Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shop Ride Announcement

Laurent Fignon - 2x TdF Winner (1960 - 2010)

Laurent Fignon (phonetically - Lore-own Fee-yown) was a two-time Tour de France winner, a Giro d'Italia winner, and two-time winner at Milan-San Remo, among many other wins and podiums. He is, of course, most known for losing the 1989 TdF to Greg LeMond on the last day of the race, in a time trail, by the closest margin ever in the 100+ year history of the Tour. He is in the news today for his death at age 50.

Delving into my personal history, as I am wont to do from time to time, Laurent Fignon played a part in my relationship with cycling. I was married in 1989 just as the summer started. My brand-new wife and I went on a decidedly low-budget honeymoon in Canada after getting married in Seattle. We concluded our trip in Spokane at our first apartment together. I was a student and my wife had just earned her professional certification but had not yet secured a job in her field. As such, we were young, poor, in love and happy.

My wife knew of my interest in cycling as I was riding a lot in the summers and certainly had a subscription to VeloNews that I devoured each two weeks. At the time, cycling was a very low profile interest in most of the country, although Greg LeMond had won the Tour in 1986. There was, however, very little, if any, mainstream coverage of cycling and, pre-internet, it was hard to get current news of cycling races. Which is why I was very happy that CBS Wide World of Sports had decided, in light of LeMond's return to cycling after his hunting accident, to broadcast a total of 5 hours of TdF coverage. They had an hour segment on the Sunday of the first weekend, followed by an hour each Sunday for the next two weeks of the race and TWO ENTIRE hours devoted to the last day. Keep in mind, however, that an "hour" of race coverage in those days was at least as bad if not worse than watching an hour of Versus coverage. In other words, the various dramatic introductions to pre-recorded fluff pieces, endless commercials and commentary directed not just at new viewers, but apparently new viewers with less than grade school educations, and they left very little time for actually showing race footage. I guess the idea was that an audience used to a football play of 10-30 seconds duration wouldn't be interested for more than 2-3 minutes of people riding bikes and only then with blathering at full speed. Nonetheless, I was thrilled. I was so happy to SEE any of the Tour de France (keep in mind that this was before VHS tapes were commercially available) and to actually know what was happening week by week and to find out who won on the very day it happened(!), I was really happy.

And, as it happened, the last day of the race also was my birthday. And, being, as you will recall, young, poor, in love and happy, my wife asked me what I wanted to do on my birthday. The answer was that I wanted to get our hand-me-down television out of the back-room, set it up in the living room somewhere the antenna would pick up the broadcast (kids, ask your parents what this means and no, it was not effin wi-fi), and watch the Tour coverage. I recall that a lovely lunch and micro-brew beer were also part of this festival of joy.

So, there was much discussion of the Tour that day and the improbability if not the impossibility of LeMond making up 50 seconds in 24.5 kilometers (a touch over 15 miles). Really, at the professional level between two athletes this closely matched and both decent time trailers, it should have been impossible. Which is what made it so incredibly fascinating and wonderful to watch.

As a result, not only did Fignon become much more famous for losing the TdF than for winning it twice, LeMond became the original come-back from near-death American cyclist (no wonder he is bitter), but most importantly to me, my wife had her first exposure to the wonderful world of cycling. It was the perfect introduction with the spectacle, the impossible story, and the birthday celebration in our living room, all while we were young, poor, in love and happy. What more could want as a way to explain to my wife why I was so obsessed with cycling and cycling racing?

Laurent Fignon was a typical prickly Frenchman; a rider with a lot of panache and style, and his most famous and tragic day of cycling played a role in my own cycling life. Rest in peace.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Shop Ride

The last official Team Two Wheel Shop Ride is this Thursday, Sept. 2. We will leave Two Wheel Transit, 1405 W. First, about 5.30 pm. We will ride the Seven Mile Bridge loop, about 20 miles, at a no-drop casual pace. Afterward, we will feast upon FREE David's Pizza prepared in the David's Pizza Emergency Response Vehicle and served up fresh and hot (My guess is that Geoff will try not to toss an entire pie on the ground this time).

From the time they took over the shop, the new owners, Geoff and Bruce have supported a positive image for cycling and helped to promote safe biking in our community. I can't provide a whole list of their contributions, but they donated children's bikes to the Christmas Fund last year, they have supported both editions of the Summer Parkways including sponsoring the bike decoration contest and helped SpokeFest to provide 30 kids' bikes to an area school. I don't know what more we could ask of a bike shop and its owners.

So, how can you show your support of their efforts and commitment? By going on a fun ride and eating FREE pizza! There aren't many deals like that floating around these days, so I hope you will make time to join us.
Rider Three

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Last Leadville Post - I promise.

As a wrap up to this endurance length Leadville discussion, I would like to point out a couple of links to stories about the winners. I was particularly gratified to see Levi Leipheimer's and some other comments about the race, which included statements like the following:

"That was ridiculous," said Leipheimer after the race. "I don't know if I've ever suffered that much before. . . But I guess that the distance and the fitness from The Tour was enough," he continued, adding, "Although we don't go this hard in the Tour."

"This is ridiculously hard," Leipheimer. "It's hard to describe the pain and torture that you go through on a ride like that," Leipheimer said. "It's not what I'm used to. It's like a six-hour time trial. There's no sitting in. There's no draft. ... I just couldn't wait for it to be over."

"I felt pretty good until we hit the Powerline climb," added JHK (2nd place finisher Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski). "I really turned myself inside out on that climb thinking I might be able to catch back up on the descent. But it was pure suffering from that point on."

From Rebecca Rush - female winner - "I can barely stand up. It was one of my most painful days on a bike."

And this comment from Levi, which sums it up: Post-race he said he may not have “respected” the difficulty of the race enough. “I’ve been doing the road thing for so many years I wanted to do something different,” he said. “Today I felt like everyone else out there; excited, nervous — going on an epic adventure. It was everything and more that I’d expected and dreamed of.”

Cycling News preview of the race: http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/mountain-bike-titans-to-battle-at-leadville-100-this-weekend

Cycling News coverage after the race: http://www.cyclingnews.com/races/leadville-100-ne-1/results

Story about Leipheimer's bike (a 26" dual suspension, but the only one in the lead group): http://www.cyclingnews.com/features/pro-bike-levi-leipheimers-trek-top-fuel-prototype

A whole ton of Leadville coverage, including a bunch of training diary entries from Dave Weins from Singletrack (sister site of VeloNews): http://singletrack.competitor.com/

Singletrack race coverage (sister site of VeloNews): http://singletrack.competitor.com/2010/08/news/levi-leipheimer-wins-but-suffers-at-leadville_9777

ESPN story: http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/cycling/news/story?id=5463890

A very cool site that matches video with a moving marker on a google satellite map and shows someones first 3 hours of Leadville 2009: http://www.qudup.com/experience/explore/#view?id=35

Friday, August 27, 2010

2010 Leadville 100 - Part 5

The final part of the Leadville 100 Race Report. No, I can't believe it was this long either. But then again, the race was really damn long too.

Twin Lakes Inbound Aid Station and Unremarkable Portion of the Course, again. So, next stop is the Twin Lakes "inbound" aid station, which is the 40 mile aid station but on the way back it is at 60 miles. My plan was to make it back here by the 7 hour mark. I stopped to see my wife and boys again, get re-supplied and planned to make it another sub-5 minute stop. My NASCAR quality support crew made it happen even with posing for a picture and my feet hit the pedals right at 7 hours on the nose. So, only 43 miles to go and 5 hours. Let's see, that means an average of 8.6 mph would get me home with a belt buckle. I actually did that calculation in my head at the time. I didn't take the time to consider that the prior 7 hours and 60 miles had been done in 8.6 mph average. At least I didn't have another Columbine climb ahead of me, right?

No, but I did have the dreaded and awful Powerline climb. First, I had to get there however. This meant back-tracking to the Pipeline "inbound" station. Again, lots of up and down and back up the new singletrack which meant just following the line of riders back up. I got to the Pipeline inbound station at 8 hours, 16 minutes (relatively proving that I would not have made it in 1 hour exactly in 2007 - maybe quitting was the right decision; maybe). This put me at about 75 miles covered and 28 miles to go. A quick calculator process indicates that I had bumped up my average speed to 9.1 mph. I had 3 and 3/4 hours to go 28 miles, or an average of 7.5 mph to get my buckle. I was worried, but not overly so. I knew I had two climbs plus the Boulevard, but one of the climbs was primarily pavement and I had been focused literally all day on eating well, not digging too deep at any one point and saving energy to finish well. I was about to put that to the test. As a point of interest, I had moved up again to 777th overall at this point. I had lost places on the downhill from Columbine (I am a "cautious" descender - maybe some would say a 'fraidy cat, but pish-posh, even Ken Chlouber said at the revival meeting that there was an inverse relationship between your descending speed and your mortgage, and I have a healthy mortgage), but I had continued passing people at this point in the race.

So, let's recap. Almost 3/4's done; feeling decent; on track for a belt buckle. What could go wrong?

Powerline, or rather, POWER LINE.

Well, I can't say it went "wrong". It doesn't go right or wrong; it just goes UP. Straight up. G-damned f___ing straight up and just about the time that you have nothing left in the tank, nothing left in the legs, nothing positive left between your ears. Really, completely, almost, nothing left.

The important word in that paragraph - almost. Because I did have some determination left. Maybe not much to back it up, but what the hell else was I going to do except just start pushing my bike up the fucker and hope I saw the top someday. A couple of quick statistics - Powerline is 2.7 miles, 10.9% average grade with sections at 25%. Could you go back and read that again? Seriously. Almost 3 miles at almost 11%?!? Seriously? What sick bastard would do that to you at 80 miles into a brutal and long day?

I had read and been told that Powerline had numerous false summits and that you could not let it get to you too much by falling for it when there was more to climb. I KNEW that . . . and yet. You just can't understand how long it takes to get to the place you start descending. The "climb" is measured under 3 miles, but it is actually a total of 4 miles before you get to coast downhill for more than 15 seconds. It is a rotten, mean, horrible m-f'er of a hill. And honestly, it takes everything out of you to get over the top. I have tried to describe this to a certain degree, but the only people who will really and totally "get" what this involves are people who have done this ride.

Last year when Lance Armstrong and Dave Wiens were approaching the bottom of Powerline, LA asked DW if he usually rode Powerline or walked it. Dave said that every year he walked the first section. Keep in mind that this is the same Dave Weins that had WON the race the prior 6 years, including defeating Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong, among many others. Lance responded by saying "let's ride what we can." Lance and Dave went on to ride the whole thing, but that means that they were the first two people to ride this climb in the 15 year history of the race. It makes me feel not so bad about walking, but at the same time, I gotta tell you that it was a really long, slow, miserable walk. And that was even with passing a few people up this climb.

After Powerline . . . No, sorry. I can't leave it yet. It took too long and was too hard. I mean it was really, really hard. Also, it took me a full hour to cover this 4 miles. Yes, 4 mph average for a full g-damned hour. So, I crested Powerline just a couple of ticks past 9 hours on the bike. I still had 3 hours to get my buckle, but also still had about 23 miles to go and another major climb plus the Boulevard to cover. What had I done to myself? This meant 7.7 mph hour average and I had just covered 4 miles in the prior hour. It was at this point that I started to doubt my ability to get a buckle. The most surprising thing? I didn't care. I really, honestly didn't care. I knew there were 3 more hours to go and my calculation was that I would take about 3 hours and 10 minutes to cover the remaining distance, but I was okay with that. I knew that I had done what I could and that just might be the best I could do that day, and I knew that I was going to roll across the finish line barring an injury or major mechanical. And I was okay with it. I didn't, however, stop to contemplate it. I kept riding.

Sugarloaf and back up St. Kevins. From the top of Powerline, you descend Sugarloaf for about 5 miles. The road gets progressively better and finishes with a bit of paved descent. At this point, I knew I had about a 3-4 mile climb to get back up to the top of St. Kevins. I knew that most of it was paved. My plan had been to be conservative with my energy and I believed that I could get up this paved climb in good shape. At some point early on I passed a race official who said that it was 2 1/2 miles to the turn-off, meaning that it was that much pavement. I thought something like "hey, only 2 1/2 miles; not too bad". And yes, I do think with semi-colons.

The problem was that my mind had spent all day thinking this was going to be a decent spot for me, but I guess I forgot to tell my legs. This was not the middle-chain-ring-make-up-some-ground climb I had envisioned. Instead it was an oh-my-god-I-have-nothing-left-in-my-legs climb. I was quickly in my 2-3 smallest gears, using the granny gear in front and just slowly, ever so slowly, pushing the pedals over the top to try to do the same thing again. That 2.5 miles was excruciatingly slow. It never seemed to end. It just went on and on and on and on. In reality, my Garmin data tells me that it took about 30 minutes on the pavement and another 15 minutes of climbing on the dirt, but I would have guessed that those two segments took twice as long. BTW, St. Kevins inbound is reported as being 2.7 - 3.3 miles and 4.1 - 6.3% grade, depending on where you measure it. I would measure it from the mouth of Hell, where it seemed to start.

At this point, this blog entry is nearly as long as the race itself and I don't really expect anyone to be reading this paragraph except my wife and maybe my Dad. I may not even have the energy to proof-read it so I won't even get this far again. Let's just say that the fatigue you feel from this blog really can't compare to what I felt at that point in the day. That's fair, don't you think?

Getting back and the Boulevard. As I crested the high point of St. Kevins, I was 10 hours and 52 minutes into the race. I had 1 hour and 8 minutes before the shot-gun blast that said "NO MORE BELT BUCKLES TODAY!" I had over 12 miles to ride. My average pace had dropped to just over 8.3 mph for the day. I knew I had a descent, but then I also had to climb a number of miles back into town and I had to ride up the "Boulevard", which I had never seen and I could no longer remember how long it was supposed to be or how steep. I just knew that I was very unlikely to be able to ride the final 12 miles in an hour. And yet, I was still okay with that. I really was at peace with the idea that it was going to take me 5-15 minutes too long to get a buckle. Maybe if that is how it really turned out, I wouldn't have been, but I had a lot of time on the bike to think about it; really 2-3 hours when I was reasonably sure I was going to be just off the mark and it didn't bother me even one minute of that time. Maybe I was just too tired to care at that point, but I didn't.

As I descended St. Kevins the late afternoon/early evening light left the trail dappled so that it was hard to see the texture of the road. I knew that my only chance of buckling was to hit that descent as fast as I could, but I really didn't go down very fast at all. I was passed by a few people, but I just wasn't comfortable picking up the pace much. This seemed to be validated just after the switchback that marks the change from steeper to less step because someone who had passed me was picking up his bike from a crash. He was remounting and looked fine and in fact passed me just a few moments later, but it made me comfortable with my pace. As the road leveled out to a gentle slope and smoother road, I thought to myself, "this is the only and best chance to make up some ground." I picked it up the best I could and while my computer was not set to show speed, I felt confident that I had ramped up to about 20 mph for a couple of gentle miles and then 17-18 for another mile or two of pavement that was rolling to down. My Garmin confirmed that I did between 16.8 - 22.6 mph for 3 miles. In fact, at 99.07 miles I was doing 22.4 mph. The problem came at the foot of the Boulevard, where at 100.12 miles I was doing 2.5 mph.

Oh yes, the final kick to the balls known as the Boulevard. Shouldn't something called a "Boulevard" be grassy and a bit swank? Instead, this Boulevard is a river rock strewn slap in the face. You come down what appears to be a rocky alley and make a left turn to look right up this wall of crap. The steep portion is probably only .3-.5 miles long but it takes the wind out of your sails so completely that it is stunning. I went from "oh my gosh I might make it!" to "oh hell what kind of sadists are these people!"

I hit the bottom of this section just behind someone I had been drafting and who looked too young and fit to be as far back as I was and just a few feet ahead of someone with an english or australian accent. We all dismounted about the same time and I said to these two, "How long is this climb?" The fit young guy said, "I don't know" and remounted his bike and started riding. The english bloke, who I have to confess I never turned my head to see, said something more like, "Bloody hell I have no idea!" I started walking as fast I could muster and I was pleased to be moving ahead of the english bloke and not falling too far behind fit dude riding his bike. At the top of the pitch, I remounted on a decent gravel road and started up as fast as I could muster. At first it wasn't too bad, however, I could tell immediately that there wasn't a lot left.

Minor or Major Miracles. And Finishing. At this point I had about 2 miles to go and about 20-22 minutes. My mind kind-of told me that it was okay. I only had to do a tenth of a mile per minute and I would get there, assuming that 1) I really only had about 2 miles to go - something my Garmin said, but who knows about the relative accuracy at that point; and 2) that my clock matched up with Ken's at the finish line. I watched the first couple of tenths tick off in less than a minute each, but then I started to shift down gears to find something I could keep turning over.

Then one of three great things happened. First, someone from Spokane who was injured and couldn't race and his S. O. pulled up in a vehicle next to me an offered to take my camelback. It was dead weight at that point and I had considered throwing in the bushes a number of times over the prior miles, so I was thrilled to hand it over, so thank you to DR and H for this morale booster. That helped me get through at least a tenth of a mile with a smile. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough of a weight difference or psychic lift to help my legs as much as I needed. The dirt road was still going up and seemed to just go on endlessly. My speed continued to drop and my gears kept getting smaller. As I finally approached the end of this dirt road, someone gave me encouraging numbers about how far and how much time, but I think I was still on my absolutely smallest gear as crossed from dirt to pavement. It must have been interesting for DR and H to watch as my speed dropped and dropped and dropped.

Then, a second nice thing happened. At this point there was one more crest about three blocks long (?) and then a downhill and the final couple of blocks to the finish line. Rationally I "knew" I had the time, but that was assuming I kept moving and didn't come to a crawl. Just about then a guy who was walking with two kids yelled, "You've only got a mile and you have 11 minutes! You can do it. It's just over this crest and then you can almost coast the finish!" I appreciated hearing that; I really did, but I think I was just staring at my headset and probably didn't acknowledge it much, because then he did the best possible thing he could have done. He turned around, ran behind me, grabbed my seat and pushed me for about 40-50 feet of the last 100-150 feet of hill I had left. It was so, so nice to get that boost. It makes me happy just typing these words. It was a huge emotional gift. I wish I could kiss that guy right now. And the best thing about his words is that they were exactly right. I pedaled the last yards and started coasting downhill, down a nice loooonnnngggg hill. I geared up and pushed with everything I had left to get up the most speed possible so that I could coast as far as I could up the remaining slope. It turned out I had to pedal again, but not much. At that point I must have had a cosmic Red Bull because I had wings again. Then the third nice thing happened. I started hearing people cheering. It was started by my wife and two boys, helped on by PW and family, PK and DD and family, DR and H who were at the finish line and supported by lots of people who were just happy that one more poor bastard was about to cross the finish line with just a few moments ahead of the shot-gun blast. I raised one arm in triumph and may have expressed more joy than any one of the top 100 finishers. I was really, really, quietly, deeply and fully happy.

I also can't really imagine what my family and friends were thinking as the clock ticked by. As the minutes passed and it got closer and closer to 6.30 pm, it must have been approaching painful to stand there and wonder if they would see me humping over that last hill in time to break the 12 hour mark. And while I can't really imagine how much relief they felt, I can tell you I was very happy to be able to be there, to justify their belief that I could make it and to finally finish the race.

I once read that people who win silver medals in the Olympics are not happy with their experience (because they were so close to the gold generally), but that bronze medal winners were really happy with their experience. They realized the joy of being on the podium and ahead of everyone who didn't make it. I was that bronze medal winner. I knew there were lots of people ahead of me. Hell, I was behind every single person I knew there that day, but it didn't matter to me one little bit. I was so happy to have accomplished the very difficult goal of finishing the Leadville 100 in under 12 hours and earning a finisher's medal, belt buckle and sweatshirt with the time ironed onto the sleeve. Someone said to me that I might have been the heaviest guy to finish or at least on the top 1% of size to finishing time. However you look at it, I finished the damn thing in under 12 hours. While I was typing this up, it occurred to me that I might be able to figure out whether the guy who was behind me on the Boulevard was British or Aussie. I am chagrined and amazed to see that 22 spots behind me, and about 7 1/2 minutes behind me, a guy from Great Britain finished in 12 hours, 0 minutes and 50 seconds. I not only feel bad for this guy (oh, and the one who finished in 12 hours, 0 minutes and 1.9 seconds) but it makes me feel justified in my paranoia about my ability to keep going at the bottom of the Boulevard. I really can't believe that I was right next to a guy about 2 1/2 miles out - one of us made it and one didn't.

Here are all the numbers. Total registrants - 1,552 riders. Total starters - 1,338. Finishers in less than 9 hours - 136. Finishers in less than 12 hours - 908. Additional finishers 12 - 13 hours - 114, or 1022 total. Less than 10% finished in under 9 hours and 68.4% of the starters went home with belt buckles, which means 31.6% of the starters didn't. Yea, I'm happy to be on the 68% side of that equation.

So there is my story of Leadville. From the fruition of idea 3 1/2 years ago to conclusion just a couple of weeks ago. For anyone who stayed with the blog from beginning to end, thank you for taking the time. Thanks to DR, H and the unknown dude just before the crest of the last hill for the support in the last miles when it meant a lot. Thanks for PW for making the trip twice, even though I diss'd your "finish" the first time when you deserved credit for making it around course and getting a finisher's medal. Thanks to DD for the support and the training rides, and also to Rider 1 for the many rides, coaching, support and the day-of Leadville post. I did learn a lot of things. Thanks to Two Wheel Transit for the support and the Superfly. And, of course, thanks very much to my wife and two sons who put up with the training, obsession and endless discussions prior to race day, the support at the race itself and the abiding belief that I was going to roll across the line in 12 hours combined with it not mattering to them at all if I did.

Now, what's next? Any ideas?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

2010 Leadville 100 - Part 4

Pre-Race. The morning of Saturday, August 14 came early. We got up around 4 am to eat breakfast, get dressed and drive the 45 minutes from Vail to Leadville. We got there a bit later than ideal and accidentally found a super wonderful secret place to park right next to a couple of empty public bathrooms. The group of porta-potties a couple of blocks away had a long, long line, so this was a nice find.

We made final adjustments, picked the clothes to get us through the 45 degree cool morning start and rolled up to the back of the 1400+ riders. We worked our way through the crowd but were still a block and half behind the start line.

Start. The shotgun blast went off exactly at 6.30 am and the leaders raced off immediately. It took us a few minutes to reach the actual start line but at the time it was hard to see how 3-4 minutes would really have an impact on 12 hours of riding.

After crossing the start line there is a block or two descent, followed by a few block rise as you head out of town. There are lots of pictures taken of this roll-out so you may have seen it. From this point, you roll down hill for about 3 miles of paved road, giving you plenty of chance to get cold and stiff, and then about 3 miles of gently inclined smooth dirt roads. At this point, you are at the bottom of St. Kevins (pronounced Keevins). St. Kevins is the the smallest climb in the first 100 miles of the race. Unfortunately, it hits you upside the head when you are cold, stiff and adrenaline soaked. Also unfortunately, there isn't anything that has separated the crowds of riders and everyone hits the bottom of the climb feeling as good as they are going to feel all day. This doesn't mean that everyone is strong, just as good as it is going to be all day and there hasn't been any sorting out, so this is where the sorting takes place.

St. Kevins. St. Kevins would be a good way to start the race if there were a bit more separation of riders and there was a bit of warm-up prior to the climb. The climb itself is a total of 4.2 miles, averages 5.4% with pitches of 18%. The toughest mile of the climb averages 8.7%, so don't think it is a cream puff, but it isn’t a bad climb and on a ride with a few guys on a random afternoon it would be one of those climbs where you huff and puff your way through, re-group at the top and say something snarky like, “wow, I thought we were going to be climbing today, why did we start out with that bump?” On race day if you have enough oxygen in your brain, you might formulate a thought more like, “wow, I didn’t know mountain bikers could replicate the boarding of a Japanese commuter train by cramming 1,400 people onto a few yards of nearly vertical soil . . . I thought that was supposed to be the easy climb of the day, why am I coughing up a portion of lung with every pedal stroke and is it bad form to just ride OVER someone when they stop in front of me?” One way or the other, however, Imade it up St. Kevins and I was very happy to feel good all the way up. I was also glad to be able to clearly recall how different I felt on this trip up than I did three years earlier. I took it as a good sign. You start descending from this climb almost right at the 10 mile mark.

After St. Kevins there is a long asphalt descent. Actually, I would not have described it as “long” on the way out. It only seemed to take a couple of minutes, literally. I hit the highest speed of the day on this descent, 42.4 mph, and it was over almost as soon as it began. My educated guess would have been that it was about a mile long. On the way back, it turns out that it was 14 or 15 miles long. Not really, but it was a brutal four miles on the way back up. More on that later.

Sugarloaf. As you hit the bottom of the descent the pavement heads back up for a short bit before you catch the dirt road that is the lower portion of the next climb. On the way out the climb is known as Sugarloaf. The backside of this climb has a different name - PURE EVIL! No, actually it is called Powerline on the way down, but first, here is the story of the trip up. This climb is approximately 4.8 miles long, has an average grade of 4.7% and pitches of 25%. The lower portion is a wide decent dirt road, but it becomes narrower and rockier as the climb goes on. It is reasonably climbable, even for a big guy like me, almost all of the way to the top, and it is only the last bit that has some stiffer pitches or semi-technical stuff. This climb does top 11,000 and it about 300 feet higher than St. Kevins, which gives you the first bit over the tree-line. Still odd to me to think about riding my bike ABOVE the level where the air will sustain the life of a tree. Does that make sense?

In 2007 when I did this climb, I was riding with a smaller and smaller group of people which definitely was spelling trouble for me. I did manage to pass a guy with one leg, however. No, really. In 2007 there was a Jamican dude who had one leg that borrowed a mountain bike to do Leadville. He was a minor celebrity at the event and got a starting position with the first 100. It took me until Sugarloaf to catch and pass him. Yes, another sign of trouble from 2007. In 2010, however, I made my way up this climb in reasonable order; passing a few people along the way, not being passed by too many people and not feeling too bad. At this point, I was 19 miles into the race and just shy of 2 hours as I crested this climb. While I was not feeling sparky, I was gratified that I felt okay and had two major climbs out of the way so soon in the day. This is, by the way, a bit deceptive. Kind of like saying that you have already been punched in the head twice and only have eight more punches to go. It might be that I was discounting the cumulative effect of the punches.

Powerline Descent. Coming down the other side of this pass or mountain, as I alluded to above, is the “Powerline” descent which is a vicious and horrible climb on the way back. On the way down, it is a reasonably technical and gullied descent. Many more than one person got on an unsustainable line and had a problem negotiating the rut onto another ride-able line, resulting in a crash or at least coming to a halt. I passed one person near the top who was clearly quite injured and there were multiple people around the downed rider. I would find out later that this person suffered head and neck injuries and was still hospitalized a week after the event, but hopefully looking at a full recovery. My mother is sure that I am facing likely death or severe injury every time I do a ride like this, so I didn’t tell her about this. Thankfully she doesn’t read this blog. For some reason my absurdly detailed navel-gazing biking blog doesn’t appeal to a person who has been quoted as saying “sweat kills.” Anyway, I was glad to make my way down this steep descent in good shape. There is a water crossing at the bottom of this descent that always engenders lots of discussion about the wisdom of riding through it versus waiting in line for the 1” x 10” “bridge” to the side of the main path. In 2007 I rode through the shallower water that year, but later heard about a number of people who slipped on the rocks and crashed. I decided caution was in order this year and waited my turn for the bridge.

Unremarkable Part of the Course. The next part of the course is not generally remarked upon, as it is somewhat unremarkable. It is up and down and includes the only single track of the course. This single track was added a couple of years ago to eliminate what was called Clavicle Hill or Ambulance Hill. I remember in 2007 making a sharp right hand turn and riding down the side of a cliff, at the bottom of which was a helicopter picking up a person who I later learned had broken a femur. It didn't bother me to trade in that experience for the meandering single track. At about the 26 mile mark you pass through the first rest area/aid station. In 2007 this is where I was spent and uttered the "I am completely f____ed" line. I am pleased to report that this year, I simply rode through this area and not feeling bad at all. I had been riding conservatively and was saving my "matches" for later in the day. The official timing says that I was in 915th place at this point and at 2 hours, 39 minutes. I was, interestingly, 1 hour and 5 minutes behind the leaders. Okay, I am not fast, but part of that had to be waiting to cross the start line and congestion at St. Kevins. I'm just sayin'.

Twin Lakes Outbound Aid Station.
The next section is similar to the last and really just gets you to the base of the Columbine Mine Climb. There is another aid station at the 40 mile mark which is the literal low point of the course at about 9,200 feet. I reached this point at the end of the range I told my wife that I could and still be on track to finish in 12 hours, pulling in 3 hour, 45 minutes into the day. The official timing also say that I moved backwards to 984th place, although I don't know how I could have lost 70 places in this time. In any case, that was the farthest back in the field I would be all day. I stopped for about 5 minutes to refill my camelbak, shed arm and knee warmers and smile at my family. That all went according to plan and I was off shortly thereafter. Just as I was getting on my bike, the two leaders, JHK and Levi, went by, which meant that I was 40 miles in and they were 60 miles in. Hmm. That means they were faster than I was, doesn't it?

Columbine Mine Climb. From this aid station, the next 1.5 miles climbs over some lumpy rocks up a few hundred feet and then gives you about a mile respite that is level or downhill. From there, it is 8.5 miles UP. It climbs about 3,300 feet over the total distance for an average of around 7%, but with pitches of 23%. By the way, you can find many different measurements of how long these climbs are depending on where people measure them. I have seen distances ranging from 8.45 miles to 11 miles, obviously dependent on where you start. In any case, it is a long way to go up almost without any respite.

From 2007 I had the idea that the lower portion of Columbine was not too bad and that it really was the part out of the treeline that was tough. I was wrong. This was the only part of the day where my memory worked against me as I kept thinking that it would level out a bit and get easier. It did not. It just kept climbing and climbing and climbing up at a steep and relentless grade. I'm sure it was fatigue and fuel, but for most of an hour the only two words that went through my head were "f__ing relentless". Oh, once in a while I added, "this hill is . . .", but it became a mantra of suffering. I said it over and over and over in my head, even while I was telling myself that it wasn't very helpful, useful or necessary.

I climbed and climbed and climbed. In all, I was going uphill from the aid station at the base for about 2 hours and 20 minutes until the aid station at the turn-around. Just by way of comparison, climbing Mt. Spokane from Bear Creek Lodge to the very top is about 7 1/2 miles at 7.1%. I did this in training on my road bike in just a touch over an hour. So Columbine Mine added 1 mile and about an hour and 15-20 minutes. The other thing that Columbine Mine adds is the feeling you get from exertion at over 12,000 feet elevation. For me, that is a bit of light-headedness or dizziness, along with an unsettled stomach. It is also very much worth noting that after you get out of the tree-line (Remember? Too high to sustain the life of a tree?! What I am doing riding my bike there?), there is a steep pitch that I have not witnessed anyone riding. I'm sure the top guys ride it, but at my spot everyone is walking for a major part of the last couple of miles. This is exhausting, a bit demoralizing although also a needed break, and it slows your ascent from a slow riding pace to a pushing-a-bike pace. That certainly adds some time. It is also worth noting that two people set up a free hot-dog and PBR station on this first steep pitch. I was not tempted, but they did apparently give away hot dogs and beer to some riders on the way up and the way down. Maybe every bike race needs a hot-dog and beer station; something to consider.

When I finally got to the turn-around spot (Note: Rather than the "top" it is the turn-around, because the aid station is a quick drop from the high point, which means, yes, the first thing you do after leaving the aid station is to climb your way back out. It is only a few minutes of climbing, but still . . .), I got some water in the empty bottle I had and stuffed some food in my mouth to digest on the long trip mostly downhill trip back to the 60-mile aid station. It is worth noting that my 12-hour plan suggest that I needed to hit the turn-around at 6 hours. I stopped at 6 hours and 5 minutes. I knew that I had passed a lot of people on the way up to Columbine Mine, but it is very note-worthy that I moved up from 984th place all the way to 830th place. Maybe that isn't accurate for some reason, but I like the idea of passing 154 people on a 10 mile climb. I told people afterward that I thought I had passed at least 50 people, which brought looks of incredulity, but it turns out the numbers say it was three times that. Maybe training is a good idea? It may have worked for me.

Tomorrow, the final installment of this saga.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

2010 Leadville 100 - Part 3

Gentle readers, we have now journeyed through the lead-up to and the prior experience with Leadville. What is left is the real reason for our gathering together here today. The actual riding of the 2010 Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race.

I previously outlined the major training rides I did in 2007. That year I focused on long distances with the idea that the best way to be ready for a 12 hour ride was to do multiple long rides in the 10+ hour category. I didn't spend too much time on intensity and I didn't do any racing. I trimmed weight and I thought that the distance in my legs to cover the Leadville distance. It may have been true that year, but I clearly didn't respect the ride enough to make sure I stayed on track the final two weeks and I didn't respect the deleterious impact of the altitude by arriving too close but not far enough prior to the race.

In contrast, in 2010, I did not do a single 200 mile road ride, or actually any ride much over 6 hours, but I added a lot more rides during the work work, rather than just focusing on long weekend rides, and more back-to-back rides. I did more hours per week as a result. I added more racing to my schedule and tried to add a lot more intensity in my rides, whether long or short. Instead of long, steady efforts, I figured it was better to burn-out and die on a ride if it would add strength overall. I also tried to add hills to virtually every ride I did, including adding three 7-10 minute hills to my commute home for work. I also worked a bit more diligently on dropping weight to help with the hill-climbing and did some running early in the season to both cut weight and help be ready for the walking uphill that is necessary in Leadville. I also made sure that I had a schedule that ran right up to the race day and stuck to it. In the 5 1/2 weeks just prior to leaving for Leadville, my Garmin says I biked over 82 hours, 1,100 miles and burned 33,000 calories. And lastly, I arrived in Leadville as close to the race as I could and I researched the area around Leadville and looked for place to stay in Vail because it's elevation was 8,100 feet, which was 2,100-2,300 feet below Leadville.

One note on equipment, which gets a LOT of attention by potential Leadville riders. In 2007 I rode a 26" hardtail - a Rocky Mountain Team SC. It was lightweight, but it was an accidental purchase, rather than fitted to me and it was probably too small. I didn't have any mechanicals, but just after the 2007 race I tried out PW's Niner A.I.R. I was immediately and completely sold on the 29er wheel size and, importantly, frame size/geometry of the 29er. I bought a Niner E.M.D., previously blogged about, but was lucky enough to upgrade to a Gary Fisher Superfly just before the 24 Hour Race. It is a superior bike and assuming you want a hardtail for Leadville, I can't imagine there is a better bike. The other guys I rode "with" (really, I was behind them all day), all had dual suspension bikes. I know I would go downhill faster on one, but I also assume I would go uphill slower on one with the additional weight. Since I am already carrying too much weight and need all the help I can get on the uphills, I went with the hardtail. I also fussed about tires a lot and ended up with Bontrager 29-3's, in the widest variety, both front and back. Again, thanks to the guys at Two Wheel Transit for the hand holding on this, but I think the tire was a great choice. I never gave a moment's thought to the tires no matter what I was banging into and while the course was rockier than I had recalled, the tires performed perfectly and I had no mechanical issues except the one where the engine could have pushed the pedals faster.

So, to sum it all up, I tried to improve upon the things I did right and correct the things I did wrong. I also think it helped a lot to have seen the course to know what I was up against. So, as I sat in the old gymnasium sitting through the racer meeting which runs with the spirit of a revival meeting in the deep South, I was ready to be done with the talking and I was just ready to ride.

So, in the spirit of the best advertising teases, the race report starts tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

2010 Leadville 100 - Part 2

As we left our tale, our intrepid cyclists and mid-life crisis avoiders had gained entry into the 2007 Leadville 100. Notice goes out immediately after the lottery at the end of January, so by early February we knew that we had a spot of adventure on the calendar in August.

How did it go? I didn't finish.

I dropped out after 60 miles, where I had met the time cut-off, but completely certain that I couldn't make the 75-mile time cut-off which was just one hour later. PW finished the course outside of the 12 hour cut-off to take home a belt buckle, but within 13 hours so that he got a finisher's medal after he rolled across the finish line having completed the whole course.

I'm not sure whether to roll out all my excuses for not finishing or try to avoid them. I don't know whether to offer my list of training races and rides to show that I should have finished or to try to avoid that. I don't know how much anyone but me cares how much I was gutted after failing to finish, or whether I should avoid that also. Maybe I should just bottle this all up and move on, or better yet let it go and move on, or maybe in this age of therapeutic over-sharing I should just uncork.

But gentle reader, you can see all of the words trailing off below, so you know that something more is coming so I might as well blog my little heart out and tell the whole sordid tale. If you don't like to hear or read the blathering excuses of an aging excuse maker, then why are you here?

So here is what I knew about Leadville. 1 - It was very hard. 2 - That about 60% of the people who signed up every year actually got a belt buckle. 3 - That the altitude would be a huge factor. 4 - That the 100 miles of mountain biking covered about 15,000 vertical feet of climbing. 5 - That Leadville was generally non-technical and considered a good race for road bike riders.

Here is what I knew about myself. 1- I have a decent engine and can ride long distances. 2 - That I had no exposure to altitude and no idea what impact it would have. 3 - That my weight was ill-suited to the climbing. 4 - That my mountain bike skills were lacking. 5 - That I was suitably determined and had a good success ratio when I applied myself to things.

Taking all of this into account, what could go wrong? Oh yeah, you see it too?

I was lucky that Rider 1 was really getting back into cycling after some life and injury time off the bike. He had no interest in riding Leadville (his comment was, "I lived in Colorado; people from Colorado don't "do" Leadville because they already know how stupid it is to try to race at that elevation"), but he was interested in ramping up his mileage and was willing to put in the time to ride with me and train for a few mutual events.

The other thing I had going for me was fear. I was fearful of how hard Leadville would be and it was a great motivator to get out and ride and ride and ride. So, I started training early, including rides in February that were already stretching out to 3-4 hours when the weather allowed. In early April I knocked off the Spring Century at a high pace and felt good afterward. I then marched on to do the Tour of Pain (200 miles/1 day) in June, Seattle-to-Portland (206 miles/1 day) in July where Rider 1 and I finished in 10 hours total (including rolling time and time off the bike) bringing us across the finish line as the 22nd and 23rd finishers out of 2,300 one-day riders, and then I lined up to do RAMROD two weeks later and just two weeks before Leadville. PW and I did RAMROD together and I was feeling good. I think it is fair to say I was the stronger of the two of us at that point and I felt good all day. We happened into a conversation with someone it turned out was a multiple Leadville rider and his comment to me was along the lines of, "If you are rolling up Paradise this well, you will do fine at Leadville." At that point I was confident and ready. Maybe too confident, however.

After RAMROD I returned home for a week of work before we loaded up the family and headed to Colorado for a vacation and the race. I didn't ride my bike that week because of work obligations, etc. We then spent the week ahead of Leadville doing kid activities, like walking to hell and gone through museums, zoos and science centers; spent a day hiking in Boulder; and then hit Leadville, elevation 10,400', three days ahead of the race. In quick summation, I did the exact opposite of what they said to do about training and altitude ahead of the race. And it showed.

When I got on my bike for my first ride in Leadville on the Wednesday before the race, my heart was the only thing racing. As I crossed the level parking lot outside of the hotel, my heart rate shot up from resting rate below 60 bpm almost instantly to 140 bpm. I usually take a bit to warm up and this immediate jump in my heart rate was evident and worrisome immediately. I tried climbing up a grade out the back of town and my heart rate stayed in the same 135-145 bpm range whether I was going up or going flat and changing my exertion level seemed to have little or no impact on my heart rate. After a short ride, I decided that resting was a better course of action than continuing my ride.

The next day I went out to preview part of the course. It went a bit better, but the altitude was clearly having an impact on my heart rate, perceived exertion and breathing rate. I thought something along the lines of "I can get through this, but it may not be fun." I got the second part right.

The day before the race I spent walking around Leadville and then inexplicably agreed to visit the outlet malls in Frisco and spent more hours walking around, not returning to Leadville until time for a late dinner. PW had taken the more prudent altitude approach of "get in, get out" and had arrived in Denver Thursday, spent the day in Leadville on Friday and led the outlet mall expedition.

I got a horrible night of sleep in Leadville that night, tossing and turning all night and feeling as if my breathing was being constricted.

Race morning I felt tired but excited. I knew that I had the ability to grind out 12 hours of effort and it would be tough, but it had not occurred to me that I would not be one of the people getting a belt buckle and sweatshirt the following morning before we left town.

The race starts with a long roll-out from town of almost three miles downhill on pavement before it takes a turn onto dirt and starts climbing. There is very little level dirt road before the first climb starts, St. Kevins (pronounced Keevin). The moment the road turned up, my heart rate shot up, my breathing became labored and I was in trouble. I should have known 5 minutes into the first climb that it was a better idea to turn around, but I just kept thinking that I would warm-up and feel better as the day went on. It never happened.

I rolled into the first aid station area where my wife and kids were waiting, as was PW, about 15 minutes after PW had arrived. I told him to go on without me and I looked at my wife and said, "I am so completely f_____ed". She remembers it clearly because it was shocking and obviously correct. I was wasted at 26 miles into the race and had virtually nothing to go on. I had completed the first two climbs, St. Kevins and Sugarloaf, but had nothing in the tank for the largest climb or any of the return trip. I pressed on, hitting the next aid station at 40 miles and at the base of the climb feeling slightly better for the lack of major climbs in the intervening 14 miles, but decidedly wiped out. PW was more than 30 minutes ahead of me by that time and it would have been more if he hadn't waited so long previously. I headed up the Columbine climb with the stragglers and was losing spirit rapidly. The Columbine Mine climb is almost ten miles of going UP and it climbs above the tree line (the point at which the air is too thin to support the growth of trees) and reaches a peak of 12,400'. There were long sections where the steepness of the climb combined with the altitude had me walking my bike. This means that I was going 1.5 - 2 mph pushing my bike uphill rather than riding it, even if that was a meager 3-5 mph. It may not seem like a big difference, but it means that the final couple of miles of Columbine took most of an hour alone.

When I hit the turn-around spot at Columbine someone at the aid station quickly told me that I needed to hit the trail if I wanted to make the time cut-off. I don't know how compelling that was, but I did know that I would feel better getting to a lower elevation. I cruised down the 8.5 miles of downhill, humped up the one upward slope and then rolled the final mile plus into the aid station. I was stopped at the check in and told by a medical person that I looked okay and had made the time cut-off, barely, but that I had 1 hour to make the next cut-off which was 14-15 miles away and included a climb back up something known as Clavicle Hill or Ambulance Hill. I stopped to talk things over with my wife. My choice was to quit there and climb into the car or keep pedaling to the next aid station with certainty that I would be pulled from the race there and would likely be facing a long wait until an ignominious ride in the back of a pick-up into town. While I debated things with myself and my wife, those rolling up behind me were being told that they had missed the cut-off and they were pulled from the race.

I decided to quit.

It was incredibly hard thing to do. As Ken Clouber had said at the race meeting the day before, riding Leadville will hurt all day, but quitting Leadville will hurt forever, or at least until you come back and finish it. He was right.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

2010 Leadville 100 - Part 1

The story of my 103 mile mountain bike race in Leadville, Colorado started well before the date of the race, Saturday, August 14, 2010. It actually started at least by January 2007 and maybe a bit earlier.

If you will indulge me in the longest blog entry I have ever written, I will relate the tale. I will break it into parts, but here is the introduction.

During college, as I have mentioned, I was a rower for the University of Washington. Being a rower on a team like the one at UW is a rather significant commitment. At one point, I realized that I was involved in rowing, whether actually on the water or in a weight room or running stairs or whatever, for more than 40 hours per week. I was obviously attending to my studies in the time I could carve out from my rowing, but it was really my primary focus and not just on the six days a week I was plying my "trade." During this time, I developed a few close friendships and in particular, I spent a lot of time with two people who have proved to be lifelong friends, PW and BP. During the part of the year in which we were to be in the weight room in the morning, instead of on the water, I would lift weights with these two gentlemen. We would also run together (or as I called them then, going for a "trudge" instead of a run) and otherwise support each other as we were seemingly intent on beating our brains out in the process of earning our seats in the boats.

As our first year was ending, our coaches exhorted us to keep in shape over the summer so that we were ready to start again in the fall. PW, for reasons that can be detailed another time, had spent time in Germany and had become exposed to professional cycling. As such, during the year he had shared cycling magazines and been trying to convince me that really my life would be much improved by purchasing a "ten speed" bike, as we called them then, and riding my summer away. PW also encouraged me in another pursuit which would come to equally dominate my life, beer, but that story shall also be saved for another day.

In any case, I bought my first road bike in 1984 and have been riding ever since. In some of those years I rode more and in some years I rode less, but I have been cycling now for 26 summers. During those summers, I rode my bike with BP and with PW (Riding with BP reminds me of one summer cruise up Bogus Basin road, in which I traded bikes with BP because he was doing more running than cycling and had a straight block on his Bianchi which was proving to be more gear than was reasonable on the trip up). Anyway, a lot of summer riding was done with PW, as well as some other adventures.

Well, along the way, PW and I both developed a serious case of adulthood, including all the usual symptoms including wives, children, mortgages and jobs with actual and developing responsibilities. As such, our summer riding and various other shenanigans fell to the wayside. Oh sure, we still got together and drank beer, but it just wasn't the same. So, come the winter of 2006, I got the idea that we needed to pick an adventure and get out to do something. To this end, I decided to issue a challenge to PW; a challenge to pick an adventure with me and commit to it for 2007.

At this point in the story, maybe I should leave it to the contemporaneous documents. Forthwith is the "Manhood Challenge" I sent to PW. It should be noted that I sent with this note a sickly looking rubber chicken that when squeezed would emit a gelatinous egg from its posterior.


FROM: Rider 3
DATE: 12 / 7 / 2006

PW – Our traditional Christmas card, complete with adorable picture of the boys and glowing assessment of the family triumphs, will be arriving soon. Before that, however, I wanted to pass along a little christmas gift to you as both a reminder of our friendship and the value upon which I place on it, and a statement about your willingness to embrace an athletic challenge for 2007.

I don’t directly want to call you a chicken, or a coward, or yellow-bellied, or weak, or fearful, or spineless, or craven, or draw comparisons to your character with a worthless wastrel who cowers in the dark when faced with a challenge, so instead, please accept my gift in all of its meanings and take from it what you will.

I would, however, like to draw your attention, though, to the fact that I have “manned” up to most of the invitations that you have given to me over the years, whether it was STP, mountain bike racing or the day that I kicked your rear-end up and down Mt. Rainier (didn’t we hook a bungie cord to your bike at one point when you started crying?). Yes, I have been there whether I had the training time and a garage full of shiny new equipment or not. Can you say the same?

I’m not sure whether it will be the Leadville 100 or some other event, but I assure you that there is a challenge that is right for me, willing and able, and for you, so far unwilling and unable. I hope you will consider this as you gaze upon your new friend. Go ahead, give him a squeeze, and take an assessment of your manhood.

You know where to find me.

Gentle readers, you will be happy to know that this challenge did work its magic on PW and he agreed to enter the lottery for the 2007 Leadville 100. There was a suggestion that the lottery might not be an exclusively mechanical process; in other words a plea to the race organizers might help us grease the skids through lottery and it might be a bit more likely that we would get a chance to race. Keep in mind, that at this point the Leadville 100 was still a semi-known race and its registration was about 400 people in 2006, which ultimately expanded to about 650 riders in 2007 (there were almost 1,800 riders accepted into the race in 2010). In other words, this was prior to the "Lance" explosion. The following is the letter I sent to the organizers along with our printed registration forms,


FROM: Rider 3
DATE: JANUARY 15, 2007

Dear Sir or Madam Selector:
I would like to introduce myself and my friend PW. I am a 40-year old, happily married, recovering attorney and brewery owner. My friend is a 41-year old, with an exceedingly understanding wife, who has the luckiest career trajectory known-to-man and is currently a corporate executive. We desperately want to ride the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race. I am hopeful that upon contemplation of my story, you will give our application special consideration.

My friend PW has introduced me to the most important things in my life (after my wife and children, of course): Beer and Bicycling. PW and I met at the University of Washington where we both were rowers on the crew team. Rowers tend to hang out together to moderate the late nights and various excesses of college which would otherwise impede our ability to meet our training obligations. This meant that we had the opportunity to spend a lot of time together and we were forced into a rather monastic lifestyle that enabled us to greet the dawn each morning in an athletic frenzy.

We were rowing and living in Seattle at the beginning of the birth of the microbrew revolution. Rather than focus on purchasing beer primarily for “quantity” the way many of our friends did (giving birth to appreciation for “animal” beer), we tried to focus on “quality.” We would pool our meager funds and purchase single bottles of anything that we could find that we had not drunk before or we would buy as many of a single style or a single country’s beers as we could afford. It added some interest to our beer drinking and buying more expensive beer limited the amount we drank in an evening before getting up to row the next morning. Influenced by this and the re-birth of microbrews in the United States, I developed an unhealthy obsession with good beer. This eventually led to me giving up a reasonably lucrative career as a lawyer and turning my attention to a microbrewery in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. My wife insists that we bought the brewery to lower our monthly expenditure on beer. It didn’t work. If anything, it has gotten worse. I recently based my entire perception of a kitchen remodel around the creation of a space for a keg cooler so I could have my precious draft beer on tap every day of the year. Although we could debate the concept of man’s free will, whenever I look at what my life has become, I believe PW must accept part of the blame.

In a similar vein, as we ended our freshmen year of rowing, the crew-house discussions turned to summer fitness routines. There were various strategies and plans for being better rowers the following year, but PW was the emissary of cycling. He preached the benefits and joy of riding a bicycle and pushed us to recognize the beauty and misery of this largely European sport and niche hobby. I embraced this vision for summer-time training and it evolved over a number of years to virtually subsume all of my other hobbies except drinking. My children’s college fund has been spent on a basement full of bikes and gear, my golf clubs languish, my tennis rackets haven’t been used for anything but sword fighting in years and my ski day is usually limited by getting in some time on the trainer before or after.
Now, at this point in the story, you are undoubtedly wondering what this has to do with you or the Leadville 100. Well, I’m not sure, but it seems relevant to understanding how important this is to us.

Over the years, PW and I have not lived within 200 miles of each other since college, however, that has not stopped us from joining forces to take on numerous absurd and difficult challenges. These have primarily been on bikes, but have also involved ski trips and once, picking up a car in Southern California Saturday mid-morning, extensive (and I mean extensive) sampling at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California, where we spent Saturday night, and still getting back to our respective homes in Seattle and Spokane by Sunday evening. Maybe not wise, but memorable.

We have also completed the Seattle-to-Portland bike ride in one-day (206 miles) on three occasions, done some road bike and mountain bike racing together and have generally challenged ourselves in a myriad of ways on bikes. Over the last couple of years though, we have had more work duties and family duties and obstructions to our training, racing, riding and other get-togethers. We also each faced our 40th birthdays. One of these factors caused us to have the following e-mail exchange starting last fall:

Rider 3: I know you know about the Leadville 100, but have you read about the TransRockies Challenge? It’s a week-long, two-person mountain bike race in the Canadian Rockies with thousands of feet of elevation climbs. We should either sign up for that or for the Leadville 100. Check out the websites and let me know what you think.

No response from PW.

R3: PW, we have to pick a mammoth ride for next year so we force ourselves to train for it and we get something on the schedule so another year doesn’t go by without an epic event.

PW: What have you got in mind?

R3: How about the TransRockies Challenge or the Leadville 100?

PW: Okay, I’ll do one of those next year if you will ride the entire course of the Iron Horse Trail with me this fall.

R3: I’ll ride it, but only if we do it in one-day each way and camp in-between. [Ed. Note: It’s about 115 miles each way.]

PW: I’ll do it on one-day each way, but only if we do it on single-speed bikes.

R3: I’ll do it on single-speeds, but only if they are Felt MP’s cruisers with dyno-charger lights and racks to carry all of our gear.

PW: I’ll buy a Felt MP cruiser, but only if we start from my house and ride the 40-miles to the trail.

R3: I’ll ride from your house, but only if we take a bottle of tequila and we drink a shot every hour we are on the trail or until the bottle is dry.

PW: We got a deal.

Unfortunately, this conversation started late enough in the year that we were not able to find a free weekend before snow covered the trail.

Suppressing the disappointment of this aborted ride, I decided I needed to exhort PW to agree to a ride in 2007. By the time this was coming around, the 2007 TransRockies Challenge was filled, but the Mother of All Epic Mountain Bike Rides was still a possibility: Leadville 100. Knowing that his promotion, his MBA night classes, his two daughters and his neighborhood which apparently requires four social events per week, was already taking up much of his time, I decided serious action was required. In early December, I sent PW the enclosed note, entitled “Manhood Memorandum”, and enclosed a “rubber chicken” which, when squeezed, expelled a gelatinous egg that is sucked back into its interior when released. [Ed. Note: I have enclosed an example for your consideration.]

Yes, I “called him out.” And, succumbing to peer pressure and the questioning of his manhood, it worked. PW agreed to accept the challenge and we have now focused our efforts and training on being ready for the 100-mile, high-altitude challenge of the Leadville 100. We know it’s long, we know it’s vertical, we know the air is thin, but what we don’t know is; is it tough enough? We hope to be on the starting line sucking the limited amount of oxygen out of the 10,000+ ft. altitude air to find out how tough the ride is and, more importantly, how tough a couple of aging beer-drinking bike riders still are.

Thank you for considering our application.

Also, if we get in, I’ll bring cases of beer for the Leadville 100 staff to show our appreciation.

Yes, I was trying to entertain the organizers and ensure an entry into the race. PW and I got in and we showed up on the line in 2007. What happened? Tune in for Part 2.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Two hours into Leadville

It's early Saturday morning and I'm at home in my kitchen, waiting for the rest of my family to wake up.

1,500 miles away though, my good friend and teamate, Rider 3, is two hours into many hours of the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. I was supposed to be on the start line with him, but I gave up my spot after I sold our house a few months ago. Between work, family and building a new house, there was too much going on.

I don't feel guilty about backing out. Really. It was the right decision for me. But this morning, thinking about Rider 3 cranking up yet another 45 minute climb at 11,000 feet above sea level, I'm feeling impressed and proud of him.

If you were to take a critical look at Rider 3's strengths and weaknesses as a rider and pick out the best event for him to structure his life around, it would look like the polar opposite of Leadville. But that's Rider 3--always picking the most audacious goal.

As a reader of a cycling blog you might have had the experience of training for an event that scares the hell out of you. Or maybe you haven't.

What most people don't realize is how hard the preparation is. And not just the physical part. It's the compromise that's so difficult, at least for me. It's hard for professional riders, trust me about this. But's it's an order of magnitude harder when you're an amateur rider, especially one with a big job and a family.

Two weeks ago I met Rider 3 for a mountain bike ride. It was perfect for me. We rode hard for three hours and I was looking forward to a cup of coffee. A good meal. A nap. Playing baseball with my daughter. A perfect summer day. And I dutifully took care of all of these things. Rider 3 though, rode for an additional three hours.

I haven't asked him about this, but my very well educated guess is that in the middle of 20 hour training weeks (on top of 50 hour work weeks), Rider 3 experienced more than a little doubt about whether he had made the right choice. Whether a freaking mountain bike race was worth it.

My experience anyway is that when you're getting ready for an event like Leadville, many days are close to impossible. You get frustrated that you're not taking care of other parts of your life. You don't want to be on the bike for four hours. Yet another set of hill repeats sound almost as much fun as coming down with ebola.

Every now and then though, great compromise yields great results. And I'm not talking about the numbers on the clock that Rider 3 will see when he crosses the finish line. He did the training, absorbed the compromises, is fitter than I've ever seen him. But the real result--at least my guess about what the real result is anyway--is that he'll have learned something new about himself in the process.

And this is something he owns now. It belongs to him.

So, congratulations Rider 3. Here's to a great race.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A philosophical question

If a person "wins" a field sprint for 8th place, are they really a winner?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Faithful readers of this blog will have to depend on Rider One to shake off his blogging lethargy and keep up with his "Ride of the Week" pledge and hope that Rider Two is willing to give up his boycott of blogging until all drugs are out of cycling, because I, Rider Three, am officially on a hiatus to ride the Leadville 100.

I tried, but failed, to finish Leadville 3 years ago. There were lots of good reasons that I didn't make it, but it was also deeply frustrating, annoying, disheartening and difficult to have traveled that far with the whole fam-damily and then abandon. In preparation that year I completed the Tour of Pain (200 miles/1 day), Seattle-to-Portland (204 miles/1 day - in 10 hours total time), and RAMROD (156 miles, 3 major passes/1 day), so I thought I was ready, but I still managed to screw it up.

This year, I took a very different approach, including doing a lot more mountain biking and more intensity, instead of just "long" rides. I got my Garmin blogged about elsewhere and started using it on July 1. In the last six weeks, here are the stats - 82 hours of rides covering 1,100 miles and burning over 33,000 calories.

Could I have done more, probably not in the last six weeks, but probably yes in the prior six months. In any case, I think I am ready and as long as the altitude doesn't completely mess me up, I feel pretty good about finishing inside of 12 hours and collecting that belt buckle.

I will let you know.

Win, place or show, however, I owe a lot of thanks to some people.

First, to my wife, who has tolerated a lot of time, money and energy being devoted to this.

To my kids who have tolerated a lot of time on the bike and thus away from them.

To the crew at Two Wheel Transit who have witnessed my full-on fussing about a bike, wheels, tires, accessories, gears, bottom brackets, you name it, and keep being pleasant, supportive and helpful. Love the Superfly!

To Rider One, who served as pseudo-coach when I put together plans and has been willing to show up over and over to ride along with those plans (and yes, I will forgive you eventually for not going even though you registered).

To DD from Spokane, who finished last year in 11 hours 58 minutes 40 seconds, and who has been training like a mad man to improve upon that finish and encouraging me to do the same since January.

To the Tacoma Boys, PW, who has signed up or signed me up for multiple madnesses over the years, including being there three years ago and also failing to finish (Dude, how many times do we have to go over this? Completing the course in under 13 hours doesn't count as "finishing" when there is a 12-hour cut-off . . .) and PK, a first-timer who is likely to show us up dramatically.

I will try to get up a post this weekend with the news, one way or the other, and will be back to blogging later in August. In the meantime, keep the rubber side down.
Rider Three

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Garmin Edge 500 Follow-up

I wrote a bit about my "Garmin Edge 500" last week, but wanted to add a follow-up note. One of the reasons I wanted this unit was a feature they call the "virtual training partner." The idea is basically that you can ride "against" yourself on routes that you have done before to see how much faster or slower you are riding. You select a course you have ridden before and then "do" that course again. In addition to the "other" three screens of information with up to 18 data points, this feature adds two more screens to show you 1) your time and distance relative to your prior time; 2) a profile of the elevation changes with a dot representing your current and prior self; and 3) a GPS unit style map showing your relative positions on the course.

I tried this "feature" out for the first time on the Shop Ride last week. There was an issue with the way it worked because I think the data was "off" just a bit at the start (I seem to recall not starting it and letting it get a lock on the "satellites" before rolling away from the shop) and then I doubled back a couple of times on the course to pick up people having equipment issues. The unit was confused by my failing to replicate some of these items so it was telling me I was "on" or "off" the course when one of these anomalies from the prior ride occurred.

I next tried this feature on my normal commute to work and the "extended" route I have been taking on the way home. In this case, I was comparing Friday's ride to the prior "Wednesday's" ride and it work "virtually" flawlessly (Did you notice that pun with "virtually" being used in the sense of "almost" and also in the sense of computers replicating "reality" in a "virtual" manner, aka "virtual reality"? Damn I crack myself up "sometimes.") Anyway, that is very cool and a feature that seems quite "advanced" for this very small and reasonably priced unit.

I can see how this could be used very effectively for a "training" tool to compare something like a 10-mile TT course on a monthly basis to compare fitness. Now if I just add a power meter, a driver for motor-pacing and a personal masseuse I could train like the wanna-be I have always "wanted" to be. "Kidding" aside, it would be a good training tool.

My real reason for the interest in this feature, however, is that I was able to go to someone else's download of their Leadville 100 race last year, in which they finished 35 minutes ahead of the 12-hour "cut-off time," and I was able to ("literally" in about three clicks) import their race data into my Garmin unit so that I can race against that finish time all day long. My only "expectation", or should I say "hope" is to finish inside the 12 hour time to be an official "finisher" and get my belt buckle. I think this will serve as a great motivator to keep me moving and help me keep a sense of the pace I need to be going to make it. And, if it is proving to "scare" me rather than motivate me, it is easy to flip to another screen and ignore it. Just between you and me, however, I am hoping that I can stay on about this pace for the day and it will provide "comfort" for most of the 11 1/2 hours of riding (or really, "suffering") that day.

And finally, "yes," I did add annoying quote marks to at least one word in every single "sentence" of this blog. "Sometimes" "two" or "three".

"Thanks" for reading.
Rider Three

Friday, August 6, 2010

Post Shop Ride Post

The Team Two Wheel Shop Ride was last night. The quick run-down is that we had about a dozen people including two women. The group stayed together fairly well with re-groupings at the top of the first hill past the cemeteries on the way out, again at the beginning and end of Riverside State Park and at the top of Doomsday hill. The weather was great and I think everyone had a good time.

I do have one complaint, however. A few people dropped off the ride in the last number of blocks with really poor excuses like "I gotta get home" or "thanks for the ride", but that meant there were fewer people back at the shop to eat the pizza! Why should I be forced to eat someone else's pizza! Can't they do us the courtesy to show up and eat their own damn pizza? Why the nerve of some people.

So, speaking of pizza, the last official Team Two Wheel shop ride will be on Thursday, Sept. 2nd. Two Wheel Transit will be hosting other shop rides on each Thursday between now and then, but this is the "official" Team Two Wheel ride where your ride leaders are guaranteed to be team members and bloggers on this channel. Well, I shouldn't unnecessarily accuse my team mates of blogging, but you get the idea. Anyway, the David's Pizza - Emergency Pizza Response vehicle will be there to dole out fresh, hot slices of 'za for everyone on hand for the season-ending shop ride.

I, personally, would love to see a large turn-out for the last ride not just because I like the camaraderie and entertainment of a large group, but because I think it would be a nice way to thank the new owners of Two Wheel Transit for jumping into the cycling scene and trying to help the cycling community in a number of ways. The owners at Two Wheel have contributed bikes, money and energy to a number of causes this year, including, and this is just what I can recall off-hand (it is important to never sully my blogging with actual facts, fact-checking or research), the Christmas Fund, a local homeless shelter, Bike to Work, SpokeFest, Summer Parkways, Moms in Motion and, of course, the shop rides and Team Two Wheel. The owners and employees at Two Wheel Transit genuinely enjoy cycling in all of its forms and participate in commuting, racing and riding out of real appreciation for our sport and its participants. So, what better way to say "thanks" for helping make our community a better place to cycle than to come along on a friendly ride and then eat pizza? I can't think of a better deal than that, can you?

So, right now, while we are talking about, put Thursday, Sept 2, 5.30 pm on your calendar and plan to join us for a few miles of riding and some David's Pizza afterward.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Last Minute Reminder

Shop ride tonight! Ride leaves about 5.30 pm and we will ride the Seven Mile Bridge loop so we can get back to the shop for a slice of pizza.

Come join us, or as the kids say, CU L8R.
Rider Three

A rare race report

For those of you that follow our little blog, you may have picked up by now that I've had a less than stellar year of race results. The main reason for this, one could argue, is that I've started so few races.

So when I showed up yesterday at Liberty High School in the booming metropolis of Sprague, Washington, here's how I was greeted by another racer.

"Hey, how's it going? Haven't seen you out here in a while."

"Yes, well I haven't raced much lately."

"Been riding though? Tonight should be super fast."

"No, I'm kind of coming off of a three month rest block. So I should be nice and fresh."


Of course I wasn't being serious. Except for the three months part. I've had occasional rides, but nothing structured. Or particularly hard, save for some mountain bike rides where I had no choice. It's hard to go easy on a 25 minute climb.

So, I toed the line last night with a bit of, what? Foreboding? Fear? Not looking forward to tasting my stomach bile? Yes, yes, and yes.

In fact the race that our friends at Spokane Rocket Velo put on was outstanding. Super-fun course around the hills of the Palouse. Yes, it was all big ring. But who says going uphill in your big ring is easy?

Attacks started right from the gun, with Gabe Varela leading us through the "neutral" zone at 30 mph. You think I'm kidding? I'm not. It was fast enough that I forgot to start my Garmin unit, instead preferring to focus on things like, oh I don't know, breathing. And while I stayed among the front few guys early on, when I took a peek over my shoulder there were more than a handful of guys off the back, never to be seen again.

The race was fun though. In a whips and chains kind of way. A break went right from the gun, but unlike races earlier this season, the pack actually chased. We caught the break of Varela and Mike Gaertner about half-way through the 30 mile loop. For kicks I even took a few turns.

From there a flurry of doomed attacks went off and came back, until about 7K to go, when Gabe again lit it up. A tired pack hesitated, he opened a gap, and despite Rocket Velo's best efforts, Gabe only put more time on the group.

The finish was an uphill sprint. I actually felt OK going into it, but I unfortunately thought it would be good to lead out early. On an uphill sprint. You know, uphill, as in unless you're Andre Greipel, you're not going to do well by going early. Head and legs win races. I evidently had neither.

Oh well. I finished 10th or so. The results aren't posted, and even though there were maybe 35 or 40 people in the race, my guess is that I was far enough back that I won't make the results.

I also owe another racer an apology. Maybe. Although I consider myself a relatively smooth, and considerate, rider in the bunch, I had some feedback after the sprint alleging that I closed the door on said competitor (link). That is, I drifted from one side of the road towards something farther to the right, when I led out the sprint, making it impossible for him to get past me. Generally this is an unkind, unsafe and somewhat illegal maneuver.

For a drastic example of this, thankfully also without a crash as a result, here's a video to show what I mean.

Original Video - More videos at TinyPic

If this indeed happened, my apologies. Although the race was held on a Tuesday, I certainly don't consider it the Tuesday Night World Championships. I really enjoy keeping my body and bike, and others bodies and bikes, in one piece. Especially when I'm sprinting for 8th place, or whatever.

Anyway, now that I have that off of my chest I feel better.

So overall, re-entry into the racing world could have been worse. And what a fantastic course. I absolutely loved it. Lumpy, fast, no traffic, good times. Although average speed in a race is among the worst ways to judge how hard a race is, we still averaged about 26 mph. So no, we weren't soft pedalling.

And kudos to Gabe Varela. Here's to being the most talented guy in the region right now, and to winning a race the hard way. Solo, off the front, after driving a break for most of the race.

If you're interested, here's a link to my Garmin file from the race. To see the gory details, click on "view details" on the image.

And I hope some of you can make the Two Wheel Transit shop ride on Thursday. 5:30 p.m.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Micro-blog No. 11 - Thanks

No, these aren't the same thanks as the last Micro-blog. In this one, I want to thank my wife a lot, and my kids some, but mostly my wife a lot, for putting up with all of the time, money, energy and time that has gone into my Leadville training, buying, fussing, riding, and on and on and on.

I have a highly tolerant and supportive wife and, unfortunately for her, I give her lots of opportunities to show it.

Thank you. Sincerely.

Micro-blog No. 10 - Thanks

If you saw Micro-blog No. 5, you saw my positive comments about my new Bontrager 29-3's. Here is the thanks I sent to the guys at Two Wheel Transit:

Geoff and Tom – I wanted you to know how happy I am with the Bontrager 29-3 TLR 2.25’s that got installed on my bike last week. As I reported on the blog I pounded them through the rockiest stuff at Riverside and they came through with shining colors. The do add a little bit of heft to the bike, but whatever fraction they slow me on the uphills I am confident will be gained on the downhills and through avoiding a flat tire or two.

Thanks for the patience in helping me to figure it out.
Rider Three

It seems we often take the time to complain about stuff, but I try to remember to offer thanks once in a while.

Micro-blog No. 9 - Ummm.

Doesn't this picture deserve to be run again? No, my wife says.

From Misc Bike Pics

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Micro-blog No. 8 - Garmin Edge 500

Here is another thing that I have added to the cycling equipment inventory this year, a Garmin Edge 500. I received this as a Father's Day present after some not so subtle lobbying. Here is my brief review - love it! Please go back and now read the two-word review in that slightly sing-songy voice that the term "love it!" really deserves.

This unit does a few things fantastically well - it is the world's easiest bike computer to install and use; it has easy to follow instructions for use and programming which information you want presented (from 1-6 items on each of 3 pages); and it easy to download and review the information you want after your ride.

The one area where is suffers compared to a bike computer with a wheel magnet is in its immediate accuracy of speed or overall distance. The Garmin Edge could also be called the Garmin Average-erator, because what it really does is constantly measure the distance from satellite to satellite and tell you your speed, distance traveled, grade of ascent/descent, etc. based on your movement between satellites. As a result, it really is a rolling average of all of this information and, for me, 30 seconds after the ride, that is all I need to know.

Once in a while, now that I have a reading of gradient, I want to look down and see if I am suffering up a 12% grade or is really 14%, but the averaging function really means that if the grade is really just a short pitch, it may not capture it at that moment, so something that feels 12% can read 6% or vice-versa, but it does pick up the average and there is a great graphic representation after the ride. And other than occasionally looking at the screen and knowing it may not be minutely correct, it is a great device and I know love "knowing" the grade of climbs around here.

And for sure after a ride, it doesn't matter to me whether any given moment was a perfect reading, I just want to know how far, how fast and I also get a google map of my trip, elevation, heart rate, temperatures, as well as information about calories, total ascent/descent, averages, etc. So you can see for your self, I have done a screen capture of my ride with some of the MR guys up to the top of Mt. Spokane and back.

From Misc Bike Pics

Like I said, Love It!

Micro-blog No. 7 - Drivers

Why do so many drivers seem to drift to the right just after passing a cyclist? I used to think it was either an act of aggression or at least passive-aggression, but after seeing it so many times, I'm not sure any more. I try to give cyclists room when I pass them, but I'm pretty sure I don't drift too far to the right when I get past them. Of course, with my political leanings, I am very careful to never end up too far to the right.

Micro-blog No. 6 - Shop Ride

Shop ride Thursday from Two Wheel Transit at 5.30 pm. But you knew that, didn't you.

See you there.

Micro-blog No. 5 - Bontrager Tires - XR1 & 29-3 TLR

My super-sweet Superfly came equipped with Bontrager XR1 tires but I recently switched over to the Bontrager 29-3 TLR. Here are my micro-blog thoughts.

XR1 - Very fast, light tire. A great, great tire for a mountain bike race on a course that is not too muddy or too rocky. I rode these at the 24 Hour Race and the Mad Dash 8 hour race. They worked well, but I had a pinch flat at one race and a mysterious stem blowout on the tube at one. If I was under 180 lbs, I don't think I would have the pinch flat issue and I might still be riding these tires. The front tire isn't really grippy in loose stuff, but it is a great hard pack tire and a perfect race tire for someone light on the bike and competitive at the front of the pack.

For the Leadville 100 I wanted to make sure that I had a tire that would stand up to the abuse my size and the course dishes out. The course actually doesn't dish out too much to the tires themselves and I have it on good authority that the Trek supported riders will be on the XR1 at Leadville, but Two Wheel Transit mechanic extraordinaire Tom suggested a tire with more volume would be better for me.

Passing over the multiple conversations and hundreds of tires checked out, Tom helped me land on the Bontrager 29-3 in a 2.25" width.

29-3 TLR - This tire comes in a couple of different tread patterns and widths. Looking for the right combination of weight and volume, I got the Team Edition 2.25", which say is it 600 grams. This compares to 495 grams for the XR1, but it is a lot less than a lot of other rubber I was looking at. I got them mounted tubeless and rode them this weekend for the first time. I am super happy with the superfly and these tires.

The do have a lot more volume or mass than the XR1, which absorbs a lot more impact without hitting the rim or feeling like it might. In the rock garden sections I went back to feeling like I could just rip right into them without a problem and after six hours on Sunday of no-holds barred banging on them, they held up perfectly. They have more grip on the front end for looser stuff and they do have more weight for spinning up or going uphill, but I felt confident and good on them, which really is the mark for these things.

I would rather have 200 more grams to haul up the mountains in Colorado and not have a roadside repair so I think I got the right combination. I did, by the way, by-stop at the Kenda Small Block 8's. I voided the warranty by using Stan's and then promptly split the rear tire on the centerline on a rock, which Stan's wouldn't stop (nor would I expect it to). I was disappointed with the casing on the Small Block 8's as they seem to be twisted somehow so that they rode oddly on pavement. I have heard a lot of good things about them, but they didn't work for me. I am looking forward to many more miles, and hopefully 103 of them at Leadville, on the 29-3's.

Micro-blog No. 4.5 - New Trek TT bike

Just saw an e-mail from Geoff at Two Wheel Transit that he has one of the new Trek TT bikes that was delivered for a customer yesterday and will be picked up today, so if you want to see a Trek Speed Concept 9.9, pick up a coffee and bagel at the Rocket Bakery this morning and just happen to stroll into Two Wheel Transit between 10 am and noon to check it out. Just no drool marks, please, after it all it is being picked up today by a customer who paid for a bike with no slobber stains.

From Misc Bike Pics

Micro-blog No. 4 - Gary Fisher Superfly

It is really a shame to do a micro-blog on the Gary Fisher Superfly. It deserves a week-long celebration really, but I gotta keep moving, so here is it.

This 29er carbon mountain bike is sweetness itself.

I previously rode a very light Rocky Mountain scandium team bike (26") and then a Niner EMD, with aluminum frame and 29" wheels. I liked the lightness of the Rocky Mountain but I never fell in love with it. Everything was right, but it just didn't get to my heart. I rode a friends Niner AIR and was immediately ready to make the leap to a 29er. At my size, 6' 4" and 475 lbs, it just felt immediately and completely better suited to me. I didn't have the budget for the AIR, so I got an EMD, which is the same frame in aluminum instead of scandium and with some lesser spec parts. I liked the Niner a lot and it made me appreciate mountain biking in a way that I had not in years, but then came along the Superfly.

The Superfly isn't a fair comparison to the EMD since it has twice the price tag, but it is fair to say that it is a much nicer bike. It has higher zoot components, that shift, brake, shock absorb, etc. all really nicely. The three nicest things about the Superfly, however, are 1) super stiff bottom bracket (at my size, it matters); 2) the carbon frame absorbs "energy" or small stuff in a magical way; and 3) it handles better or faster than the Niner.

At one time I thought a carbon mountain bike frame was way up on the stupid list, why not glass helmets next?, but after a few years of them standing up to the abuse, I decided that the experience along with the warranty made it a safe bet. Some of the things that make carbon road bikes good are multiplied in mountain bikes and this frame feels completely rock solid stiff but without being harsh. Not really possible it sounds, but it is true.

On the handling, Niner has a great reputation and I like their stuff, but some combination of the frame geometry, fork, stem, handlebars or something else all combine to make the Superfly super grippy on the steepest pitches, super steady on fast descents and super divy around corners. Okay, I don't know what super divy means, except that I can get this around corners on single track much faster. Rider One recently said that I was going as well on a mountain bike as he has ever seen. I chalk that up to Leadville 100 training time and the Superfly. Couldn't do it without the combination.

I haven't ridden the whole line of Gary Fisher 29ers, which are now really Trek 29ers, but I suspect a lot of what I like in the handling is present in all of these bikes, so even if a Superfly isn't in the budget, I think these 29ers all deserve a look. My brother got a Paragon last year and I think he agrees.

Superfly = super sweet.