Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lumberjack, Sweat Shaker, Boyne Marathon and fat bike fun!

The summer has been flying by, especially with the demands of training, no shortage of good weather and lots of fun stuff to do! After TS Epic my main focus was a good recovery period followed by a build stage to prep myself for Lumberjack. Unfortunately, as i have heard to be the case with many others, i came down with an intestinal bug post TS Epic which threw a wrench in the works. I was already down in weight and feeling exhausted, add to that the inability to keep food in me and you have a recipe for an unpleasant week or two. Already having been at a good race weight, losing 10 pounds destroyed my energy levels and will to train. It was a full two weeks or more before i felt ready to handle any sort of serious riding or racing. Lucky for me i had a full 3 weeks after TS Epic to prepare for Lumberjack because i needed every day of it!

My first workout to speak of after Pennsylvania was the 8 hours of Cannonsburg. Eric Wolting of Freewheeler Racing was kind enough to team up with me despite my lack of enthusiasm and race legs. Each lap at the ski area took an exorbitant amount of effort compared to what i'm used to, and i was more than happy to sit tight for an hour or so at a time to recover and try to get some energy back. I had been following the BRAT diet for the entire week post Trans-Sylvania and needless to say was a little low on fuel. Despite the rough day a good time was had, followed by a top step on the podium for Team Redline/ Freewheeler Racing.
Beautiful day at the Cannonsburg Ski area!

Jenny and I got some fun rides in the week following Cannonsburg, and it was nice to start eating real people food and to feel awake for the majority of the day. I was getting impatient with the limited ride time, and had the usual panicked feeling of how much fitness i was losing every second i missed on the bike (which usually just turns out to be a good thing in the end). To qualm my fears though i got out with a few rides with my Bissell buddies and could feel my legs coming back, if ever so slightly. I was also distracted by the prospect of an awesome gravel century that was looming on Saturday the 14th. I love to plan new bike routes, and through in unique terrain and challenges, and i was particularly proud of the route i had cooked up to the NW of Grand Rapids. It included many miles of scenic gravel countryside, some two-tracks and some creek crossings as it would turn out (Sorry guys haha!). Since the terrain was so remote i used my half-day friday to plant two coolers stocked with beverages, chamois cream, snacks and water at the 25 and 75 mile markers roughly as we had planned to stop in Ravenna at mile 50. The ride turned out to be a big success thanks to the good company of my friends, and was excellent training for Lumberjack since i rode it on my Redline D680. To top it all off, the ever awesome Minnema family played host to a cookout and pool party post-ride where our families/friends joined for a relaxed afternoon.
Awesome group of friends!

Cooler stop number 1

Looming large on monday was the moment of truth... had i lost half my fitness as i had speculated/obsessed over the past two weeks or was i doing just fine? The moment of truth for me was the race of truth as the Time Trial is often referred to; a person, their bike, the road and the clock. I have ridden the Ada TT many, many times so i know exactly what to expect, and with reasonable weather conditions what my time reflects in correlation to my fitness. I realize that a 15 mile TT doesn't tell me how well i'm gonna do at a 100 mile MTB race, but it tells me where my cardio fitness falls. I left the starter at my usual pace, fully expecting to feel deflated after a mile or two, but was surprised that after i hit the 3 mile mark i was feeling pretty good. Also helping to motivate me was having Tom Burke start 30 seconds behind me. I knew he would ride me down but the question was where? At the turn i could spot him coming my way, but i still had a pretty good gap and my legs felt fresh. I kept the pace high and my torso low as to cheat the wind as best as possible. It wasn't until the last two miles that i really started to get that feeling of wanting to pass out at a moments notice. Half a mile out i could hear that familiar sound of an aero setup rolling at high speed. It was a sprint to the finish and i stood up to really gut it out but there was nothing left. I rolled down to the end of the road gasping for air and continued along the bike path trying to compose myself and not drool too much in front of the park patrons. I waited some time before looking down at my Garmin, but finally decide to reveal the results of the litmus test; was i going to be relegated to DFL at Lumberjack or would i come in on form?!?! The time was 32:47, and a PR as it turned out at 27.5 MPH. I felt the cool rush of relief wash over, it was true, i could still ride my bike.

It's important to be a cool operator and not show your hand before a bike race, and i'd like to think i'm usually the laid back type before a race, not too stressed, just ready to go, but no matter what anyone says, i don't think that it ever changes from your first race to your hundredth; that fear/anxiety of being prepared. There are sponsors to provide results for, friends and family that anticipate that podium finish, and other racers that look forward to being slower than you...err, wait, maybe not that last part so much haha! Nonetheless, a little validation can go a long ways leading up to a big race. Lumberjack 100 may not be the Tour De France, but it would be my first NUE event and there would be fast folks there vying for the title. I'm very fortunate in that i have an awesome support system in the form of teammates, family, friends and Jenny. I have a dog that needs to be watched, check that off the list, my mom drives from Grand Ledge to pick her up and watch her for the weekend! I need a place to stay and cook food before and after a long race, check that off the list, the Brower family opened up their cabin for us to stay and relax. I need a support crew for nutrition and any mishaps that may occur, check that off the list, my teammates setup the tents, have tables ready and are ready to provide any support i need (they even rebuilt some guys fork during the race...). I need someone to provide all of that from one time to another, to share fun pre and post rides with, and provide encouragement, check that off the list, Jenny is at the ready! And i can't leave out my main sponsor Redline that keeps me ready with the best gear, kit and support and Freewheeler Bike Shop which is the best shop around. Very lucky indeed...
Thanks Browers and Freewheeler Family!

The conditions for Lumberjack couldn't have been any better in my opinion. A light rain fell consistently the day before helping to knock down the dust and sandy spots. The temperature the morning of was pleasantly cool and the weather looked to be clear for a long day of bike racing. The actual starting line is just up the road from the trailhead a couple miles to make it a true 100 mile course, and to allow folks to jockey for position. To keep things interesting, Rick and Scott put a cash prime up for grabs for the first person up the first major climb. I had no interest in burning a match just a few miles into the start so i selectively held position behind those jostling for cash through the first few miles. As can be expected, the pace settled down pretty quickly after the first long climb and folks began to group into packs. I estimated i was in the 10-15th position range at the midway point of the first lap and was sitting in at the back of a group that was holding the pace i wanted. After some time though it became tedious to yoyo on the back while the different riding styles would expand and contract the conga line. As we finished the more open and flowy outer sections and came into the heart of the trail i decided to come up front and do a little pace making to liven things up. By the end of the first lap we were whittled down to a group of 4 or so and had picked up Gerry Pflug and Jan Roubal. We also had a powerhouse rider in the form of singlespeed and Gordon Wadsworth. Thus began the remained of what my race would consist of; working with a strong group of 3 other guys to keep the pace high and each other company. Not much changed coming into the third lap, and i felt pretty well if not a bit thirsty. This should have been an indicator to up my fluid stores but i grabbed my two bottles and headed out. In hindsight, this was to be my only major mistake of the day and ended up costing me a shot at 3rd place on the podium. Jorden and Christian were well up the road and showed no sign of coming back barring any major issues. My troubles were confirmed as i approached the aid station and was down to the last half of my second bottle. It was a tough pill to swallow letting the group i had worked so well with ride away towards the finish, but i knew better than to try and ride the last hour plus in the swelling temperatures and humidity. Leaving the aid station i picked the pace up, and tried to strategically gain ground where possible but it was to no avail. The minute plus i lost filling up my bottles was enough to keep the three away and keep me isolated for the remainder of the race. Was i bummed to not have a crack at 3rd place? Of course i was, but all things considered i had never expected to be where i was anyhow. My goal was to be under 7:30 (the stretch was to be under 7:00), and a finishing time of 6:49 put me well under that goal. Add to that the fact that i actually felt aware of my surrounding post-race and was able to recover reasonably well in the following days and i chalk the 5th place finish up to a victory in my book.
Lumberjack podium

Sweat shaker was next in line after lumberjack, and the 2 hour race was a pleasant surprise after spending nearly 7 hours on the bike in the previous outing. The start was lightning fast with Jorden going hard from the get go. I've relented on trying to match the initial surge and focused more on pacing well through the singletrack and trying to use handling and time to my advantage. After the first lap, Jorden had put about a minute into me and i knew i would have to start grabbing that time back if i was going to have a shot. After the second lap, the differential had come down but i still didn't have him in sight. And winding up the third lap it was obvious that victory would be elusive. I ended up missing the sharp end of the race by about 39 seconds. It was a fun race and i prefer the tight singletrack and "rough" course.

Boyne Marathon would be my first time ever riding the trails at Boyne which had me excited because i love to explore new trails and terrain. I also love long winding climbs that seemingly never end and bomber descents. I elected to head up the day before after work to scout the course and stretch the legs out. A friend of mine at work was kind enough to lend me his place in Mancelona for the evening so i didn't have to go through the extra trouble of setting up camp and whatnot. After i pre-rode the course i got even more excited for the race. It was going to be a tough one with lots of climbing, loose ascents and an awesome downhill section! Four laps wasn't going to be easy, but it was sure going to be a good time. There were familiar faces at the line, but the starting list lacked the Grayling Giant who was busy riding races in other places. I figured since he wasn't there it was a good a time as any to adopt the rocket-launch from the line tactic. From the word Go! i dropped the hammer and didn't let up a hair until the top of the first long climb to grab a swig of water. The tactic had worked, and i had gained a significant lead on my opponents. The question was just how long could i hold the pace and would i pay dearly for it later? I can thank TS Epic for my indoctrination into the world of enduro racing, and the descending skill set i had gained. After the first lap i had a pretty healthy lead. I spent the following 3 laps monitoring my fluids and pace to avoid any cramping or other malady that may take away my lead position. Luck was on my side and i rolled into the finish numero uno.
Boyne looming large

Don't tell me my business TV, it's only one to help me sleep before the race!

Boyne podium

I wish i had the motivation to write about all of the awesome interactions with good people i've had at these races, and the great training and group rides i am blessed to be a part of every week, but alas "ain't nobody got time fo dat" as the viral video goes... Kidding aside, one of the best parts of racing and training is the awesome people, camaraderie shared and stories that come from the gatherings. These are the things that i love the most about bike racing and that keep me coming back time after time for the abuse.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Trans-Sylvania Epic: There's harder races but i haven't done one of them yet....

The Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic is often referred to as Singletrack Summer Camp, and it definitely lives up to both references! The race is headquartered at the Seven Mountains Scout Camp just outside of State College, PA and is hunkered down next to a scenic river at the base of the mountains. This was my first “major” event with the Redline Team and I was seriously excited and nervous at the same time; I had never ridden East Coast Rocks, legit enduro, or competed for 7 days straight before. The race runs from Sunday to the following Saturday, and the stages vary from day to day with different terrain, various enduro segments and distances. I made the trek from Grand Rapids to State College early Saturday and arrived in the afternoon. The Redline tents were already setup and Justin and Tim were settled in. The accommodations were fitting for a summer camp; a large bunkhouse with community bathrooms and kitchen and giant porch. We were bunked at the Eagle Lodge with a bunch of pretty cool MTB folks which gave it a fun atmosphere to help reduce the race day tensions. Justin gave me the low down on the stage 1 course and I decided it would be best to preview it Sunday morning before the time trial.

Redline tent setup

Stage 1:
The first stage Sunday was a time trial that would serve as a Launchpad for the GC contenders.
Singletrack constituted a fair portion of the TT with some gravel roads, two tracks, and ATV trails sprinkled in for good measure. Right off the bat we were sent into some newish singletrack that reminded me of home, somewhat loamy in spots, tight and twisty. From there all bets were off. The terrain changed quickly to a technical trail along the creek and then climbed slowly up into the surrounding hills. The first real rocky downhill caught me off guard a bit with my jacked up seatpost and whatnot, and I quickly appreciated why so many bikes were sporting dropper posts! All in all the TT was a boat load of fun, and challenging to boot with a lengthy enduro segment. I was happy to only relinquish a few minutes to the more studly riders and hit the chow hut for dinner. Every night the post dinner ritual was reliving the day’s events via pictures and videos and then proceeding into the next stage preview.
The bunkhouse at the start of the week...

Stage 2:
The second stage was slated to be one of the most difficult stages of the week and it certainly lived up to that expectation. It started modestly enough with gravel roads winding up and down through the mountains, but before long it hit the rocky singletrack that PA is famous for. I felt strong and was in good position when my compatriot behind me said “hey bro your tire is pissing Stans”. Sure enough I had a healthy gash in the sidewall and there was no amount of Stans that was going to resurrect my rear tire. After getting a tube in I was back rolling and only slightly perturbed. I made it to the aid station without issue and reloaded on CO2 and more tubes just in case… little did I know that the extra stuff I grabbed would barely get me through. The next enduro segment was a steep rocky chute loaded with rim and tire mangling rock. Two flats later I limped out of the segment and aired the tire well over 30 psi to help avoid pinching anymore tubes. I made it quite a ways before I felt the rear end give out and get squirrely in a rock garden. After this final flat it simply became a salvage mission; I had lost nearly an hour fixing tires/wheels and now I just needed to finish the stage. Lucky for me there was an epic demoralizing climb near the end complete with rattlesnake and river crossing, and the cherry on top was riding that horrendous creek trail from stage one backwards to the finish. What a long day…
Au revoir old tire setup

Stage 3:
Stage 3 brought out all the brahs that were ready to fully ‘send anything at the drop of a seatpost. I have to admit that I was excited to ride all of the big climbs at whatever pace I pleased since only the 5 timed segments counted towards the GC (which I was well out of at this point) and the stage. The first segment went off swimmingly and it felt nice to have some heavy duty Kenda rubber under me for the day to bomb the descents. At the end of the first segment a couple of us were informed that we were the first ones through, which was concerning as a pack of about 15 guys had steamed out of the gate to get to the first segment and fully ‘send it. Turns out they didn’t turn, and were somewhere’s off course in the PA woods, no biggie right? Well, at least it left the few of us near the front the freedom to fully bomb as we pleased, me to roll around in the rhododendrons on the second segment and a leisurely stop at the aid station to sip cold soda and get the details on the fourth ominous segment titled “wildcat”. Despite the majority of the riding being untimed it certainly wasn’t the rest day it was made out to be, because it’s hard to rest much when you’re climbing 4-5K feet in a day. I made it to Wildcat with much anticipation for what lay ahead, and the entrance reminded me of riding off the side of a gravel road down a sheer mountainside (probably because that’s what it basically is…). I felt good at first and just let off the brakes and held on for all I was worth. The full suspension Redline D880 was taking the hits like a champ, but much to my chagrin I completely cased a big rock and felt the rear end go soft. It should be noted that Wildcat is either rideable when being hit at higher speed or you’re gonna be walking it, there’s no in-between coasting as the ledges that lead into the rock garden and creek are best handled at speed with your eyes closed… So, with that in mind, and knowing the clock was ticking, I just decided to chance it and wrap it up riding the flat tire and rim the rest of the way. Needless to say I’m writing this, so I made it through unscathed but it was questionable. I have to admit I kind of took a liking to this new-to-me endurbro riding. I got to see a few people fly by me and show me how it’s really done (ahem, Michael Broderick). And I was happy to learn at dinner that my teammate Justin had fully ‘sent each segment and himself onto the podium for the stage!
Hanging out at Tussey, Endurbro racing is tough stuff

Stage 4:
Not much to report here, all I have to say is that the “road” stage is pretty much a flat out lie haha! There was more than enough two-track and singletrack to go around for the day, but I guess there was about 2 miles of pavement… and an epic hike a bike on Fisherman’s Creek “trail”. I use quotes around trail because it’s mostly orienteering through boulders and whatnot. The highlight of the day was riding through the famous railway tunnel with Justin and being greeted by vampires with cold beer handups at the end!
The Redline D680, singletrack rocket

Stage 5:
I had heard plenty of horror stories are the previous years’ stages at R.B. Winter park and was somewhat concerned that the trails that had been handing my arse to me the past few days were considered “modern” and well maintained in comparison to the “rustic” trails I was about to experience. It was all for naught though, as the selected trails were much more manageable than what had been used previously. The riding was simply beautiful; trails paralleling babbling brooks nestled deep in the hills, overgrown grassy two tracks with smooth clay beds, baby head riddled trails that I could actually keep rhythm on, and scenic gravel road climbs with a few enduro segments so keep things interesting. The only folly on the day was an overzealous descent leading to a Lefty style rear derailleur (you only need one half of the derailleur cage right? I think the pulleys are made to take cantilever loads…). I saw the rock, I hit the rock and the rock didn’t move. Thankfully I was able to limp the last few miles and roll the last enduro segment without hiking. Pizza and camaraderie finished off the day along with a healthy nap at the bunkhouse upon arrival back at camp.
Something isn't right here

Stage 6:
Tussey Mountain offers up some pretty impressive views of the surrounding countryside, the only problem is I have maybe 2 seconds to take it all in while otherwise navigating the rock and boulder strewn trail. Stage 6 is one of the longest stages alongside stage 2 and offers up plenty of climbing, descending and rocks to keep one busy for the better part of 3 to 4 hours. The weather was ideal for the race, if not a bit warm and the roll out across the highway to the starting line helped to warm the legs up a bit. Good legs were a must for this stage as I knew there was a 6 mile long climb lurking in the distance. Being from Michigan I’m lucky if I can find a climb up north that lasts a mile and a couple hundred feet let alone 6-7 miles and well over a thousand! The first enduro came and went uneventfully, and then we droned on for sometime through a lowland area filled with Rhododendrons and rocks. There were times that I found myself cursing not so subtly at and about the rocks, but alas they gave way to some gravel and I was able to regain some semblance of sanity. We hit some flowy sinlgetrack which put a big smile back on my face and before I knew it I was staring down the climb. It started out innocent enough, on gravel road and at a reasonable angle, but surely the road turned away and we continued onward to a two track. Some folks back when were kind enough to line the two track with rounded rocks to help increase the longevity of the two track, so that was good… As time wore on it became more grass and less dirt. It seemed as if it were never going to end, but finally it relented and we hit a plateau if just for a minute before descending the backside of the mountain. Unfortunately, a fellow rider found out the hard way, as I almost did, that the water bars cut into the backside descent were dangerous at speed. Matt Ferrari was just ahead of me and took a good spill which led to him damaging his hip and having to withdraw from the race. I was saddened to hear this as we had spent some time chatting on stage 3 and I found him to be an amicable fellow. He made an appearance on the last day of the race to assure folks he would be on the mend soon. The remainder of the stage was a grind, up to Tussey Ridge, assailed by rocks, and back down managing to only crash and get stunned for a minute or so once. It was a good day for some of my compatriots at Eagle Lodge, with Rich “Dicky” Dillen taking the stage win for SS, and a rough day for others.
Tom McDaniel keeping the steeds in impeccable condition

Stage 7:
The battles earlier in the week left me yearning for stage 7 to come and go, and for the pain to end, but on the morning of stage 7 I felt a particular sadness creep in that the week-long biking extravaganza would soon come to an end, as all good things must. The stage itself was a good time, I felt good on the bike, it was short enough to not put me in the depths of the hurt locker, but long enough to wax philosophically on what it means to MTB in the east coast, and how I felt about it all. It was a tough week, and stage 7 was a good way to bid adieu to the trials and tribulations of the earlier stages. In perspective it’s just riding a bike, but the competitive spirit always manages to morph it into something much more. I felt that on the final stage I could finally ride confidently among the rocks, roots, descents and climbs much more so that on day 1. IT was a good feeling at the end of the stage to know that I would be leaving PA with new skills, knowledge and techniques for handling the haggard terrain. Basically I had fun!
The start of Stage 8, that's all i'm allowed by law to show you

Stage 8:
If you don’t know, then you should probably sign up for the race and live it for yourself. There’s not much else I can tell you…
...and the bunkhouse at the end of the week


The TS Epic pushed me to new limits as a competitive mountain biker, and much was gained through the experience, but it’s important to mention that it wouldn’t be nearly what it was without all the great support of sponsors, friends and family. Tim Rutledge of Redline Bikes and Tom McDaniel made a terrific support team throughout the race, and both having decades of racing experience really helped to shine a light on how much I have to learn. Justin Lindine is an all-around great guy and team mate to learn from. I came in ready to go thanks to Dr. Jason Ross at Train Out Pain chiropractic, and can’t recommend him enough, both before and after treatments were awesome! My mom was kind enough to board my dog for the week at the retirement home for dogs (14 YO Doberman, 15 YO black lab and 10 YO korgi). Jenny had a nice send-off evening for me with beers and good food overlooking GR. My GR training buddies and Freewheeler teammates for keeping me in decent shape. And of course my friends and family kept me motivated with kind words and thoughts on facebook and via text message. My Redline D880 and D680 worked great in the rough terrain, the Kenda Tires were much better replacements for what I was running, and my Wolftooth Components Shimano GC made climbing some of the steeper stuff possible. Big thanks to everyone!


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bike racing and beer releasing!

The bike racing season and good riding weather seem to be in full swing here in Michigan, and only took a few months too long to get here. Since the last posting, it's been a split between single track riding, Ada time trials, cyclocross and some group road rides. The monday night Ada time trials have been a staple in my workout routine for the past few years and are a great way to improve the functional threshold. Jenny and i have made it out for a few rides together to work on some climbing and generally enjoy the weather. Two Sundays ago was the most recent Spring Fury Cross ride at Wilcox Park. The venue was great (and really close to my house!), and there's always a lot of fun and friendly competition. The main focus has been getting the body ready to handle seven days of racing in steep and rocky Pennsylvania single track at the Trans-Sylvania Epic. This past weekend was a good test of both endurance and technical aptitude at the Arcadia Grit and Gravel and the Yankee Springs Time Trial.

Awesome shot of the Spring Fury Cross fun by Jack Kunnen!

The Arcadia Grit and Gravel is a pretty awesome race that has a bit of something for every type of ride; there's 10 miles of plush singletrack with tight banked turns and rolling hills, miles of gravel roads with long winding climbs, a few sections of seasonal two-tracks and steep descents to test one's mettle and a bit of pavement to put the power to the pedals. I felt pretty good coming into the race and knew it would be a battle of watts from the starting lineup. The roll-out was fairly neutral with a welcome attack from the Sovis brothers to stir things up. At the first big climb it really began to heat up and it was a battle of will to the top with myself, Jorden, Ben and Alex. Things came back together on the flats and rolling terrain and i knew it would soon be time to hammer again at the climb before the singletrack. On the second climb i set a steady pace, waiting for the attacks and sure as the wind blows they came hard. Jorden and Alex came around prompting me to stand on the pedals and give it hell. They put a few seconds between myself and Ben who was right on my heels. Coming into the singletrack it was Jorden, Alex, myself and Ben in that order. As we got in further it slowly spaced out until it seemed we were all riding solo. When we peeked out onto the gravel section i could see alex about 15 seconds up and Ben about 15 seconds back. In the second section of two track i was able to bridge up closer to Alex but i took one too many risks and got into a fight with a maple in a sharp turn. Thankfully i wasn't hurt much, mostly just scraped and sore and decided from there on out it was best to just finish the race where i was at, with a lot more riding on the next week of racing. I rolled into the finish line in third position with a good ride by Alex for second and a typically-superb ride by Jorden for the win. The race folks did a swell job with food onsite and fresh beer by Stormcloud brewing. I could have stayed all day to bask in the sun, get burnt and drive home late but Yankee Springs was less than 24 hours away so i withheld.

Fun folks to race against

The Yankee Springs Time Trial is a classic spring mountain bike event in Michigan and a staple for most riders looking to see where they stack up against the usual suspects. However, the weather threw a wrench in the works this year and the race was postponed from it's traditional April time to mid-May. It was definitely a good call to delay as the weather couldn't have been better and the trail was super smooth. It was probably the nicest i've seen yankee in years and the new section was a pleasant addition. Most riders didn't seem to care for the new loop, but i was all for a nice long section to drill it and use those roadie skills! The tricky part of the TT is not knowing exactly where you stand in the pecking order when you're out on course. I stayed on the gas and tried to be as safe as possible whilst still bringing the pain. I knew there were some fast riders that started behind me, and i was mostly concerned with Dan Korienek as i have felt his wrath many times before. I finally got my sanity check when i went through the new section on the second lap and was informed that i was about 3 minutes up on second (which i came to assume was Dan). I knew he started about 2 minutes behind me so i was in the clear as long as i kept pace and didn't muck anything up. It felt good to get the first win of the year on the new Redline D880. This race really showed the advantages of having a full suspension rig with good a wide range of tuning. I was able to hammer every downhill, stay hard in the corners and soak up the rocks and roots without loosing much speed. I couldn't have been happier with the way the bike performed.

An awesome photo courtesy of Karen Brower

I assure you i was having a good time despite my expression

Now it's time for full recovery mode with the TSE starting this coming Sunday. Last night was the release of Cobble Crusher, which i have been greatly anticipating. As a result of winning the Winter Rush Fat Bike series i was awarded with the chance to brew a beer at Harmony. It was a pretty cool deal as i got to meet with the brewers, chat about what i wanted (Spicy Belgian Pale Ale), and arrange for a date to stop in and actually take part in the brewing. The beer turned out great along with the weather, and made for a fun night. Danielle was there as well as her drink's namesake, Ted Bentley! A lot of great folks stopped out to help celebrate and have a good time, and served as a great reminder of just how awesome the biking community is and how lucky i am to know so many cool people! Big thanks to all who made it!

Sweet poster designed by an even sweeter girl, Jenny Scott!

It's a celebration!

Speaking of being lucky, i have had the good fortune of picking up a couple new sponsors in the past couple weeks. Wolftooth Components will be stepping in to fill my drivetrain needs, and i just received my 40T Shimano giant cog for my 10 speed cassette. This should be a welcome addition just in time for the TSE and the nasty climbs that lay ahead. I have been running their chain rings on my other 1x setups and have been impressed with the durability and functionality of the narrow-wide tooth profile they have.  I'm looking forward to putting more of their products through the wringer! Also, i have had the good fortune of being sponsored by Dr. Jason Ross of Train Out Pain! Jason is a miracle worker of sorts and always finds a way to workout those kinks, knots and issues. I've been going to see him since last year, and he was a great asset to have in recovering from my shoulder injury last fall. I can't say enough good things about Jason and his practice!

The Giant Cog by Wolftooth Cycling

Friday, May 9, 2014

New sponsor, new season and new goals!

I’m definitely overdue for a blog update, and there hasn’t been a shortage of stuff going on to report about. The lingering winter weather here in Michigan definitely made riding outside the past few months difficult to say the least. I enjoy suffering in the cold and wet as much as the next cyclist, but every once in a while it’s nice to feel the sun and ride with fewer than 3 layers on! It would seem that the weather is finally beginning to cooperate and it’s nice to get out and hammer some singletrack that’s snow and mud free. The focus is shifting this year to mountain bike, and I’m happy to announce my new sponsor, Redline Bicycles! This has been in the works for a few months now, and I received my new bike just in time to put it through the paces at Mud, Sweat and Beers. I’ll still be heavily affiliated with the awesome Freewheeler Bike Shop and Race team.

Awesome photos of Mud, Sweat and Beers (Photos courtesy of Karen Brower)

So, the season is shaping up with racing already underway. The past couple years my primary focus has been road racing, and I’ve very much enjoyed pounding pavement with some of the fastest guys around. Over the winter months I entered into discussion with Redline about riding for them and racing their new D880 full suspension rig. The goal this year is to race fewer but bigger events. In the past I have raced nearly every weekend from spring to fall, which can tend to wear one out after a while. I’m looking forward to being able to focus on a more consistent training plan complete with recovery weeks and long weekend rides! Right now, the next big race in the lineup is the Trans-Sylvania Epic out in Pennsylvania. It’s a seven day stage race on some pretty gnarly terrain out east. It should be interesting to say the least with some really fast guys such as Justin Lindine (my new teammate!), Jeremy Powers, Jeremiah Bishop, etc… There are a few secondary races in between now and then with Arcadia and Yankee TT this coming weekend. They’ll serve to further test the new setup out and get things dialed in before the big show at the end of the month.
It’s taken a while to get used to riding full suspension again, but I have to say it’s been awesome! Usually after 2-3 hours of mountain biking I’m feeling it pretty good in my lower back and upper body (this also may have something to do with the fact that I pretty much only workout my legs…). The new rig has Fox shocks front and back with three firmness settings and Climb, Trail and Descend modes. All this new-fangled technology has taken some getting used to, but now that I’ve had some time to play with air pressure and settings it is feeling pretty sweet. I haven’t had a full suspension bike in over 4 years, so there have definitely been some advances. It’s nice to be able to bomb descents, power through choppy sections and soak up rocks and roots then be able to get out of the saddle and put some watts down on the steep stuff. Another thing that’s taken some getting used to is not having bottle cages on the bike and going back to a bladder system. I’ve been playing around with various hydration methods, and it is pretty nice having water at the ready as opposed to finding a chance to reach for a bottle in tight singletrack.

Happy Day!

Mad muggin'

Training has been pretty brutal with the weather being moody the way it is. Nonetheless I’ve managed to get out with the fine Freewheeler Racing crew and the Bissell Boys quite a bit. The camaraderie that comes with being on a team is hard to beat when you’re racking up miles and need to stay motivated. Two weekends ago I decided to set out for a Lumberjack training ride of equal distance/elevation gain. I’ve been primarily racing in the 2-4 hour range for the past couple years, so I knew that making the jump wouldn’t come so easy. During the ride, I was graced with the presence of my fantastic girlfriend Jenny somewhere near the halfway point. We got to ride the trails together a bit then made a quick pit stop at Grams party store up on Egypt Valley and Knapp Street for refreshments. It helps to dull the sharp edges of suffering when you have a pretty smile to look at and company for the ride. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and I was out again solo. At around the 75-80 mile mark I really began to hit the wall, and just as I was going into zombie mode, I came out in the Cannonsburg SGA parking lot to find a crew of Freewheeler teammates! It felt great to have some friends to chat with, and I had the good fortune of finding my way into trail mix and a sandwich (Thanks Sarah Jaromin!!). I made haste after consuming those tasty treats before I ended up in someone’s car getting a ride home, and once again stopped by Grams for liquid nourishment and salty snacks. I was spotted by Eric siting on the stoop of the store in full devour mode of some chips and soda… It’s rides like these that make me truly appreciate the great support crew around me in friends, family and teammates!

Grinding gravel while grinning

Urban cross

That’s about it for now; I’ll have updates coming more frequently now that things are in full swing. Look for some equipment blogs, new fancy parts write-ups, race reports, and general riding shenanigans in the coming weeks!

Some photos from a random bike packing trip with my buddy Chris!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Fat Tires and Fast Friends

It’s been a whirlwind fat biking season here in Michigan, with a banner year of snowfall across most of the state. In fact, at some of the events this year, snow has actually been removed from the courses to make them passable. With the deep persisting cold, the snow hasn’t been very cooperative at times when it comes to packing in firm trails, which has left some venues a veritable trail of tears for the participants. In general though, the riding has been fantastic and the options have left riders and racers alike with options on most weekends and even weekdays. A great ongoing venue for testing out one’s mettle on a fatbike has been the Fat Tuesday weekly rides put on by Brent Walk of Fun Promotion at the Pando Ski Area. For a mere $10 riders have had access to some awesome groomed trails starting at 5pm until 9pm every Tuesday with the exception of one or two days the entire season. Grand Rapids Bike Co has been kind enough to send friendly folks with a number of demo bikes to ride around, and Freewheeler Bike Shop has ponied up items to give away as prizes to the racers. With the weather we’ve had it looks like the Fat Tuesdays will be ongoing for some time to come so get out there, there’s really no excuse not to…
A sweet ice beard is one of the Fat Tuesday prizes up for grabs...

As far as the weekend races have gone, there are several series to choose from in the Midwest: Winter Rush, Fun Promotions Fat Bike Series, Great Lakes Fat Bike Series, and Northern Michigan Fat Bike Series. Being my first season rollin’ a fatty I have chosen to sample from each of the series and multiple venues to get a feel for what’s out there and where there’s a good time to be had. Frankly, every race I’ve been at that involves tires of girth has been a blast! Maybe the courses have been grueling and frustrating at times, but that is easily solved with a choice beverage and good camaraderie. Here’s a quick breakdown of what each series has to offer:

Winter Rush:
This series has been great for the local GR fat bike scene, offering reasonably priced races ($15 pre-reg and $20 day-of) that aren’t too long to scare away new racers (typically around 50 minutes). The biggest challenge of this series has definitely been dealing with the weather and conditions with a couple of the races taking part during or just after a major snowfall. The prizes have been good with growlers for winners and various other swag (Harmony winter hats, Velocity hangers, gift cards, etc..) which is pretty darn good if you’re only forking over $20!
You too can win a growler of beer!

Fun Promotions:
Brent Walk has long been putting on good races, so it’s no surprise that these events and venues have been a blast. The first race of the series took place at Pando Ski Area and the conditions couldn’t have been better. With a hard pack XC ski trail to blast and great scenery the course was a pleasure to crank out laps on, and with average speeds approaching 14 mph it made for a race where there was no walking (a bonus in fat biking). The entry fees are reasonable and with a cash payout to the A class it’s one of the few series that forks over dough to the winners. The timed format (Pando happened to be 2 hours) made for a longer race which is a nice option to have outside of the shorter ones. There’s a couple more races in the series so don’t miss out!
Team Freewheeler crowding the podium
Great Lakes Fat Bike Series:
The GLFBS is comprised of several major races taking place throughout the Midwest. Yours truly has only participated in a couple of the events in his mitten shaped homeland, but has heard good reports of the races over the pond. Farmers Fatbike Race was the first GLFBS race I made it to, and it was a doozy. With heavy rain and warm temps leading up to the race, everyone and their adopted siblings knew this was going to be a sufferfest, especially given its 3 hour duration. The Farm Team did a terrific job salvaging the course the best they could, but conditions were still arduous. A single fat lane formed in the center of the course, but faster riders were left slogging through the boggy mess if they wished to advance their lead. Every lap packed a healthy elevation punch which sapped the already aching legs of much needed energy. Prizes were good with custom growlers, gift cards and heavy duty shovels being doled out to victors. The second race I sampled of this series was the Noquemanon World Championship race in Marquette. This was a last minute decision which was reinforced with the addition of an epic travel partner. Adventure was the name of the game, with it being consider a great feat just arriving at the start venue given the storm conditions and closed roadways. The ass end fell out of the thermometer in Marquette that weekend and racers faced bleak sub-zero temps with wind chills dipping to minus 30. At 50K in distance and plenty of punchy climbs this course was no joke. The scenery was grade A though, and the miles ticked by more quickly than I expected with awesome trail conditions and a fast run into the finish. The spoils to the racers were sweet customized cowbells and a center stage podium. This is definitely a series geared at the serious fat bike racer.
Shovel Envy
Cowbell envy

Northern Michigan Fat Bike Series:
The NMFBS is a short series consisting of just 3 races in the general vicinity of Traverse City. I only have the chance to participate in one of the three, but it was completely worthwhile! My race of choice from this series was the King Vasa 27K fat bike race, and I chose it for a number of reasons: I’m a fan of the VASA trail system, I like the Timber Ridge Finish area and it’s short and fast! Many of the fat bike races may see average speeds top out at 9-10 mph which can sometimes be a bit of a drag for the speed freak in all of us, but with speeds touching 16 mph for this race it was a totally different animal. I used my brakes more in this race than probably all of the other combined what with the fast descents and turns. The crowd that was out for the race was awesome too, and the finish venue had that Iceman air to it. The prizes were good with some sweet custom medals and lots of swag and free beer. If I’m on a fat bike next season, I plan to hit this one again fo sho!
King Vasa
GR holding down the podium with Jill and Danielle on the steps!

It wasn’t until this past fall that I even remotely thought about racing on a fat bike through the winter. When I heard about the Borealis Yampa and got the opportunity to get my hands on one though I simply couldn’t resist. While I spend a good portion of my time on the road bike, I’m a mountain biker at heart. I love cruising single-track, checking out new scenery and having the ability to cover any conditions I choose. The fat bike further fuels this passion for exploring on the bike, and opens up a whole new list of opportunities and venues to ride. Now that I’ve been on one and have been in several races I think I’ll have a hard time not coming back. I never planned on doing so many fat bike races and actually contending them, I just figured I’d bomb around all winter and have fun getting out to show off the new rig. I have to give a huge thanks to Freewheeler Bike Shop for getting their hands on one of these for me and getting it built quickly last year so I could enjoy the full season! I can’t endorse the shop and this bike enough, I’ve had the chance to ride other fat bikes, and much heavier ones, and the difference is noticeable.
I'm not worthy

Probably the best part of getting into fat biking this season has been the new friends and acquaintances I’ve made throughout the cold harsh Michigan winter. The folks that ride fat bikes are a truly unique and awesome group of individuals, and the camaraderie I’ve experienced has been unparalleled at many other events. It’s been an honor to line up with the Grayling Giant and get to chat with him about racing, bikes and generalities. Watching GRs own Danielle Musto take on the women of the Midwest has certainly been impressive, and I take pride knowing that GR has been well represented at the fat bike races! Duking it out with the Farm Team at the winter rush races has made for some brutal workouts and good stories post-race. When traveling to races, I’ve had good company in the form of a bear (Jenny Scott, not an actual bear…) and a teammate, Bill Shaver. Up at Noquemanon the racers from GR were kind enough to let us crash at their place in town and share good company. It’s been the best off-season a racer could ask for, and I’m sad to see it fading into the sunset with the impending season and training demands beginning to ramp up.
Even the bears party in Marquette
GR Joe staying fueled with me on an urban adventure
Fat Jimi at Fat Tuesday

Tying the races, equipment, and good times all together has been the Freewheeler Racing Team. I’m proud to be a part of such a diverse and awesome team of people. I can count on seeing red and grey at each and every fat bike race in the form of racers and sideline fans. These folks come and brave the cold to just shake a cow bell and heckle you if nothing else. When you’re digging deep in a race it’s always refreshing to have a friendly smile or chanting teammate to lift your spirits. I can always count on solid help from all of the guys over at the shop, whether it’s Curt, Pat, or Tim getting their hands on some random part for me, or Logger, Gordy or Sam helping me keep my rig in tip top shape. It’s really less of a team and more of a family.