NEXT D55 Carbon Tubeless Road Disc Wheelset

Buying Speed

For a time, I owned carbon rim brake clinchers. They were brutally difficult to mount tires on, but once set up they were worth it.  The lingering fear of having to deal with a flat led me to ride them less and less, and ultimately I parted with them.  If you’ve ever owned a light pair of deep carbon wheels, you know the gratification of buying speed. The PRs will prove it.  So it was a little sad not to have them anymore.  But also I was descending mountains on them, and melting them (!), and it was all not the right scene for Chris.

I bought a carbon Synapse last year and knew its destiny was to wear a pair of NEXT wheels.  I already owned a pair of ENVE mountain bike wheels, and while shallow but very light, they were a ten speed hub, which necessitated some hassle to work with the Synapse’s eleven speed drivetrain.  After months on the market, the ENVEs moved on to a new owner in rural California, and I moved into a pair of the Vermont-built NEXT D55, bearing a 55mm depth, 25mm external width, and 19.5mm inner dimension.  I settled on the no-frills centerlock DT 350 hubset, so the package was a tidy $1,395.

My first impression of these wheels, right out of the box, was that they’re so light I didn’t even bother weighing them.  I laughed and then went right to work mounting tires.  I had some 23mm Continental 4000 S II clinchers hanging around that were looking for something to do.  Tubeless could come later; for now, I wanted to ride.

What an effortless pair of wheels to ride.  It had been a few years, but there it was – that good ol’ feeling of humming along and holding speed that I remembered from my last pair of deep carbon wheels.  I got up on them to climb within a minute of leaving my house, and the best I can describe them in that application is that “they’re just there”.  Such a solid feeling wheel, ready for you.  Strong and tight; no sense that the great depth of these wheels is in any way holding you back, requiring you to “spin it up”.  I climb a bit now and then, so I was enamored.

Little things are a big deal.  They shipped with vibrant green rim tape, eliminating an extra step on my end.  A red and blue nipple on each side of the valve hole.  Some really trick skewers.  But the biggest little thing – I could mount a tire and a tube on them without a priest.  Not an entire package of tire levers and a fistful of sedatives as you pinch brand new tube after brand new tube.

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I was unsure about the hubs – having less points of engagement than their DT 240 counterpart (a $300 premium) – but in practice I only notice unless I’m pedaling sloppy and trying to feel out the “lesser engagement” (=you’re probably not going to do this), and the hubs are unbelievably quiet.  You’ll be a sniper on someone’s wheel riding a DT 350.  No regrets on this decision.

Tires

Continental 4000 S II 23mm (224g) The first tires I picked were thrilling.  Inflated to 90 PSI, they spread out to a solid 25.5mm.  This was hugely exciting; free width is the best!  As you look down over the tire while you ride, the size is just right as the tire and rim are both effectively the same lateral dimension.  It’s aero, it’s fast, the wheels shine.  I really want to take the pressure down in these – something in the 80s would be ideal for me – but I’m nervous about flatting.  So they’re gassed up on the stiff side.  70mm is the right amount of valve stem you need for these wheels, but I’m making 60mm tubes work with a little creativity – I screw on a Schrader adapter when inflating from zero. IMG_0018

 

Michelin Pro 4 Endurance 28mm (290g) I have many miles on these tires, exclusively on my Langster, and they are wonderful there.  On the D55, they offer the same muting, pavement mellowing effect, but they are noticeably slower than the Contis.  It makes my bike feel a lot like a mid-level Diverge I tested last summer – a bike that I felt could take on quite a lot, but was absolutely uninteresting to ride.  After hours on the Continental setup, adding 66 grams of rotating weight to each tire is immediately noticeable in the acceleration department.  The wheels really don’t feel fast at all – they feel neutered.  But the ride quality!  It can’t be ignored.  At 80 PSI, these really take the edge off the shittiest pavement, and instill heaps of confidence.  I kept thinking the entire time – if could somehow marry this compliance with a 23mm dimension, that would be something.  Would tubeless bridge that gap?IMG_2277

 

Vittoria Open Corsa EVO CX III 25mm (220g) Before I pull the trigger on tubeless, I did wonder how the sweetest feeling clinchers I’ve ever ridden would fare.  I pulled my old 320 TPI Vittorias long ago as they were into the “chronic puncture phase” of their lifecycle, but some gorilla tape and superglue later, would they at least survive an hour for testing?  At 90 PSI, these came out to 26.6mm; a bit of a boost, although not as dramatic as the nearly 3mm increase seen with the Conti.  Incidentally, the Michelin plumped up to just a hair over 28mm – you can see there are diminishing returns on extra width as we grow the tire beyond the dimensions of the rim.

These were not a terrible choice.  Admirable over 43 miles of service, but not electric.  Low key.  I didn’t hate them, I didn’t love them.  Strava seemed to think they were fairly fast, but I didn’t feel it.  I wondered if a 23mm version of these tires might actually be something special.  I’ll keep that idea on the back burner.  As you can see these are pretty blasted, so it may not have been fair.

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Continental Grand Prix 4-Season 25mm (226g) (rear only) I wondered if staggering sizes might yield a remarkable change in ride quality.  I retained a 23mm Conti up front, and put a 25mm 4-Season out back.  This is generally not a compliant tire, but airing it up somewhere in the mid-80s, it spread out to 27.3mm and was reasonably comfortable; by no means the garden hose I’d experienced on narrower rims with this tire.

It was a peculiar experience actually – this setup made the front feel nimble and quick, but the back felt very planted.  Almost as if the back was just following the front, instead of working together as a unit.  In my head, over the course of 40+ miles, I kept picturing a farm tractor. I suppose the benefit of the setup is comfort, and to that end it did deliver.  But all told, I don’t think I’m the biggest fan of staggering sizes; I prefer the feeling of everything working together – the rear as agile as the front.  Everyone rides differently and has different expectations, so that’s the caveat.

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Conclusion?

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For now, the 23mm Continentals have gone back on, where they’ll stay for a while as I experiment further with tire pressure.  For me, the magic PSI is in that mid-80 range. I’d have gone tubeless by now, but with all the tire swapping it would have been a mess – I’ve probably pulled and remounted tires a dozen times so far.  And while I’m leaning toward the 23mm Schwalbe Pro One Tubeless, nothing so far is calling out to me as a tubeless tire to go all-in for.  But maybe more to the point, these aren’t hard wheels to change tubes and tires on! It won’t bother me much to change a flat.

I’ve owned a number of handbuilt wheelsets, and they never disappoint.  Barring an untimely incident, these D55s should last an exceptionally long time.  I own a pair of Open Pro handbuilt wheels that I purchased ten years ago, and thousands of miles later they’re still going, and I’ve never trued them.  I don’t expect these will age any differently.  They’re well made, light, fast, deep, wide, easy to work with, not sketchy in the wind, and they’re local – I have zero reservations about the purchase.  The bikes will change, but the wheels will not. With versatile DT hubs, they’ll work with anything.  If your budget permits, the Vermont-made NEXT D55 is by all means a worthy investment.

-cp

Fatness

I finally rode a fatbike.  They’re actually really fun.  I shit on them for a long time but I totally get it now.  If you have ever done any mountain biking in the snow, and you know how futile that can be, these are the liberation you have waited your whole life for.

One of my first impressions was that these bikes should be standard issue for all New Hampshire residents.  Like magic, the riding season continues.  They just work.

I think the lighter you and your setup are in the snow, it’s less advantageous.  That said, I would HAPPILY accept that disadvantage right now as I have at least ten pounds to drop.


My Fat CAAD 2 demo in a size Large weighed about 31 pounds.  Honestly, unless you are trying to pin it up a climb, the weight goes unnoticed.  You’re generally having too much fun to think about it.

And when you do try to pin it, it’s a workout.  You won’t replicate this on the road in the winter unless your bike weighs a ton, which is zero fun.

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December is the wrong time to decide you really want one of these bikes.  Everything worth owning is long gone.  Like any discipline, you need to plan well ahead of the season.

Every trail becomes a new trail in the winter.  In years past, I would XC ski the singletrack at Bear Brook, and it was a different planet.  It interrupts the monotony and makes you want to get back out there.  That’s the greatest selling point of these bikes for me, as I don’t think I can face another winter of nothing but the trainer.  I have eyes and ears out there, so hopefully something will materialize.

2016 recap

On February 1, I committed to what would be my 11th and 12th ascents of Washington.  I was very serious about approaching this in a structured way, so on the 7th of February I bought a Tacx Vortex.  For the first time in my nearly ten years of doing this, I was training with power.

One week later, my Aunt was admitted to DHMC, where we learned she had advanced stage cervical cancer.  Having an already complex medical history, she decided not to pursue treatment and moved into an extended care facility.

Days later, Stella became very ill.  She had developed a dangerous abscess between her spine and airway which resulted in some of the most stressful weeks of our lives.  She underwent several surgeries and the better part of two weeks in CHaD.  By mid-March, she had a clean bill of health.


By the end of March I was able to figure out a structured FTP building program.  For the first time in, maybe ever? I was waking up and heading right to the basement to spin before work.

My grandmother decided in early April that she was going to stop taking her medication for congestive heart failure.  This would result in treatment for pneumonia, during which it was discovered she had advanced stage lung cancer.

 On May 7, I made my way out to race the Bear Brook Classic.  I didn’t place well, but it felt like a good preparation effort for next weekend’s Crank The Kanc, my first A race of the year.  It would turn out to be the worst Crank The Kanc performance of my life.  I had nothing.  Racing the week prior was a huge mistake.

A few days afterward, clearing my head by riding some dirt up north.  Jefferson Notch was closed for repairs so this was a nice little detour up Cherry Mountain.

A few days later seemed like the right time to get back into hillclimb mode with a few repeats of Mt. Kearsarge.  I went back the following week to see where I was at with a single all-in effort, which wasn’t bad, but it was mediocre.

The following week I lined up in the three man singlespeed field at Pat’s Peak, which I would later learn was the state championship event.  Through a miracle that really deserves its own race report, I finished second.  Unbelievably, by virtue of being the only New Hampshire resident who raced, I was declared single speed state champion.

img_3597Near the end of June I returned to Mt. Ascutney for the first time since 2010.  With only a few weeks to go before the practice ride, this would be a solid benchmark for where I was at.  I barely broke my PR.

Closing in on a week before the practice ride, I set a PR up Mt. Uncanoonuc.  It’s only an 8 minute effort, but it was the spec of confidence I needed in the face of a lot of demoralizing results this year.

Finally, the day before the practice ride.  I woke up with a migraine and then towed our camper to Jackson, where we’d spend the night.  I was able to visit my grandmother along the way, which would be the final time we would see each other.

Morning comes early on the day of the practice ride.

It rained start to finish.  The dirt was like peanut butter.

Despite a very average result for me, compounded by a lot of bad circumstances, it produced one of my favorite photos of all time up there.  Stella chasing me up the final pitch in the rain.

Everyone was completely wiped.

img_1800Here, my grandmother is reunited the dog she was forced to leave behind as she entered hospice.  Two days after the practice ride, my grandmother was gone.

The next day I reached out to MWARBH to cancel.  I couldn’t do this anymore.  I was physically and emotionally done.  This year was full of moments to quit, and I never took one of them, but now I was ready.

By August 1st, I hadn’t received an answer about getting my registration refunded, so I made a decision. I was all in, and was going to finish this thing.  I had one hard week left before my two week taper, so I devoted it to running a 5k every night for five nights.  I don’t run anymore, so this was unbelievably hard for me.

On the third day of this commitment, I got a call from the race director.  Free and clear, I can get out.  I probably should have, but I couldn’t take it.

Morning comes a little later on race day, but not by much.

My go-to race day breakfast is Biju’s oatmeal from the Skratch cookbook.  I cook it the day before so I can just reheat and eat when I need it.

You never know what you’ll get for weather, but it doesn’t get better than this.

Just as Kristen is about to drive up to the summit, I realize I don’t have the key to unlock my bike.  I forgot it back at our campsite, which is an hour round trip away.  Just like that, this whole thing is over.  The season ends with me standing in this field, watching the final cars go up before the start of the race.

My friend from Jackson arrives with a pair of bolt cutters.  We liberate the bike from the rack, and they let Kristen up the mountain.  I’m completely shaken, but I will at least make the start.

I shouldn’t even be here, so I take the front row.

I took off with everything I had and gapped the field for about half a minute, after which I stopped pretending and sat up.  I finished in 1:40, about two minutes slower than my practice ride.

I’m sobbing into my daughter’s shirt.

I think #12 is our last trip to the clouds for a while.  For now, we just need to live.

 

Back on the Horse

I raced a bike on Saturday.  It went fine.

This is the first time that I’d exerted myself like this all year.  I did manage to run a 5k a few weeks prior, but as it works out those events are about half as long as a cross race.  Cross is just this rotten hour of brutality when it’s a typical hot and dusty mid-September.  I recall thinking, mid-race, that not only is this not fun, but good luck convincing anyone that this sport is something worth doing when it’s like this.
White Park is hard.  As the laps wear on, you’re just heaving yourself up that hill, hoping that circumstances converge to prevent you from having to ride it too many more times.  Another year I would have raced singlespeed, but not this one.  No miles, no legs, just some artifacts of fitness from a spring training regimen.  I opted for my geared bike instead.
This race was really just a way to prove to myself that mentally, I could still race.  That I could get around the course without some resident fear of crashing and hitting my head.  Which I don’t have; I know that.  My brain is smart enough to know that what happened in May was just a fluke, whatever in hell the root cause of it was.
I don’t race with complete reckless abandon, but then, I haven’t done that since 2008, when I started hitting my head.  My 52/61 finish at White Park was a performance absolutely in line with what I’ve been doing all along since that time.  Despite a year in which I’ve been about half as active as I usually am.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js I guess it’s on me to figure out if this is something I still want to be doing.  I love racing.  I love the dynamics of it, the drama of it.  Yes, that happens at back of the pack, just like it does at the front.  It happens all over the field.  That’s why Star Cup was born actually.  In a normal year that would be taking off, but of course.

But the aspects of racing I do not like, I remembered quickly as we get into the final minutes of the race.  The overt seriousness of something that makes no sense.  The lack of courtesy in the waning moments, long after things have been settled.  Chopping turns, not calling out as you approach to lap someone.  Just this totally unnecessary bullshit that has no place in amateur sport.

That’s all this is.  Nothing is at stake if you’re off the podium.  Nothing.  There is no reason to cut me off or nearly take me out as you’re lapping me with one minute to go en route to your 10th place finish in the 3/4 combined field.  The guy who did this yelled to me THIS IS RACING.  To which I replied THIS IS PARTICIPATION.  Get your shit straight man.

Where then I regret not having the balls to just race SSCX.  I’m not saying that mentality of misplaced purpose doesn’t exist in that discipline, but I am.  Or certainly not as much.  Undeniably they’re on two different planes of existence.

My time on the Bianchi is finished I think, it’s very hooked up, but it’s not as good a fit as my G&T.  So I’m considering just ripping all the gear-making stuff off the G&T and running an old XTR rear derailleur as a sacrilegious tensioner, and just walking away from the other fields for a while.

I rolled up to watch the start of the White Park SSCX field on Saturday, right after my race.  I sort of looked at that group in awe, especially as they clawed their way up that hill.  Total studs, women and men alike, to have the guts to line up and put themselves through that.  As someone who has carried the singlespeed flag for a long time, having started racing cross that way eight years ago, having raced SSCX at White Park in that very same field before, I felt like I was looking through a window into a party I should have been at.  I should have just gone for it.

The important thing I guess is that I tried to race again, after a long time of not knowing whether or not I would even do it anymore.  Despite the total mess it can become, cross seems like something I still can and want to do.  The road stuff, I just don’t see it.  Smacking my head on pavement again seems like the most unappealing thing in the universe.  Stay tuned, everything changes.

Improving Your Coffee Situation

One of the most popular stories on this blog is a a piece I put together on coffee pods for the Keurig brewer.

The thing is though, we got out the K-Cup game a long time ago.  The realization that we were driving scalding hot water through a stupid plastic cup, coupled with the fact that the coffee was pretty terrible, finally sank in.

We switched gears to a $15 Black & Decker drip coffee maker for quite a while.  It was a big improvement in the taste department, but ultimately the unit failed, and we knew we could do better, and that was all the impetus necessary.

I did a lot of reading about coffee makers and grinders; in fact I had bought a cheap grinder and used that in tandem with our cheapo coffee maker, but was ambivalent about the performance.  I had read enough to know that the grind needed to be consistent, which I wasn’t getting out of my unit.  In any event, the more immediate need was the coffee maker itself.  We’ll get back to the grind in a moment.

My friend Professor Nick recommended the Bunn HG Phase Brew.  Technologically, this was an interesting model.  Having read that water temperature is of critical importance to the coffee making process, this was a winner.  The Phase Brew heats all of the water up front, and at the conclusion of the heating process it drips through the coffee.  Most drip coffee makers start pushing water through the coffee immediately, which although faster is the wrong way to do it.

We were pretty satisfied with the Bunn.  We knew it was the right direction.  Very pleasing aesthetics, and very good usability.  But the machine has one weakness, and that weakness is an abysmal carafe.  More often than not, the thing makes a complete mess.  It dribbles coffee all over the place when pouring, and drives you mental.

I casually sought a replacement, and wish I hadn’t waited.  This replacement carafe, intended for a different Bunn model, works FLAWLESSLY.  Buy the HG, and then buy this carafe.  Your frustrations will cease immediately.  Your life will improve in a measurable way.

Note that the carafe is actually 10-cup capacity, and the HG is an 8-cup unit.  If you have one active brain cell, you realize you won’t be filling the carafe with all 10 cups of water and successfully transferring the entire payload to the HG.  You’ll figure it out.

This replacement NCD carafe is a perfect fit in the HG brewer.

Second to this triumph was harnessing the grind.

I wasn’t keen on buying an expensive coffee grinder.  So one day on a whim, I decided to use the commercial coffee grinder at the grocery store.  Why the hell not.  I dumped in a bag of beans, picked a grind that looked about right, and let ‘er rip.  I can honestly say that bag of ground up beans made the best cup of coffee I’ve ever pushed through that machine.  It almost defied description.  Every sip of that coffee was intriguing, relaxing, pleasing.  A wonderful, thrilling thing to have stumbled upon.  If you are without a proper grinder at home, or are simply uninterested in getting involved, I cannot more strongly recommend going this route.

Enjoy,

-cp

Citibike vs. Mt. Wash

The premise is that a guy from the UK rents a 40 pound Citibike from NYC and tries to summit Mt. Washington on it.  Spoiler alert: the mountain breaks him in half and he’s off the bike after five mile grade.     
I’ll admit to partaking in my share of stunningly stupid endeavors, but even this is too stupid for Plum.  
It reminded me of this past summer, when I tried to summit Hurricane Mountain Road on a 46×16.  I seriously believed I would die if I turned that gear one more time.
This is beautifully shot and really conveys the sheer magnitude of the mountain.  Having done it ten times, you start to forget how savagely difficult it is; seeing it in this kind of perspective helps you remember.

2014 Mt. Kearsarge Hill Climb

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Last year after the final Mt. Washington ascent, I decided on a build for my hill climb bike that was supposed to conquer anything.  Basically a compact crank mated to a a custom cassette yielding a 1:1 low gear.  The idea was to tackle any mountain, and the roads that led there.  A few races in the BUMPS series require such a setup; Okemo and Kearsarge come to mind.  And so I had all the parts for this build, and having done zero climbs in 2014, those parts just kind of sat around.

Less than a week out from the 2nd annual Mount Kearsarge Hill Climb, I figured I’d put all those parts together and see what happened.

I also figured I would do zero test riding of this bike.  It shifted flawlessly in the stand, I felt reasonably assured it would be fine.  I mean how could it not be fine.

Race day.

2 minutes and 33 seconds into my warmup, I throw the chain and I’m off the bike.

I replace the chain and actuate the left shifter to bring it back onto the big ring, which ejects the shift cable from the front derailleur.

Hmmm.

Having re-secured the cable, we continue up the road.  5 minutes later I am off the bike again, as it appears the cable no longer offers enough tension to actually move the front derailleur.

I am not yet panicking.

But I have a vision of a time, maybe 15 minutes into the future, in which I am panicking.  In stressful situations this is what I do.  In my head I watch this kind of mini-movie of me stressing out, but in present times I am not there yet, which affords me time to take appropriate action.

I work the cable back on.  The reality of having just paid $80 to enter this hill climb assists me in unfucking this situation such that I actually get to participate in it.

Of course now the ferrule is long gone, the end is fraying wildly, what a cluster of my own creation this is becoming.  Technically, I have reattached the cable.  The individual wires spider out wildly, threatening to (and sometimes succeeding to) scratch my leg with every pedal rotation.  It technically works.

I take a few more minutes of warming up and then find my way to the line.  I would call this “inadequate preparation”.

Last year I made the mistake of lining up in the front and following the absolute studs who would go on to win until I popped.  Having no better strategy this year, I decided I would just do that again.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js We crest the Indian Museum climb and I feel like I’m only a little less dropped at than I was last year at this point.  Things could be going okay.  I still need a wheel though.  I need to save something for the climb so I will try to pirate some aero off of someone.

I get on a guy that I recall having been announced at the start as having finished the RAAM.  This was a good way to kill myself really early.  He was a machine.  Smooth, steady, I would hang right on and then a minute later he would shift.  Down.  And we’d keep going.  And then he would shift down.  I was like, holy shit.  This guy just keeps layering on the watts like he’s actually good at racing mass start hill climbs.  Just before we start climbing in earnest, I jettison him on a descent, whereby he simply passes me moments later when the grade begins to pick up.

On Kearsarge proper, I successfully shift down into my 34-34 and I am happy with the cadence.  Much better than last year, in which I suffered mightily in the first mile pushing 39×28.

The problem is, and I don’t know this – I feel better but I am hemorrhaging time.  I would come to learn in analyzing my performance against last year is that I need to turn a gear much harder than I think I should to PR here.  I am a faster masher than a spinner.  Accepting that and moving on would be a really positive step for me.  You know all that shit about “optimal cadence”?  Well mine is low, so fucking deal with it.  Yeah, I can turn 80rpm.  I’ll also never get there.  If I turn 60rpm, I will hate everything I look at and see colors, but I will beat you.

Mile 2013 2014 slower
1 4:18 4:49 0:31
2 3:28 3:47 0:19
3 3:19 3:05 -0:14
4 4:00 4:10 0:10
5 9:27 10:02 0:35
6 7:40 7:53 0:13
7 7:26 8:02 0:36
8 5:36 5:52 0:16

Salient points about these splits:
Mile 1: I am slower because, oh I dunno, I didn’t really warm up.
Mile 2: Probably normal stale performance having not ridden all week
Mile 3: Improvement!  Because I’m drafting the RAAM guy.
Mile 4: Lost the RAAM guy
Mile 5: First mile of the climb, double digit grades, 66cad vs 57cad last year
Mile 6: Probably normal stale performance having not ridden all week
Mile 7: Sitting in a lot and spinning, 75cad vs 60cad last year.  Wow.
Mile 8: Refused to go all in with 1mi to go where I did last year

And I refused to go all in because I raced almost the entire mountain in a cagey masters duel with three other guys.  It was a fucking chess match.  I spun them out in the first mile, they ate me up later, I come back and think I put them away, they’d come out of nowhere and lay it down.  We did this for nearly half an hour.  It was actually really, really awesome racing.  The kind of shit, if we were all decades younger, orders of magnitude more fit, and racing a different mountain in a different country, people watch on TV.

We’re like 500m from the finish and I just don’t have it to go with these guys and take them to the line.  Half that distance and I am clearly resigned, still working hard, but if you had a photo of my face it would have said “I’m done.  You can have it.”.

As I try to grind up the final pitch, I start shifting and the bike is like HAHAHAHAHA YOU DUMB FUCK, I TOLD YOU, NEW CHAIN AND TEN YEAR OLD CASSETTE MEANS YOU GET THE SAME FRACTION OF GEARS NOW THAT I GAVE YOU ALL RACE!!!

The bike just skipped skipped skipped as I shifted down.  I’ve neglected to mention up until now that the heart of the cassette has basically been useless the entire race.  It refused to stick under load unless I was on the fringe of the cassette.  It’s what I signed up for.

So I did what I guess I thought made sense, I cast aside all fucks and dumped it to the 12t cog.  The grade is 10% and life was now pretty damn bad.  Even with a 34t ring this is the pain train.

I have 100m to go maybe.  Cadence descends into the 40s.  But I am accelerating where at least one of the guys was not, and I pass him just before the line for 45th out of 72.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Later I would browse the results and learn that two of the guys I fought tooth-and-nail with were in the 60-69 age group, and the other was actually 70.  My takeaway here is that having climbed zero mountains all year, having raced a handful of cross races in the past few weeks, I have the fitness of someone with almost two of my lifetimes of experience.  Or maybe that I can be assured that three decades from now, I could strive to do just as well as I am doing right now.  Or I could just look in the mirror and resign to the fact that I got whipped by old men.

45/72 this year, which I felt was a lot worse than last year, except that I just looked and last year  I was 43/70.  That is mathematically pretty fucking close to the same fucking thing.  Which is kind of amazing considering that I was a LOT slower this year; 1:38 slower on the climb itself and nearly a minute slower in the 4.5 miles leading to the climb.  That sounds small but in the context of a 40-ish minute race it’s a big deal.

Next year or the year after I will go up that mountain for the 50th time and I’ll sure as hell leave the climbing bike at home if it’s a race.  A setup with 1:1 is fine for the monotony of Mt. Washington.  Hell, maybe for me, even that is too easy.  I’m rethinking everything right now; now that I see that in nearly every single hill climb I do, when I set up for higher cadence, I lose big.  I think back to Crank the Kanc this year, and having went to an easier gear I gave up something like 9 minutes it was 3 it just felt like a lot more.

The NH Double Weekend

White Park is really nailing it right now.  Nick Czerula’s fourth go at this saw characteristic sweeping turns, a decisive 180 emptying into the finish line, a new and glorious series of switchbacks up “the hill”, and a better set up into the run.  The hill was still life-robbing, but once you touched the high point of the course, you really had a chance to recover until you saw it again.  Drew and Ryan were worth the price of admission alone.  My only wish is that they ran speakers all over the venue so I could hear them everywhere.

I was supposed to get a volunteer call-up in the 3/4 field which did not happen, and rather than be a toolbag and request my own call-up I shut my mouth and lined up back row.  Which everyone should be thankful for, because my plan was to sprint off the line and immediately stack everyone up in the 180.
That plan having been foiled, I just kind of floated along at the tail end of the field.  People had this whole “sense of urgency” thing going up the hill so I just spun along in my small ring, letting them pass in some kind of nonproductive conflict avoidance mode.  It’s how to not place well.  In the future, just get off your fucking bike and outrun people.
Sunday it was the straight-up 3 field at Sucker Brook.  Holy fucking shit is the Cat 3 start fast.  What the fuck.
Things were beautifully greasy.  Clement MXP you guys.  A glorious, reliable tire.  People ate shit by the pound on a day like today.  I did not.  Also, I ride like the next time I get injured, I will shatter like glass.
I pre-rode with Nick, who showed me every line, which was almost always NOT the line that had been carved out by the previous fields.  Also NOT the line that most people in front of you want to follow.  It’s important to remember to be adaptive and take your line if it’s there, but don’t waste time waiting around for the guy in front of you to make it available.  Sometimes you just need to get the fuck away, no matter how you get there.
Sucker Brook featured an enhanced Hasselhoff inspired sand pit; I fucking hate running in sand.  The only thing you can do is run really strong in the last few laps and hope that it’s putting time into people who at this point are dying a worse death than you are.
Probably a little more than halfway through this race my legs were like fuck you, I am all set.  That makes sense, since they day before I drank more fluid ounces of beer than consumed avoirdupois ounces of food.  This will not set you up well for racing the next day against people half your age who cannot be legally hungover.  You will drool and labor and curse your own existence.
Linked from Katie Busick’s SBC Gallery

Quad Cross 2014 SSCX Experience

It was good to be back.

This year, Quad spiced things up by flipping the course on its head and running it backwards. It was a phenomenal improvement for a number of reasons.

-It changed the dynamics of what happened in the woods. Rather than just slog through a pair of climbs, which was going to be particularly unpleasant as laps wore on in the singlespeed race, there was a better variation of speed and skill and a more gradual way to clear the same elevation. Ripping through the woods in this direction was pretty damn fun.

 -It was safer. Rather than fly down the long gravel road, which culminated in a suicidal 90 degree turn into the woods, this was now a mild uphill power section, and it worked. You could either opt to recover here, or bear down and drill for oil. A second downhill gravel section was similarly neutered by riding it backwards, which eliminated another unnecessarily white-knuckle experience.

 I hadn’t lined up for anything since May, and I figured I was too lazy to get my geared machine ready, so SSCX it was.

Yes it’s a Bianchi San Jose, essentially a $300 craigslist bike that I stripped and outfitted with a full Zipp cockpit and SRAM carbon levers and Force crankset and Fango 33s glued up to NOS Reflex rims, it’s a commitment.

42×18 seemed like the right choice, mostly because I was too lazy to change it.  In spite of carrying all the tools required to change it out to the 19 and the 20 I had with me in the car.

In retrospect, it was really kicking my ass at times and I would have done well with some cadence.  Alright full disclosure, even in the parking area I knew this was probably wrong.  But SSCX is a weird animal; in the heat of competition you will turn more than you think, and you strategize around a compromise, figuring you’ll just run what you can’t ride and hope the gear makes up time where you can ride.

SSCX in New England is so good now.  Seven seasons ago, it was nothing like this.  It didn’t exist.  It was usually just me, or me and one or two other guys in a sea of geared bikes.  Now it’s an entire field.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Shared from Katie Busick’s SSCX Gallery

The barriers at Quad have had my number in the past, but I win this time you fuckers.

I had a little party in the mid-back with two to go, and shortly after crossing the line for two to go heard the leaders coming through for one to go.  This is where Chris ends up thinking critically about the merits of turning the lap of his life to race the leaders and stay on the lead lap, or ride a cheesy half-ass lap and get lapped, sparing him further abuse.  It was a hot day and I could have gone either way.

I resigned to cheese mode for a few minutes.  But then I started to realize that a few guys that hung out ahead of me were fading, and I had yet to scrape the bottom of the tank, so I figured now was an okay time to start scraping.  I pulled a couple back as we navigated the woods and the first section of the gravel grind.  Then I was thinking about how flat my rear tire was.

That was no reason to give up though; a flat front tubular is a serious pain in the ass but you can manage on a flat rear.  It’s still a hell of a lot more work than riding a tire full of air though.

Gradually and sadly, all of my work is fading away as I start to lose positions.  And I am really riding the shit out of this thing.  I remind myself that this is a $99 wheelset, and that if I happen to trash the rear wheel, at worst I’m out $50, but then maybe a little more since rear wheels do seem to price out a little more than front wheels, eh, either way I’m still okay riding this thing into the ground.  Of course I conveniently forget to remember the cost of the tire and that I paid to have it mounted.

It sucks though, I’m clearly limited, and with even more people creeping up behind me I start to realize that it’s time to consider a more practical option, such as not doing this anymore.  I can still reach the line and finish on the lead lap, but I’ll still have another full lap to go, and nothing in the pit.  That sounds like a real pain in the ass.

So I ride up and stop about a foot before the line, and have a little chat with Alan about what I’m doing, and he’s on board and laughing.  I wait around for a minute, Mike Rowell comes through for the win, and I step over the line as the first lapped finisher, which is top step on the podium at the back of the race.  Great success.

I revisited that rear wheel last night, hoping to cure its illness with some CaffeLatex, which has been very successful in the past.  Unfortunately, this tire has much bigger issues.  It seems in my half lap of airless exuberance, something bad happened in the neighborhood of the valve and inner tube, and the tire is toast.

So with the NH double weekend coming up, I guess it’s time to dust off my geared bike.  Apparently…..it has been a while.