I was not going to do it, you know. Too far to drive. Costs money. Takes time. Takes training. Meh!
But then Navy Mike said he was looking to do something semi-epic this year and did I have any plans? Not really. Past the Crusher in the Tushar, I had nothing but a bunch of road centuries and they do not really require training, just lots of riding to be ready for them. But after a few minutes of texting and emailing, it was settled. I was going to Idaho. Again.
I was slower than I wanted to be, but not by much, yet I barely made the cutoff. Feeling the strain, I flipped early and only rode 72 of the 93 miles for the full course. So if I was going to go back, I was going to keep my fitness a bit higher and ride it more like a race and less like a tour. Less pic taking, Posie sniffing, and casual pedaling might get me an hour faster than last year overall. Maybe.
I also had to decide what bike to ride. Last year I reserved a Specialized Crux and that was really fun to ride, never having been on a cross bike before. I had just built up a hard tail 29er for The Crusher race but I did not really like the way that 29er HT worked for me so it caws stripped. That left me with two choices…reserve a bike again or race whatever I had left that was kinda fast. The Crux was light and all, but the gearing was higher than I have on my new road bike. And that 36T/28T low combo was not enough to let me spin up the first long climb out of town. Being able to spin really helps me stay fresh for the next few hours of riding and so deeper gears would offset the lighter bike IMO.
So I have one other bike that seemed reasonable to ride. The Specialized Epic is a fast feeling FS 29er and this one has quite a nice build on it…carbon wheels, etc. Probably 5 pounds heavier than the Crux, it is comfy for all those washboard roads and is a great pedaling bike all around. Decision made. Use what you know.
So I set out to work on my fitness by laying out a plan that would see me building all the way till late August. It was going well and it involved a lot of road riding in the Summer heat. Then I got sick, some kind of a weird intestinal thing. That cost me a week. Then I worked 30 hours of overtime the next week. Then my house flooded and we had to move out while that was dealt with. And then I had another bout of illness that took me out for another week. Although I never stopped riding, it took one month of quality training out of my life. That sucked. But it is what it is and at least I am typically fit, but not where I wanted to be.
So I had the bike - The Epic with the XX drivetrain and Carbon Roval wheels shod with fast rolling but plumpish Race King and X King tires.
I had the fitness to survive, I think, but not excel.
I had a plan to tweak a few things too. First, I knew the route and what to expect. Barring things like weather and wind, that would allow me to better gauge the effort I could afford to put out. Of course, the extra 25 miles of the course I never rode is a wild card. I wanted to get the weight off my back, so no hydration pack. That meant a frame bag to carry essentials like extra tube, pump, windbreaker, and drink mix packets/supplements. A bar mounted bag (Revelate Mountain Feedbag) will keep a bottle at hand and I will alternate between Fluid Performance drink mixed up double strong (@200 cals per bottle) and Camelbak fizzy lifting drink tablets. If the weather is hotter, I will mix in Elete tablytes.
I will treat it more like a very fast ride, maybe even a race. That goes against my grain as I love a challenge, but the pressure of a race pace does not appeal to me. But I need to step up and change that a bit. I made a real error at the Crusher in the Tushar and it was bitter lesson. If I miss the cut off this time, it will not be due to a tourist mindset.
Ed the Tall is not my travel buddy, but Navy Mike is actually race ready I think and is a very strong rider. He even has been working with a coach and had a drink mix custom blended just for him. Sheesh! I just recently got on Strava and bought a Garmin. Old mountain bikers never die, they just begrudgingly take on new technology every ten years. I predict to see Navy Mike at the beginning of the race and at the end and never more than that. I will be alone again to face my own demons of doubt and suffering but I am used to that.
So off the Idaho I go. Ready or not. But don't expect a bunch of pics. I'm racing this time.
An interesting thing happened the other day and it has changed things up a bit regarding the way I set up bikes. I was unboxing a test bike and it had a very aggressive bar position, that being low and somewhat far out there. It was a XC/Endurance focused FS 29er, so that was not out of the norm for a cockpit set-up, but it was a bit much for me.
I went to swap the stem position, but hesitated, thinking I would 'try it their way' first. In time, and really a very short time, I found I liked it. Never moved that handlebar.
In fact I took my Specialized Epic, a similar bike, to a 10mm longer stem and flipped it negative. I liked it.
Then I rode my single speed, a bike I had been happy with the set-up on, and felt like I was on a beach cruiser, that h-bar being high and in my lap. Huh! So I flipped that stem too. Now I was weighting the front wheel better and was happy. How odd.
And it goes to show that you can get used to anything, even the wrong thing. It took a couple of bikes lately to point that out. One was the long, low XC FS bike with the flipped stem and the others were a couple of 130mm/140mm travel Fs bikes. But that taught me another lesson and one a bit different then the XC bike.
"Longer stems on smaller frames can be a good thing."
I typically ride an XL, but I am a bit of a tweener in sizing. I can go either way, often as not. But I have found that the two bikes, both pretty big 29er trail bikes, were better to ride in a smaller frame (LG) with a longer stem (100mm). I found that the smaller frame and the resulting shorter wheelbase gave me a good dose of maneuverability often missing in XL bikes and the longer stem was weighting the front wheel, which was already closer under me due to the frame size reduction.
And that was an epiphany. In a short time, I reversed the long march I had been on to shorter stems and longer bikes and I am stunned by how much better it was, at least on the long travel bikes.
It goes to show that old dogs can indeed learn new tricks and it pays to experiment with stuff like cockpit setup now and again.
Or trick-sey. Tricksy? I don't do tricks well. Now, stop that image in your mind right now. I am talking about bike tricks. You know…wheelies, bunny-hops, manuals, etc. I suck at them. I bet any 12 year old with a bike and a paper route (do they still have those?) can crush me in a wheelie contest.
I have been aware of this for some time…years, really. And it has not gotten better with age. I thought of it again the other day during a group ride where I was following a rider down a bit of a techy single track. He was hopping and bopping over a few of the trail obstacles while I was flowing and going just as fast as he was. I was a bit jealous, actually. I wish I could do that, the hippy hoppy bunny trail approach to trail riding.
Some of these things are really practical such as the nose wheelie around tight switchbacks, the manual transitioning to a quick bunny hop for trail obstacles, etc. I am a pretty good trail rider, actually. I am even considered 'fast' in the group I ride in, but that is a 'big fish in a smaller pond' reality. Still, it takes a pretty good rider to gap me on trail. But if I have to do any trick moves, a skilled 3 year old on a straddle bike could school me. Little brats.
I am not too sure how to improve this. I guess I could set up some kind of skills course and work at it, but first I better armor-up and check my medical plan cuz' I think it might require a skin offering to the trail gods. I do wonder though, since it has been this way from the beginning, if I just lack the gene. Heck, even when I was a wanker on a BMX bike I was too attached to gravity to jump worth a fig…a flying fig in this case. It might be too late for this old dog to learn any new tricks.
School is in session.
Still, I think I need to try to get better in this regard. I think it will make me a better rider and that is something that anyone, no matter how new or experienced, can benefit from.
Turning serious tricks may not be for me, but perhaps I can learn to flirt in the dirt a bit more. No street corners required.
I said that the other night during a group ride. And it got me to thinking.
The way things are in my life right now, I typically have a couple of bikes or wheels or tires or forks or whatever in a revolving ellipse centered around my garage so I am forced to grab whatever is on the top of the dog pile for a ride in order to get the business done that needs to be done.
But the other day I put together a bike that had not been ridden in, what, a year? Hard to say. Even beyond that, it had been little ridden the year previous to last year! Parts had been borrowed for other bikes and then uninstalled from the temporary builds they had been used for. This bike, nearly a chassis only at this point, hung on a back hook in the garage and languished. A shame, really, so I put it all back together with most of the original spec except for the wheels, shifters, and bars, and tuned it up again.
The first real ride was the other night with 'the gang' and I was chasing Navy Mike who was riding a Scott Spark 910, or he was chasing me, depending on the trail, for a good 90 minutes. And it came to my mind that, and this was not the first time I had thought this, that this bike was my favorite bike I have ever owned, heck, maybe even ever ridden!
The bike I had resurrected from the nearly-dead (Princess Bride reference there) and had just defended my honor with against the Mongol hordes of the Tuesday Night Ride was a 2010 Specialized Epic Marathon. This bike was pretty high end when it came out that year. Brain rear shock, M5 aluminum frame, SRAM XX 2x10 shifting, carbon crown/steerer Reba fork, Roval wheels, Thomson seat post, etc.
I have added carbon Roval wheels and swapped to SRAM Grip Shift but besides that (and tires), it is stock. And it is one sweet ride. It is like Specialized, when they were stirring the pot of witches brew that all bikes are designed in, stole a peek into my soul and added that into the incantations, frog's legs, and dragon's gizzards that went into the cauldron.
I *heart* this Epic. I always have. What is remarkable to me is how well it has held up over time even when it is compared to the newer Epics and the competition. XX may not be the wisest gearing for a older guy that lives where you climb a lot, but I get by and even when XO is really just as good and XX1 is getting all the hoopla now, XX 2x10 is still the best shifting front double crank I have ever used. Yes, it takes a student loan to replace the cassette, etc, but it is crazy light stuff and has been dead reliable. The bike, even with only 90mm of rear travel, feels balanced front to rear with that carbon Reba. I went back to the OE 105mm stem and actually flipped it to get lower, reversing the trend I was on of shorter stems and higher bars. It feels good that way.
Nothing perks up a 29er like wheels. Cheap 29ers suck, mostly because the wheels get like hoops of lead and that is death to fun. The Roval Control Carbons are solid enough for a much bigger travel bike yet are light and dead easy to convert across axle types. No 142x12 rear axle for this bike. Not even a 15QR front. But the OS28 front axle caps and the well built frame deal with all that well enough and while carbon would be lighter and snappier for sure, it is no slouch when you stand and "git 'er done".
And there is the Mini Brain rear suspension. If ever a technology was made for a guy like me, this is it. Yes, you give up some suppleness. Yes, it is proprietary and costly to repair. But it works so well, especially when you stand and climb. I have played with some of the latest DW link bikes and they are really, really good, likely better as an overall performing system, but the Mini Brain just has that 'something' going on that works soooo well for this type of bike.
The handling is very middle ground, not too fast, not too slow. It is just right for covering ground as the hours and miles go by. It is 'dialed', to use a word. Sure, there are things here and there that are not the pinnacle of performance as time has upped the ante for what a 29er FS can be, but the sum of all this…and this is key…the sum of all the parts, angles, dimensions and specifications just rings like an old bell - smooth and clear, even if the surface is a bit tarnished. Or is it perhaps Patina, and not tarnish?
What popped out of the cauldron that full moon night on trail, was a bike that, after going into 4 years of time passed, is still, if I had to have only one bike in the garage, and taking into consideration where I ride and how I ride, would be the one I would have still left on a hook when all the other hooks were empty.