Thursday, December 31, 2015

Gear Review - Cyclocross Race Bike "SRAM Red Drive Train"

Ever since my first road bike I have used Shimano equipment and have always been happy with it and still use it.  It was not until I started looking for a new cyclocross bike in 2014 that I got curious about SRAM.  I could tell you it was solely for technical or performance reasons and whilst that was a consideration I also think it just looks cool.

Was it love after the first ride? nope, in fact truth be told it took me a few road rides to get used to the mechanics.  Especially switching between Di2 and SRAM Red.  It was not long however before I started to like the positive feel.   Once the racing started I really appreciated the shifting.  It was an appreciation that grew throughout the race season. 

I really like the fact that changing up and down is achieved with one lever and in one direction.  This might seem a small thing but trust me when you are riding at threshold the less you have to think about the better a truism especially relevant to  Cyclo Cross racing.

The distinction hit home the first time I had to switch to my "Pit" bike equipped with Shimano  shifters.  Normally I have no problem switching between the different shifters however in the height of competition the switch was nothing less than frustrating.  I found myself dropping gears and in a cross race a dropped gear can be the difference between staying in contact or not.  The switch lead to a very sketchy moment during a technical decent and as a result of the whole experience I stripped my pit bike and fitted it with SRAM Force CX1 which I will talk about in a future gear review.

The SRAM Red Double tap shifting is smooth and quick and I personally really like the positive feel of the shifting.  Talking with others this can be subject to personal taste so be sure to try it out for yourself and give it a few rides before you make a decision. 

The yaw front derailleur is elegant and does its job well.  It is not all good news however.  Whilst the shifting works flawlessly the shift lever has a long throw.  When racing I found that I could not shift quickly, I had to think about shifting far to much and found that it regularly took me multiple attempts to shift.   In addition to the long throw the shifting was nowhere near as positive.  Fortunately I did not have to use the front changer that much but every time I did the experience was the same.   On the road when there is more time it is less of an issue but off road on a rough twisting course the problem was polarized.  For me this is were CX1 really comes into its own.

The levers can take a good amount of punishment which is a key ingredient for cyclocross as you will crash.  I got all the way through the season but the last race was one too many.  I crashed and broke one of the levers.  The downside of performance equipment is the strength to weight tradeoff and of course the cost of replacement.  That said I did not think twice about replacing the lever with the same model.

To complete the drive train the SRAM Red Shifters are paired with SRAM Red front and rear derailleurs with a front derailleur chain guard and a SRAM Quarq crank set (Power Meter).  All of the equipment performed very well week after week.

I went down hard a number of times during the season and the rear derailleur took all the punishment without failing.  Now the frame may have to take a little credit as the rear hanger bent which from a cost standpoint is a much better option than taking out the derailleur.

Adjusting the front yaw derailleur took a little time.  After a chain ring change I got the bike back with cross talk which can be common when the chain is on the big cog at the front and back.  This is not a situation you want on a cross bike as you spend a lot of time in those gears so take the time to adjust it correctly or find someone who can.

The front derailleur chain guard for the most part was excellent except for when the bolt securing it comes lose which is did regularly.   I had to check it before each race.  When it comes lose it is worst than not having one as it allows the chain to slip down behind it effectively trapping the chain.  This happened to me on the last race of the season costing me over a minute.  For next year I will be looking for a new option.

The SRAM Quarq has been a robust and reliable device since installation providing power data.  I have not had to think about it as it has just worked.  I was initially concerned that cyclo cross racing would be too hard on the device but that has thankfully not been the case.

Bottom line I really enjoy the equipment.  If I would change anything it would be to move to a x1 system but other than that I highly recommend the equipment.

Keep it Rubber Side Down and MaxLifeOut.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Training Diary - 12/12/2015

After a week of rain and time on the trainer I just had to get out on the road no matter what the weather.  I sent out the invite and was not surprised to get no takers for an early Saturday ride in the pouring rain.  Oh boy did it rain.  It rained constantly and hard the entire ride, but it was good to get out.  By the time I got home my feet and hands were frozen inspiring a couple of upgrades to my kit.

I had to stop off and check out Snoqualmie falls.  It normally looks like the picture below but after all the rain well see for yourself in the video - Enjoy

Keep it Rubber Side Down and Maxlifeout.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Gear Review - Cyclocross Race Bike "2013 BH RX Team"

Now that the cross season is over in the Pacific North West I thought I would take some time to share with you the equipment I used.  The good, the bad and the in between.

First up is my Bike:  2013 BH RX Team.

I brought the bike in early 2014 in eager anticipation of the race season that year.  After much time (ok too much time) reading and researching I had landed on three options; the Specialized Crux, Trek Boone and Pivot Vault.  All great bikes but it was not until I got to test ride the Pivot Vault at the local mountain bike park that I knew it was the one I wanted.  I could tell you all about the ride and the equipment but at the end of the day it is all about how you feel on a bike and the Pivot Vault inspired me with confidence.  The only downside was the look.  It just did not wow me and that is another very important part of a bike.  It has to make you feel good when you look at it, and the Pivot did not.  Neither did the others if I am honest.

With a little more research it turned out that Pivot Vault in 2014 was effectively the same as the 2013 BH RX Team and the BH looked fast standing still.  I was told that Pivot had designed the BH but the companies had parted ways.  So the hunt was on for a BH.  Do you think I could find one - nope, and I looked everywhere (including under the cushions of the sofa, you know that's where everything ends up). 

I had given up and decided to order the 2014 Pivot Vault going with performance over looks.  So resigned to the purchase I went into the bike store and was just about to place the order when the store partner said "if you are looking for a Pivot Vault I am selling my cross bike and it is the same just a BH.  Could it be, no it couldn't, really could it.  IT WAS he brought out a 2013 BH RX Team equipped exactly as I wanted and some.  It was a sign from the universe and I brought it on the spot.

I have since used it on the road and although not as fast as my road bike it is no slouch and the geometry on the road makes for a great ride.  I have trained off road and completed 17 races only having to resort to my pit bike 3 times, all as the result of a crash.

I am as happy today with the purchase as the day I brought it.  I am a bike and equipment junkie and all year I have been looking at new bikes, just because I can.  Do tell me you don't do the same.  Sure there are bikes I want and ones I am eager to try but my RX Team still looks great even with race patina, in fact the patina makes it look even better.  It makes me smile when I clean it  and it inspires me when I ride, in my opinion you can't ask much more of a bike.  Oh his name is RED, just in case you ever meet.

Since Purchasing RED I have made a small number of equipment changes and I will review those in separate posts, but in summary they are.

Power meter cranks
New wheels after crashing and breaking them before the cyclocross race season
Disk brakes
Handle bar tape

If I have a complaint it is the construction of the derailleur hanger.  I bent 3 during the race season crashing.  That said I would rather bend my hanger than wreck the rear mech.  The problem was I had to get them from BH or ship them from Europe.  Fortunately I was able to get replacements quickly from BH through the bike shop but it was at a premium shipping cost (next day).  Following the second crash I ordered 2 replacements as having a spare had saved me before only to find out they only had one.  It all worked out in the end.

If you are in the market for a great cross bike and find the 2013 BH RX Team, take it from me it is a race winning bike for sure.  Just avoid crashing as much or as hard as me :)

Until next time Max Life Out and stay Rubber Side Down.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Pacific Bike & Ski Turkey Grinder III (2015)

The Saturday Facebook post read "The Turkey Grinder is tomorrow!!!  See you all at the shop at 8am!  The weather looks good (dry) for the day!".   I don't know what weather forecast Paul was looking at but 7am on Sunday morning and it was raining cats and dogs.  

People this is the Pacific Northwest and riding in the rain comes with the territory.  So I kitted up, lights and mud guards on I head out to the rallying point at the shop.  Riders roll in and by the time we head out we are 14 strong and looking forward to the 3rd annual Turkey Grinder.

The ride was a great mix of road, gravel, trail, single track with a surprise break hosted by Dana before the monster climb.  Hot coffee and oatmeal as well as water refills for those that wanted it.  The sun even came out for a moment.

Then before the chills set in the group was off to conquer the Tolt McDonald single track climb.  The perfect remedy for the cold.  Half way up and the furnace was at full steam.

We finished the ride on the road and arriving back at the shop ready to head home and refuel after a hard but satisfying effort.   Don't take my word for it check out the video below.

Until Next Time Max Life Out and Keep it Rubber Side Down

Saturday, December 5, 2015

2015 Cyclo-Cross Season

With the end of Cyclocross season here in the Pacific Northwest I wanted to take time to reflect and share with you a great season.   I have meet amazing competitors many of whom have become new friends that I looked forward to catching up with and competing against each week.

Going into the season I had the goal of racing Category 4 Men 45+ and hoped to be competitive with top 20 placings.  My results far exceeded my goals and expectations.  I am thankful for the ability to race and excited for 2016..

Results (17 Races)
1st Place:  6
2nd Place: 3
3rd Place: 2
4th Place: 1
9th Place: 1
10th Place: 2
11th Place: 1
17th Place: 1
CXR Series:   1st Overall (Category 3 Men 45+)

MFG Series:  3rd Overall (Category 3 Men 45+) 
UCI:  (Upgraded to Category 3)

Thank You's
I have lots of people to thank for their help over the last year putting me back together and getting me ready to race, from the hospital nurses, my PT at Lake Washington PT and BikePT, Sean at The Balanced Spine, my doctor Geoff Lecovin and my friends that provided encouragement and support through some dark days.  To Pacific Bike and Ski for the team support and some quick repairs and all my team mates who encouraged and supported me.  My coach Jim Lehman of CTS who kept me on course and ready to race each week.

A special shout out and thank you goes to Gregg Hodges and the support of the Hektic Team who where there for me every race and who I am thankful to call my friends.  You guys rock!!  Above all my wife, team mate and best friend (Sarah) has been simply amazing.  Providing moral, nutritional and race day support and honestly putting up with me after racing - I love you baby.


Pre-Season Preparation:
After a near death accident last year I signed up with the CTS Coaching service after receiving a recommendation from my Physical Therapist to help me build fitness and keep me honest.  I returned to track racing after a hiatus of over 20 years and everything was going to plan until on July 12th, the day after winning at the Derby Day criterium in my category I crashed and separated my shoulder and punctured a lung.  A week in hospital did not deter me but it was not what I had in mind just a month before the start of the season.  Obstacles are a fact of life and this was just another one to put
behind me.  

What to Race
With weeks to go the next job was to decide on the events I would attend.   To figure it out I started with the "Washington State Bike Association" calendar.  With three series running I had to make a choice between the MFG Cyclocross SeriesCXR Cross Revolution Series and Cascade Cross Series.  In addition I had to decided if I wanted to get USA Cycling (USAC/UCI) points as none of the series are sanction races.  In the end I decided on a balanced schedule containing MFG, CXR and USAC races.  The decision was based on travel time as well as non overlapping races.

Secret Weapons
Nutrition and no not the funny stuff but good quality food carefully thought through by Sarah.  It has maintained my weight, kept me healthy and aided in recovery.  It helps having an holistic health coach on the team.   Foundation Training has helped with both injury recovery, strength and flexibility and my coach Jim that without whom I would have over trained for sure and failed to change my warmup program.

8/29/2015 Washington Women of Cross (WWCX) - 1st Race of the season (17th/50)

Category Open
Yes for the more astute of you, it is a women's focused event.  They do however kindly cater for the men with a single open event.  Being the first race opportunity of the season it was decided I would race using it as a training opportunity to see how my body was holding up.  Everything was going great until the second lap when I managed to shrink wrap my rear cassette with tape.  I lost a lot of ground but managed to unwrap the tape and with only one other fall I finished up 17th and left pleased with a top 20 finish if a little peeved with my bike handling skills.

9/7/2015 Labor Day Cross - 2nd Race (3rd/28)

Category 3 Men 45+
Heading into the 2nd race I was getting feedback from friends that I should ride Category 3 and not 4.  With no way to bench mark my ability I discussed the idea with my coach and we decided that since we were still considering it as a training race I would enter the Category 3 Men 45+ field.  The outcome would decide the entry for the MFG and CXR series.  To my surprise I got away fast and found myself leading the race.  I was caught by one rider who got away when I crashed.  I was then caught by a second rider and again he got away when I crashed.  I then stayed upright and held on for 3rd.  The result was a big surprise to me and based on the result we decided to stay with Category 3.

9/13/2015 MFG No.1 - Lake Sammamish GP - 3rd Race (10th/56)

Category 3 Men 45+
With no small amount of nerves we headed to Lake Sammamish for the first MFG race of the series.  The big features of the race were two sandy beach sections.  Talk about a shock to the system, I had all kinds of problems with the sand.  I got away well but the second time into the sand I fell, took a dunking in the lake and watched riders run by me as I discovered I could not run well.  I came in 10th and was overall very pleased with the result especially since I was racing Category 3.

9/19/2015 CrosstOberfest USAC Race - 4th Race (1st/29)

Category 4 Men 45+
As a sanctioned USAC race I had no choice to self seed at category 3 and had to race in the category 4/5 race.  My strategy was to mark the front riders and look for an opportunity.  That plan fell apart when we caught the category that went a minute ahead of us.  With the same color numbers I had no idea who I was racing.  At that point the new plan was go as hard as possible and not let anyone pass me.  I slid out once in the race and went on to take my first 1st place and secure my first CycloCross  points.

9/20/2015 MFG No.2 - South Sound Super Prestige - 5th Race (10th/55)

Category 3 Men 45+
As the second day of my first back to back weekend of racing I had no idea how my body would hold up.  I was tired but optimistic after my win the day before.  The race had a long climb and fast decent as well as a very rough grass section.  In the first climb I let the leaders go and then slowly pulled riders back.  I had just passed the second placed rider when going into the barriers I failed to unclip and crashed putting my foot into my rear wheel.   I was forced to watch riders pass me as I limped as quickly as I could to the pits.  With a change of bikes I was able to pull back placed to finish 10th.

9/27/2015 CXR No.1 - Arlington Cross - 6th Race (1st/38)

Category 3 Men 45+
In the first race of the CXR series I got a good start and marked the leaders of the race.  In the first lap I marked a strong attack and then took the lead.  I stayed on the bike and went on to win my first category 3 race.

10/3/2015 MFG No.3 - Brian Tracy Experience - 7th Race (11th/55)

Category 3 Men 45+
Going into my second weekend of back to back racing I was unsure how to approach the race especially as I would be defending a lead in the CXR Series.  I got a lousy start to the race failing to clip in quickly and was once again being foiled by the sand and run ups, giving me a 7th place finish.

10/4/2015 CXR No.2 - Swan Cross - 8th Race (4th/30)

Category 3 Men 45+
After the racing the day before I was looking to do better at Swan Cross.  The hope of getting a good start was foiled on the line.  Jamming the studs in my shoe into my pedal I crashed on the start line.  By the time I was back on my bike I was dead last and had to fight my way through the field, something I ended up doing multiple time during the race as I was passed on the run up and then had to make ground back again.  Going on to finish 4th.

Coaching Moment
After the weekend my coach and I evaluated my performance.  The outcome was a new warm up program based on the discovery I was still warming up in the first 2 laps of a race.  Oh and I removed those blasted studs.

10/11/2015 CXR No.3 - Sprinker Cross - 9th Race (1st/51)

Category 3 Men 45+
Getting ready with the new warmup program on a lovely day I felt apprehensive but ready to race.  I got a great start off the line opening a good gap.  I was chased down but stayed upright and in control going on to win the race.

10/18/2015 MFG No.4 - Magnuson Park - 10th Race (2nd/62)

Category 3 Men 45+
I got ready for the race with the new warmup and started the race going hard off the line.  The strategy worked again giving me a good start.  After defending one attack I was gapped a lap later but went on to finish in 2nd, my best MFG result to date.

10/25/2015 CXR No.4 - Cross at the Tac (Jerry Baker Classic)  - 11th Race (2nd/52)

Category 3 Men 45+
Starting strong I completely misread the first corner nearly leaving the course.  I was able to recover and get to the stair run up first.  I opened a gap only to be chased down and then dropped.  With a 25+ minute deficit I went about pulling the leader back.  We were back together in the last lap and poised for a sprint finish when I was crashed out by a rider limping around the course.  I fought back but lost ground in the last run up to finish 2nd.

11/01/2015 MFG No.5 - North 40 CX - 12th Race (2nd/54)

Category 3 Men 45+
With the rain pouring down and a super cold day I went hard off the line opening a good gap.  I was pulled back after a slow lap.  We exchanged places a few times but going into the last half of the final lap I felt strong.  Hot on the heels of the race leader going into the last run up my foot jammed and against all the odds my shoe came off.  I was able to get it back on but could not fasten it.  I chased the leader but was unable to close the gap to finish 2nd. 

11/08/2015 CXR No.5 - Cross the Frontier - 13th Race (1st/42)

Category 3 Men 45+
Feeling good after the last three races I was still hunting a win.  Going hard off the line I opened a gap that was closed briefly then reopened.  Halfway through the race I was forced into the pits after a crash bent my rear hanger causing me to miss gears.  With only one other crash in the last lap I went on to win the race.

11/14/2015 Subaru Cyclo Cup Day 1 - 14th Race (1st/28)

Category 4 Men 45+
On the hunt of UCI points and a category upgrade I had high hopes of doing well.  Going hard from the start on a very wet and muddy course I opened a gap and kept it for the entire race going on to get my 2nd UCI win of the season.  The biggest surprise other than the monster run up was that my brakes locked up just after I finished.  Luck was on my side on the day.

11/15/2015 Subaru Cyclo Cup Day 2 - 15th Race (1st/31)

Category 4 Men 45+
After a frantic bike repair I was still concerned about the brakes.  After the warmup lap I made the hard decision to race on my pit bike.  It was a good call and I pulled off my first back to back win after getting to the start line without my gloves on a very cold day - doh.

11/22/2015 MFG No.6 - Woodland Park GP - 16th Race (3rd/60)

Category 3 Men 45+
The last MFG race of the season was hotly contended and I wanted to finish strong.  I got a great start and held the lead in the first part of the race.  I was then caught and passed, we had a touch of wheels and I went down losing ground.  I fought my way back and then crashed in the start transition.  In a hard fought race I worked my way back to 2nd and then crashed, sliding out in the transition to the finishing straight losing 2nd and coming in 3rd.

11/29/2015 CXR No.6 - Claw Cross - 17th Race (9th/41)

Category 3 Men 45+
The day started cold with frozen ground that warmed up to a slick slippery course by the time I raced.  Going into the race I stuck with the program of going hard from the start only this time it did not work out.  Putting too much power down on a slippery surface resulted in me going down hard in the first lap, jamming my chain behind the chain guard and breaking my shifter.  Not the start I was looking for.  Limping into the pits I finally got back in the race well off the back.  I fought my way back to 9th place and managed to stay upright for the rest of the race.  I could not resist a victory salute as the winner of the series as I crossed the line,

For sticking it out this far you are invited to ride along with me by viewing the race highlight videos on my YouTube channel.

Until next time Max Life Out and stay Rubber Side Down.