Category Archives: Bicycle Racing

Friendship and Fat Biking…

I was introduced to fat bikes a few years ago when I participated in a local event, with my friend Colin: A Winter Fat Bike Relay Race in the snow.  I borrowed my friend Mike’s fat bike, and Colin and I teamed up to compete in the three lap race.

The race was for fun, put on by the local MTB club: CORBA. There was snow when the race started, but as the sun came out and stayed to party with us, the course, quite quickly, liquefied into grassy slop and mud.  Still, we raced on, wet and muddy, laughed and drank beer.

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After the race,  I cleaned the bike up (twice if I remember) and thanked Mike for lending me his Surly Pugsley.  It was a weighty blue beast, a touch small, but reliable in the corners.

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Just writing this reminds me of how fantastic the biking community here in Bloomington/Normal is and I am forever in debt to Mike and Colin (and the Local Bike Shop), for being fantastic friends, and introducing & inviting me to participate in these things…

Since then, I have been lazily eyeing a fat bike for purchase.  My relay race experience left me wanting more in terms of racing and fat biking, but time passed, and as money permitted, I chose  Mountain, Cross, and Gravel bikes and rides instead.    During this same time period, all new fat bike models have come out from every bike company and they are becoming increasingly lighter, faster, made from Carbon, and Ti, in a cascade of price ranges.  Any way I cut it, most of the time they were too expensive for me, and I didn’t want to spend a whole lot of money on a bike I was not going to race.

Colin got in contact with me about three weeks ago.   He mentioned that he had a Fat Bike, a Salsa Mukluk, that he was looking to part with after having purchased a different model, a Surly Ice Cream Truck, and was wondering if I would be interested.  I mentioned that I was interested, but would need some time to think about it.

He sent me this text message:

“In about 10 minutes I’m going to come by and put a fat bike in your backyard. That sounds inappropriate but it’s true.  Ride it this weekend and get rad.”

I did just that, and never looked back.

My first few rides were in a Elementary School playground with the dog.  I spent most of the time learning to wheelie, riding down stairs, and sprinting back and forth so the dog would chase me.

I raced the bike in the Fat Bike open at a local CX race, and had a great, but exhausting time.

I went on a Tuesday Nite Team ride with a few others on fat bikes and rode 16+ miles, with intermittent sprinting and ridiculousness.

On Christmas Eve, I rode 32 miles, and felt all the resistance of the large tires, and all the enjoyment of its ability to corner on suspect turf…

Yesterday, I rode it to the gym and back, in a head wind, learning the how important that high gear is.

What I found over the past three weeks:

  • Fat bikes will help you learn to wheelie
  • Fat bikes can move quickly
  • Fat Bikes can roll over just about anything
  • You will always have fun
  • You will rediscover your inner child
  • You can ride and have fun on any of the following surfaces:
    • Snow
    • Single track
    • Pavement
    • Grass
    • Mud

My final thoughts:

  • I think the fat bike is the perfect tool to bridges the gap between fun and training, road and all other trails.  Even my dog loves chasing it around.
  • A 4+ Inch tire gives you all the traction and comfort needed in all situations.
  • The Mukluk has all the bosses needed for bike packing…
  • Fat bikes are good for solo endeavors, but are better shared with friends.
  • Listen to your friends…buy a fat bike.

 

Reportage: Chequamegon 40

The Set Up:

At the end of last year I started a fitness program with some members of our local bike team. The goal was to improve fitness, strength, speed, and endurance during races. Many of the work out crew were specifically focused on mountain biking as a discipline. I had been talking about participating in a mountain race since I moved back to Normal, and I credit our local trail (for ripping off the derailleur on my then bike) for getting me involved with BCF and their race team.

I was really dedicated to the program, and enjoyed the twice weekly sessions, even if they were punishing and I had trouble walking the next day.

Given the results I was seeing, and my love of mountain biking and CX, I made a lofty goal to race more mountain bike races in our local series to keep my stoke thru the summer and increase my fitness for the Fall CX season.  Plus, shredding on a MTB is fun!

In an effort to reach my goal and encourage more MTB racing, I signed up on New Years Day 2016 for Chequamegon, a 40 mile MTB race in Northern Wisconsin.  The race starts in downtown Hastings, and connects a series of fire roads, cross country ski trails, and single track to Cable, culminating in a massive downhill from the top of Telemark Mountain, at the Telemark Ski Lodge.   It is the largest mass start mountain bike race in North America.  It has been described as a mountain bike time trial.

I purchased a used hardtail from a teammate and then, stopped riding almost all together. I never quit lifting at the gym, but my riding dropped of significantly.  I was basically only bumming around town on my single speed and running some errands.

The suffering is real, and blissful.

Pre Race 

40 miles is potentially quite rough if you have never raced you mountain bike before, and especially if you have not been training, or riding your mountain bike.   Needless to say, between vacations to Canada and Alaska, and my lack of mountain bike training, I was not super stoked for how I was gonna feel or place when I raced.

I had already sunk costs in the bike (which is superb and rides like a dream) and in race fees.  I just had to suck it up and do it.  Experiences are everything, and I was not going to miss this one because I was lazy and unfocused.

On the van ride up with the team, I asked questions about what was a good time to finish in, what the course was like, what I should expect, etc.   Clearly, I was unprepared, but my team members (some of who I was just getting to know), were confident I would/could finish in under 3 hours.  I settled on targeting a finishing time of under 3 hours, and focusing on riding smooth and as clean as possible (no falls, mechanicals, or stops).

We arrived two days before the race and were able to pre ride part of the course during a break in the rain on Friday.  We rode a total of 10 miles, half of which were the last 5 miles of the race course.  This was crucial for morale on race day.  This was the longest ride I had been on with this bike in months.  I felt good.

Graffiti between Cable and Hasting’s that has apparently been there for more than a decade.  The lettering keeps getting bigger.

The Race

Here is a video of the staging area before the start of the race.

 

I was staged in the last gate, #7.  The start was chaos as people start fighting for the front to avoid people who would be bottle necks later in the race.  I brought a Camel back with 2 liters of Scratch and 6 gels tucked into my short elastic, and quickly tried to pass as many people as possible.   I rode well, all things considered, and ran a few sections that I was unable to ride due to volume of people backed up trying to crest the hills.  I had a few mechanical issues, but felt really good the for 90% of the race.

One thing missed out on was recovery and fitness. The dudes who have been riding their bike and racing hard all year finished in 2:15 minutes-ish.  A few of those same.folks left that night and raced twice at a CX race back home the next day!  That’s a new goal to arrive for and really impressive.

Highlights of my race or things I learned:

  • Riding my bike more often would have helped
  • I cramped a bit at mile 36, and did my best to stretch on my bike on some of the downhills, and flats in between sprints.  No matter how much water you bring, take all the hand ups at the nutrition stations.
  • There were pirates on one of the hills who offered up free rum!  I gladly took a free shot and kept pushing.  I didn’t regret it.
  • I could have pedaled harder.
  • I climbed really well
  • All the rain really added to the fun of the race!
  • 40 miles on a mountain bike is really tough
  • A Narrow wide chainring without a clutch derailleur is kind of silly and potentially cost me my sub 3 hour goal.
  • Chocolate Cliff gels are the worst of the flavors. They are a thicker consistency than other flavors, and extra hard to process with little to no water.
  • Mini Cans of Coca Cola would be nice to have mid race – Rocket Fuel.
  • Flow is everything, carry the momentum.
  • There is a point beyond some types of pain, and sometimes it is blissful.

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Final thoughts if you are visiting the area:

  • There is fly fishing and canoeing galore on the St Croix river.
  • Hastings, WI has a brew pub called the Angry Minnow and its beer selection is primo. The pork tacos are delicious.
  • I may have become intoxicated and said I would participate on a team at the 2017 24 hours of Old Pueblo…we’ll see….
  • Check out the American Berkie, also hosted in Hastings.  It is an international XC ski race.

 

Barry Roubaix – Year 2

This year the Barry Roubaix was moved out 1 month into April from March. While originally apprehensive about this move, my skin, body and psyche welcomed the 73 degree sunny weather for the race start. Much of the overheard pre race chatter while we staged for our waves made fond reference to how cold it was the previous year and how welcome the sun and warmth were. It was a bluebird day and the roads were promised to packed and dusty.

I went into the Barry Roubaix fresh off of a successful winter maintenance training program with the athlete factory. I dropped roughly 20+ pounds and my strength increased dramatically. My only goal was to have fun and beat last year’s time. I went a little further and mentally prepared myself by removing all expectations of finishing first or placing at all and focused on riding well and feeling good.

Pre race travel day involved BBQ and potato salad, avocado and a chicken lettuce salad thing and 4 beers and a bunch of water.

Day of, I staged near the front of my wave and made sure I used the restroom 3 times before we started. I previously warmed up with 7 miles of riding and spinning with the team.

As our wave was called up, I was nervous and trying to keep my breathing in check. When we finally took off I tried to stay near the pack, but not with them, using the road section to spin my legs into a faster cadence. I waited to make any move until we hit the gravel.

Once on gravel, I made it my only goal to move up and past people, jumping from train to train, making sure I was not over taxing my legs in the process. I rode the entire race by feel.

Every hill I tackled I tried to stay in the saddle and keep pace with the train I was on, or use it as an opportunity to pass people. By mile 16 I started to notice my age group had thinned out.

Road sections were for catching the next group ahead and taking multiple drinks from one of my two water bottles. I brought three gels and kept them in the elastic of my bibs on my left leg. I consumed one every 30 minutes.

Sagar road brought the collapse of most peoples efficiency and pace. Due to the chaos that sandy sections bring nervous riders I was forced to dismount and run, using it as another opportunity to pass people. I made sure I was in a climbing gear for when I remounted.

By the time I reached the half way mark, I realized that I would be able to complete my race in under 2 hours and used that to Stoke my final miles. I attacked all the hills and tried to pass everyone I approached.

The final road into town I increased my speed and again attacked on all the hills. I had a few others hanging on at this point and was unable to shake them. We battled for the finish line the whole way in.

It is hard to know where you stand in your race while riding/racing the Barry Roubaix. You leave with an age group and eventually you all mix together, all ages and groups. You fight them all to the finish line only to realize they started two minutes before or after you in a different wave. The person who finished in front of you might not even be in your age group or distance at all. It keeps you on edge a bit.

In the end, I lost top 10 by 1 second at the finish line. I finished 169th overall, and 11th in my age group. Time of 1:55.59 seconds, beating last year’s completion time by 14 minutes.