Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Wednesday night cyclocross

Cross season is over for me, and there won't be much more outdoor riding this year, so I guess I could write about it. Once again we had a 6-race Wednesday night series plus Rolling Thunder. I went to all of those, but did miss all the out of town Wild West series races again. Partially because I never got around to buying a USAC license, and partly because it's a lot of time and expense to go travel every weekend to race. I was also afraid of getting burnt out by the time thunder came around.

Our first two Wednesday races were at the old thunder course, and we had 3 in total there. There were two at the Ranch Club, and then the last week was at Big Sky Brewing.

Last year I moved up to the A group and usually finished somewhere near the back. This year I was hoping to do a little better, like to be a few spots farther up the standings and maybe in the top 10 a few times. Howevery, my riding was a little inconsistent over the summer and then we had a lot of wildfire smoke, so fitness was not quite where I wanted it to be. On the plus side, it wasn't horrible and I was able to match a few strava segment PRs as the season started.

Before the week 1 race I decided to dust off the cross bike and get out on it. I went out to "old thunder" and found it to be exceptionally lumpy, rocky, and slippery from all the rain that ended our fire season about a week earlier. That Wednesday I brought my mountain bike along too. After a few practice laps on each I made the decision to race on the bigger tires because of the rough sections of course. It was definitely as fast or faster in those parts, but there were also flat, smooth areas where I noticed the extra drag. The next week, on nearly the same course, I used the CX bike with it's brand new 1x11 drivetrain, and definitely noticed I was going faster, and was farther up in the standings. Until I got a flat tire that is. It was on the 2nd to last lap near the finish line, so I just waited for the leaders to roll through and then walked across the line, finishing a lap down.

photo by John Sieber

Week 3 was the Ranch Club. I'm really glad those guys continue to host our races because it's a fun venue with a ton of room and options for different features. They tend to build obstacles and jumps/drops and A/B line sections. This year it was a series of logs you had to roll over and then off of down a steep bank, a sand trap filled with water, and a small jump off a trailer. And of course, plenty of regular sand traps to ride through. The downside is riding in the thick grass, which really hurts. We would go down to the end of the driving range and it feels like you are practically stopped but are pedaling as hard as you can. I think next year I need to get at least one file tread on the rear to cut back on rolling resistance. I'm also not sure if more pressure is better or worse in that stuff. I'm thinking a little more rolls faster and with the traction grass provides it's not much of a compromise. From the start of the first one I was in a pretty good race with another guy, Austin, but then he had some technical issues and I think crashed once or twice as well. The next time out he was a little ahead of me until the two 40+ leaders caught up, and I was able to stay with them all the way back up to his wheel near the end of the race. But then with 2 to go I messed up my line and crashed in the final sand trap so he got a big gap and was able to stay ahead to the finish. I was also nearly caught by the next guy back after that due to my shifter being jammed up with sand.

photo by John Sieber

Week 4 was at the old thunder course, and was actually our last race ever there, as some of the land we used was sold and is going to be developed. I was in a good mid-pack-ish spot, and then I drooped the chain and fell behind. Just staying in touch for the first few laps is hard enough, so as soon as you make a mistake you're off the back, and it's pretty much impossible to catch back up since you were already going as fast as possible..I fell back a bit until the masters racers started catching me and then I wound in a group and had a good race to the finish..

photo by Jesse Carnes

The last week was Thunder week. Once again I got out and helped Shaun build the course, which has the added benefit of letting me do plenty of practice laps. This year we got to use the hill across the street again plus some of the Missoula Winery property, which adds a lot of space and makes the course much better compared to the first year, where it was confined to the Big Sky lot. The new stage out back does take up quite a bit of room but we used a set of stairs as a run up, and maybe next year we can add some other features that use it. But I'll talk more about the course in a separate post about Rolling Thunder.

So yeah, the race. Same as usual I guess. Every week I was in about the same spot racing with the same people. I would like to be a few spots farther up, but every one is fast and pretty much all the guys ahead of me are faster all year every year. At the same time, I still think I have some improvement to do. Mostly, it's going to take more time on the bike before the season with maybe slightly more structured workouts. And then more cross drills, which I did none of this year. I'm still not great at remounts and that definitely slows me down. I was pretty happy with my line choices and cornering speeds but that can probably still use some improvement, especially in the tire department. I'm still on narrow clincher with tubes, so going to tubulars is definitely on my mind, but I don't really want to have to pay $100+ per tire and buy a wheelset that I can only use for racing. Maybe just tubeless?

Well that's it for now. Can't tank Missoula Bicycle works enough for the support, as well as Shaun, Dave, Nick at the ranch club, Pat, Tim, Jed, Big Sky Brewing and everyone else involved in putting these on. Plus all the racers for coming out. The bike community in the town is amazing.

Full photo galleries;
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6

Friday, September 29, 2017

New parts for the CX bike

Cyclocross season just started, and this will be my 4th season on the Orbea. Apparently that is a long time to have a bike now, and I've heard "you should get a new one" quite a few times. I guess that would be nice, but I already bought a bike this year, and the cx bike just needed a bit of maintenance. Until now, about all I've done is put on new tires when they wore out. And replaced the chain once. So, after all that time and a few wet and muddy events, the shifting quality was not like new. It still worked, but sometimes shifts on the rear cassette were slow or I'd have to overshift to get to a bigger cog. Of course fresh cables and housings would have fixed the issue, but where's the fun in that?

Just like my mountain bike, I wanted to ditch my front derailleur. I think they're still useful for road bikes and touring, but everywhere else they are going away. The key part of a 1x drivetrain is the rear derailleur, which needs to have a clutch mechanism and the ability to handle a wide range cassette. Combined with a narrow-wide front ring, which holds the chain much more securely than a ring designed to shift, that is usually enough to keep the chain from falling off, even over a lumpy race course or riding a mountain bike downhill. If you want a clutched derailleur on a cx/road bike, that pretty much means using sram. Yeah, there are ways to use a shimano mtb derailleur, especially with di2, but sram makes the parts that are meant to do this

After the demise of my old road bike, I had a 1x setup using some of those parts in mind. The first idea was to use my rival 2x10 shifters with a mtb derailleur because that fancy force cx1 stuff was pricey. But by the time I actually got around to doing this, Sram had come out with lower priced rival and apex versions.

After being pretty certain that apex 1 used "zero-loss" shifting and would feel and work just like the nicer parts, but with a weight penalty, I went into Missoula Bicycle Works and ordered some stuff- a new shifter, brake lever, and a rear derailleur. I went online again to get a shimano cassette and chain because it is way cheaper. I don't blame the shop though, this is on shimano for not caring about a map policy or parts coming from other markets or giving local shops competitive pricing. And you can preach about buying local all you want but $40 is $40. Anyway, I digress. here are some pictures of the new stuff:

Just one lever to do all the shifting. I really liked the sram shifters on my caad, and these are actually a little better because of that zero loss thing. Free play in a shift lever is something that really bugs me. Why is it just floating around? Why does it not shift as soon as I push the lever? The previous 105 shifters had a ton of movement before the shift actually occurred, especially on upshifts. Sram is really good at that immediate shifting thing, and even the low end apex group provides super quick and crisp shifts. As far as I can tell, these work and feel exactly like the more expensive groups, all the way up to force cx1 and red. The downside is weight- there's no carbon/titanium/magnesium here. Rival would have saved a few grams and wasn't too much more expensive, but like I said I was on a limited budget and every dollar saved here can go toward some better wheels. Or beer.

For gearing, I went with 42 x 11-32. That gives the same range as my old double, but shifted down a bit to the easier side. I was considering 40 x 11-36, but a friend had a 42t ring sitting around and the 11-36 cassettes were more expensive. The derailleur will handle up to a 42t cog so I can swap it for something else later if I need to.

While I was at it, I ordered a set of TRP CX8.4 mini-v brakes, because the stock tektro cantis were pretty much useless. A lot of slack to take up, then very little braking power once you got into them. These are definitely better, but still not the best brakes in the world. There is a lot more power, but the lever feel is a bit soft and it takes a lot of travel to get braking hard. I was hoping for something powerful and firm, like road dual pivots or a hydraulic disc setup. But that was not to be I guess. Still, the power is a lot better, and I was really happy with them on the race course. Riding down a dirt road at 35mph, though, you wonder if you're going to run out of lever travel before the brakes are working as well as you want. You don't, and I'll probably get used to it though.

Follow up: after adjusting the pads closer to the rim, the brakes are a lot better. The directions say 1mm on each side but I have them as close as they'll get without rubbing (and they do slightly if I crank on it or get some grit in there). The extra leverage means more cable pull to move the pads so every little bit helps on these. Next time it needs cables I'll also go with better brake housing.

So here are all the parts I used and what they cost

Sram apex 1x11 RD - 61
Apex rear shifter - 84
Apex front brake lever - 43
Shimano 105 11-32 cassette - 35
Shimano HG-601 chain - 20
Sram force 2x10 cranks - taken from old road bike
Sram 42t chainring - 40
Wickworks chainring tabs - 15
TRP CX 8.4 brakes - 75
New bar tape - 12
Labor at MBW - 20
Total - 405

A little more than I expected, but I suppose adding those brakes is what pushed it up. I did sell some old parts I had so that offset the cost by a good amount. Depending on what I get for the 105 group on ebay I could actually break even.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Summer in Canada

This summer, I wound up in Canada for awhile. Probably not a surprise, seeing how I'm a Canadian and all. This trip wound up taking a little longer than I'd planned due to a constriction project, and there were some comments as to "I didn't think you were coming back" upon my return. Thankfully I had anticipated being there more than just a week or two and brought some bikes with. Un-thankfully, Lethbridge, Alberta, sucks for riding.

If you want to road ride, it's flat, and often windy. If you want to mountain bike, it's flat. If you want to ride around town, there are no shoulders or bike lanes. When asked what Lethbridge is like, I usually say "like Great Falls, but in Canada." That's not really fair to Great Falls though, which has better bike facilities, trails, and beer.

Anyway, enough home town bashing, for now. If the wind isn't blowing, you can go out and ride a long way on pretty quiet roads, with pretty polite drivers. They're just mostly flat and straight. Still, there are some parks, lakes, and reservoirs that make good out and back rides, plus some big square loops you can do.

That's the milk river ridge reservoir, just south of a town called Raymond. Growing up, we used to hunt ducks and stuff out there. I hadn't been to the area in years and the ride down was pretty nice and worked out to 85 miles. I would have liked to do a loop around the lake and possibly come back another way, but all those roads are gravel. Usually not a big deal, but this had happened a few weeks earlier:

Literally just riding along, on my birthday no less. Took a few pedal strokes crossing a road, and pop went a spoke. Tire was rubbing so I had to call my sister for a ride. A local bike shop got it fairly true after 3 tries, but it was still lumpy. I rode it about 3 times and then it got worse, so I parked it until I could have MBW look at it. They didn't really think it was going to true up very well, and Shimano didn't want to send me a new one, so I guess it's garbage now. And I'm on another damn Mavic rear wheel (although those have proven themselves pretty durable). A replacement wasn't going to be too much money, but I wanted to fix up my CX bike for race season, so no new rear wheel for now. Plus this thing broke after like a dozen rides so why would I want another one anyway? And e-tap should would look cleaner and be less complicated than di2... anyone want to trade?

So yeah, didn't get to road ride as much as I would have liked while up there, but at least I brought a mountain bike too. And thankfully, Lethbridge is not completely flat. The river is in a big valley 300 vertical feet below town. So that's what you get. A 200-300 foot descent and then you climb back up. There are quite a few trails going down into the river bottom, but they could definitely use some improvement. I think most are game trails that became hiking trails that people started riding. It's only one little network of trails near the college that were built with riding in mind, and when I was there a section was washed out by a creek and nearly impassable. No one seemed interested in fixing it, as it was that way the entire month and a half I was there.

One thing I did notice, however, was a bit of new trail construction out in that area. There is definitely a challenge to building trails in the river valley, and that is erosion. Much of the land is in a constant state of downward motion, so it seems that investing a lot of effort into a trail might not be worth it if it's going to slide down the hillside within a few years. But at least a few people are trying. I probably could have asked around to see who is working on that stuff and offered to help.

I think more trail, and more trails that are beginner friendly would go a long way to getting more people on bikes in that town and probably help out the shops. As it is, its seems most people just drive out to the Crowsnest Pass or BC or maybe Montana to go riding.

I could write a whole other post about the bike facilities, or lack thereof in Lethbridge, and I suppose I should do that, some other time. In the meantime here are a few pictures I took up there, and the bbq I built for the grandparents.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sram GX 1x11 MTB drivetrain 1000 mile review

This spring, I finally caught up with the rest of the world and got rid of the front derailleur on my mountain bike. Now I've got some good miles and a few races on it and thought I'd write some more words. I see way too many reviews of stuff that consists of "hey check out these new parts, looks cool, right?" Well, try it out for an extended period of time and get back to me. So that's what I've done, and the conclusion is that it's pretty good.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Mountain Bike Season

Road racing season came and went pretty quickly, and the summer has had me wondering about my choice to buy a new road bike this year as opposed to spending that money on MTB and CX stuff. A full suspension bike sure would be sweet and the cross bike could use a new drivetrain and some wider, tubeless-ready wheels. But no, not really, because I like road riding and it's an awesome bike.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Rocky Mountain Roubaix

I think the Rocky Mountain Roubaix is Montana's longest running bike race, and it was the first real road race I ever entered. Road racing has been in a bit of a decline around here, with more people opting to race mountain bikes and cyclocross instead. The wednesday series' are inexpensive, easy, and fun. Traveling to road races, on the other hand, tends not to be. You often spend the day suffering alone, and then half the racers have left the time the awards start. I'm starting to think that having free beer and a bbq or something is key to good racer turnout.

Anyway, I've done the roubaix 5 times now, but since it's about our only road race I have been stuck in category 4. I was offered an upgrade to cat 3, but haven't had a reason to buy a USAC license because most of our races, including the roubaix this year, don't require one. Like the Hell Ride, this was ran as a "gran fondo." So there was the choice of the A race of 70 miles or B race of 40 miles. Having always been in the "B" race as a 4/5, this was my chance to ride with the fast guys.

Last year it was pouring rain and miserable. The dirt sections were slick mud and you couldn't see where you were going. It ruined all the bearings and cables and housings on my caad 9 and that was the last time I ever rode it since the crack in the chainstay had been growing. This year the forecast looked decent- just cloudy with possible showers. So of course in the morning it was raining, but I felt optimistic. Then I got to frenchtown, and it was still raining, and looked like it was raining on the course. So, yeah, it rained again. And was cold.

Friday, May 26, 2017

2017 Montana Hell Ride

I suppose road racing season is over already, after speedwagon, the hell ride, and roubaix. I wanted to set up some sort of prizes for the people who did all three (there are only 7 of us), but so far that hasn't happened.

Last time I mentioned a possible new road bike, and, well, I have this: