29 May 2008
Looks like I'm not the only one.
26 May 2008
I met Brendan Collier and his wife/business partner/inspiration Mary last July when they stopped by SRAM just before 24-9. Mary was in the midst of a killer endurance season, her first fully dedicated to racing at that level, and she was making some final tweaks in her bid for the National podium. She was aboard a mixed-wheel Siren “Fifty-Five” hardtail – that is, a 29er front + a 26er rear. (29 + 26 = 55!) I was intrigued, and hung with them while Craig pimped out her ride.
Brendan and Mary had launched Siren at Sea Otter, with a planned focus on the ever-expanding endurance market and a strong background in bike building … not to mention an enormous creative streak. Mary’s Fifty-Five was a work of art, clearly one that was built to go very fast! In the race, Mary achieved her podium aspirations and their friend/sponsored rider Todd just missed doing the same on the men’s side. That’s quite a track record for a first-year outfit!
As 2007 drew to a close, I began to have my own dreams of the podium, and realized that I didn’t have the equipment I needed to get there. I began researching bikes, taking a few minutes here and there at Interbike, at work, and at home to narrow down an enormous field of potential winning machines. Along the way, though, all the signs pointed to Idyllwild, and before long I was emailing Brendan back and forth about his newest creation: a mixed-wheel softail he called the Song. It took a couple of phone calls to convince me, but Brendan patiently answered my questions about two wheel sizes, short-travel suspension, and the desire to go really fast for a very long time … and before long my mind was made up!
So what makes this bike so special? First off, it’s a purebred endurance machine. Todd rode a hardtail Fifty-Five to personal bests in all his races last year, and the addition of suspension promised to take a bit more of the edge off and make the ride even faster. Although each one is handbuilt, Brendan is committed to R&D – trying out new ideas, modeling them, and putting them to the test. But it’s real-world R&D that really puts him ahead: tweaking and learning and tweaking and learning in order to create the best bikes he can.
To that end, the Song has a similar profile to the Fifty-Five, but with a huge difference: the rear triangle is connected to the front via a Cane Creek AD-5 shock at the seat tube junction, and a custom formed titanium flex plate at the bottom bracket. This gives the Song 1-1/2” of travel, making it (as Brendan described) “a hardtail with the edge taken off.” It’s aluminum throughout, with the tube specs chosen for the specific purpose of being light and fast, but able to withstand hours and hours of constant abuse …
Frame: Siren Bicycles Song
Paint: World Bicycle Relief translucent grey powder coat with red trim. You have to see it in person to believe it – the coloring on the welds is stunning!
Fork: Rock Shox Reba Race
Shock: Cane Creek AD-5 (wink, wink, nudge, nudge – one of the last to have a non-etched air can)
Brakes: Avid Juicy Ultimate with Matchmakers
Shifters: SRAM X.0
Front Derailleur: SRAM X.9 low-clamp
Rear Derailleur: SRAM X.0 medium cage (with a pedigree!)
Handlebar: Salsa Pro Moto Carbon Flat Bar, 11d sweep, cut to 25.5”
Grips: SRAM Super Cork bar tape over SRAM long rubber grips
Stem: Truvativ Team
Headset: Cane Creek 110 with interlocking spacers
Seatpost: Truvativ Carbon Team
Saddle: Fi’zi:k Arione Wing Flex with K:ium rails
Crankset: Truvativ Noir 3.3 with Blackbox Ceramic BB
Pedals: Crank Bros. Candy 2-Ti, white
Chain: SRAM PC-991 Cross-Step
Cassette: SRAM PG-990 11-34
Wheels: Handbuilt DT Swiss X470 front and XR4.2d rear with Supercomp spokes and ProLock nipples (eventually a set built on 190 ceramic hubs; for now, a 340 up front and a WTB LaserDisc Lite in back)
Tires: Kenda Karma 29x2.2 front and Small Block Eight 26x1.95 rear, both Stans conversions to tubeless
Weight: Frame, 4.6lbs; complete, 24.5lbs. (Still a few tweaks to come …)
I received the frame on Tuesday and spent the better part of the afternoon building it up. My ride home that night in near-dark conditions included a brief thundershower … don’t they say rain on your wedding day brings good luck?
I rode to work on it twice last week, one day managing to drop off my backpack and ride for 90 glorious minutes unencumbered. Bombing down the Field Museum steps never felt so awesome! Although the first ride felt a bit funny, like I was riding apehangers after 2 years on 26" fronts, and the second ride featured a flattening front tire, I was pretty confident that Brendan had gotten everything right, and committed to racing it on Saturday.
Boy am I glad I did! From the gun, I was off and running, flying up the first hills like they didn’t exist. This bike is FAST with a capital “F!”
The 29er front wheel was confidence-inspiring, chewing up ground chatter and log crossings like they didn’t exist. Especially cool were two parts of the course: one, a fast downhill into a loose right turn into a log crossing into singletrack, which I was able to launch into aggressively even after 11-1/2 hours amidst massive braking bumps thanks to the confidence in the bike; and two, the fast woops at the end of the lap, where I was catching air and shouting out loud for joy on each of my 31 laps. Momentum became my friend, and letting fly soon became second nature.
As a platform, the Song was stable, allowing me to really stomp the pedal sections and gain time on most everyone, even while eating and drinking! Once I got the hang of the front wheel, I was smooth through the rough, twisty pine sections, where each turn meant a ditch you had to avoid or a root that could stop you dead. The 26er rear felt fantastic, with quick accelerations and a firm feel directly up underneath the saddle that inspired me to go faster, seated or standing. Even on my last lap, I was big-ringing short steeps that had me crawling last year!
And in the singletrack? WOW! What a blast! It wasn’t super-technical stuff (aside from the weird pine sections), but even so I could just point-and-shoot and not worry about where I would end up. From the first run, the confidence I felt bombing a certain loose, turny downhill meant putting time on my competitors where last year I was careening off of saplings – what a difference!
It’s definitely its own ride, with a slight forward bias upon standing and a bit of a strange sensation of sitting behind the front wheel rather than over it. (I have the saddle and handlebars basically even.) But the action of the damper is such that the bike firms up when you stand, and rolls over stuff when you’re sitting – a good blend that gives you the best feeling of a hardtail with the smoothness of a dualie. All told, that means you’re looking at 6, 12 or 24 hours in the saddle feeling more refreshed while continuing to go faster! (It’s weird when you think you’re not activating your suspension at all, only to see the travel marked by dust on the barrel. This is a good thing, as the bike just “disappears” beneath you!)
Would I change anything? No way! Because of the top tube bend, I found that running two "normal" water bottles worked better for me than one large, and the reach to the holders is a bit long given my short arms (but provides a lower center of gravity). Also, there were a couple of times I needed to be further back on the rear wheel during climbs while standing, but that is just practice. When you get right down to it, though, Brendan has certainly hit a home run, and I’m happy to be climbing aboard and hanging on!
Thoughts on the future
Saturday was a good reminder of just how hard 12 hours in the saddle can be, and what I need to do over the next 8 weeks to realize my dream. I now truly feel like I have the right weapon to make that happen, and I can’t wait to get out on some familiar trails to really dial in the feel and ratchet up the aggressiveness. A bit less air pressure in the tires, a bit more power to the pedals, a few climbs taken faster and those 10 minutes from Saturday will come down pretty quickly … One thing is for certain – the Song can take it; the rest is up to me!
First off, some huge thank-yous are in order: Kim, ever the most awesome pit boss anyone could ask for. Brittany and her crew, for another great course and great event. The crowd in the pits and on the trail, for 12 hours of solid cheering and good wishes. Amy for capturing some great shots after the race (see below), and for the encouragement every time I saw her on course. Craig for some bike lovin' and setup help this week. And last but not least, Brendan and his Siren bicycle -- his craftsmanship is amazing and inspiring, and gave me the confidence to hit the race track without any trail time on a brand-new bike ... 12 hours and nearly 150 miles later, I was still turning out consistent lap times and big-ringing hills that gave me fits a year ago, when I was just racing for 6. I LOVE MY NEW SONG!
The bike: I know you're all waiting for a write-up on the bike. I have a bit of dust to clean off today, and I swear I'll get some photos and impressions up here as soon as I can. In the meantime, I will say this: I felt better at the end of 12 hours on my Song than I did after 2 hours last weekend at Geneva. The 29er front was awesome, the setup/geometry is perfect, the tires were amazing, and from the word "go" I felt like I was absolutely flying. This machine is built for one purpose: to go fast for a very, very long time. And I'm happy to oblige!
Pre-race: I really, really wanted to win New Fane this year. I knew I'd have to go through Ron to get there, and probably would have a battle on my hands with World Bicycle Relief teammate Brad. But Brad stomped on the field at an overnight 12 last weekend, and admitted that he wasn't fully recovered. As for me? My cramping last weekend was pretty rough, and spending three days on my feet building a bike and wheels probably wasn't the best recovery. But a smooth night spent at Brad's folks' house on the way to Kewaskum Friday night alleviated any anxiety I felt, and Saturday morning found me feeling excited, rested and ready.
3-2-1, Go! We ran a bit late getting up there, and so my warmup was pretty nonexistant. I hit the trail for about 5 minutes to feel out the Song a bit, did some light jogging, and then joined the crowd at the riders meeting. Bill told us we had 5 minutes, which all of a sudden became 40 seconds, and then it was go time!
I guess I was a bit more geed up for this than I thought, as I was first on my bike and first into the woods! I spent the first 18 minutes of the race all alone out front, getting used to the bike and remembering my favorite parts of the trail from a year ago. I could hear people behind me in the woods, and kept wondering where the heck Ron was hiding ... turns out, the start caught him by surprise, and he was playing catch-up from the first minute! He worked his way through traffic pretty quickly, though, and caught me as we entered the grassy field at the end of the lap. So far, so good ...
And then it was decision time. Ron attacked me into the first hills, and I held on gamely for a while. But I wasn't calm, and I started to make tiny mistakes in some of the twisty stuff, when I should have been recovering. I had a choice -- I could keep working hard to keep him in sight, or I could back off and smooth out, and start to find my own groove. I held him to 40 seconds or so on lap 2, which became a minute at the end of lap 3, but then on lap 4 I settled into my own rhythm, which at that time was about 30-40 seconds slower per lap than his. I had to race my own race, and hope that his rigid single-speed would start to hurt in 6 or 7 hours ...
And that was the race. As I'm sure you can guess, the rigid single speed might have hurt, but Ron is Ron, and he never let it get the best of him. My lap times slipped a bit but stayed pretty consistent -- his did the same, only they were still faster than mine. He was about half a lap up as we neared 5:30; my new chain was squeaking and my chamois was chafing, so I stopped for a lube-and-lube that cost me 5 minutes. It was a tactical error: the time lost meant that all of a sudden, he was just 4 minutes from lapping me. Crap! For the next 5+ hours, it was touch-and-go; I'm sure he was getting the same time splits as I was, and was using it as inspiration to go for the kill. He was Craig Gordon to my Chris Eatough, and with Kim's encouragement I was fighting hard to make sure he didn't get me ...
In the end, our battle wasn't quite as close as the results show -- the 10-minute finishing gap was really 13-14 until the last lap or so. But in the meantime, we lapped the entire race except for Team Vesrah Brakes, who finished exactly between Ron and I at 31 laps in 11:50. And huge congrats to Brad, who -- despite his "not recovered" status -- lapped fourth place twice to pull in 3rd! So starts another endurance season, as Ron gets stuck in a Team World Bicycle Relief podium sandwich. We couldn't have asked for a more perfect day, and a more perfect course ... and I couldn't ask for better equipment or teammates! As the sun set, we made our way to Jalisco's in West Bend for a Mexican fiesta ... what a great way to start the summer!
23 May 2008
Mark from Kinetic Koffee turned me onto this at Sea Otter, and a few e-mails later, my mom tracked one down for my birthday ...
Used it for the first time last weekend, and it was AWESOME! All the fun of a French press in half the time, and using half the coffee ... which comes out smooth and delightful. Plus, cleanup is a super-snap, very awesome!
So if I'm a bit jittery at the start line tomorrow, you know why ...
HAVE A GREAT HOLIDAY WEEKEND!
22 May 2008
21 May 2008
19 May 2008
- Big thanks to Brendan for the tire suggestions! I felt more confident and was rolling faster than any race I've ever done. Standard Kendas converted to tubeless ROCK!
- Front row starts are great, even if it means half the top dogs are out of town. Good start (for me), and then spent the next couple of laps getting passed. It was fun to be knocking on the top 20 though, with names like Drankus, Hemme and Popper.
- I'm not disappointed by the result, but I am dissatisfied. I pushed my limits for the first two laps and had to back off, which cost me quite a few places. I really respect the guys who caught me toward the end, but I also feel like I'm better than what my result shows. On a super-technical, crazy course, though, I put together a full race.
- All in all, a decent event for me, with my best WORS finish. I had to work through some cramping and was a bit too conservative in spots (after a near flying endo off the singletrack drop on lap 1), but it was good speedwork and exactly the workout I hoped to get.
On to New Fane!
18 May 2008
17 May 2008
Horror stories: I've been called out for making my Stans experiences into horror stories. Let me be clear: Stans works. Stan puts out a great product that makes tubeless easy and accessible. You just have to have the right tools for the job, and a bit of patience -- I have plenty of the former, but not much of the latter. All of the mistakes are my own ... watch the video, follow his tips and tricks, and the rest is easy! And SO worth it!
GENTLEMEN, MOUNT YOUR ROADMASTER BICYCLES!!
16 May 2008
Good: I had to reset my shock pressure last night because I've lost so much weight.
Even better: I equalized the pressure in my fork, whoah baby! We'll see how it rides on the trail, but holy buttery smooth actuation Batman!
The bad: My arm feels like it's going to fall off. Three and a half Stan's conversions, with one more to go (and two on deck), and only one of them with a compressor. And I don't know about you, but I find Stan's to be a two-day job, with the conversion taking for good after airing up on the second morning.
The ugly: Stan's takes work. There's no denying it. And for the uninitiated, it looks like too much work, especially when it doesn't take the first time. There are a few folks here that won't be trying tubeless any time soon ...
15 May 2008
So, I'm looking for a head wrench/crew member for 24-9. Team World Bicycle Relief/Team Siren has it going on come August 2-3, but my main guy got an offer he couldn't refuse, and I don't blame him for taking it. We're pretty well covered with a large, very experienced crew, but unfortunately none of them are mechanics. There's a chance we may get this guy (how cool would it be to have the guy who built my bike there as support? That said, he may have other priorities!), and/or a few guys from here, but no one is fully committed as of now. I know we'll be fine, but if anyone wants to step up and offer to support Brad, Todd and me, let me know!
It'll be a good time, that much I can promise!
Small victories: Always have the right tool for the job. Or at least one that can make do the first time. Stans-ed up my 29er front wheel at lunch today; the 29er rim strip was a disaster (and a very public failure), but dropped in the 26er rim strip, and life was good -- aired up the first time, no fuss, no soap, even before adding sealant. I've got most of the goodies I need to build up the Song ... and word is she's on the way even as I write this ...
How often do you hear Jesse, Marko, Brian or Ron complaining about a mechanical or a health issue? Hell, for all intents and purposes Jesse should not have gotten out of bed a couple years back, and he was still kicking it. And this year Brian shows up at Iola on a whim, and still pulls out a top 5 finish with no warmup. I really need to sit down and examine the choices I have made that have led to problems, and correct them. And then I need to get out there and kick some ass. I have found my niche, and nothing will stop me from blowing it apart.
Looking forward to Geneva this weekend -- weight is good, goodies are on their way from Minneapolis today to make the ride faster. And I'm going to go out there and kick some ass, even if it's just mine. But I have to admit -- New Fane is calling. And Wausau. And now maybe Moab. Those are the events that are getting my blood boiling like mineral oil in our competitors' hydraulic brakes.
14 May 2008
13 May 2008
12 May 2008
Remember when I said I won’t be going to ‘Cross Natz this year because I have plans for December? Remember when I said I needed to pick the right bike because it would be my last big purchase for a while? (And I called it “my new baby”?) Remember way back in March when I got new ink and my upgrade all in the same day? Well, good things happen in threes, and when you do the math it all adds up to one thing:
Today is actually my birthday, and what better way to celebrate than to tell everyone the good news? We told our families this weekend, with cards to our moms from “Chris, Kim and Baby Maybe.” We figured they had given up by now (after 12 years of marriage – our anniversary is next week!), and needless to say, the tears flowed and everyone was pretty excited!
For years, we talked ourselves out of having kids. Not that we don’t love them; we just weren’t sure we wanted to have any of our own. But then I started mountain biking, got a new job, and my whole outlook on life generally improved. So last year, on the eve of Iola, we were sitting around the campfire talking. I’m not sure how we got on the subject, but all of a sudden it just clicked … we were ready. Not two seconds later, a bunch of WORS peeps came by – it was one of those, “wow, let’s stop talking for a minute” moments. After we said hi and they kept walking, Kim and I started talking timing … and it all felt right.
It’s been kind of tough keeping it under wraps for the past year -- especially when people keep asking us about kids! -- but secretly we’ve been hoping and planning and housecleaning in preparation for the next phase of our lives. Every reference has been the source of some pretty heavy situational irony, like the e-mail I got from Amy the day I published photos of the Song:
“You must be super-excited, watching your bike developing 'in the womb.'"
This was the same day as Kim’s first doctor’s appointment, when they confirmed that she was pregnant! Kim and I got a good laugh from that one!
Kim's at 11 weeks now, feeling good, and the official due date is December 5 (my mom's parents' anniversary!) All we can hope for now is that the next 6 months go well, and that the kid ends up with the best of both of us. In the meantime, I’m going to have to adjust to being “Dad” instead of “Uncle” … Holy cow!!!!!
09 May 2008
It's bittersweet reading reports from the Joe Martin Stage Race. That was a fun event, even if it was on the road.
Kettle tommorrow. Hours and hours. I just want to feel good and have FUN!
06 May 2008
Still feeling my lungs today. Definitely not as sharp of a pain as yesterday, but it hurts to breathe a little, and really hurts to breathe deeply. Truth be told, it's a little scary for me. I called my doc yesterday, and now have a twice-a-day inhaler -- it's not a fast-acting one like you're used to seeing; this is more in the "let's control it" category.
Thing is, I never wanted to become "that guy." You know, the one on the start line sucking down steroids. But I went back through my training logs last night, and was surprised at how often I mentioned breathing trouble and/or the feeling of reduced lung function. And it was pretty consistent, too -- Proctor was always bad (especially the road race); the one I really remember was Waukesha Superweek; and there were others here and there, especially in the spring and early summer.
I did some research yesterday too, and all the symptoms point to a full-on asthma attack. A pretty classic case, actually: reduced breathing, heavy cough, heavy production while coughing, overwhelming tiredness. And my HR file was just freaky: I peaked at 168 right away, and then it trended downward for the next 10 minutes, despite racing as "hard" as I could. (I hit 180 in warmup as a reference.) There was just no oxygen there.
One interesting factoid: in the past, I always chalked these attacks up to not warming up enough. Turns out, there's some truth to that -- you can kind of control astma by escalating efforts -- you sort of start an attack, which then calms down when you do, thereby allowing you to go hard again. (Which is what happened in the race, actually.) So don't be offended if I don't talk to you before races coming up, I'm just trying to trick my lungs into working ...
05 May 2008
Yesterday at Iola didn't go so hot for me. I felt great on Saturday during pre-ride, even thinking that Sunday could be a career day for me. (Of course, I didn't say it out loud, so as to not jinx it!) It got even better when Don did Pro/Semi-pro call-ups before Experts, so I was second row. And then, halfway up the first climb, it all went to pot.
By the end of the first climb, I couldn't breathe. By the end of the second, I was more or less riding on fumes. By the end of the "wall" I was barely turning the pedals with a depressed heart rate somewhere in the mid-150s. There was absolutely no oxygen making its way to my body. I went from top 20 to bottom 10 in less than 15 minutes of racing.
This happens to me once a season, usually an early race. I always chalked it up to not enough warmup. This winter, however, I did some allergy testing, and I am super-allergic (like +5 on the prick test, arm completely swelled up) to grass and moderately allergic to pollens and molds. My dad has asthma, but I'm not sure it's hereditary. Then, Sunday morning, I was reading a back issue of Mountain Bike mag that had an article on Exercise-Induced Asthma (EIA). All the symptoms and signs of a full-on bronchial attack were there, and the crap I was coughing up was just gross.
So I limited my losses, calmed down, and rode a couple of good laps. Not as strong as I would have liked, but smooth and powerful, catching and passing a ton of guys -- only one of whom stayed with me and eventually attacked to get away. I felt like the writing on my back was a target, and I felt sort of silly being so far behind, but mostly I was just focused on riding and trying to make up time. And thinking about how much my chest hurt.
So that's that. Done and over, two weeks until I see whether it will repeat -- hopefully, with better warmup and a bit of luck, there will be no problems at Geneva. They say there are multiple triggers for attacks like this -- hopefully those triggers are limited to early May in middle Wisconsin ... after all, Iola is only a few miles away from Wausau. Good news is, I didn't have any breathing problems at 24-9 last year.
03 May 2008
Thanks to Rachael, I remembered that I need to replace my glasses today. Easily done on the way up to the race.
Fought with Stan's again last night, this time a full conversion on a new rim. I thought it went well, but then it was flat this morning. Damn. Try, try again.
Kim's off to the grocery store; I have to clean up the bike area and shower. Departure TBD, not too far away. It's raining up there now anyway, so better to wait ...
02 May 2008
Just a powdercoat and a UPS shipment away ...
Legs seem to be coming back around after dragging through the workout on Wednesday. Yesterday was some good endurance, and this morning was a freebie easy spin to work, just avoiding the huge rainstorm. I'm not quite on top of it as I was a year ago and still need to finish putting together the bike, but everything is in pretty good shape for the weekend. Am I?
Been thinking about the build quite a bit. Probably too much. Goodies from Q will be here in another hour and a half, some for the Siren, some for this weekend. I hate backorders!
01 May 2008
Like him, I'm giddy today. Must be the temperature change, which I could feel as I rolled south -- it came in stages, first cold and windy, then no wind in the Loop, then warm and southerly on the South Side as the sun came up. Very cool.
Or it could be placing the first big order for the build. Siren Bicycles ... so hot right now. I'm hearing delivery around my birthday, low shipping charges because the frame will be SO DARN LIGHT! The initial build may have a few compromises due to parts availability, but soon enough I'll be rolling super-pimp style ... I doubt it'll be ready for Lake Geneva, so I'm thinking now my goal is to launch 'er at GEARS ... yeah baby!