Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cyclocross Season Awaits

Cyclocross season is so close, you can almost smell it. What does 'cross smell like? Mud, wet leaves, with a hint of pain. Bottle it and market to the masses. Order now, operators are standing by.

A few months back, we picked up a used 'cross bike for Ian. We figured over the summer, some road rides and a little dirt action to get used to it, the 'cross rig being very different from his mountain bike. As with the best laid plans of mice and men - especially busy men who really dig mountain biking - the plan went awry. Spiffy little 'cross bike was barely ridden.

Over the last few days, we've initiated the official "You better get used to 'cross bike quick" plan, to ramp up the familiarity. We've hit the local school yard to practice cornering on grass with 700c tires and discover how bumpy things are without a suspension fork. Ian looks good on the bike, no problem at all. I explained once again how drop 'bars offer multiple hand positions. He's the most comfortable in the drops. Ah, to have a 12 year old spine once again...

Ian is looking forward to the 'cross season. His previous two seasons were racing unattached on a mountain bike. This season; teammates, full team kit and real 'cross bike. Should be a fun experience. Stay tuned. Same blog time. Same blog channel.

Some yard practice under the belt. Ian prefers to dismount/remount on the right side. Whatever works. Also first season racing with clipless pedals. He's a clipless pro now, after a few months of mountain biking with 'em.

DIY practice barriers courtesy of this article, just finished 'em tonight. Under $20 and about 15 minutes of work. Ian gives 'em a quick test. Basketball shorts not recommended for 'cross. Baggy shorts/saddle interface equals wacky dismount action. Give it a try. You won't thank me.

Project Hakkalugi is progressing, with Pile-O-Parts ordered online and arriving daily. Only thing left to arrive is the rear derailleur, ETA tomorrow. We can rebuild it, we have the technology. I'll then have my commuter/cyclocross weapon (ha!) rolling again. Little voice inside is also suggesting racing 'cross myself. I'm trying to shut it up. It won't listen.

With that, now time for the injured and battered - courtesy of riding with me - report...

Daughter Amy's broken arm, now sporting a bright pink cast, is doing okay. Cast now covered with signatures from well wishers. As you may recall, broke her arm with slow speed tip over, during a family ride. Wacky. Playing Wii appears to not be a problem.

Additional fun fact: Amy's orthopedic doctor is a bike racer. I think we're in good hands.

Ian's schoolmate and basketball teammate, Austin, who broke his wrist a few weeks ago - yes, riding with me - sports a purple cast. His scheduled to be removed soon. Said he'd like to ride with us again, didn't scare him off. Whew, glad to hear that.

Additional fun fact: Austin's dad is Ian's basketball coach. Hope we're not on the, you-know-what, list...

Both kids reported to school today with casts and stories of how I tried to kill 'em with bikes. Who will be the next victim? Heh, heh. Lucky for me, I also ride with the Principle, so no one is safe (insert maniacal laugh here)....

All joking aside, I feel bad both of 'em were hurt riding with me. A rare chain of events. Hopefully, many future years of nothing but bumps and bruises - the usual routine. Both kids wish to ride again. A bit down the road - memories of xrays and casts long gone - replaced by two wheeled grins and fun times. Maybe they'll even race 'cross one day.

With that, another blog post pushed out the Internet. Why do I keep doing this? I don't know. I like it. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Paradise Valley - Woodinville Wonder

I got two tickets to Paradise. Pack your bikes, we'll leave tonight...

Excuse the cheesy wordplay on the Eddie Money song. Eddie Money? Yeah - that Eddie Money. We did visit paradise however, this version located in the wilds of Woodinville. This little gem located only 12 miles from home - and I've never visited until today. What a find.

Son Ian's last day of summer today, school starts tomorrow. He ain't too happy about that. Daughter Amy however, is looking forward to it. Must be a boy verses girl thing. I suggested a late afternoon mountain bike ride to cheer him up. He was cranky about hitting St Ed/Big Finn area yet again - our neighborhood woods. I was cranky about the prospect of loading up the car and driving somewhere. We've been meaning to try out Paradise Valley, so he won - loaded up the car and headed out. Short drive later, we're ready to ride.

By sheer coincidence, while unloading the car - Tom and Scott - Old Guy Ride regulars pull in the lot. Their pal Doug also in for the fun, aboard a new Ibis Mojo HD. Damn nice. Wound up being a group ride with Scott acting as ride leader. Paradise Valley is a pinball maze of singletrack, so having a knowledgeable guide show us around for the first time was a bonus. Scott also raced expert class XC back in the day, and he's still plenty quick. Additional fun fact: His son Max is a junior world champion longboarder. Cool, eh?

Paradise Valley wound up being a surprise - the place is a total blast. Tight 'N' Twisty singletrack, full of roots for added technical fun. It's basically flat, no real climbs, but some Ups 'N' Downs. The occasional wooden structure to spice things up. The Roots-O-Plenty reminded me of my East Coast roots (pun intended. Ha!). There's not a lot of mileage, but the technical aspect more then makes up for it. Brain needs to be engaged for most of the sections. It was dry today, technical level would jump up a few notches when wet. Nothing like working your way over a maze of wet roots. Yes please.

Ride wound up being huge fun, due to the terrain and unexpected biker pal tour guides. Fantastic. I brought a camera and never took one picture. Call me lame. Too busy riding. Trust me, it's pretty cool. I'll grab some pics next time. There will definitely be a next time. Place is too much fun and really close to home. Score !

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Viva le Tour !

Fantastic documentary on the 1962 Tour de France. I can't understand one word of it, but one of the best cycling films I've ever seen.

Grab a snack, pull up a chair, watch all 19 minutes and see if you don't agree.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Neuvation Cycling

Even though my bike shop days were a few decades ago, I still remain very interested in the bicycle industry. I read various websites, still know a few folks in the industry, and look behind the products and enjoy peeking around the curtain to see how it all works.

As we all know, the Internet has changed how we live and purchase items, or at least gives us another option. The bicycle industry is not excluded from this fact of modern life. If you know what you're looking for, there's numerous opportunities to save serious dough by purchasing parts or complete bicycles online.

In some bicycle culture eyes, this a bad thing, since it cuts out the local shop. I have mixed feelings about this at times, though many bicycle purchases I've made on eBay come from a brick and mortar shop also selling online. Smart shops will be a hybrid of in person and online sales - my opinion anyway. You can't fix bicycles over the Internet. The online option also doesn't work for everyone. A local knowledgeable shop will always be a good thing.

Except for a few rare exceptions - building wheels and straightening frames - I maintain all my bikes. I have a fair amount of experience and knowledge, so the online option works well for me. On top of that, I just can no longer afford to spend huge dough on bikes. Raising a family will do that. Almost all my bike related purchases are now online, including complete bikes.

Globalization has also changed everything. If you think someone at Trek, Specialized, or Cannondale is constructing your frame here in the United States, think again. Trek still makes some of the higher end Madone models in Wisconsin - otherwise, it's a pretty safe bet any bike on the shop floor is made in Asia. For sure, you're paying for the design expertise, especially for something like a suspended mountain bike. For road and hardtail mountain bikes, all the angles of various manufactures are pretty damn close.

Also when you look into it, there's a limited number of factories in Taiwan and China churning out frames by contract. With that, there will be some design knowledge transfer over to the folks actually constructing the frames - meaning their stock production frames should be nothing to scoff at - and available for a cheaper price.

Then, parts are parts - Shimano, SRAM, Campagnolo - no matter what frame they're hung on. So, in sense you're paying for Paint 'N' Stickers. I'm exaggerating a bit, but you get the picture. I've joked with friends, if I ever started a bike company - would call it Paint 'N' Stickers. Imagine that on the downtube. Wise ass I am. Even so, I'm also not downplaying shops or bike companies that truly contribute something special to the world of cycling.

With that long winded introduction, there's a few companies out on the 'net I've been following, including Neuvation. Started by John Neugent, with a few decades of industry experiece, and based out of San Luis Obispo - a small operation that started off selling high end wheelsets direct online. They've since moved into carrying frames and complete bikes at big savings. He's basically the designer, manufacturer, and online bike shop - all rolled into one. An interesting concept. To blur the line a bit, they also have a showroom/shop in California. I find the whole set up interesting, since you're dealing with a small operation with a known person behind it, yet they can sell to a global audience.

Neuvation's website is pretty low key - okay, lame - I said it. Besides that fact, it works, and I dig his no nonsense approach to debunking the marketing Smoke 'N' Mirrors of the industry. It reminds me a bit of Grant Petersen and by that, compliment intended.

The Neuvation business model in his own words....

John Neugent Interview from MovePress, LLC on Vimeo.

Neuvation carries numerous wheelset options - from alloy to high end carbon. I know a few folks running Neuvation wheels without issues and recommend 'em.

Complete bikes - carbon and aluminum framed - along with multiple Neuvation branded wheels, stems, saddles and other parts. All delivered to your door.

This pretty sweet 'cross model available. I dig the bare aluminum, minimal graphics look. The money savings could also allow a second set of wheels - tubulars even.

Interesting review of their FC100 model...

When it comes down to it, bikes are tools. Pretty damn cool, artistic tools at times, but you still gotta pedal the thing. If you're looking for a race quality bike at savings, places like Neuvation can't be beat. While I covet some bikes due to the race heritage, cool factor and other aspects - what Neuvation is doing interests me also. It's a bit punk rock without even trying to be, no?

If you sign up on their site, you'll receive the Neuvation "Deal of the Day" email. Worth it just for the insight and humor about the bike industry. A few examples (click to enlarge)...

No matter what side of the fence you fall on - local shop business only or the Internet - take a gander at Neuvation. I think most people straddle the fence and purchase depending on the situation. Nothing wrong with having options and developing new avenues - even for the bicycle industry.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Digital Photography Book - Book Review

I've been dabbling with photography once again, courtesy of a new digital SLR camera. I've always taken pictures with the old Point 'N' Shoot, various examples sprinkled throughout this very blog. Most being just snapshot quality and that was the intent - telling a story - nothing fancy.

I'm attempting to bump it up a bit, also an excuse to get the ol' brain working on something besides bikes. Decades ago I goofed around with the 35mm format, so I'm not completely starting from scratch, though I'm just the amateur hack. The digital SLR also allows action photos, something seriously lacking shooting with the Point 'N' Shoot.

Along with the new camera - 50th birthday present from my wife (nice, eh?) - I've read a pile of photography related books. Out of the pile, this one, loaned to me by a fellow coworker bike/photo/gear-head pal, stands out: The Digital Photography Book, by Scott Kelby.

At first glance appears to be super beginner oriented, dig in a bit and that's not the case. This book is chock full of great tips written in a laid back, humorous, super easy to understand format. I read it cover to cover, then flipped through a few times since. I picked up and learned a few things every time.

Once I return the book to its rightful owner, may pick up a copy for myself. I've also discovered there's a second and third volume available. That will also be on the agenda. If you mess around a with photography at all, well worth checking into.

Nice job Scott Kelby...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Starts Good - Ends Bad

Took a few days off last week, bit of a "Staycation" to spend time with the family and just generally not be at work - always a good thing. As expected, did some mountain biking, various rides - solo, with son Ian, hit the "Old Guy Ride" once, and one full family ride...

Family ride location was Iron Horse State Park, outside of North Bend, that includes a gravel rail trail. Trail extends all the way to Idaho, our plan was a bit less adventurous - just cruise a bit to match the speed and interest of wife Lori and seven year old daughter Amy.

Racer Boy Ian complained the ride would be too slow, but once the wheels hit the trail, he acted as the ride leader and matched the slow pace. Ian and I have ridden here before, when he was younger, so he was familiar with the route.

The female half of the clan enjoyed the ride, though it all ended a trip to the ER - more on that later...

The John Wayne Pioneer Trail runs through Iron Horse State Park and continues through Washington into Idaho. Basically all flat and hard packed gravel. Mountain and cyclocross bikes work best. The trail parallels I-90 for quite a bit, though far enough way to feel like a remote ride through the woods. Farther down the trail is a two mile long tunnel, lights required for that adventure. Not on the agenda for the day, just a cruise with many stops to look around.

One for the old school Bridgestone fans; wife Lori's almost mint 1991 MB-3. Cool old bike and perfect for gravel trail running.

The Sette Razzo 29er takes a breather. I've been riding this bike for over a year now and still dig it. The 29er hardtail matches my old school XC riding style. The SRAM drivetrain is holding up well, as are the wheels. Tires are ready to be replaced, rear is pretty worn. I'll probably use the Kenda Small Block 8 tires again, they work better then expected everywhere, considering intended for hard pack use. I've gone though one set of Avid brake pads so far, and my only slight complaint - brake squeal at times. I plan to replace the semi-metallic pads for organic soon, to see if that cures it. Otherwise, the Razzo rocks and is a complete killer deal.

Trestle stop requires tossing large rocks into the water below. Ian demonstrates.

Trail side scenery.

Ragnar appears to have been a stop when the railroad was active. Now just notes an empty field with a few piles of scrap wood. Book your stay soon...

Rattlesnake Lake sits next to Iron Horse State Park. Very scenic stop for swimming and fishing.

Another view of Rattlesnake Lake. We're lucky to live in such a scenic part of the country.

After a four mile super easy cruise on the trail, we stopped at Rattlesnake Lake to goof around a bit. Warm weather, sun was setting, kids splashed around a bit. A nice family day out. Plan was to head to Mazama the following day to get away for awhile, wife confirming our reservations via cell phone while the kids waded around in the lake. That all was about to change...

Kids dried their feet off and we mounted our bikes for the ride through the parking lots back to the car - maybe 300 yards away. On the slight uphill into the parking lot, car in sight, daughter Amy stalls - then tips over at a standstill - onto her outstretched arm. Ouch, but looked like nothing serious, just a simple fall over. The ensuing crying said otherwise, she said her elbow really hurt. I honestly thought she was just upset and not really injured. I loaded up the car, crying daughter included, then we all headed home.

While eating a very late dinner home, she said it was still hurting. Better get it checked - Lori drove her over to the ER for an x-ray. They arrive home a few hours later with a temporary cast, hairline fracture in the elbow area. Yikes. I was shocked, thought for sure they'd come back with a report of a bruised arm. Not to be, as were our vacation plans.

I felt terrible, even though this was just a goofy slow speed tip over. Second time in a few weeks with someone riding with our group getting injured. This time my little daughter and as most parents know, having something happen to your kids is tough. I'd trade breaking both my elbows in exchange if possible. All part of growing up though, these things happen.

Luckily, with the temporary cast place, no pain and also sleeping fine. She's been a good sport about it. The real cast to be fitted in a few days. Amy said to make sure they have pink casts available. Wacky enough, the orthopedic doctor scheduled to fit the cast also races bikes. The wheels continue to turn. Everybody will ride once again.

Monday, August 15, 2011

AHRMA Vintage Motocross National

Yesterday, I headed down to "The Farm" in Chehalis (that be Washington) to check out some vintage motocross action. Action being a stop on the AHRMA Legends of Motocross National MX Series; a vintage event for bikes 1975 and older, so pre long travel suspension and old school four strokes included.

My dirt bike/motocross days started in the mid '70s, so I'm familiar with the later models included in this series. I know a bit about the really old iron as well, from magazines and friend's bikes "back in the day".

I haven't ridden a dirt motorcycle since 1981, but have been checking out the vintage scene via websites and a show a few months back. This was the first vintage race I've attended, was curious - though I already had a good idea. People out having a good time on older bikes. Competitive stuff, but the emphasis on fun.

Two pronged approach for the afternoon: Check out the bikes and folks involved, and fire up the new Nikon my wife bought me for turning 50 years young. Killer overkill present. Twelve year old bicycle rider/racer son Ian, who knows nothing about motorcycles, shared the day with me. "Will it be loud?" "Will it smell?" Maybe he knows more then I think...

The Farm offered a bumper crop of racing action, trick old bikes, and nice people. I paid no attention to who won each race, just walked around soaking up the vibe and grabbing pictures.

Some samples in random order. Clicking on 'em will get you a bigger view...

White flag dash. Gas it up dudes, one lap to go. Course was a rolling grass affair, no real jumps or whooped out sections. Perfect for vintage bikes and racers looking to have fun with minimal risk.

Twin pipe CZ doing a little grass cutting.

Twin Pipe CZ styling. Compared against modern motocross bikes, or post vintage iron with long travel suspension, this era of motorcycles are tiny. Like roosting around a really fast mini bike.

Gather around kids. Before modern four stroke motocross bikes existed, we raced on two-strokes. Before that, really old four strokes - like this Triumph - ruled (roosted?) the roost. Quite a few old school four-strokes out for the day, fun to watch and hear.

Follow the leader. Racer 13R aims his vintage Husky for the kill.

Tony D! NOS Preston Petty fender. Everybody ran these fenders in my era. A few people had items for sale, including these fenders. I still remember drilling holes in mine, to mount on my Suzuki RM125, back in 1979.

Vintage action in full swing. Nice setting for a race, eh?

Appears to be a race prepped Suzuki TS. TS? Who cares? It looks great.

Sweet! 1974 Suzuki TM125. I owned this model, ridden from 1976 - 1978, while in high school. Flashback machine for me. Great memories.

My TM125 also sported a Webco head, and rubber band to keep the kickstart lever from flopping around. This dude is even running the slippery TM pegs. Awesome. I'm a total sucker for that yellow paint and green stripe. Visions of DeCoster in my head.

Thanks for the visit Suzuki TM125. Only an old motocrosser can appreciate seeing their teenage bike alive once again. Man, I'd love to give this TM a few laps around the track myself.

Many bikes from Hodaka represented today, including this Super Rat. Nice.

Hodaka, Can-Am, Penton go for the holeshot. If not for the modern riding gear, this could be 1975.

More start action. Wheelies 'R' Us.

Old school rubber band starts were the order of the day.

Off they go.

High roost, low roost. I'll meet you in the S curve.

CZ officially blurs the hay bail. How does he do that?

Mid-day rebuild. The simplicity of two-strokes open to view.

Rider down, reportedly with a broken arm. There's always some risk to two wheeled tomfoolery. Sometimes you gotta pay to play. Hopefully nothing serious. Heal quick.

Vintage motocross puts a smile on your face.

Start line chat.

This guy was probably racing before you were born - and he's still at it. Fantastic.

Pre race thoughts.

Old dudes, old bikes, modern safety gear. Not a bad combo.

Clean looking Penton hits the track.

Race ready CZ. Many of the bikes were battle scarred and well used - not big budget museum restoration pieces. Very cool to see.

Super clean Maico and fast rider. With the number 1, assuming he's the series champion from last season. Rock on.

Really old school heavy iron. Dirt prepped Norton.

Dive bombing Maico. Look out below.

Super sano Maico 250. Very well done indeed.

Equally clean Maico 125 in the background. Nicely turned out Yamaha for company.

Yet another nice Maico. Event was the epicenter to find trick old bikes.

CZ lay down action. Please stick front wheel, please stick...

One of the few jumps on the course.

Husqvarna at rest.

I can't see the forest for the Hodakas. Being green is in.

Old Hodakas never die - they just go vintage racing.

To continue the Hodaka roll - a very nice example.

Very cool old Greeves.

Another Greeves, complete with leading link fork.

Everybody is friends, even on the start line.

Bring a wad of cash and take home a bike. A few choice models to choose from.

Flat out. When in doubt, gas it.

CZ cornering action.

CZ blurring action.

CZ roosting action.

More CZ blurring action.

More CZ roosting action. My favorite shot of the day, if I may say so...

Finally, CZ resting action. Whew....

Cornering Elsinore CR style.


Jaroslav Falta? You be the judge.

If you had $3750 burning a hole in your pocket, this could be yours...

...race it or display in living room? I vote to race it.

Another CZ? Come on already...

Okay, the last CZ pictured - I swear. This one exceptionally clean.

Styling in front of the barn. Eyes already glued to the next corner. Racing 101.

Back in black. Oh yes, I roost the track.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I got a kick out of seeing the vintage steeds up close and actually in motion. People I talked with all seemed cool, and open to anyone getting involved with this little subculture. This kind of shindig is right up my alley. I know the history and the bikes, and was itchy to actually ride on the course while spectating. It's racing, but on a tamer level - no mondo jumps seen in modern motocross. The risk and thrill is still there, but down to mere mortal levels.

If time and money allowed, plus access to somewhere to practice - I could easily get involved with this scene. Just doing a few races a year would be worth it. I'd be fairly open on what bike to race with, but would really dig something like a mid '70s CZ or Husqvarna 250. A 125, like my old Suzuki TM would be a blast as well.

For now, this is just mental vacation material with occasional visits to Vintage Land. The idea of it all however, remains embedded in my defective mug, for possible future deployment. Who knows what the future - or past - holds.

Ride on.