Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Old Fat & Slow Gear Vol. 10 - Spokes

Ever spent much time thinking about bicycle spokes? If so, then you really need to get a life. Spokes are nothing more than a piece of wire, mashed and bent on one end and threaded on the other.

I was out riding yesterday morning when I started noticing a toink, toink, toink sound coming from the rear wheel. Apparently, I had kicked a rock up and broke a spoke on the non-drive side of the wheel. That evening I stopped in at REI, with my broken spoke and asked for a couple of new spokes. What I got in response was, "If you're breaking a lot of spokes, you really should have that wheel looked at." I said in return, "I'm not breaking a lot of spokes, in fact I think this may be the first spoke I've broken in 40 years." I didn't feel like I needed an upsell of wheel maintenance, since I do all my own wrenching, and wheel truing is something I do pretty well. Anyway, I got out of there with 2 new spokes and my broken one for 2 bucks plus tax.

Since the broke spoke was on the non drive side of the wheel, I was able to thread the new one in and tension it without even removing the wheel from the bike. To do that, it's necessary to bend the spoke (hey, its just a hunk of wire!) into a gradual arc and feed it through the hub. The bend allows the spoke to slide in without interfering with the cassette. A little straightening and feed it into the nipple. Tighten, check for true and off you go.

I don't have a tension gauge for truing. I use the harp tuning method; pluck each spoke as you work and try to keep all the spokes on each side at about the same note. B flat above middle C works well. On the front wheel, both sides will come out the same. On the rear wheel, drive side spokes are shorter, so the tune you play will generally be a little higher. Transpose it to a key of A.

Basic rules of thumb - If the wheel flops around the spokes are too loose. If the tune you play on your spokes sounds like anything above a mezzo-soprano, they're too tight. If you have carbon fiber wheels and the spokes are large enough to have decals, you spent waaay too much money.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Racing in Flagstaff

One immutable difference between Phoenix and Flagstaff is elevation. Most of my riding is in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, with elevations between 1430 ft and 1730 ft. Rides usually include 700-900 ft of climbing. The course in Flagstaff at the Absolute Bikes, St. Mary's Food Bank Race ranged from about 7300 to 8000 ft and included about 850 feet of climbing over a 10 mile loop.

The setup for the race was expert/pro men starting at 9:05, followed at 5 minute intervals by expert/pro women, sport men, sport women, then unwashed masses, including me. The pros would ride 3 laps, sport 2, unwashed masses 1. Since I have never been in a mountain bike race, and I am old, fat & slow, I signed up as a beginner, meaning 1 lap. Thank god I didn't sign up for sport, 'cause I'm pretty sure I would have been a dnf.

Once all the skinny folks got out of the way, the unwashed masses started out. The course began with a gradual climb up a forest service road. Not too bad. After a half mile or so of easy pedalling to get warmed up, I cranked up the pace a bit until I was wheezing like an asthmatic bear. Ok, now I'm in the zone.

After about 3 miles of steady climbing, the road leveled and even dropped a bit. Then, it was off on a singletrack. Chugging along for the first mile, middle chainring, 2 and 3 on the rear, sometimes 4th, until the trail led into a rock garden that reminded me so much of Riverside State Park in Spokane that it was almost deja-vu, without the benefit of actually having oxygen to breathe. Mind you, we're now at 7800 ft and I am definitely a lowlands rider. Got tied up in some traffic for a bit, then continued on up through the rock garden and on up to the top for a half mile or so of fire road. A little ways before hitting the singletrack back down, there was a steep section on the road that everybody ahead was walking their bikes up. Being pretty good at short steep stuff, I cranked up the thing, then gasped my way the next 100 yds to the downhill singletrack.

Understanding relative speed and endurance might put things in perspective. By the time I was 3/4 of the way up the singletrack, I was being passed by skinny folks on their second time around. Granted, they had a 25 minute head start, but I was at maybe 6 miles, and they were at 16. I had ridden maybe 50 minutes and they were at 1:15. Guess I would be in the next Olympics. Might as well scratch that off my to do list.

Whew, now I'm at the turn and on the downhill singletrack. I think they refer to this trail as "Moto" but I'm not sure. Anyway, its a delightful drop with sweeping turns, no serious rocky stuff, and a joy to cruise on. Never having been on this trail, and not really wanting to spend a lot of time on the side of it going, "OW OW OW OW!" I did use my brakes a bit more than most. I got passed by as many people going down as I had going up. Even people I passed on the climb were whizzing by me like I was going backward. Next time I need to pre-ride a course before racing, just to figure out where the hell I am.

I dropped in to the finish line a little before 11:00 for a time of 1:26:35. In the unwashed masses class, I finished 30th out of 41. In the old unwashed masses class (beginners over 40) I finished 12th out of 18. My buddy, Karl cranked in a few minutes later, having had a bit of difficulty adjusting to the altitude. We both enjoyed it and are looking forward to another race.

After the race we met up with some great folks, friends of Karl and enjoyed a lunch of burgers, salads, beer, and conversation. Back to the 110 temps of Phoenix by 5:00. You know, after a day like that, a cool shower feels pretty good!

More Pics from Flagstaff

Here are a few shots from the recent Flagstaff ride, taken by my riding buddy Karl. He has one of those cameras that takes 40 gazillion megabyte photos, so I did some cropping and compressing to get them down to usable sizes. The first is a shot of Dave, the energizer bunny of our group. Dave is a guy who is willing to try anything, and has a sense of humor that could best be described as "outlandish." Since my camera has no auto shutter feature and Karl's does, this is an update of the 3 Amigos shot with the 4th.
Here's the Old, Fat & Slow guy on Little Bear
Still one of the best rides of the year.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Could have been better

So, last night, temp about 100, I took off for an evening ride. Way off in the distance a couple of thunderstorms were brewing, and made for a good light show. I was feeling pretty chipper, so I decided to do my benchmark loop, Zipper and around to 100 to 8, up to the east end of 1A, around 1A to conversation point, then down Zipper and back home. Heading up out of a wash on 8, I managed to smack into a rock harder than expected and down I went, leading with my right arm. Nothing broken, but I received a pretty good gash on my lower arm, maybe 2 inches long and fairly deep. Bled like a stuck hog. I cleaned it up with water from my camelback and headed for home.

On the way back, had a goddamn flat on the front. Slow leak. Pumped it up and made it home before it went completely down again. While airing it up, I managed to leave a few spots of blood on the trail. I imagine a good hunter could have figured out where I augered in and found where I live.

After getting home, I cleaned up the cut, inspected it, and figured it might be a good idea to find an urgency center and have it looked at. This was about 8:30 pm. Turns out, urgency centers stay open until 8 on weekdays and 4 on weekends. Note to self; only get hurt during business hours.

Made it in this morning, too many hours after the injury to stitch up, so its butterflied and bandaged. Oh, yeah, tetanus shot and antibiotics.

So tonight, I'll make another attempt at my benchmark loop and try for a better result.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Decline to Slugdom

The old part of Old Fat & Slow took over for a few days. We celebrated our 34th anniversary this last weekend with a trip to Prescott. It was a weekend of eating, strolling around, eating, checking out art shows, eating, hiking, eating....

The upshot is, virtually no exercise for 6 days.

I definitely felt it this morning. sections of trail that were relatively easy last week are now hard. Sections that were hard are now impossible. It usually takes about 3 days to get back in the groove, and I hope that's the case this time, because I'm going racing in a week and a half.

Up in Flagstaff, there's a MTB race on Saturday the 23rd. Since I've never entered a MTB race before, I signed up as a beginner. That will be a single 10 mile lap with about 850 ft of climbing. I fully expect to live up to my pseudonym od OFS. I figure, if I can make it around once before the sport and expert riders run over me, I'll be doing great. The sport and expert riders' main concern should be not running into me, because with my low center of gravity, the last one standing goes to the fat guy.