Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Mountain Bike had 250cc's Today - Riding Hollister Hills

Admittedly, I haven't ridden my dirt bike in almost a year. I keep it on a Battery Tender in the garage and in pristine condition - except for the scratches and other battle scars its received from my various past adventures. After selling my Suzuki DRZ400SM, I contemplated on selling this. I realized that the technology on my CRF250X is fantastic, it runs like a champ, and it has plenty of power for the easy-going trail riding I like to do. In other words, I probably can keep this thing for another 5-7 years and it will still be awesome. After all, it is a Honda. Except for the handguards, an engine gaurd, a fender bag and a Stage I jetkit from JD Jetting, it's completely stock.

Oh, and I'm still paying for the damn thing.

Today I decided to take out the machine. My brother is still training for CX racing, so I decided to let him be and I went solo. It took me about 10 miles before the rust started to shake loose. Unless you're a downhill mountain biker, dirt riding is definetely a change of pace. First, you have power. Second, you have tons of suspension and third, it's an interesting dance with traction control.

Most of the trails in Hollister were closed due to the rain we've been having, but I didn't complain. I rode all over the backside and even hit a few black diamond trails that I love so much.

I will always ride dirt bikes. It's just I have to be in the right mindset to haul myself out. I mean, I think it took me longer to unload and clean my bike than the actual riding time I had.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Fixed Gear Mountain Riding in Fremont Older

Since my trails are still closed, I decided to give Fremont Older in the Cupertino/Saratoga area a try. A lot of folks post about it in MTBR, but I've never been. From what I've seen and heard, it didn't look too crazy - so what a great opportunity to bring my re-built retro-fixed bike out. The original build is HERE.

I never really rode this bike in that form and I wanted to not let it go to waste, so a quick change out of some parts and it was very off-road worthy. I did have to spring for a new handlebar, chainring, cog, lockring and fork.

Fremont Older proved to be the perfect stomping ground for off-road fixed gear riding. I found the climbing to be more enjoyable than the descends - literally you can "spin out of control" on a fixed mountain bike. So, using the front brake to modulate your speed works very well. The super-wide 730mm handlebar helped a lot on mashing up the climbs.

This wasn't my first time riding off-road fixed - when I had my Motobecane Outcast 29'er, I had that in fixed gear fashion for a bit. If you're curious about riding off-road on a fixed gear, here is what I've discovered that may help you:

1) Use the same gearing you would for a singlespeed. There are TONS of sites and information out there regarding gearing, and it will literally make your head spin, so I won't get deep into it. Most people start out with a 2:1 ratio i.e. 32T X 16T. But this all depends on your wheel size, crank length and most importantly your fitness level. Because I'm on 700c wheels, I choose a 32T X 18T gearing which I can get up most hills with. Today posed no problems.

2) Get 'em wide. There is a lot of debate over wide handlebars, but I know, for me riding a single gear, the wide handlebar helps a lot when it's time to mash. I know this because yesterday was actually my official first ride on this bike and I had 630mm handlebars which were way too narrow. Now I have 730mm bars on there and they feel a million times better.

3) Use brakes. I use a front brake for off-road mountain riding only because my frame does not have v-brake tabs for a rear brake. If it did, I would definitely have a rear brake on there.

Brakes control your downhill speed on a fixed gear. I do not believe, for a second, that skid stopping is enough for off-road. I think it's just plain stupid on the street. Since you're not coasting on the descends, it takes a lot of energy to keep you from spinning your cranks out of control, so modulating the brakes keeps things in check. If you are only on the front brake, you end up putting a lot of pressure on your wrists, arms, shoulders and chest. Think how it is to hold yourself up in a "push-up" position. A rear brake helps balance this out and gives your legs a rest from fixed gear downhill resistance.

Don't question this. Get AT LEAST a front brake.

4) Have an open mind. Understand that this is fixed gear riding. It isn't extreme downhill - so the descends are going to suck as much, if not more, than the climbs. I actually prefer climbing over going downhill on the fixed gear. Unless you have very understanding friends who will wait for you on the downhills, it's best to leave the fixie at home if you are going on a group ride. What would be ideal is if they were also on fixed gear bikes - but that is a rarity.

If you're a strong singlespeed rider you will out climb a lot of the geared folks, however.

Off-road fixed gear riding is suitable for mountain exploration and mixing it up. If it is an all out group ride with your hammerhead friends - this won't be the bike to take. But for solo rides with exploration in mind to enjoy nature - a great choice.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Nothing Much but Rain in NorCal

Not a whole lotta postin' going on since the rain has hit NorCal. I've been out in the rain these past few days on recon rides - unfortunately the trails are mostly closed with the exception of Fort Ord which is a bit of a haul. Although I may get down there this weekend...

Here are a few pics from my roam rides. Not much in terms of hills or singletrack, but very fun all the same. I've been riding my cyclocross bikes (1 geared, 1 SS) and they've really done me well. I've found some fantastic alternative routes from the dangerous streets of San Jose (dangerous from the idiot drivers here), and now I can almost ride my entire loop with 85% off-the-beaten-path roads.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

1 1/2 Years of Surly Pacer - A Review

I've had a love/hate relationship with my Surly Pacer... well, it's not with the actual bike, but it is more with road riding in general. Road riding is hard, and the main issue I have is the mixing it up with cars. I've been hit by a car TWICE. Once on my motorcycle and once on my bike - on this Surly Pacer, in fact. So, aside from all my internal struggles with road riding, let me give you my 1 1/2 years of experience with my Surly Pacer.

I have changed and molded this bike into it's current state - from a regular drop-bar road bike, to a retro looking thing, to even a single-speed at one point. But, I think I've found a stopping point. Currently it's geared for touring style riding, a self-inflicted double crank with a 38T and 30T chainring, mountain derailleur and a mountain cassette - truly, I should be able to scale walls with this. And, I'm even considering a "great granny" by replacing the 30T with a 28T - but I'm good in the current state it's in, right now. Cables are pulled and released with Paul Thumbie bar shifters.

The biggest thing I've done (and I mean "big) was the installation of the Race Face Atlas AM handlebar. Yeah, I'm not going out to attack singletrack with this bike, but boy, is it an awesome urban destroyer now. Crank Bros. pedals are in place so I can wear my mountain shoes and everything rolls on Alex Rims laced onto Shimano Sora hubs wrapped up in Fyxation Session 700 X 28 tires. The entire build weight is 23.58 lbs - sans the pump, seatbag and a filled water bottle.

Maybe the big handlebar is weird, but I love the comfort and "upright" seated position. It's all about comfort at this time.

Surly says:
"...It isn’t the fastest or lightest bike you’ll ever ride, but then again, it isn’t trying to be. This frame was designed as an all-day bike, which means comfort and reliability. The 4130 TIG-welded frame and brazed fork are designed to take the edge off the bumps and cracks in the road, but remain laterally stiff for those out-of-the-saddle sprints and climbs..."
"...The Pacer is not what most race-inspired roadies seem to drool over. It isn’t on the cutting edge of design, it isn't made of the latest ultra light super-expensive materials, and it isn't festooned with lots of bright colors and graphics. Rather, it is a road bike made of our favorite material, cro-moly steel, using frame geometry that makes it fast and efficient like a road bike should be, but it is not a racing bike. This is a frame meant for all day rides. There are a lot of other road frames out there that are flashier, more exotic, and full of promises most riders only dream of fulfilling. The Pacer doesn't make promises. It's simply a great riding steel frame..."
"...No, the Pacer will not impress people who live for the next replica team ‘kit.’ The Pacer reminds us, quietly, that there is a road bike out there for the rest of us..."
I agree with most of their claims. The Pacer is nowhere near the performance of a race bike - and even if you are a pretty strong rider (and I consider myself ay-okay), you will get dropped by others on race oriented bikes. But, in the end, the goal is not to race with this bike. The goal is all day rides in comfort. Cruising on flats between 15-25MPH (25mph when you're really cooking) and climbing/descending with a smile on your face is what this bike is all about. And, yes, you will get compliments on this bike from those who've seen the light.

One of the concerns for many who own this bike is the flexy bottom bracket that has a tendency to "ghost shift", or what Sheldon Brown called "auto shifting". This is apparent when you stand up to mash. A few things that help are:

1) Choose your shift before you climb. If you decide to mash through a gear change, you may ghost shift.

2) Index (or SIS) shifting works great with this bike. Friction, especially downtube friction shifting - not so much. I had a lot of problems with the downtube shifter set-up.

3) Liberally grease the cable guide under the bottom bracket. Sometimes, if there is friction down there, the bike will shift on its own on flex.

4) Make sure your cables and housing are well lubricated and always use high-end, reputable parts. This is shifting we're talking about, not valve stem caps.

The frame is definitely flexy, so be aware that this is a small compromise for comfort.

I've designed my bike around what the frame was intended for - comfort, exploration and all day rides. But, I have also been dropped by riders on race oriented bikes - but I don't fret. The Pacer reminds me that it's okay to sit-back, relax and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wilder Ranch Solo Ride

Given that my trails are closed here from the rain, I decided to get down to my home of Santa Cruz, Ca. and cruise up Wilder. I was also able to see my nephews which is always a treat, and give one of them his birthday present a little early.

Route was: Parent's house > Wilder Loop > to the Bottom > Up Long Meadow > Twin Gates > UCSC > *singletrack fun and jumps* > Through UC > Down Bay St. > cruise the neighborhoods > West Cliff > Parent's House

Somewhere in there I think I hit Zane Grey and some other stuff. I think since I went up, back down and up again, I climbed somewhere near 2200' feet of so.

The ground was soft and I felt like I was going nowhere fast. No matter how hard I pedalled, I could not get any momentum behind me to keep rolling. Literally, it was drudging through the mud. Count it as a 100,000 leg presses, I guess.

Here are the pics with commentary:

First stop on Wilder Loop Trail. These exposed rocks were SO slippery, I slid right off of them.

Quick stop at the Kilns. Totally reminds me of Ireland.

Obligatory water tank pic.

I stopped at my old high school, Santa Cruz High, to reminisce a little. This graffiti piece is awesome.

This is the front steps where we used to have "Free Speech". I think it was on every Thursday at lunch so the students could talk/debate about current topics. I remember we would talk about things like the 1st. Gulf War, gang violence, education, etc. Sadly... nothing has f*ckin' changed, and it's been nearly 20 years. I wonder if they still have this...

Why the pic of the stage in the quad? This slab of concrete gave me the best times in my life. As you can see, it is well worn of years and years of skaters and BMX'ers grindin' it away. I used to feeble (peg) grind this, sprocket grind it, 360 off it, 180 off it, abubaca it, footplant it, bunnyhop up it... etc. In fact, the right of passage to manhood was the ability to bunnyhop up it - I remember the first time I did it. I think they re-paved the quad, because the stage was actually much higher than it is now.

I thought they would've painted over this by now, but down at the ceramics room is a very faded graffiti mural I did in 1992. The kids have gotten so good at murals, I thought somebody would've gone over it with a much better piece. A part of my wishful thinking is that they haven't painted over it as a sign of respect for such an old piece - since it is actually older than the seniors that are graduating from there. But, one can only wish.

And finally, the sun-over-the-ocean shot. So pretty... just the right amount of fog produces sights like this. People wonder why I like the fall and winter so much.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A few from the past couple of days...

The On-One Inbred 29er, moments before the rear freehub destruction...

Even better... yet another crushed Eggbeater spring. 3rd one this year?

My beloved Surly Pacer checking out the sunset. The Surly Pacer is not too fast, not too slow - just right.