the bee’s knees. I saw other folks with it and was jealous. I have always been a fan of the simpler, reliable route, but the fact is Di2 is both simple and reliable. Plus after a few thousand miles when your hands are numb, Di2 is much, MUCH easier to shift.
  • I am still searching for the right shorts for me. The team kit I rode this year was much closer to what I needed than what I have ridden in the past, but it still had a few issues in durability and the contact area wasn’t a perfect match. Much better than last year, but not perfect. Before I do another long race I will spend some time and money looking for the perfect shorts.
  • You may just want to skip this one. You have been warned!!! 🙂 For those that read this, stick with me here. Cache batteries with dynamos are beastly to figure out. The trick is to find a cache that is “charge through” compatible. That way you can trickle charge the cache at all times with the dynamo while still being able to use the cache to charge other stuff. You say, “why not just charge everything off the dynamo?” Well, that works mostly. Except at night. Or going up a hill. That makes the dynamo power fluctuate and makes it difficult, if not impossible to charge things that require a more steady flow of power. There are a few bike pack lighting guys out there that have systems you can buy, but I am all about figuring things out myself. (That translates to- I am too dumb to buy someone’s wisdom, I feel the need to bash my face against a preverbal brick wall trying to re-invent the wheel. Yeah, yeah, I know.) I thought I had it figured out with the Fuel cache battery, but alas, I was wrong. It was advertised that it was charge though, but didn’t work like that, which is something commonly mis-advertised evidently. I used the cache to charge all my things (which it did fine at) and also to run my Etrex 30x (which it did only ok at). The Etrex isn’t designed to be charged. Instead it uses 2 AA batteries. I ran lithium batteries to keep it light, then supplemented with the cache battery via the data cord. It would run on the cache for exactly 45 minutes, then go to a nag screen warning that it would shut off if I didn’t prompt it to stay on by clicking a button. The fix was I would hit the power button on the side of the cache battery every 44 minutes. I missed it probably 3 or 4 times a day and would look down to a GPS that had shut off. GRRRR!!!! Not the easiest setup to use, but it kept me from replacing AA batteries every day. The Garmin will run 25 hours on 2 AA’s. I only had to switch them out twice in 24 days. Not bad, but I wore myself out pushing that power button! When I race again, I will find a different cache battery that is actually “charge through” compatible or one that won’t shut off.

Final Thoughts

One of the first things that prospective racers ask veterans when they are trying to prepare for one of these races is usually something about gear. I understand that as it is exactly what I did in 2015 when preparing for my rookie race. However, the reality is 100 rookie racers could go out and purchase the exact kit that I used and was happy with, only to be miserable with it all. When racing a route like the Trans Am, you will spend hours upon hours in/on/with your kit. It needs to be what YOU are comfortable with and you will only find that by getting out and figuring it out for yourself. Look at veteran racer’s gear lists as guidelines only.

Now….get out there and ride!

Posted in Races, TABR16, Trip Preparations | 2 Comments