Wednesday, May 29, 2013

MudHoney Metamorphosis! turning a Seven cyclocross race bike into a gravel grinder

I never planned on doing this. Sure, when I got my Seven Cycles MudHoney the thought of riding it on dirt roads in the summer crossed my mind. I do train quite a bit on gravel roads & dirt farm track during cyclocross season. For that sort of riding adding a bottle cage & a seat pack is all the adjustment necessary. But the requirements of racing a gravel grinder, especially a 200 mile one, are entirely different.

A substantial part of preparing for the Dirty Kanza 200 has been figuring how to turn this bike:

Into this bike:

Cyclocross races are short in cool weather. Gravel grinders are long & Kansas in June is hot. Rarely do I need a water bottle in a cyclocross race. I expect to go through 25-30 oz an hour at the Dirty Kanza 200. After trying triathlon seat rockets, handlebar mounted cages, camelbak's, I finally tripped across the idea of putting a hydro bladder in a frame bag. Perfect! One water bottle plus the bladder gives me over 100 oz. of re-hydration on board.

Did I mention that there is no crew support on course between check points. If you have a flat, break a chain, ect, ect, ect, you're the one fixing it. So an extra large saddle bag is needed to carry the fixings

 That's two tubes, tools, patch kit, a bit of chain, and other fixing things in there.

Bonk is the killer of dreams at these type of events. In any bike race it's easy to forget to eat often enough. In a race that will last 12 or more hours, that is a recipe for doom. It is easier for me to remember to eat when my feed bag is strapped to the bar in front of me.

Yes, those are mini-aero bars on a cyclocross bike. Imagine chasing into a 15 mph head wind for 40 miles. Now imagine nothing, no hills, no buildings, not a single tree that will provide you shelter from that merciless wind. That's Kansas weather on an average day. So I'm rocking the aero bars no matter what anyone says.

Beyond that, the tires are Bontrager CXO file treads, the gearing is a 50x34 up front & a 11-27 cassette. I trust that my tires will hold up to the Flint Hills, but I'm bringing plenty of spares just in case. So far this bike set up has worked exceeding well on 130-150 mile training rides. The 38c tires have enough traction and float on New England's rough dirt roads & jeep trails. Bontrager grippy gel tape with extra gel pads have kept my hands comfortable. I like Fizik Gobi saddles for every bike. We'll know come June 1st how it all held together.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Racing Dirt Roads in New England Part 2.

Since my post last week about dirt road ronde's in New England, two more events have come to my attention. Unlike the more casual touring style of some of the other events, both of these are races.

Morning miles at the GMDC

First, the Green Mountain Double Century. June 15-16th. Technically this event is a race, but in the brevet ultra challenge sort of way. Sandy Whittlesey designed this event to be an uber D2R2. He sets the course, the date, and the rules. I do not think he hands out bib numbers, but honestly, that's not needed. The course covers 208 miles in southern Vermont, 24,000 feet of climbing, almost all on dirt roads. The time limit is 40 hours. The Ride Studio Cafe team of David Wilcox, Matt Roy, & John Bayley hold the record at 16+ hours. Natalia Boltukhova did a great job of documenting their record setting ride. Sandy requires each participant to complete a 300km brevet or a double century before entering the GMDC. Some folks attempt this course in two long days by sleeping over night at a B&B mid route. If I thrive at the Dirty Kanza 200, this may go on the bucket list of races. Email Sandy for info or an entry application.

the beauty of North East Kingdom dirt roads
Second, the Dirty 40 Race, August 31st. This is a new event. I believe something like it was organized last year or the year before, but not as a race. The race starts and ends in Newport, VT. The course is 60 miles with 40 miles of dirt road. The promoter is putting up a bunch of pictures on his page but other than that, the event is a complete unknown to me. So of course I already registered for it!  The Kingdom Trails is sponsoring it, so it has to be legit, right?

BTW: it looks like the dirt road ronde-gravel grinder scene is getting something like main stream press. Pretty soon this type of riding might even be as popular as cyclocross. So there goes the neighborhood.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Weekend on the Kancamagus: revenge of the knee

from either side, a high hill
Many of you know the saga of my left knee. 5 plus years ago I dislocated my knee cap. That incident lead to 3 seasons of increasing pain leading to surgery 2 years ago. So far this year, I had no new knee issuesl This past weekend was my last for hard training before the long hard race. Originally I planned to do a 180-200 mile road ride. But when my friend Dana said he would be back in town, and harassed me into one more team try at Crank the Kanc, I agreed. The new plan meant climbing the east side of the Kancamagus Pass on Saturday and climbing the west side of the pass on Sunday as the first climb on the Grand Tour. I would use Saturday's race as a tempo day, Sunday as an endurance race pace test, but the knee had other ideas

Saturday would remarkably be my first bike race of the year. I've been so focused on long distance training that I haven't pinned on a number in 2013. In fact my wife was surprised at my typical pre-race mania on Friday night since its been that long ago. I arrived as registration opened, but still I only had time for 20 minutes on the trainer. I did not get a proper warm up for an hour plus time trial, but since I planned to use this as a training event I was not distressed. In deed, we did this time trial practically cannibal style. We had regular shallow rim wheels, helmets, 2 of 3 rode without bar extensions, only one of us even wore a skin suit. This was quite a contrast to the full TT bikes, disc wheels, & aero booties that the individual winners used. 

Dana, Andy Havey, & I lined up with no ambitions other than a good hard ride. I planned to do extra long pulls on the flats for my training plan. Dana had been sick with the flu all week, so was uncertain as to his fitness. Andy had been climbing well, but hadn't raced in years. I had the start of a chest cold, but tried to put that out of mind. 

Crank the Kanc is a tricky event to race. The first 16 miles are a gentle up slope and flat run in. The last 4.7 miles are an average 6% grade. You need to be aero for the first 2/3rd's, light and lithe for the last 1/3rd.
We got a solid start, my tempo for the first couple of 5 minute pulls seemed manageable. Dana and Andy were taking 3 minute turns allowing me enough recovery. In the second half of the flattish part of the course, my tempo was pushing Andy a little too far into the red. But once we started the climb the rolls were reversed, my chest congestion caught up with me, and we climbed at 80% of my goal pace. None the less, we held a steady tempo up the climb, finished together strong, and did just enough to win 3rd place. My legs felt loaded, but not over strained by the effort. My right achilles tendon was sore, but no worries, right?

Moreover, I won a JetBoil in the raffle. This is the one prize I have wanted for the past 3 years of doing this entirely unsuited to my strengths race. Now I never have to go back again! 

Sunday I woke up feeling a little tired, but not particularly sore. I planned my last long day in the saddle before the really long race on June 1st. Sunday was Grand Tour Day, the big Plymouth area ride of 120 miles over the Kanc, Bear Notch, Crawford Notch and Franconia Notch. Since 120 miles was not enough for my training needs, I planned to do a dawn pre-ride loop of 25-30 miles. I also planned to extend the last part of the ride by 30 miles. Since I hate riding down the Franconia Notch Bike Path with it's narrow lumpy pavement & obstacle course of gawking tourists, I intended to head down to Easton Road, west on Rte 112 to French's Pond, south to Pike, and finally down Rte 25 to home. All in all this would give me a 170 mile day with over 9,000 feet of climbing.

The day started perfectly. It was cool, but not cold enough that I needed a thermal hat or long gloves. I rode a steady 18 mph tempo for 21 miles before stopping in town. Breakfast was a stuffed croissant & a double espresso, la dolce vita! The nice weather brought out a solid group of 17 riders for the long route at 7 a.m. from Rhino. We rode an easy pace of 19 mph up to North Woodstock. About another dozen riders joined up in Woodstock to do the petite route. The Sampson boys even rolled in after racing a UCI mtb event the day before.

We started up the Kanc out of Lincoln at a casual pace. I dropped back to shed my cap, and quickly found it hard to keep pace. Just before the hair pin turn, with 3 miles to go in the climb, my left knee started to bother me. I was feeling a weakness in my right ankle that was causing my left quad to over work my knee. My left interior knee tendons were now inflamed & crying in pain. I struggled to the top at 70% power. I knew that I had 105 miles to go and 3 large climbs. I begged a couple of ibuprofen from Dominik and hoped that spinning down the back side of the pass would help calm my knee. 
assessing my knee problems on top of the Kanc

My left knee was only a little better on Bear Notch. I was well behind the group by half way up the climb. I kept going though at the pace I could manage, knowing that the group would stop for lunch in Bartlet. The past years gave me lots of experience riding through knee pain. Once at the lunch spot, I bought a bottle of ibuprofen & downed 4. I tried to keep panic in check as I ate my lunch. I wondered, however, how much longer I could push my knee, and whether my wife would pick me up in Bretton Woods if I called, and what this might mean for a major race 13 days away. 

The group split in two rolling out of Bartlet to climb Crawford Notch. The easier pace folks left a full 20 minutes ahead of the speedier group. Since I got a late start on lunch, I was with the speedy group. I struggled to sit in on the steeper rollers heading up to Notchland. I grunted, strained, & pushed. I was able to do just enough to stick with the group until Wiley's Slide, the last big roller before the steep part of Crawford. I slowly climbed the Notch alone, but rolled over the top to meet up the group. I took 2 more ibuprofen and hoped to hold on until Twin Mountain at least. My struggle was so obvious that several guys kept asking me if I was going to make it. I appreciated the concern, but needed to try to press onward.
double pace line up Crawford Notch

Once we got going again, my knee started to feel better. Even as the Sampson boys pushed the pace up to 30 mph I was able to hold on. Finally I was feeling like myself again. No longer was every pedal stroke a trial. After a leisurely stop at Fosters General Store, we rode steady tempo up Route 3 to Franconia Notch. I even felt good enough to contest a town line (imagine that). Some of the guys seemed surprised when I said that I was going ahead with the extended finish of the ride. So at the top of Cannon, I rolled on solo for the final 60 miles of the day.
Fosters Store re-fueling

The last sections were uneventful. The descent from Cannon down to Franconia was harrowing only because the road was in poor shape. A head wind made progress on Easton Road slow. The cumulative fatigue of two hard days, plus the swollen knee meant that I was not pushing the pace I had planned. But I did keep spinning. I felt like the mental struggle, the worry of whether I could finish, was over. Now I could just ride. Once down to Pike I sat at the spring after refilling my water bottles a little longer than I had planned. Yet I was still on schedule to be home for dinner. I found my groove again on Route 25, pushed a 18 mph tempo into a head wind for the last section of hard riding, and did a few miles of cool down before pulling into home after just under 12 hours.

It was a long day, a challenging day, but in the end a good day on the bike. I kept spinning when it got tough, I kept trying even though it hurt. While I did not make the average watts or speed I had hoped, I found the calm I need to push through a bigger challenge, how to conquer my pain & fear with many miles to go.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Roads Less Cycled By: New England's Dirt Road Randonnee's

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear...
Robt. Frost

Last year in writing about the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee (D2R2), I wondered if New England cyclists would form a full schedule of dirt road ronde's. I realize now that we already have. While we do not have the formal organization of the Mid-Atlantic's ultra-cross series, or the range of events that comprise the Mid-West gravel grinders, but we do have enough events from April to September to fill the summer season.

First, I define a dirt road ronde as an event of at least 50 miles and 50% dirt track, but suitable for a rigid drop bar bike. Sure some folks will ride such events on a suspension mtb bike. Last year I saw Thom Parsons ride his 29er at the Ronde de Rosey. I even spied a guy on a fat bike at the D2R2. But most of the riders at these events can & will ride cyclocross bikes or even road bikes with extra wide tires.

While the events in New England are not typically races (unlike ultra-cross & gravel grinders), they are intensely competitive. In the era of Strava, it is easy to see who was fastest on a given day at a given course. Moreover, most of these events are designed to test a rider at the level they desire, the competition is really with yourself.

Here is the list of New England Dirt Road Ronde's to the best of my knowledge. I have not attempted all of them, but I hope to in the years to come. Some are new, some are old, some are big open charity rides, some are small word of mouth challenge rides, all will get your dirt miles under your belt before cyclocross season:

1) The Ride Diverged, April 6th: the earliest and newest of these events is also the shortest. Sponsored by Ride Studio Cafe so it has to be both fun & serious. Almost a terrain tune up for the Ronde de Rosey, but completely different in vibe.

2) The Ronde de Rosey April 14th: This is the team time trial, and perhaps most competitive of the New England dirt road ronde's. Who knew so many dirt trails exist in the suburbs of Boston? Apparently Rosey does. Form up a team and apply for a slot. Beers & raffle at the end supports a great charity: Bikes Not Bombs.

3) Detour de Connecticut April 27th (last Saturday in April). At 118 miles this is the longest event, and one that I have not ridden. The course & the companions sound intriguing.

4) Tour de Heifer, June 9th: At 60 miles, it is on the petite side, but it covers the more challenging dirt roads that the D2R2 does. Plus you get fed by the small farms of southern Vermont. 

5) Central Vermont Cycling Tour, June 16th: 59 miles, 90% on dirt, on Father's Day with a b-b-que at the finish. What's not to like?

6) Irreverent Road Ride (IRR) or roads of questionable character & substance. June 29th. Adam has reportedly put together a mild route of 60 miles, an adventurers route of 80 miles, and an ultra-mega-supah route of 115 miles. All of which are 80%+ on choice VT dirt roads. He swears he's going to ride this on his road bike with 25mm tires. I suspect he has questionable character & substance between his ears.

7) Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee August 24th. The grand daddy, the original, the biggest most celebrated of these rides in the region. Last year over 700 people did one of the 4 routes. I rode some of each route (not by design). There is something for every cyclist at this event.

8) Kearsarge Klassic Dirt Road Randonnee September 7th. New Hampshire has fine dirt roads too. Last year was the first time for this ride. It got a very good reaction from seasoned dirt road cyclists. 85 miles for the long route with some substantial climbs around Mt. Kearsarge & Mt. Cardigan.

9) New England Randonneurs Fall Classic September 29th. Two routes, both randonnee length and half on dirt road. Subject to RUSA rules as well.

While that should be enough time on dirt roads to get ready for cyclocross, there is certainly room for more of these events. No dirt road ronde's are calendared for May or July. New Hampshire and Maine have plenty more dirt roads that can make good routes. I look forward to riding the events I have neglected and to see what new routes come about.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How to become an ultra endurance bike nut: things I've learned about riding too many miles

It is pretty simple to become an ultra endurance bike nut: Figure out the longest ride you've ever done, then go ride it again twice, in one day.

Since this stupid itch got under my skin to attempt 200 miles of Kansas dirt road, I have tried to go about preparing for it with some sense. Fortunately I do know a few successful ultra endurance cyclists. I'm happy that Matt Roy has been my mentor, John Jurczynski my counsel, & David Wilcox my guru. All of them encouraged me to do a one of the New England brevet series. Both the Boston Brevet's & the VT Brevet series have some great rides. But neither series worked well for my needs this spring. So I decided to create my own brevet/ dirt road ronde training series. I planned out six progressively longer mixed paved/dirt road routes, one every other week from mid March to mid May.

Then I broke my foot. A week & day before I planned to do my first 6 hour, 95 mile ride of the year, I trip down my office stairs cracking two bones in my right foot. Best laid plans of mice & men.....
Photo: So you know when you're planning to do a big bike race early in the season, and are about to train really hard for a couple of months. That's when I trip down the stairs and break my foot.
yep, it's broken!
Thankfully the good orthopedist advised that I could still ride my bike if I didn't go too hard (he did not say how long I could ride). So I reworked the plan, clipped out one of the long rides, and now would need to ride long two of three weeks from the end of March to mid May. No room for error.

So far I've been able to do all the rides. Each has had its own challenges. From an every type of weather lumpy 7 hour ride.

To the wrong tires, bad brakes, and worse soft trail conditions for the middle quarter of a 9 hour day.

To the solitude of spending all day on the bike by myself.

Three of the things I've learned about doing stupid long bike rides:

1) Eat before I'm hungry. Thirst is a pretty good indicator of when you should drink. Unless it is super hot,  you can drink when you think it's time. But by the time you're hungry, its too late to eat, particularly if you're burning up 700 calories an hour all day. Every 30-40 minutes I must eat something. Otherwise my body will go into conservation/survival mode, figuring that we are starving, and riding a bike is a superfluous activity compared to staying alive. When I eat every half hour I can ride much longer than I thought possible.

2) Change your shorts! Chamois cream does wonders, but only for so long. Saddles sores & general hiney irritation will curtail anyone's ability to ride a bicycle, much less race one. Just ask Ivan Basso about his Giro this year. I've found that I can ride in the same shorts for about 6-7 hours at the upper limit. Anything longer requires a fresh pair of pants for my backside to remain compliant. Getting into a crisp clean set of drawers mid ride is also rather invigorating. Ready for the next 90 miles!

3) Just keep spinning. After I've already been riding a bike for 6 hours, sometimes getting off is not a good choice. While I may not be able to go hard, I can still spin. Spinning along easy, sitting up, taking some extra drink and food will do more to restore my drive than stopping. Especially when I am trying to make time, stopping & getting going again can be more difficult than riding at an easy pace for 5-10 miles. I do need to stop once in a while, but not as often I once thought. When I do get off the bike, I must be focused on taking care of business so I can get back to it with out wasting time. I can recover as much on the bike as off.

I'm certain I have many more lessons to learn. I'm still new to ultra endurance riding. But so far, so good.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Changing Gears: new directions

"turn & face the strain" Changes: D. Bowie

Hello? Hello? Check? Is this thing still on? Oh, yes, I suppose it is. It's been over 6 months, dear reader, since I've written anything about cycling. Worry not, I'm well. I still ride a bicycle. I've actually been riding quite a few miles this year. But my purpose, my focus in cycling has changed. I've taken on new challenges which has forced me to put aside old obsessions. 

Through the end of last year, my focus was mountain bike racing in the summer & cyclocross in fall. I mixed in a few road races in the summer for old time sake. My training plan was the same as the past several years as well. For the first time in five years I was neither sick nor injured for most of the season. Yet I still felt stale. My results were mediocre as well. I felt as flat emotionally about bike racing as I did physically.

I've seen other people hit this emotional plateau in the sport & leave it. Plenty of good racers abandon the bike for other pursuits every year. Few ever come back. Bike racing is a demanding sport in both money & time. When I was a boy I dreamed of racing bikes. I never appreciated just how consuming a sport it is. After last year I did not want to abandon bike racing, but needed to find a new enthusiasm, a fresh challenge.

Until last year I considered myself a short event racer. Indeed my best results had come in criteriums, cyclocross, and mountain bike races under an hour & a half. Even in training I was better at town line sprints than mega-mileage rides. Yet last year every long distance ride I did was easier than any I had done before. I went out on 5 hour hilly training rides and felt recovered the next day. I did the Ronde de Rosey and was fresh at the finish. I rode my first dirt road century without cracking. I did 4 gaps of the 6 gap ride in Vermont (though I cracked a little) Either I awakened an inner ultra endurance dude, or now north of 40, I had realized my "old man power". 
top of App Gap during our 4/6 Gap ride
Suddenly events that I once put out of mind as too long for me, were at least conceivable. I also discovered gravel grinders: the mid-west series of long dirt road races. I should say I discovered one gravel grinder, the Dirty Kanza 200 and then some others too. The DK200 is two hundred miles of dirt road & farm track back home in Kansas. In reading more about this event, I developed a new obsession, finishing the DK200 by sunset.

New England doesn't have any gravel grinders. But it does have several dirt road randonee's, which are essentially gravel grinders without the results sheet. And New England also has plenty of endurance mountain bike races, including the New Hampshire 100. Moreover, I can put together a dozen 100km dirt road rides from my doorstep. Last year I rode for the first time the grand daddy of dirt road randonnee's, the D2R2, and liked it.
into the woods on a dirt road century
So perhaps, ultra endurance dirt racing will become my thing. I believe the sport of cycling goes through life stages. Many BMX kids become mtb racers in their teens, become road racers in their twenties, and become cyclocross racers in their thirties, or some other progression. For me this evolution has lead to 100+ mile rides almost every weekend, and focusing on a handful for 6-12 hour races on dirt. We'll see after this season how I hold up.