The Iron Maiden is Certified Awesome

Whether it’s the optimum time of the year, its positioning as the second XC race of the year or the fact that it is held at the much loved Canmore Nordic Center, The Iron Maiden seems to bring all the awesomeness of mountain bike racing to a perfect pinnacle moment. I don’t mean to disparage the other races in the schedule as each one has its own unique flavor and fun, but people really do show up for this race. The local hermetic Canmore racers love to defend their home course, the Calgarians love to congregate close to the mountains to race and Edmontonians treat the race as a road trip to an exotic cycling Mecca. Essentially, everyone has a good reason to sign up and throw down at the Iron Maiden.

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The Spin Sisters once again organized and ran the race that used to be called the Iron Lung. Maybe it’s because I grew up in North East Edmonton in the 80’s, but I really fancy the newer name of Iron Maiden as I can just imagine Eddie on a mountain bike holding a bloody scythe scaring the shit out of teenagers around the world. Anyways, The Spin Sisters always have a great grab bag of swag in which the best was their wonderfully colored racing sock, but alas, it was missing from the sign-in table. I lamented my disappointment, and the lovely ladies from the club were equally apologetic to its absence. Apparently, they didn’t have enough stock to supply the entire racing list so they had to withdrawal it from the swag list. What a pity. The grand news to assuage the sock disappointment was the fact that they kept the exact same course from last year which was a brilliant cloverleaf design. It included Soft Yogurt, Devonian Drop, FYI, Drop In, Drop Out and Baby Baluga. You ride back to the Start/Finish area three times during each lap which allows for some great spectator cheering and viewing.

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Photo: courtesy of Caitlin Callaghan

So there we were, nearly 300 local and not so local mountain racers (I raced against a 16 year old kid from Saskatoon) in the backdrop of the CNC on a beautiful sunny and warm day. There were plenty of reunions as people started to show up for their pre-race routine. In some cases, like Shantel Koenig to Andrea Bunnin, you ask the often stated, “How was your winter?” during the first climb of the actual race. Bizarrely friendly we mountain biker are sometimes, aren’t we? I saw so many familiar faces from past races, and I had my mental Rolodex flipping around like it was being blown by an industrial fan. “Hey, buddy…..your name is Rob, right?”- “Are you still racing for (insert club here)?”-“Did you buy a fatbike yet” etc.

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Photo: courtesy of Caitlin Callaghan

I suppose it was business as usual in the Expert category. Nearly 30 fit skilled cyclists lining up for a painfully fun hour and a half of racing on fast yet technical Canmore trails. The most amazing sight of the weekend, besides Karen Martins doing a ride-by chamois cream reapplication, was the horde of 70 Sport men. It was a majestic sight of which hasn’t been seen in years of local ABA racing. I know very well how competitive that division is as I spent time there fighting it out with other Sport racers for the precious Upgrade Points and receiving derision from the Expert and Elite racers. I also know how many fast riders reside in that category so I knew it was going to be hard to keep ahead of them during the race. To make the race more exciting and simplified, the race organizers decided to start the Elite men, Expert men, Elite women, Sport men, Expert women and Sport women all together in a staggered start. I still don’t know how this affected the other racers due to the course congestion, but fortunately for the Expert men, we didn’t encounter too many lapped racers. I’m sure watching so many racers at once made for some exciting spectating for the crowds.

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Mark broke his $350 carbon saddle during the first lap of the race due to his atrocious mounting skills.

To make my race as succinct as possible, I will describe it like this: Clipped into my left pedal at the first try; the race is already a success. Crashed descending the A line on the second lap causing my left brake/shifter lever to point straight up in the air. Not good. I was out of breath, having fun and got elbowed out at the finish line by a boy who probably hasn’t kissed a girl (or boy) yet. Regaled with fellow racers about the glory of finishing the race. I love Canmore.

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How I Literally Fell On My Face During The First ABA Eliminator

For those of you who know how vitriolic I get when people use the word “literally” incorrectly or unnecessarily, you are probably wondering how I fell during a 90 second race. The answer is: quickly and easily.

When Mike B suggested that Hardcore should host an Eliminator race preceding the XC race in May, I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. I imagined a bunch of cyclists biking around with laser tag equipment shooting each other until there was only one person left (Hunger Games with bikes essentially). He described it as a short loop where four starting racers would race against each other and only the top two would move on in continuing heats until a final heat declared the podium. I thought to myself that I would get absolutely destroyed in that kind of formatted race where power and aggression is essential to winning so I, of course, signed up.

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Brad lined up in pole position

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Terwillegar park for the Eliminator race, and I was quietly nervous for the race because there was absolutely no precedence. We had no clue as to whom would be the favorites since all we had done has been cross-country racing, and this is a totally different kind of race. It was a four person start where your bike is held up by someone so we can be clipped in and ready to start, similar to time trail starts. The race starts with a flat sprint into the first of three right turns (Yes, the entire race consisted of only three right turns) where you had to be aggressive to hit the climb first. The climb was a gravelly double track with a center rut that took about a minute to make it to the top. The second right turn was the start of the descent, which only had one fast and safe line to the left. Then, you come ripping down the trail to make the final right turn to the Start/Finish area. Sounds pretty simple, right?

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Mark, like a tiger, ready to pounce

So, there I was, clipped into the pedals with a stranger holding on to my bike from behind while I perched over my bike like a 100m sprinter. It was utterly bizarre to be in that position since I was straight up and down with my wheels pointing straight as opposed to “trackstanding” with the bike angled and wheels askew. Then, the whistle blew and the next thing I knew, everyone was in front of me because I didn’t adjust my gearing properly for the start and it was too tall. While trying to push my heavy crank, Sam, James and some guy named Kory all hit the right turn well in front of me. In a panic, I started the climb by standing off of my saddle and hammering after James and Sam. Just when I caught up to James, I thought to myself that I had to keep going hard to catch Sam’s wheel. That didn’t turn out to be such a great plan. I somehow ended in the gravel rut in the middle of the trail and spun out the rear wheel. This forced my body to lurch forward onto my front wheel which also slipped out and hence the fall. I remember falling on my right cheekbone (Which is the sole reason I got modeling gigs in Japan in my 20’s), but then quickly getting up to salvage the race, but it was over as I saw Sam and James head towards the top of the climb, and since the rest was downhill, it was impossible to catch up. My professional Eliminator racing career just disappeared in front of my eyes.

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I’m not going to lie, I was pretty choked crossing third, and not because of the crash, but because I had this naïve thought that I may actually be good at this. Once I rationalized the fact that I’m 41, never BMX raced, hate climbing and don’t like elbowing other racers, I started to feel better about my natural “suckiness” at Eliminator racing. But then, the physical pain from the crash started to manifest. I looked at my right knee and it was bleeding from multiple cuts, and my right elbow had a bloody abrasion. Mike B’s comment to me was, “Of course, only you would fall during the climb”. The man is a saint.

Brad was very competitive and Neil came in second which I latently expected as they are great sprinters and bike handlers. I’m hoping that this experience will embolden me to keep trying different aspects of bike racing like track, road and BMX. It was nevertheless fun to hang out with the ABA racer crowd before the impending XC race Sunday. I just hope I don’t fall, again.

The Coulee Cruiser Race Report aka Spa Weekend in Calgary

I don’t want to think that I was at all prescient about what happened during the weekend of the Coulee Cruiser race in Lethbridge, but wow, talk about a spring snowstorm!  If you had read my previous blog about how the arrival of spring snowstorms reminds me that the first ABA cross country mountain bike race was upon us, you could say that I jinxed the race because it was cancelled due to rain and snow, making the trails un-rideable.

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On the Friday of the race weekend, Shantel, Brad and I loaded up the Subaru with our mountain bikes and race gear to head down to Lethbridge and enjoy the first road trip of the year.  With our travel mugs filled with coffee and heading down south on the QE2, I received an ominous phone call from Josh from the ABA.  Now, we are friends, but for him to call me at 11:00am, it didn’t feel like a social call, and it wasn’t.  He told me that he was standing in the coulees at Lethbridge College and the trails were so muddy and slick that he was barely able to stand still to take a picture.   I told him to cancel the race immediately even though the race was Sunday and there was a slim chance of the trails drying out.  But similar to Edmonton trails, the Lethbridge trails are composed of clay, and when it gets wet, the clay turns soft, slick and soupy.  Josh had another meeting planned with the race organizers to discuss the race conditions, but he promised they would make a decision within the hour.

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Now, we had to make a decision with the impending cancellation:  Do we just cancel our accommodations in Lethbridge and Calgary and stay home or do we just spend the weekend in Calgary and have a fun team building weekend?  Well, by the time we received the official cancellation notice, we were near Red Deer so the three of us decided to travel on and spend the weekend in Calgary for some quality bonding time.  Brad is originally from Calgary so we had a place to stay for the weekend, which assuaged the disappointment of the cancelled race.  When we arrived at Brad’s parent’s house, it was snowing moderately hard and we were tired from the drive.  As cyclists, we decided that the best way to get our motivation up is to get out there and ride in the snow and 3 degree temperature.  Of course, we didn’t have fenders or booties, so within 5 minutes of the ride, we were completely soaked top to bottom. Shantel forgot her glasses so her eyeballs were being pelted by snowflakes while my toes and fingers started to freeze.  Brad gave us a lovely tour of the Calgary suburban neighborhoods while barely avoiding getting hit by cars that were surprised to see cyclists out during a snowstorm.

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When we arrived back to the house, we decided that the only remedy for our dour moods was for us to hit the Calgary nightlife and get completely inebriated with sweet, sweet beer.  After a hot shower, we headed out to The National on 17th.  I knew it was going to be an epic night when we walked in and immediately saw Colm Meaney from Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Commitments fame.  I mean, he was a big deal and a big man, literally, as I texted all my Trekkie friends and they went completely nerd crazy.  Can you imagine if I ran into Patrick Stewart?

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Shantel and I were quite pleased that The National’s beer prices were based on volume and not on the type of beer.  So, we ordered the Ommegang Saison and the Dieu du Ciel Rosee Hibiscus in pints, and that was the beginning of the end.  The rest of the night was quite foggy as I must have been in a fugue state, but I did manage to get to the Brad’s parent’s place in the correct bed thus avoid a “Three’s Company” mix up.  All that winter training really paid off.
I woke up the next morning at 10:00am to the smell of the most glorious scent in the world, sausages.  Brad’s dad, George, made us breakfast as he knew full well of our morning impairment.  With our bellies filled with sausages and waffles, we had to decide whether or not were going for another urban bike ride, but after a quick deliberation, we headed to some hippie yoga studio for an hour and a half of Yin yoga.  This was the mellowest yoga class I had ever been to, ever.  We put ourselves in a total of 10 poses for the entire hour and a half, and one woman just slept for the entire class (one would have to assume that she had a yearly pass).  It was basically nap time for adults, a sweaty one at that as it was one of those “hot yoga” places where they needed to have special tags just so you don’t get your awful UGGs mixed up at the door.  I do love yoga, but I think I will stick to the power yoga next time and just take my naps at home.  It’s cheaper and less embarrassing.

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After another night of beer drinking at the awful Craft pub, we load up the car and headed home. During the drive, we were reminiscing about our relaxing weekend of November urban cycling in May, being Star Trek struck, being feed waffles and sausages, bike shop perusing and going to the laziest yoga class ever and we decided that it was a great start to our race season.  Bring on the Royal River Valley Rumble III, baby!!!

Spring Snowstorm you say? Oh, The Coulee Cruiser Must be Coming Up

Spring snowstorm should be an oxymoron, but alas, it is not. Last year at this time, I was in California on a vacation enjoying the infamous Los Angeles sun and the resplendent glamour of Beverly Hills. After the Morrissey concert, I befriended some LA locals who invited me on a tour of the nightlife the tourists rarely get to see. So, I went to some surreptitious hipster clubs in Echo Park where my newfound friends were surprisingly more interesting in my life in Edmonton, more specifically the weather as they never ventured more north than San Francisco. Between sips of Pabst Blue Ribbon, I told them that it was snowing back home, and with incredulous looks, they asked if that was a freak storm like the ones in some trite Hollywood movie with a biblical end of the world theme. I sternly told them that it is quite normal for Alberta to get snowstorms during the March/April time periods; we call them spring snowstorms.

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Mark’s Beer of Choice

For me, and perhaps other ABA mountain bike racers, the spring snowstorms manifests in me this linger feeling that the first mountain bike race is nigh and that I better stop my winter diet of tacos and beer. For those unacquainted with my dietary habits, this really is no joke. So without any further adieu, Bert and Mac’s Racing via the Alberta Bicycle Association announced that registration for the Coulee Cruiser had opened, just as 20cm of snow hit our lovely city. Cruel irony? Maybe in the Alanis Morrisette sort of way, but I suppose it’s like a Pavlovian response for us to get our training in order as the first mountain bike race is quickly approaching.

My fellow chiropractor/mountain bike junkie Kevin Nemeth is the local legend / race ambassador for the Coulee Cruiser located at the Lethbridge College campus. If you haven’t been down to Lethbridge before, they have this valley system called a coulee. The word coulee comes from the Canadian French coulée, from the French word couler meaning “to flow”. Now, how more appropriate can you get for a mountain bike race. Before you snub your pretentious cycling noses about racing in a gravel valley course in southern Alberta, just remember how often we Edmonton mountain bikers have to defend our love for our river valley trails despite the fact we don’t have such monolithic elevation like Canmore or Jasper. I always get surprised at how much climbing there seems to be at the Coulee Cruiser or maybe it’s just my beer-engorged belly amplifying the elevation. Nonetheless, it’s a challenging course for any level of racing, and the warm desolation of the area is a welcome respite from the cold, icy winter we just experienced, or experiencing, depending on your point of view.

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Mark’s Winter Beer Gut

The most interesting aspect of this race is, of course, the fact that it is the first race of the season, and so we can all gauge who did or did not put in a good winter training camp. There are always the surprise racers who come out of the gate fast and hot, while some of us are just hoping and praying that we haven’t lost too much of our speed, power and cognition due to the inevitable scourges of aging. It is also a reunion of sorts, as you will reconnect with people you haven’t seen over the winter months, so there the awkward “what’s your name again?” and “you look fast”, while the whole time, you hope that they had put in less effort to training then you did, so you don’t end up in last place. Oh, local ABA racing is such a social hodgepodge of emotion.

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Edmonton’s Multi Use Paths – Spring Edition

The last time I raced the Coulee Cruiser, Kevin and I were in a back and forth battle for the coveted 5th place, which for us older chiropractors, it was a really big deal. I think we were looking at it like it was the Alberta Chiropractic Mountain Bike Championships (ACMBC) for 2012. On the last climb, I surprised Kevin when I put in a last ditch attack. As I passed him, he yelled out “You’re an animal”, which in retrospect, I think he yelled “You’re an asshole”. The chiropractic brotherhood is alive and well. So, if you have been training like Kabush and Pendrel over the winter and want to show off your hard work, there is no better place to do it than the first race of the year. Or, if you have joined a beer club over the winter instead of joining a spin class (Seriously, I really did join a beer club), the Coulee Cruiser is the perfect race to enter, as it’s the first race of the year, so it’s a “Mulligan”. Kevin will give a free adjustment to every registered racer. Well, maybe not, perhaps just a firm chiropractic handshake, but come down to experience the University, the coulee (The Flow) and mountain biking on dirt instead of snow.

Talk About Peaking Early

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have an important announcement to make:  I have retired from bike racing for the year 2014.

Unlike following in the footsteps of Brett Favre, Michael Jordan, ACDC and Lance Armstrong, I am willing to walk away whilst on top.  So with my second place result, finishing behind my teammate and illustrious Kokanee Redbike team manager, Mike Sarnecki, I think it’s best for me to stop racing and savor this victory for the rest of 2014.IMG 3822

The Parka is making a fashion comeback at bike races

This past weekend was the first of many ABA sanctioned races in 2014: The Blizzard Race in Devon, Alberta, which for those of you not familiar, is just south of Edmonton and is also known as BikeTown Alberta.  The town of Devon worked very diligently to deservedly appropriate that title from other municipalities as they have provided the province with some important bicycle related facilities and events; they have built an envious bike skills park, dirt jump and pump track, flowing singletrack in their river valley and have hosted many cycling races, most notably The Tour of Alberta.

Having a winter cycling race is ambitious and precarious due to central Alberta’s fluctuating weather and temperature, but I am so glad someone is willing to give it a go, because as someone who winter rides assiduously, I would like to frolic in the snow while racing.   So, when the Devon Bike Association decided to think there was enough people like me to invest in creating a winter bike race and with the nascent popularity of Fatbikes, it was perfect timing to put on a winter cycling race.1507159 10152283719865030 210730441 n 2

With February 22 looming, the weather on the day of the race was becoming more and more clear, and of course, it was projected to hit the deep freeze of minus 25 Celsius.  We all had a feeling of consternation towards this news as the week leading up to the race was hovering at around minus 5, but I suppose it could have been minus 35; we often have to look at things half full as cyclists.  I was hoping to race with my normal cycling shoes as the Wolvhammers are designed to keep the feet warm, but they are heavy and ponderous.  I bought thicker Pearl Izumi winter booties at redbike specifically for the race, but I figure getting frostbite wasn’t worth the glory of victory so I reluctantly went for the fat boots.  My next angstful decision was whether to put the BarMitts on or just go with the AME heated grips.  I didn’t want to put the BarMitts on because it didn’t make my bike look “racy” for the race, and yes, I know how ridiculously superficial that sounds, but it’s the truth.  Being the classic narcissist, I went without it because I wanted to look fast, accepting the risk of freezing my fingers, at least only my posterior side. 1897707 601095963305933 59039576 n

Sarns leading the LeMans start

The layering of clothing is the next ponderous event.  It’s going to be coldish outside, but I am racing so my body temperature is going to be running high.  This is where being an experienced cold weather cyclists was beneficial, as I knew which part of my body gets hot and cold while riding.  My upper body usually gets really hot, for the exception of my belly, which considering it’s surrounded by my childhood fat, gets unusually cold, so I just wore my long sleeve Kokanee redbike winter jacket with a base later.  But, my arms get cold, so I like to put on my arm warmers over my base layer which was a long sleeve merino wool.  With a fleecy bib shorts, leg warmers, wool socks, winter tights and finally, baggy shorts, my bottom layers were set.

With a warm up lap in the books where I hilariously saw Trevor Pombert fall into the snow on the only descend of the race, I was corralled up with the other racers in the Fatbike category for the start was a LeMans start.  This is where I announced, “As the intergalactic winter interclub president of the known universe, I get to my bike first”.  Obviously, Pepper and Mike didn’t hear that declaration as they quickly pushed me aside as the whistle blew.  I was able to lumber to my bike, but not after I found myself behind 7 people.  Curse my fat short thighs!!!  I was behind Justin, Pepper and Gary, but I quickly saw that Mike and Neil were distancing themselves from our chase group.  There wasn’t much or any room to pass so I was relegated to stay on Gary’s wheel and conserve energy.  The course Stu designed was just brilliant as it was flowing, fast and packed down so I was already having fun racing.  After a Pepper fall (extremely rare) in one of the corners, Justin, Gary and I continued on to the open road section where I was able to pass Justin and Gary.  As my carbon BearGrease weighed about 10 pounds less than both of their bikes and Justin’s bike was shod with those ghastly Vee Rubber tires, it was something that I was hoping I was able to do. 1004955 601095976639265 1907203737 n

Gary (Hardcore) & Turkington (Redbike) navigating the LeMans start

Eventually, I was able to bridge up to Mike and Neil on the second lap.  I know we were on Fatbikes, but we were moving at a quick pace.  On the open road section, Mike and I were able to pass Neil and take a pull as Neil was leading the whole race to that point.  On the third lap, we started to catch up to the 4 lap Fatbikers; this is where the race started to get really adventurous, as it was tricky to pass people.  I tried to sound friendly and casual about letting them know that we wanted to pass by, but I suspect that my levity wasn’t translated well.  I “accidently” pushed Michelle over into the snow while I passed her, then I heard Neil yell that I was a “c***”, but then we started to laugh.  My contrition was quickly dismissed by the time we caught up to Mike as he was caught behind racers up ahead.  I thought Neil and I were going to be able to follow Mike’s wheel for a lap, but that didn’t happen as Mike just dropped us when he cleared the slower racer.

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Winner of the Blizzard Bike Race receives a Large Blizzard from DQ!

By the time Neil and I were in the last lap, we knew we were in the clear so we just raced to the finish and crossed the line close enough to get the same time.  This may be the last time I finish on the podium this year, unless the Expert field this year is poorly contested, so I’m going to enjoy it, especially since it was with two good friends.

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Sarns repeat his reward

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Mike & Mark – Fatbike Selfie

Where’s The Fatbike Love?

As a stalwart cyclist, I have accepted the fact that I will be ostracized, ridiculed and occasionally physically accosted by the general Alberta population, and really, I don’t blame them sometimes.  With our garish lycra club kits and general anarchistic attitude towards traffic laws and motorists, cyclists are generally viewed as enemy number one along with those pesky raccoons and crack smoking mayors.  This is why it has been a pleasure to reap the benefits of the sunshine coming out of people’s intrigue and affable attitude towards my fatbike.  Unfortunately, the derision and vitriol is now coming from my fellow cyclists.

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been riding my full carbon Devinci Leo road bike with full Sram Red and Shimano C50 wheels thinking I was the BMOC (Big Man On Campus) singing “I’m Walking On Sunshine”, when a truck drives by and someone yells “loser” dashing my good mood.  Then I think to myself: “Didn’t that gentleman realize how achingly expensive, light and laterally stiff this bike is?”  The answer is, of course, no, as all he saw was some goofball in a gymnastics outfit occupying his God given driving lane in truck dominant Edmonton.   I try to ignore the rolling of the eyes of people in cafes as I waddle in with my clicking cycling shoes, clutching my Garmin in my hand like Gollum and sitting down exposing my private parts for all to see.  Surprisingly, nobody has asked about my new Enve carbon wheels which costs more than my car.  It really is a sad and lonely existence we cyclist endure.

Then like Cinderella with her fairy godmother, redbike gifted me my BearGrease, and now, I feel like I’m the prettiest girl at the dance.  Fairly close to a daily basis, I have people approaching me to talk or ask questions about my bike.  Most are obvious comments like “Those are some pretty big wheels” or “That bike must be good in the snow”, and some are just plain expressive like “Sweet”, “Awesome” or “Rad”.  I even had some people in, God forbid, trucks who gave me the thumbs up instead of the customary middle finger or the slow pathetic head shake.  People have crossed the street to see the proportions in closer proximity and take pictures of it.  Yes, I have had multitudes of people stop me to take pictures of my bike, and it was pretty obvious that they were not cyclist keening on the newest cycling technology.  It’s just a very common Alberta saying, bigger is better, so Albertans love the fatbike.

In those rare moments when being a cyclist is actually cool, I thought my fellow cyclists would revel with me in this minor victory of public opinion. And in some cases, yes, but surprisingly in some cases, it was a resounding no.  Now, I’m not talking about people who just decided that fatbikes are not something they are interested in as I respect people’s right to voicing their opinion on anything, but I’m talking about people who disparage in a vitriolic or acerbic tone about people who own or even appreciates fatbikes.  Last month, a friend of mine introduced me to a fellow cyclist when the topic of fatbikes came up. I thought we would have this convivial discussion about fatbikes, but then it turned into a personal attack where he implied that riding a fatbike was emasculating and that it was unnecessary for winter riding if you had his particular set of skills on a bike.  It was obvious that he wasn’t looking for an informative debate, but he was just attempting to be truculent and belittling.  We exchanged some moot verbal comments when it was clear that we were debating opinions that were very unwavering.  I tried to defuse the situation by deciding together that it wasn’t fatbikes he hated but fatbike owners, of which, he had some validity.  It ended out that he was a fascinatingly obstinate person whom I probably could have some fun debates and conversations with as I tend to find wishy washy people boring.  Anyways, as it turned out, there were other cyclists I would run into who just had this latent hatred towards fatbikes for some reason or another.  I was ever so fascinated by this fact.  Why does the general public find fatbikes interesting but some cyclist find them such an annoyance that they would personally attack someone who owns one?  Maybe we are just so vulgarly emphatic about them that we just annoy the crap out of some people, but are cyclist prone such petulant behavior?  Like hipsters hating anything that is popular?

 Looking back at the way cyclists reacted to full suspension bikes, disc brakes on cyclocross bikes, 29ers, 650B, dropper seatposts, etc, it’s obvious that we are our own sharpest and harshest critics.  I suppose that’s what makes us so interestingly unique in our goofy bib shorts and gram counting. We are critical of things we don’t fully understand and we like it like that.  Maybe we make fun of each other because it’s our way of controlling our spending so we just don’t go buy every new thing that comes out.  Overall, I find that cyclists are very forgiving about our transgressions and can be contrite about our past opinions if we decide to change them.  I used to think full suspension bikes were a fad back in the day.  So, I will make a solemn promise that I will stop telling you how awesome fatbikes are if you stop telling me how lame they are.  Until you change your mind.

Rubbing My Cycling Hands with Anticipation

Most people spend a cold snowy evening drinking hot chocolate cuddled up with a loved one next to a fireplace watching a nameless Jennifer Lopez romantic comedy, and I am no exception.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any hot chocolate, I have this pathetic electric fireplace that blows fake paper flames like a Gillian’s Island campfire and I won’t bore you with stories of my floundering personal life, so I spend my nights scouring the interweb for cool and interesting cycling things to covet for the next 6 months until spring.  Here are a few things that I can’t wait to try out next year:

Dropper seatpost:

I can remember when the mere mention of a dropper seatpost at the shop would set you up for an earful of vitriolic derision like “Learn how to descend better, loser”, “Do you want training wheels with that?” or “Is your mother learning how to mountain bike?”  I personally would love to see my mom on a mountain bike so I didn’t see the point of disparaging mothers along with dropper seatposts, but I digress.  We didn’t understand why any self respecting mountain biker would want one as most of us local Edmonton cyclists can clean all the technical descents, and if we were doing anything else like chairlift or shuttle access downhilling, we just rode our downhill bikes with a low saddle height and 8 inches of travel.  Very few people have them locally, but reading the general reviews online, it made me understand some of the inherent benefits of a dropper seatpost, especially the remote actuated ones.

The first misconception I learned is that they are not used to help clean a decent, but to help you do them faster.  Sure, having a lowered saddle will position your body with a lower center of gravity to stay in more control thus helping you with completing the downhill section, but it’s really about being able to do it faster.  If you come up to a steep technical section and your saddle is at the normal pedaling height, you may have to brake a bit more because if you hit something and your center of gravity is high, you have a greater chance of going over your handlebar.  With a dropper seatpost, you can attack a downhill with more speed without stopping to lower it manually.

Second, a dropper seatpost is actually an advantage to the more skillful technically sound rider.  For example, if you are riding a rolling section of trail with lots of obstacles, a rider who has strong technical skill can “pump” speed into and out of the corners and smoothly “bunnyhop” over obstacles instead of hitting them and lose speed.  Imagine how fast Roddi Lega can ride “Golfcourse trail aka Rollercoaster trail” if he can drop his saddle 125mm and really use his bike handling skills to go faster in the corners and “pump” harder on the rolling bumps.  A hack like me probably will go slightly faster with a dropper seatpost, but not as much as a skilled cyclist like Roddi, Brad, Kurt, etc.

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This is how fast Roddi can rip RollerCoaster without a Dropper Post

Third, the dropper seatpost will allow you to use larger stronger muscles on long descents during mountain multi-day races.  There are some races where the descents are so long, your arms actually get tired because your weight shifts to your upper body. With a dropper seatpost, you can lower your stance on your bike so you can transfer your weight to larger and stronger muscles or at least, you can shift positions on the bike to rest muscles periodically.

Lastly, with RockShox leading the industry with their well-reviewed Reverb, the dropper seatpost seemed to have left the plagues of the past in regards to their poor performance and durability behind.  Specialized, KS, Thomson and others are in the market and all seem to be producing some quality product.  I am personally excited about Thomson getting involved and hopefully imbuing their meticulous engineering into their dropper seatposts as they have with their other fine cycling products.

dropper

Thomson Dropper Seatpost

XX1:

Ever since the beginning of my mountain biking history, which goes back to the early 90’s, I’ve always loathed the front derailleur as it seemed archaic and poorly designed for it’s purpose.  I can remember countless moments when I wanted and needed to drop from the middle ring to the granny ring, but when I turned my thumbshifter (Yes, I wrote thumbshifter you young punks!!!), the front derailleur cage just rubbed sadly against the chain without action, much like a husband getting a lapdance from his wife.  Once you knew the chain wouldn’t drop, you had to concede, get off your bike, lift the rear wheel, pedal with your hands until the chain dropped to the granny ring, then you can continue with your epic cycling journey.  The design of the front derailleur didn’t change much over the past 20 years as it seemed the technology hit it’s zenith in the 90’s, so what did the geniuses at SRAM decide to do?  They just got rid of it.

XX1 is a single ring drivetrain with a rear cassette that has 11 cogs ranging from 10 to 42 teeth effectively making the mountain bike an 11 speeder.  I don’t know why they call it XX1 as it implies that it has 21 gears; I thought they would call it XI to correspond to their 20 speed 2×10 XX nomenclature.  Anyways, you can change the ring up or down 2 teeth without adding or subtracting chainlinks so you can add variability to the gearing without too much effort.  Sure, I may need a 30, 32 and 34 ring collection, but apparently, the switch is simple with only 4 bolts to deal with.  The idea of not having a front derailleur is exciting and monumental as this could be the beginning of a mountain bike standard.  The simplicity of having just a rear derailleur and shifter opens up more possibilities like a 1×12 system and clearing space on the handlebar for other remotes like lockout and dropper seatpost.

My Beargrease is coming with XX1, and it really makes sense for winter riding as the front derailleur can freeze up or get clogged with snow and ice rendering it nonfunctional.  It comes with a 28 ring which seems logical as you need the lower gears to trudge through the snow, but as a race bike, I am considering a 30 ring.  Overall, I am just excited to never look down with consternation at that pathetic front derailleur again.

XX1

XX1 Groupset

Enve carbon Wheelset:

This was a total ego purchase as the logic of spending $3000 on a set of wheels seems to escape most people, including me.  As a mid pack Expert ABA Master racer, my pedigree deserves a $3000 bike with decent reliable parts as my weakest link is probably my “muffintop” from drinking too much beer with my fellow cyclists (or anyone to be totally honest) and my penchant for 1 hour rides and 3 hours of coffee with Paavo or Shantel.  I never rode or raced with carbon wheels, and with its availability, I just thought the time for self-reward was now.  With it’s gossamer weight claims and purported durability, I chose Enve XC wheels because I didn’t want to second guess my decision as this may be the last chance to purchase such a decadent piece of cycling equipment.  Contrary to most people’s opinion, I despise the Enve logo/font plastered on the rims as it is reminiscent of some tacky 70’s USSR propaganda design.   Thankfully, the stickers peeled off easily to display the carbon rims in their beautiful naked form.  Despite my hopeful intentions of buying a set of light carbon wheels, I don’t really expect to see my racing results change much, unless you think placing 15th instead of 16th is an improvement.  I just really love the way it looks on my Rocky Mountain Vertex with XX1.  It’s a $3000 ornamental accent so I plan on taking plenty of pictures and posting them on facebook ad nauseam.

enve

Enve Wheels in all their glory