Friday, August 17, 2012

Lost my excuse for trail suckage

I used to race mountain bikes downhill. I was young and dumb, with zero regard for my personal health and well-being. That latter part hasn't changed a whole lot, but I did spend the best part of 15 years without riding a bike on anything more technical than a potholed road and turned into a bit more of a wuss.

I still have my last DH bike - a 1995 Kona Hahanna rigid with a full chromoly frame and probably one of the last hand-welded quill stems out there. His name is Dusty, and he's been my reliable companion since I was 15 years old. He's even been stolen twice, but came back to me both times! Yes, even as a downhiller I eschewed suspension; I tried it out, but I was slower and I hated that more than anything (see comment above about regard for my own skin).

The huge Canadian Tire saddle bag is actually older than the bike.

Tanker and I have actually been riding a little bit of trail in the last couple of years. Well, a bit of singletrack - we ride a whole lot of pretty crushed limestone multi-use trail on the cyclocross bikes. In any case, the years away from bumping around on rocks and roots have turned me into a total weenie with the bike handling skills of a stunned chipmunk. Wait, I take that back - chipmunks are far more at home in the woods than I am.

Freaking out over a little switchback in April 2011 at the GORBA trails.

Knowing that I'm pretty much hopeless as a cross-country mountain cyclist, of course I sign up for a bunch of off-road events. I did Paris to Ancaster in both 2011 and 2012. I did the Chicopee 4-hour Drain last year; a 4-hour (duh) race doing loops around the trails at Chicopee Ski Resort. I built some skills, and occasionally punctured myself.

Yes, I did a 4hr XC race in Chuck Taylors on flat pedals.
That's still not as dumb as trying to cycle up a ski hill.

All of this helped immensely when I did a little race called Mine Over Matter at the Kelso Quarry. This off-road tri starts with a swim in the quarry pond then takes you up the Niagara Escarpment to the mountain bike trails at Kelso/Glen Eden - another stinkin' ski hill. I'm sure to people who are comfortable on trails these ones are easy-peasy, but I saw them for the first time still slightly gibbled from the 1km swim and absolutely gasping from the huge climb out of the quarry floor to get up to the trailhead, petrified I was going to break my fool neck! Still riding on flat pedals, I ended up dismounting and walking my bike over or around a lot of the obstacles - rocks, big roots and piles of logs.

And up part of this hill. My chubby arse isn't made for climbing!

I did actually make it through unscathed, and thoroughly enjoyed the race even though I was firmly - and I mean firmly - back-of-pack. I even did some more trail riding before winter settled in, and managed to get to a point where I even tried a couple of black diamond-rated trails without dying. I discovered I could roll over some things in my way, and my primary issue was lack of confidence.

Fast forward to this year, and Tanker finding a set of Crank Brothers Candy pedals (same kind I have on my CX bike) in a clearance bin. I figured I'd risk $40 and my collarbones trying out clipless pedals on the trail. 

How bad could it be?

Taking them out to a local trail with some soft, poured gravel, some seriously rocky sections and some rough climbs, I discovered that the people who'd been trying to convince me to ride clipless on my mtb weren't actually trying to kill me. It was easier to spin smoothly through the loose stuff, I had way more control riding over obstacles, and I actually found myself choosing the more difficult line through the (quite easy) technical sections rather than looking for the easy way out.

We headed out to Puslinch Tract on the Victoria Day weekend to try out the new pedals on some "real" trails and had an absolute riot. I only fell over once (while stopped, with my foot already down. Don't even ask) and I gained a lot of confidence, though I'm still a bit of a weenie and always seem to find some rock or root on a big climb that stops me dead and makes me dismount. 

I'd already signed up for Mine Over Matter again, so I knew that the new skills would be a huge asset. Tanker kept insisting that if I was going to be racing off road I'd need a new mountain bike, but I was a bit resistant to the idea - Dusty is still operational, even if he is now old enough to vote, and I figured Tanker was probably more deserving of a new bike since his 40lb Raleigh Tim Hortons Roll-up-the-Rim-to-Win full-suspension bike was rapidly deteriorating. He told me he didn't care, that his bike was ok, and that since I'm the one who races I should get a new bike. I was actually set to go take a serious look at a couple when our roof crapped out, thoroughly depleting any resources we had to spend on anything else.

I found out recently, though, that I have a bit of money coming my way. I decided that maybe it was time to look at what might be available on sale, as the 2013 models are launching as we speak. We headed over to the best shop in Cambridge for off-road cyclists - The Hub - to see what we could see.

Minutes later, I was in love with a Louis Garneau Apex Elite. He was black, he was pretty, and he was fun to ride!


I actually ended up nipping over to another shop that had a couple of 29ers on sale to try them out before I finally committed - I rode a Trek Paragon and a Giant XTC 2, but simply didn't like them as much as the buttery, snappy, flickable Apex Elite. Back to The Hub, I got the bike for an astonishing 42% off MSRP!

Of course, I couldn't take it home right away - it had to be given a pre-delivery inspection by the shop owner, and it was nearly closing time on Saturday anyway. I wouldn't be able to make it before they closed on Monday, so I'd have to wait until Tuesday evening before I'd actually get my new ride! Talk about keeping a turkey in suspense. I tried to settle for reading up on some of the new things I'd be dealing with; suspension fork and disc brakes and carbon fibre, oh my! I also started ordering some of the things I'd need for him; a multi-tool with Torx and a disc brake wedge, a mini pump, a shock pump and some frame protection. I also ended up re-fitting Dusty for Tanker, who decided that perhaps my old friend was a better bet than his rusted old boat anchor.

Finally Tuesday rolled around, every minute of my workday seeming to take an hour, and we probably set a land speed record getting to the shop to pick him up. I'd named him in the meantime - Arven, a derivative of the Breton name HervĂ© meaning "battle or carnage worthy" - and arrived at The Hub to find this:

Cliff destroys me!
I grabbed a cycle computerchainstay protector, spare tube and a Big Air cylinder, then had to go hit the pool rather than going straight home to get Arven all kitted out. Probably one of the worst, most lackadaisical swims I've ever done - I just wanted to go ride my bike!

Pretty boy.

Finally home, Tanker wouldn't let me futz around with my ride until I'd got my run out of the way. He'd smurf kick me if I went near the bike! Grumbling, I went and ran 6.5km, then came home and fell to work. The Candy pedals were installed, my Velo Pronto SI-WZ1 saddle and bottle cages went on, and I managed to get the cycle computer hooked up and working. I took him for a little spin around the neighbourhood, then finally started dinner...just after midnight.

About to head out for the first real ride.

Wednesday evening Tanker and I headed out to the Kuntz Park head of the Walter Bean Trail to give Arven a bit of a taste of off-road goodness. They'd filled in the rocky sections with crushed gravel, but I could still get an idea of his handling in the soft, poured sections and see how he reacted to climbing on a loose surface.


While my saddle was still a bit low (fixed when we got home; was too excited to remember to bring tools with me) and I think I'll probably drop at least one spacer from under the stem, I had an absolute ball! It was an amazing evening; Tanker and I rolling along while the sun set, spotting deer and herons all along the trail. We finally got home just after dark, I went out for another run, then made a few adjustments and test rode Arven once more. I think I'm close to having him dialed in!

Meanwhile, Dusty has been reborn as Tanker's new trail machine - I think the two look pretty happy together:

I'm so happy my old friend won't just sit around gathering cobwebs.

We'll be heading out to Shades Mill Conservation Area on Saturday afternoon to ride their technical-but-not-very-challenging trails and do an open water swim, then back to Puslinch Tract on Sunday to really put him through his paces. I have to come to grips with the fact I no longer have riding a bike old enough to vote as an excuse for my poor performance on trails, but if the first bit of riding has been any indication I won't be able to wipe the grin off my face until well after Mine Over Matter!

I think we're going to be good friends!

I can't tell you I'll be any faster, but I may at least come out a little less beaten up - I just have to try not to wreck myself getting to know the bike before the race!

1 comment:

Go on, have at me!