EFTA The Pinnacle Race Report

Ben Pagano – Singlespeed Open: 2nd Place

After what seemed like a pretty hard week of training, I decided to go and do the EFTA race called the Pinnacle up in Newport, NH.  The Pinnacle is one of the most challenging courses we get to race on here in New England.  It starts with a double track climb that quickly transitions to a gnarly singletrack switch-backy  climb that goes on for what seems like a couple of miles.  We had a pretty thin field in the singlespeed category with only 5 taking the line, but it was a pretty fast crew.  Two of my good buddies, Alexis Arapoff and Keith Reynolds both of Bikeman, were the guys to beat.

The field was rounded out by another Bikeman guy and a Mason racing guy both looking lean and mean.  Due to a multitude of other events on the same day, the Pinnacle didn’t get the attendance I have seen in the past.  It honestly is one of the hardest but most fun courses we have.  From the gun Keith took the hole shot with me sitting second wheel, Alexis on my tail.  He was drilling it up the first climb..mashing a huge gear.  I had chosen to run a fairly light 32×20 and I was even having trouble turning that as the pitch went up.  Halfway up the first climb Keith’s pace was already taking its toll.  We had lost 2 riders and it was a train of Keith, Alexis, and I.  Keith bobbled on a rock wall and I came through with Alexis on my wheel.  As we climbed the final pitch Keith dropped away leaving the 2 of us.  I muttered something to Alexis about not thinking I could finish, and he said he was feeling awful too…20 seconds later he attacked the final rise in order to get to the technical descent first.  This was the first of a few tactical errors I made on the day.

He is a better technical rider and bike driver than me and he was also climbing well.  Not good.  I saw the gap go out to 5 seconds..then 10…30 seconds and I stopped counting.  No longer seeing the red of his Bikeman jersey flitting in and out among the trees.  Ride your own race I thought and I got down to the business of recovering and taking on fluids.  I backed my pace off on the start of the 2nd lap, there was a long way to go and I needed to regroup.  Halfway up the climb at the water tower, the 30-39 expert leaders came through…Ben Sawyer, Carl Devincent, and Colin Reuter.  As Carl came through he said “Hey Ben!  How’s it going?”  I think I grunted something about asking me again when this was over.  I stayed on their pace for a long while, funny how the singlespeed makes you climb faster than a geared rider might normally.  I lost those guys on the fast descent.

Starting lap 3 I was feeling much better.  I picked up the leader of the elite women and she graciously let me pass.  Just up over the first rise I saw Alexis again…looking back…no doubt he could hear the creaking of my eccentric bottom bracket as I layed down monster watts to keep the gear turning.  I got closer.  In the switchbacks now I could see him above…I yelled out “I’m coming for you!!!” and he sighed an unintelligible response.  I made contact near the top of the climb, he was struggling now…I came along side and played the only card I had left.  I attacked the hill, just as he had done to me on lap one.  I needed to lead into the descent.  It was my only chance.  I got a gap and started down.  Attacking every undulation.  We came back together in the most technical section, I could hear him back there…but I kept the pressure on.  No bobbles now…a pedal strike would spell disaster.  For a couple of (close to) middle aged men, we took a lot of chances ripping down the mountain.  I couldn’t shake him, anywhere I thought he might pass I cranked up the pace.  Down on the double track I was spinning away..him glued to me.  Down the finishing chute I lost him in my periphery…he took a different line..35mph down into the tape line..leaning the bike…10 yards from the finish I see a form..a bike and rider…black against the afternoon sun.  It’s him and he’s too far back.  I sit up…ready to post up.  A breeze and a rustle on my left side…a flash of black and red of the Bikeman kit.  It’s him.  Diving inside on my left, took it from me at the line.  What a race.

Ben Pagano - Singlespeed Open: 2nd Place

Ben Pagano – Singlespeed Open: 2nd Place

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2015 Killington Stage Race report

I spent my Memorial Day weekend up in the Green Mountains of Southern VT racing the Killington Stage Race. This was my 2nd year doing this race, and I have to say it is a great weekend of riding bikes! I originally registered for the 4/5 Open Field, but due to popular demand, a separate 4/5 Masters field was formed. For KSR, and I believe GMSR as well, the Masters line is 33 instead of 35. Early last week I got an e-mail asking if I would like to switch from the Open to the Masters since I’m on the cusp of turning 33, so I made the switch. However, I knew I was still in for a tough weekend because the Masters are every bit as fast as the Open field, if not, faster.

Stage 1: Lookout Circuit Race
The opening stage of the race is an 18 mile loop that the 4/5 fields complete twice. The stage starts at the Skyeship Gondola, and is neutral for the first Km. In the neutral zone there are a couple of bumps that it never fails, the field gets going too fast down the 2nd bump and the smell of brakes fills the air as everyone slows quick to prevent from running into the rider in front of them. Once past this mark, and the officials hand goes down, the first 5 miles are pretty uneventful. It is a nice false flat down to Long Trail Brewery with avg. speeds well into the mid 20s, and then a turn onto Rte. 100A that slowly climbs over a 6-7 mile span up to the Calvin Coolidge Historical Site for the first KOM of the day. Things were going well on this climb as the pace was high, but manageable. Then, I heard a couple crunches up ahead, and thought it might be a good time to stop pedaling, and be prepared to slow/stop. Sure enough, on the right hand side, there was a 6 or 7 rider pile up. Not Out of The Saddlereally sure what happened, but assuming wheels overlapped. I thought this would be trouble as the front of the field was getting away, but I was able to get around the crash and gap back up to the front of the field. Once through the KOM at the top, there’s a quick and very steep descent down to rte. 100, and then you head North back towards Killington for the 1st sprint of the day. The group neutralized here, and those who were still off the back from the crash were able to latch back on. 100 North slowly climbs for a couple of miles and then heads downhill quickly into the Intermediate Sprint. Not wanting to contest the sprint, I sat up in the back with about 2/3s of the field while the guys who wanted to go for it did. We then headed back out for Loop 2, and eventually back onto the climb to the Coolidge Site. If there was ever a KOM I could win, this would be it since it is not a very steep climb, and a bigger rider with a lot of power could potentially get away. So as we closed in on 3K to go, I noticed the whole right side of the road had a huge lane. I decided to sneak up the side and get near the pointy end of the field. When we got to the 2K to go mark, I thought this would be a good time to go for it (I’m still not the smartest bike racer!) and I attacked up the right side of the road. This was short lived as it spurred a reaction from the field, and as I hit the steepest part of the climb, the tiny guys at the front caught me and passed me. While my attack was unsuccessful, I was successful at breaking the main field apart into 3 smaller groups. So I had that going for me, which was nice! Needless to say, I did not get the KOM, and my effort burned a few matches, so I did end up losing a little bit of time in the run to the finish. But overall, I was very happy with my day, and where my fitness was compared to the previous year!

Stage 2: Road Race
This stage is a 61 mile loop that has two VERY big climbs on it. One comes at about Mile 30, and the other goes up East Mountain Road to the K1 Base Area for a summit finish. This is not the ideal stage for me as it has almost 5K feet of climbing. I like to climb, but I can not keep pace with smaller guys who are putting out 2/3s the power I am. For me, the goal of the day was to hold on as long as I could, and improve on last year. When the day starts, you head North on Rte. 4 towards the main Killington Access Road. As you get closer to the Town of Killington, there is a pretty steep 2.2 mile climb that goes into a long descent down Rte. 100. Knowing I would struggle to keep pace, I had it in my heOn the Climbad that I need to be in that front 1/3 of the field heading onto this climb. So as we rolled out for theneutral start, I inched my way up the field to the front 1/3. When the officials arm went down, I ended up in 3rd wheel with the Race Leader in front of me. The front guy pulled off, and the leader took over. I was happy to let him pull all day if he wanted to and eventually one of his teammates jumped in front. Not long after, they pulled off pretty quickly and I was now front wheel. Before I knew it, we were at the climb, and I was leading the field onto it… NOT GOOD! Having been in the front, and exposed to the wind, I hung for the first mile, and then faded back with a group of 9 or 10 riders, which 3 or 4 fell off before we got to the top. We rode together for the next 25 miles until we got to the first big climb, and I lost all of this group except for 1 guy. We rode together the rest of the way until we got to East Mountain Road, and as he fell off my wheel, he yelled, “see ya at the finish!” As I slogged my way up the 12% grades, I gradually picked off some stragglers from our field to move up a few places on the day. I turned onto the Killington Access Road, and grinded through that last km to the finish line. I had a solid day, and knocked almost 20′ off my time from 2014! And to top it off, they had free cookies at the finish! There were even people still skiing as Killington had 1 trail open over the weekend.

The first two days conditions were pretty difficult with winds from 20-30mph, and temps in the low 30s on Saturday, and in the mid 80s on Sunday!

Stage 3: Long Trail Individual Time Trial
I was really looking forward to this stage, but when I woke up Monday morning, my legs felt MEH from the two hard days before. But I quickly moved on, and told myself to get ready to go! I got all my gear together, and started driving North to Killington. While my drive is not pertinent to the actual race report, I couldn’t leave out the fact that a giant female moose decided to cross the road in front of me while heading over Terrible Mtn. Pass into Ludlow. Thankfully, she was about 200 yards ahead, so I had plenty of time to slow down. She trotted across the road, gave a quick glance about halfway across, and then headed right back down into the woods on the other side of the road. Unfortunately, I did not have time to snap a pic, especially since this was the first moose I’ve ever seen! Now back to the TT… I go to Long Trail and started my warm up. My legs were now feeling better after eating breakfast, and getting them moving again. I felt confident going into this stage because I had a strong effort at Charlie Baker TT (shout out to John who does a great job organizing/running this weekly race) given the fact I did an hour of hill repeats that morning. When I got to the start I checked in, and kept running my race plan through my head. I have this ability to believe I can fire out of the shoot at a very high wattage, and maintain this for 10 miles, but have yet to succeed at this… hmmmmm! So my plan for Monday was to aim for a wattage just below my threshold for the first half, and once I hit the halfway mark, empty the tank for the second half. The beeps began for the 5 second count down, and I was off when the countdown hit zero. I got into the right gear, and settled into my aero bars and the power number I was aiming for. The miles started to tick off, and I was nearing the 4 mile mark. I now saw the rider who started 1′ ahead of me (the rider before me was a no show), and had to do everything in my power to keep from chasing him down. Eventually I caught him around the 5 mile mark, and saw the ride 1’30” and 2′ ahead. This to me was close enough to the halfway point, and I started to ramp up the pace wanting to catch those 2 riders as quickly as possible. The stage profile for the TT is 10.5 miles of VT flat that rises over 400 feet, with a couple of little bumps in the middle, and then a larger bump with 1K to go then a fast flat run into the finish. I caught the next rider in the middle of the 2 bumps, and got by him pretty quickly. After the 2 bumps, I then caught the next rider. I was now on a flat straightaway for the next 3 miles, and was Hammering it! This was easily the best I have felt in any Time Trial, and the numbers I was seeing on my computer were backing this up. I got to the 1K to go mark, jumped out of the saddle and powered up the hill. I then turned onto River Street that heads into the Town of Killington, and got back down in the bars. I was running the numbers in my head, and could tell I was blowing my previous years time out of the water. I saw the 500m to go banner, and pushed for every ounce of power I had left. I came across the finish line, and TimeCookiesstopped the clock at 28’54” averaging 22mph, more than 90″ faster than the year before. I was ecstatic to say the least, and thought I might have a chance at a top 10 on the stage. I had looked at times from the previous year, and thought this would be right up there. However, there were some REALLY fast Time Trialists, but I still managed a Top 20! I then got a nice little e-mail from Training Peaks that evening saying I set a new 20′ Power Record, and they recommended I increase my Threshold Power number. This was the cherry on top of what was a great weekend!

I definitely recommend this race for those who haven’t done it. Its really well run with lots of support from local police/sheriff’s departments, as well as course marshals.

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Strong Woman at the Weeping Willow

My first Mountain Bike Race this Year – By Lil Kim.

I am relatively new to bike racing in general and have done only one other mountain bike race which was the Vermont 50 last year.


Lining up for the race there were several race savvy women, chattering about how hot it was going to be, that the first 3 miles of the course is uphill, that they entered novice because they were out of shape, one woman injured her back last year and was crawling around her house until she got back surgery,etc,etc.  I kept quiet.  I wished I had only signed up for novice because I had a choice.  I really wasn’t feeling well that morning, but I wanted to give it a go–poor training over the last few weeks, intestinal distress, and laryingitis.  I decided that if I got to the start and my intestinal distress kicked in I would just leave, at least I had tried.  I warmed up on the course, yes- it was hilly to start, but not bad.

Since I wasn’t feeling 100% I decided to move towards the back of my wave.  That was a mistake!  After the first hill a woman got off her bike before she reached the top, in the middle of the path!  Not too long after that a woman got off her bike because the downhill was too steep – in the middle of the path!  It was about this time that I remembered Skip’s suggestion of where to place myself in the Vermont 50 “Race-Up Front!”  Oh well! I was passing a few women and then the men started coming along. I fell a couple of times because of sudden stops and I couldn’t clip out of my falling side.  Lara has recently been practicing clipping out of her least favorite side, something I have been meaning to do too!  A good mountain biking skill to practice when on your road bike.

Anyway, I trudged along, I felt lousy and dehydrated so I negotiated with myself to finish just one lap, like I was a novice-because maybe I really am! I am glad I did the race and I look forward to doing another. This was not the finish I had hoped for the first time I represented BSBL in my slick kit!

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Stages Power Meter Review

Last summer both Cathy and I purchased Stages single sided crank based power meters for our FSA SLK-Light crank cyclocross bikes, which also serve duty as our cyclocross training, gravel road and all around go to bikes. The cranks were the first viable crank based power meter on the market to break into the sub $1000 range, making them a clear challenger to even the lower level and much heavier hub based power meters from Powertap. We both have other systems on our dedicated road bikes, Cathy a Quarq Elsa and I a CycleOps Powertap G3 wheelset. We have both used power meters for a few years and log our data in Golden Cheetah. As such, we have built a pretty good amount of historical data against which to compare.

The Stages meter is sold as a single sided, non-drive side replacement crank arm for various cranks such as Shimano, FSA, SRAM and Cannondale. Because the Stages power meter has a strain gauge in only the left side crank arm, it means that the unit is only capable of measuring the force applied by one leg, the left leg. The unit then doubles this to give the power output. For most people, this is fairly accurate as most vary only slightly from one leg to the other.

IMG_0854AThe other note is regarding crank based power sampling as opposed to hub based power sampling. When measuring at the crank, you are measuring the power that the rider is actually putting into the pedals. When measuring at the hub, you are measuring what power is actually making it to the wheel. This means it takes into account drivetrain based power loss. Typically, in a well tuned bicycle, the power loss and resultant discrepancy only translated to a few percentage points less that the power actually being put out by the rider, as would be measured by a double sided crank based unit or the Stages unit with a rider whose right/left leg power matches. This is not a complaint against one or any of the different power metering systems, simply a data point. The result is that if you use different types of meters your data may not be wholly consistent from one meter  to the next and could be off by a few percentage points one side or the other. If you only use one type of meter though, none of that matters as you would get consistent polling which will give you good data. As we all know, it is futile to compare power data between individuals as many of the numbers are arbitrary. Even power/weight ratio has little use for application to anything but your own personal training records.

Out of the box, the Stages meter is just an OEM crank arm with the Stages meter grafted into it. One note is that all of the crank arms are machined to accept the meter assembly. This means that Stages only uses aluminum crank arms and does not use carbon fiber arms.  For Cathy and I, we have FSA SLK-Light BB30 on our Cannondale SuperX disc bikes. The compatible Stages offering for the FSA cranks is the FSA Energy arm, an alloy model. It weighs a bit more than the SLK Light and is a different accent color than ours, but fits and works perfectly with our cranks. Installation was identical to the OEM crank arm. The Stages power meter also takes a common CR2032 battery which is easily accessible with no disassembly. Setup is easy and quick, pairing with a Garmin 500 head unit in our case, via Ant+ data transmission. Simply search for the device once activating the meter by spinning the pedals a few revolutions. When the unit is paired, you can easily calibrate the meter on your head unit with the crank arm in a vertical position and no torque on the pedals. A further nice feature is that the meter is Bluetooth compatible and can communicate with a free Stages smartphone app. This allows firmware update as well as calibration or diagnostics on the unit from the app.

On the road, the Stages works flawlessly and as expected. The data transfers and displays quickly and accurately to the head unit. Though I expected to see some discrepancy between data from the Stages versus the data from the Powertap, I was surprised to find little discernible difference. Realistically, I’ve noted no difference. For instance, I didn’t all of the sudden start setting historical power output records with the Stages meter. In fact, the data of the single sided crank based Stages meter looks nearly identical to the data of my hub based Powertap, again when compared historically. No big increase in power as some would have you believe could be the discrepancy between single sided crank based.

IMG_0858ARealistically, I suspect that what is happening is that I have a slight left/right power offset, given that I am right handed and right side dominant. That slight offset to the right is compensating for the for the assumed increase in measured power at the cranks as opposed to the hub, which again accounts for drivetrain degradation. Regardless, the data from the Stages meter has not skewed my historical records adversely in any way. Additionally, since I’m using the meter on a bike with different purposes than that of my other meter, it is even less of an issue anyhow.

The only issues we have seen in a full year of usage are battery life in some intermittent cases and the battery door. This door is a plastic unit with small tabs on it which are quite fragile. I’ve ham fisted and broken a number of them. The folks at Stages have been awesome in  sending new ones though free of charge and now state that they have redesigned the doors using different material that is less fragile. So far, so good with the latest batch and with the latest batteries.

If you are looking for an easy and affordable means of measuring your power output on the bike, I’m sold on the Stages for the time being. Sure, there are meters out there with some neat new features like the ability to measure leg offset, but they cost significantly more money. The hub based meters are, I believe, on their way out. The pedal based meters are just starting to come to market and are seeing some issues. Ultimately, that will be a very viable solution, I’m sure, but for right now, the Stages is a great choice in my opinion and both Cathy and I have been very happy with ours.

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USA Cycling MTB Marathon Nationals

Sue Lynch on the Top Step at Nationals

Sue Lynch – MTB Marathon Nation Champion

The race was held at Wildwood Park in Appling, GA which is just outside of Augusta. The venue was beautiful, situated on a lake and had many river and streams running through it. The woods were scented with honey suckle and sweet jasmine. It smelled wonderful. The 60 mile loop was about 50 miles of single track and 10 miles of fire road, open field and paved road. The single track was mostly pine forest with some nice hardwood forest as well. My favorite term new description of the trail was “brown ice” local speak for the super slick pine needles which made sharp corners treacherous. The weather was perfect, about 60 degrees at the start and 80 at the finish. The trails were dry and fast, not too technical and had delightfully fun “pump track” like bumps throughout. There was only about 3000 feet of climbing. This wasn’t my favorite kind of long racing. I prefer big anaerobic climbs with recovery on the descent. This required constant pedaling with no downhill breaks. So, I knew I had to keep a strong effort going with no rest.

They started the women in 2 waves. I was in the second wave 40+. I had a good start and rode the first 30 miles pretty hard. We looped back through the start/finish at mile 30 where I was ahead of everyone who started in my wave except the woman who won the 40-44 category. The second half of the course was more technical but also had more climbing and all the paved sections. There were a few deep stream crossings and some slick rocks which took me down. I caught a few of the SS and younger women on the road and open field sections. The last 12 miles of single track I rode with Beata (40-44) who finished just ahead of me. We were able to keep each other going when fatigue and hunger were setting in. I managed to keep ahead of all the 45+ women and came in a solid 3rd in the 40+. All in all a good race although early in the season. Karen Tripp was my main age group competition. She had a nice race finishing 2nd in our group (55-59) about 10 minutes behind me.

See the results here: Marathon Mountain Bike Nationals

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Quabbin Race Report

At the Quabbin Tower

Team at the Quabbin Tower

A few weeks ago Skip Thomas floated the idea: Wouldn’t it be great to race Quabbin with you me and Mike Bolio-we might be able to get away and team time trial to the podium? Then, as Rasputitsa tore my legs off, and Skip won the fat bike, leaving me curled up in Cyberia’s snow….it began to dawn on me that he had a plan for pain.

Leading up, I began to remember I’d raced here as a CAT 5 unnattached newbie just after my first son (now almost 9) was born – where the final 3.5 miles’ 600′ climb left me tied to a tree. Skip’s team time trial idea seemed pretty good as I didn’t want any part of a sprint finish.

Arriving at the Tower, Mr. Harris shivered up to the car, bundled for the 50+ field. Somehow seeing a fellow teammate was both welcoming and reassuring. And while it felt colder than Rasputitsa, there was sun and it wasn’t snowing.

During kit up, I realized that we were truly a CAT 4/5 road racing group: Mike needed help pinning, Greg Bosworth (a friend from Velo Underground) had ridden the Battenkill Fondo but was unaware of USCycling licensing, I admitted to googling “how to win a bike race” the night before, and Skip lost his safety pins, again.

Team with our Motorcycle Escort

Team with our Motorcycle Escort

Time seemed to accelerate as I made final adjustments to my Bikeway Source Giant TCR for her first race . . . call to the line, the sun hotted up, mad scramble to de-clothe, instructions to never pass the motorcycles and to only turn right, and then all 50 of us were off. Led out by a Blue Indian (literally the name on the back of his vest and the color of his awesome motorcycle) and a flag waving trimotorcycle we dropped through the cold on brand new road to Rt 9 on a neutral start.

The first 30 miles were pretty windy and slow on the hills with a couple of near-misses with a cell-phone suburban and a dropped chain/solo crash, and nobody showed a lot of inclination to pull – Skip clearly had legs as several times he just climbed away from the pack gapping out of sight at least once, and several hundred yards a couple other times. Mike, Greg, and I did the same but to a lesser degree. Individuals in the pack seemed to be saving themselves. This was fun!

Coming around the top of the Quabbin at 30 miles the BSBL guys seemed comfortable, but Skip’s cassette had worked loose (those safety pins again), and he was riding on 5 gears. At 47.5 miles, a hard sandy right turn led to a steep climb over Greenwich Rd where I’d been forced to claw back before, I thought to stretch things out a bit and was first over the top onto a steep long narrow twisty descent. Through blurry eyes, I passed the Indian and surreally, the Flag Waving Trimotorcycle (at the finish, the Blue Indian said he was sideways on the sand…and the triman said he couldn’t corner at all).

Turning onto Rt 9, with 7.5 miles and only two climbs left, I heard one guy mutter, “This is where it starts to hurt.” And then Skip turned the screws, gently, but the pack didn’t follow.  And when he was gone, out of sight, I thought, maybe he has a chance? Time for Plan B team tactics?

Mike and I blocked mercilessly and Skip stayed away, even on a windy descent and long flat he was still 200 yards ahead at the turn to the final 9 minute climb. I was in the top 5 getting twitchy, thinking don’t go, don’t tie yourself to a tree, wait for someone else, wait, don’t bridge the group to Skip, stay smart, somebody is going . . . punch it! Suddenly I found myself 100 yards ahead with only 50 to Skip – WTF did I do? I was alone, in limbo, redlined, 8 minutes to go. Crap. Looking around I can’t really see the pack and my only hope is ahead.

After soloing for almost 5 miles, Skip amazingly traded pulls, and gave hope, “I think we can stay away Joshie” This was the perfect play, the one I’ve heard Phil Liggett say every year during the TdF . . . two teamates have joined up and the pack is closing, can they make it?

Josh Closing the Deal!

Josh Closing the Deal!

3 minutes left, one guy bridging, road kicking up, everything getting fuzzy. I heard Skip pop and knew that I had to go. And my bike responded. I wasn’t tied to a tree!  200 M sign, snot flying, foaming, and an eternity. And then, Mr. Harris welcoming us at the line. My first road race win!

Skip hung in for 3rd, Mike finished his first road race with the pack and Greg completing the Battenkill/Quabbin double.

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Fat Biking 101

It seems that over the course of the past year especially, fat biking has become one of the hottest sectors in the bicycle business. Though the bikes themselves have been around for more than a decade in mass production, it seems that only recently have they really caught on. People who once exclaimed “not for me”, myself included, have gotten bikes and been smitten by the two wheeled winter adventure that they open up.


Charge Cooker Maxi

Last year, my wife and I purchased a pair of Charge Cooker Maxi fat bikes from Chris at the Bikeway Source in Bedford. Charge is owned by the parent company of Cannondale, Dorel, so as a Cannondale dealer, Chris was able to get the bikes for us. The Charge are and good quality steel framed bike with solid and reliable mid level components. They were a great introduction into the market space without completely breaking the bank. After all, we were not sure how we would like the discipline and didn’t want to spend too much trying it out.

As luck would have it, last year was a banner snow year. We had the luxury of spending much of the winter in Western Maine where the snowmobile trails were abundant with access literally just down the street. We quickly grew to love the adventure of being out in the frigid winter nights with nary another sole in sight. We loved it so much that we rode literally every day last winter and spent over 100 hours on the bikes exploring over a thousand miles. One thing that became quickly clear was that when riding in the dead of winter, at night, in a northern climate, normal cycling clothing is inadequate. As a long time year round cyclist I’m used to riding in the cold weather. That said, cold weather riding in MA was usually in the upper teens at a minimum. Now imagine starting your ride in falling temperatures that start out at ten degrees colder than that. We very frequently rode in the single digits and did ride that never made it above zero.


45NRTH Wolvhammer SPD

We found that the biggest challenge was keeping the hands and feet warm. To those ends, when it was really cold we resorted to heavy, expedition weight mittens and thin wool liner gloves. Sure, the hands got moist and using the controls with mittens on was a challenge but so was trying to do anything with frozen hands. On warmer days we would wear insulated ski gloves, which afford a bit more dexterity and control at the expense of some warmth. We also always carried spare mittens when doing colder or longer rides, just in case.

On the feet, we used winter SPD cycling shoes with neoprene over boots. These worked pretty well, for a certain length of time and to a certain temperature level. Below about 15 degrees you only had a couple of hours before your feet would get cold from the moisture buildup. Chemical warmers helped stave off the cold as well so we often used them. This year, we have gone to the 45NRTH Wolvhammer SPD winter boots (which run small IMHO so I ordered two sizes bigger than normal). Luckily Chris was able to get some into the shop for us before they sold out for the season. They are the top end for warmth when it comes to SPD compatible cycling boots. We are looking very forward to using them.

In terms of other clothing, we were fans of Nordic wind-front ski pants from Salomon with suspenders and bib shorts with leg warmer underneath rather than cycling tights. The nice thing about the pants was that the cuff went over the top of boot, which helped keep the warmth in and from escaping. In turn, I felt that my feet stayed warmer as well as my legs. Up top I used a myriad of different layers and materials. In the super cold we wore down sweaters outside with a long sleeve wicking base and a breathable thermal layering mid. When it was warmer we went a wind-vest over a long sleeve wicking base and a heavy breathable thermal layering mid. Also, whenever we went on longer rides we went prepared for the worst. This meant carrying a hooded packable down jacket, a thick winter hat and/or balaclava and extra mittens. If something went wrong when you were even a few miles out it takes no time at all to go from hot and sweaty to hypothermic. Where we often rode, there was no cell reception so we were on our own.


Borealis Yampa X-0/X-9

This season we have bumped up the game on many front. I’ve already mentioned the boots. Additionally, we are trying some new designs and materials for outerwear. On top, we are going to use a hybrid jacket for cooler rides. These have thermal insulated fronts with lighter, breathable stretch arms, back and hood. For ultra cold we are switching from down to man made lightweight insulation. Hopefully these will be less susceptible to degradation and pack-out from moisture. We  are getting some heavier gauntlet style gloves as well with the hopes of retaining some of the dexterity. As a note, we tried pogies/bar-mitts but felt confined and never felt they provided the warmth we’d hoped for. On the bottom we are stocking up on more wind front active-wear with suspenders, so they stay up and down expose in the tail.

One other thing to consider is hydration. When it is below freezing, keeping your drink from freezing is a challenge. Clearly bottles don’t work. The best luck that we have had is to use a minimalist Camelback worn under your outerwear, such that your body heat keeps it from freezing. Obviously, the hose needs to stay inside as well less it freeze and render the liquid somewhat useless for all intents and purposes.

Oh, I almost forgot. We also upgraded the bikes as well. We had so much fun last season that we jumped in with both feet, convincing Chris and the Bikeway Source to become the areas only Borealis Fat Bikes dealer. We bought a pair of the X-0/X-9 Yampa, a full carbon-fiber frameset with a very respectable parts spec. We opted for a 2×10 with double front chainrings for the range they offered. We ride some very diverse trails that have some incredibly steep sections that require low end, steady torque to maintain traction. On the same ride there are often long, fast downhill sections where I feared an adequately low one-by would spin out. My guess is that the weight saving alone, nearly ten pounds, is going to make the bikes feel like they can fly.

As you can imagine, we are very much looking forward to the winter months. If you are thinking about getting into fat biking, stop by the shop and see Chris. He usually has some bikes sitting on the floor, though this time of year, they are going out the door quickly.

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SSCX Conversion Techniques

Now that we are well into the throws of yet another single speed cyclocross (SSCX) race season, the topic of SSCX bike conversion has come up. Actually, what came up was the topic of zip-ties as a means of converting a normal, geared CX bike into a race ready SSCX bike and how this technique makes the single speed purist cringe. Let me start by giving the definition of a SSCX bike as defined by USA Cycling;USA Cycling National Championships Singlespeed Rules
UCI rules will be applied: exception that the 33mm tire width rule will not be enforced. Riders must have no larger than 35mm tire & compete on CX bike. No flat bars. No spiked or studded tires. Riders must have a free wheel, one cog, one chainring, and drop bars.


Spacers and cog on Shimano freehub body

Now let me elaborate a bit on the science behind using zip-ties to convert a normal geared cyclocross bicycle into a single geared bicycle. Really, it is pretty straight forward. You simply take a zip-tie and lash the shift lever paddle to the brake lever. This effectively renders the shifter immobile, thus disallowing shifting of the otherwise geared bicycle, sort of, in some cases and with certain brand components. Let me also state that I’m not saying people would necessarily intentionally shift either. However, when you are used to shifting a bicycle, you often have the involuntary response to shift, especially when you are under physical stress and not thinking clearly. It happens all the time even on my dedicated SSCX bike, which has no shifters. I still try to tap them up or down even though they are not there.

The technical, mechanical issues with zip-ties are many. The least problematic zip-tie candidate is SRAM Double Tap as it has a fixed brake lever to which the shift paddle is lashed. Unfortunately, the levers pivot on different planes so in order to not inhibit the brake lever throw, you must zip-tie the shifter paddle to the brake lever somewhat loosely. This doesn’t allow much room for shift paddle movement but it does leave some clear wiggle room. In talking with first time SSCX folks who have run this setup, the bike does tend to shift around. The bigger technical flaw with zip-ties centers around Shimano STI. The STI shift lever is a two part system, one part being the brake lever. Lashing the two together doesn’t prevent one from shifting either the front or rear in one direction (lower in the rear and larger in the front). I’ve seen issues that competitors have had with this setup first hand when then inadvertently shifted their bikes.

Using brake cable to fix the rear derailleur in place

There are a number of much better mechanical options for converting a bike to single speed, at least in my opinion, that involve using a chain tensioning device. You don’t have to purchase a single speed specific frameset either. Inside each and every geared bike is a single speed just waiting to emerge. All you have to do is remove some of the geary clutter.

Extra long limit screws to fix derailleur in place

The simplest way to convert a stock bike to a USAC legal SSCX bike would be to first, pull the derailleur cables off. This renders your derailleurs useless, at least for shifting. Next, get some spacers and a single cog to replace the cassette on your rear wheel, or better yet, convert one of the countless spare wheels kicking around the basement. These parts are pretty easy to find. Check Bikeman.com out as a good starting place given that they have a whole single speed store front or talk to your local shop. I like this style spacer kit as it comes with a cog and has a large assortment of individual spacers. You can also grab some extra cogs, which are pretty darn reasonable, so that you have options. The cheap Dimension BMX cogs work great for steel freehub bodies buy can chew into alloy bodies. I use the Surly cogs as they are wider at the splines and provide a better interface with the alloy freehub body I use.

Then take a piece of an old brake cable (I say brake rather than derailleur cable as the brake cable is bigger and stronger) with the cable stop and insert it into your rear derailleur cable adjuster barrel such that the cable stop rests in the adjuster barrel. Affix the cable into the pinch bolt such that the derailleur pulley is directly in line with the cog on the rear wheel. Install a chain of the length such that the derailleur cage is reasonably tight and then use the barrel adjuster to fine tune the system, so it feeds the chain perfectly centered onto the rear cog. That’s it.
The next easiest way to convert, which is actually a bit more secure, is to follow all of the steps of the above short cable conversion technique except leave out the cable. Instead, head to the local hardware store and buy a couple ~25mm long 4mm x .75mm thread Allen head bolts. You then remove the relatively short limit screws on your rear derailleur and replace them with these screws. Then use these new, longer screws to fix the derailleur into a position such that it feeds the chain onto the cog perfectly. Note that you want to screw the limit H(igh) gear adjuster first and then once you are centered correctly, screw the L(ow) adjuster down to fix the rear derailleur into that position. This is more secure than the aforementioned technique because when set with limits from both sides, the derailleur can not move in either direction, not just in one.

Surly Singulator

Of course, there are other methods as well. One of the first methods that we all tried when first getting bitten by the SS bug on the MTB, over fifteen years ago now, was the Surly Singulator. These devices saw limited success though widespread acceptance. We all had them and collectively, we all hated them. That said, some folks still use them. For what it is worth, I much prefer using an old derailleur with either the cable or extended limit trick.

You could also use an eccentric rear hub like the White Industries model that a number of prominent local SSCX racers are employing. I’ve not had any experience with these hubs but they will allow you to convert a normal, vertical rear dropout frame into a dedicated single speed without a chain tensioning device, albeit at the expense of a new wheel build.

EBB30 eccentric adapter provides throw for chain tension

When you get ready to convert to a dedicated SSCX rig, and if you spend much time racing SSCX you will, you have options. There are some great off the shelf rigs available now that use sliding rear drops, or slotted rear drops or even eccentric bottom brackets. There are also some cool new products available that allow the conversion of newer BB30 or PF30 bottom bracket bikes to SSCX.

These frames tend to be some of the most high tech and lightest on the market if that is your thing but also, have become the norm. You can now buy eccentric bottom brackets that work with BB30 or PF30 bottom bracket shells and a smaller 24 or 22mm spindle crankset to provide the fore and aft movement required to properly tension the chain. This is the setup that Cathy and I have been using for over four years now. From what we have seen it works great, though it is a bigger expense than some of the other methods. We have dedicated, full time SSCX bikes though which are also the bikes that we do 95% of our CX specific training on. That means they do not sit idle other than on race day. In fact, they see much more use than our dedicated geared race bikes.


Extra protection with chain guides

So there you have it, a few means of conversion. The only other thing I will add is that I like to over do when it comes to security on the SSCX bike builds I do. One the rear, I sandwich the cog between a couple of guide plates, making it impossible for the chain to ride off the cog. Lately I have been making plastic guide donuts that fit as spacers onto the freehub body. I’ve also used old cassette cogs that were larger than the driver cog and ground the teeth off, though you don’t have to do that. I also run an outside guide ring on the crank, for a number of reasons. With it, you don’t need shorty chainring bolts, you also keep your leg cleaner as the chain doesn’t rub against it and of course, it helps keep the chain on the front chainring.

If you have any questions about anything I have written or about any other techniques or best accepted practices for SSCX, shoot me a message. I’m happy to help spread the word of one geared conversion and single speed love. If you are local and need help, I’m easily bribed with beer and readily available to help with your parts spec options or conversion.


Clean, quiet, simple and reliable

Also, though I’m a bit of a single speed purist, I certainly don’t want to come off as being exclusionary. There is a time and a place for the simplicity of the zip tie. For instance, those just wanting to try it out for the first time or dabbling here and there. That said, I’d like to see a reliable, safe SSCX bike in every CX racers quiver and if you are racing for series or championships, you really ought to be on a real bike, a real SSCX bike, not some silly imitation.

And yes, the SSCX shall indeed inherit the Earth. It will, just you wait and see.

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Racing with the Big Boys and Girls – 2014 MTB XC Nationals

PJ descending rock pro shot with bloody knee Nats

PJ descending downhill switchback section littered with roots and rocks.

Given all the “what’s a MTB race like?, why the hell do you do it?, why are you always covered in blood after them?, why don’t you just stick to the road?” questions I tend to get, let me offer the following brief race report via four posed questions:
Why did you race Nationals?
 Somehow I qualified based on CAT1 results at New England Championships and Bikeway Source – Bell Lap Racing teammate Mike Harris said “you qualified for Nats, dude, you just gotta race”.  Game on and thanks for the nudge, Mr Harris. Teammates Mike Rowell and Sue Lynch were also racing, so more ammo to get the gate pass.
What’s a USA Nationals MTB race like?
It’s quite the show as you have the top Pro and Amateur racers in the US all going for broke. You win and you get the Stars and Stripes Jersey – I think you get the picture. My rear tire was mildly leaking Stan’s and it was so cool to just walk up to the Stan’s tent and get a small bottle gratis and have them check to see that I was good to go. Had minor Shimano drive train issue and stepped up to Shimano and they gladly took care of it. Swag city and i was able to grab VW cowbells and sunscreen for my buddy – Dave Genova – a non cyclist who made the trip with me to heckle.
What’s the course like? 
I can’t say teammates Mike and Cathy Rowell didn’t pre warn me, but the course was just horrifying.  Just up and down through the most technical race course I have ever done. Trust me, Bear Creek Nats makes Leadville 100, Vermont 50 and any others look like child’s play.
PJ descending rock section at Nats front view

Bear Creek Nats makes other MTB race courses look like child’s play.

What’s it like racing CAT1 at Nats? 
 The shot above is cool in that if you look at spectator above me at top of hill, you get perspective for vertical drop and technical caliber. I had just traipsed through over 100 spectators at “The Heckle Pit” in the middle of the woods consisting of  guy dressed as Satan (poking you with pitch fork to go faster), a Nun (with long ruler whacking you) and many others including a guy playing trombone. Friends told me he would play “Debbie Downer” song when folks failed to ascend the rocky switchback climb, while I heard “cavalry” song the three laps I made it up – and even had a woman popping sour patch kids in my mouth as a “reward”.
I thought my days of the “PJ Bike Throw”  may have ended (after I snuck to the 4/5 Cyclocross Win at Shedd Park last season), but wouldn’t you know I had another sprint to the line where just managed to beat some dude with bike throw. We are all very much amateurs, but my CAT1 field was pretty stacked and we even race for blood for 26th place.
Special thanks to Chris Li and  The Bikeway Source as my Cannonade Scalpel Black Inc ran superb. I an not worthy of a rig this nice!
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Wilmington Whiteface Race Report

2014-06-22 18.24.32

Great weather and 2 challenging races made this year’s Hill Climb and Leadville Qualifier a fine weekend. I rode my Cannondale Super-X on the hill climb and borrowed John’s Cannondale Scaplel for the 100k. Both bikes worked perfectly. As an added bonus having the disc brakes on the Super-X made the 8 mile descent down Whiteface so much easier!!

The Hill Climb started with a 3 mile rollout from the Whiteface Ski area to the bottom of the mountain. The climb, in my opinion, is the most pleasant of all the BUMPS series climbs. It is about a 10% grade the whole way. Never so steep that you are gassed, but steep enough to stand when you need to shake your legs out. Since I had the tougher of the 2 races on Sunday, I used Saturdays race as a joyride. I had to fight just a little bit to capture 3rd female overall. Marti Shea, New England’s climbing legend won easily in an 1:00, 2nd place came in 1:04, I finished in 1:06.

Thanks to John Laupheimer I had a bike to ride at the Leadville qualifier. (my Epic was in the shop with a broken fork) The race in its 4th year has become quite popular. Lots of familiar faces from the Root 66 and EFTA race series. Because my category (female 50-59) is small only the top finisher gets in to Leadville. This always puts pressure on me because I worry about flatting or having a mechanical. The course is mostly dirt and gravel with about 10 miles of pavement. There is very little true mountain biking, but there is a ton of climbing. It is very similar to Leadville. So, this year on the borrowed bike which was not tubeless I ran high pressure in hopes of reducing the possibility of a flat. I had a clean ride, making it to the top of the first climb in 2nd well behind Rebecca Rausch. I quickly lost that on the first downhill. Then managed to trade back and forth with Bryna Blanchard until the first truly steep descent where I was passed by at least 75 people, including Bryna, Jill and Tina Seversin. I spent the rest of the race trying to reel people in on the climbs and not lose too much on the descents. I was not able to catch any of the women, but finished 5th overall and won my age group. I decided not to go to Leadville this year, but will go next year. My finish 5:22 (2 minutes slower than last year in the rain…) this gives me the same starting position for the 2015 race that I’ve had the last 2 years. I think with that staring position and the proper training a sub 9 hour race is possible!

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