Mental anguish from a lack of riding

Oh the irony… just as I seem to be making gains in strength and fitness, I’m off the bike because of illness. Not in sub-zero conditions, fog or the exhaustion of exertion, but just at the start of Spring weather.
A bug, maybe two bugs; chest and stomach. There have been so many good rides in the past three weeks and I have had to stay away from all of them. Most disappointing was missing The Berm ride of the Canberra Centenary Trail; 140km in one day. I’m currently missing the first day of a two-day ride of the same trail.
The stomach bug has left me quite crook in the mornings, but generally not too bad. The sniffles and slight asthma symptoms have been annoying rather than debilitating. I suspect that I have greater lung capacity that has compensated for the congestion.
The worst effects have been mental. I am serious missing out on the feelings of pleasure and pain. I am seriously going spare waiting to get back on a bike.
By the same token, staying off the bike has been useful Despite the lack of activity, I’ve lost 1-2kg over these weeks but I’m sure that my leg muscles have more definition.
My first ride will be tomorrow at the Onyabike Giant Demo Day at Mt Stromlo, where I’ll try the 27.5 versions of the Trance and XTC; my first hardtail. I would like to have a few lazy k’s in my legs before attempting a serious ride, but a quick ride tonight is probably all that I’ll get.
New goal: Before the centenary year is out I must complete the Centenary Trail.
No ride, no life.

Mt Stromlo – Lost and Found

Funny ride today at Mount Stromlo.  Beautiful day to have another go at Loop 2 to avenge my poor performance last time.

Lost – Granny Ring

Changing my old Sachs chain for a new Shimano seemed a great idea at the time.  Sadly, I forgot to compare the number of links with the old chain.  A sudden attack of chain suck indicated a tight link; not unusual with a new chain.  Then I realised that the rear derailleur couldn’t take up enough of the chain to clear the rear cluster when on the smallest front chainring.  I could only access the 2 lowest gears at the rear when on the granny ring at the front.

I didn’t have my chain breaker tool and I wasn’t sure that I could reuse the pins anyway.  (UPDATE: You can use any pin.  Just press them out far enough so that they remain attached to the other link. I took 4 big links or 8  links in total off the new chain.)

On the plus side, I should probably be using the middle chainring anyway; you just can’t get over obstacles when you are spinning the pedals.  Despite this the pedals took a beating (I really must pay more attention) on rocks, tree roots and the trail itself.  I saw a large chunk of a plastic pedal on the track after a rather nasty obstacle.  I feared that the studs I had extended would be bent and snapped, but all was well, if a little scratched.

Lost – XC Loop 2

Revenge postponed.  Loop 2 was closed from Red Rock Lookout, about halfway.  (This also affected Loop 4.)  So today Loop 3: rating Intermediate / Advanced with a suggested ride time of 60 to 90 minutes.

Found – mad skillz and power

I was surprised at how many sections I was able to clear.  Loop 3 is challenging with a lot of rocks right in the middle of the lovely track you’re riding. As previously reported, my new Shimano Saint flat pedals and my wider stance as a result has given me much better balance and somewhat better power from my legs.  Several times I was all but stationary on an obstacle and managed to get the power down on the right line and clear it.  I did plenty of walking (there are sections that defy belief) but I rode sections that I barely walked on Loop 2.

Found – Lost Garmin

At 14:40 I found a Garmin 500/510 on the side of the track on Shady’s, still running.  I’d let 3 overtake me and there was a group of about 8 riders that had left the previous junction just ahead of me.  It shouldn’t be too hard to find someone looking for a missing computer.  If I had to stand in the carpark and yell “Lost Garmin!” and see who came running.  Worst case I’d put a message on Garmin Connect.

At 14:50 I met a rider coming the wrong way, one who had overtaken me earlier.  Sure enough, it was his Garmin.  Shane then spotted my vintage Cannondale Super v 700 SX and then we chatted about his bike, a Specialized Stumpjumper and discussed what bike I should buy next.  (The 2011 Specialized Camber Elite XXL on special at The Cyclery.)  He answered a call from his friends with the good news.  After a few minutes and a good yak, we started the right way up the track.  Despite the track doubling back on itself, Shane was soon out of view.

Lost – Loop 3

The signposting on Mt Stromlo is generally good, if sparse.  Some loops share sections.  I’m sure that one day I’ll learn all the tracks.  This is especially useful when there are trail options… or if I need the fastest way back to the carpark for whatever reason.

I reached the end of one trail and there was no signpost to greet me.  I rode to a nearby trail end and found a sign for Loop 4 and 6; no mention of 3.

So I rode Missing Link (blue and unnumbered) until I found a sign for Dingos.  I had to ride some distance from the sign and turn sharply to enter the trail; 2 warning signs I shouldn’t have ignored.

Lost – all sense of direction

“Dingos” was great fun; tight berms, some drops, trees at my shoulders.  A good skills challenge.  However at the end of the trail the sign was facing the wrong way.  Or rather… I had just ridden Crimtrac the wrong way!

Comparing my MapMyRide trace to the Loop 3 map it seems that I missed the Telegraph Junction and ended up on the wrong side of Crimtrac; and you don’t want that!)

Two riders were just about to enter Crimtrac the right way.  Keep them in my sights and I should be OK.  I let them pass (nice track stand in a wide part of the trail) and struggled to keep them in eye- or ear-shot.  At the end of Crimtrac I could see them climbing towards Dingos, so at least I’d ride that the right way.

Found – Loop 3

I was now on the downhill stretch.  There were small climbs and uphill berms to negotiate, but the vibe was “coming home”.  MapMyRide had me quite close to the carpark, but there’s an unknown number of twists and turns to get there.

Stats from the ride

I switched off the auto-pause feature on MapMyRide because I was concerned that any slow sections might be interpreted as pauses and may under-report my true times, putting me at the top of the leaderboard on any courses I rode.

I stopped a few times; to check the chain, deflate my tyres, take a “natural break”, decide whether I wanted to play anymore and handed back a lost Garmin Edge computer.  Riding the same track twice doesn’t help.  The track also stopped a km or two from the finish, for some reason.  My real time was probably just under 2 hours.

  • Distance 17.53km
  • Time 2:23:56.  Somewhat more than the suggested ride time of 60-90 minutes.
  • Climbs Cat 4 and Cat 5
  • Calories 2548
  • Heart Rate: Ave 177, peak 197, 62% was above zone 3.

Found

I’m really happy that those happy accidents happened. I found that I could finish Loop 3 without too much bother, negotiate gnarly obstacles (mostly), help someone and get lost and find so much.

 

Test the Best Mt Stromlo – Specialized in Canberra

If you would like to buy a bike you would go to a bike shop, check the options, have a brief test ride in the car park and contemplate parting with hard-earned cash.  Wouldn’t it be better if you could try a range of bikes under the conditions you are going to ride?

The Specialized Test the Best took place 2-3 February at Mt Stromlo Forest; I turned up at 11:30 on the Sunday.  Registration was easy: sign a waiver, hand over driver’s licence and credit card as security and jump on a bike.  BYO pedals and shoes was advised.  (I went to the trouble of having one of my cycling shoes repaired, which is why I had to wait until Sunday.)

It was quick and easy for me as there weren’t many (any?) others riding XL bikes.  After a short wait, the bike was retrieved, pedals fitted and adjusted to my specifications.

First ride – S-WORKS EPIC CARBON

My only intention was to ride a 29″ bike and see for myself why 26″ wheels are history.  Why not start at the (almost) top with the S-Works Epic Carbon fitted with “Specialized/FOX remote Mini-Brain inertia-valve shock with AUTOSAG, Kashima coating and new 2013 tune to seamlessly transition from efficient pedalling on smooth terrain to fully active on rough terrain”.

The Mini Brain on the rear suspension purports to know the difference between a bump and pedalling and bobs for the former but not the latter.  The AUTOSAG valve automatically adjusts the sag, indeed the seat went up after pressing the valve.

The 20-speed Shimano XTR follows the trend of a simple double-chainring up front and wide 10-speed cluster at the rear, which probably gives a wider range of useful gears without worrying about crossing the chain.

I have never felt a full suspension bike so light.  It was very easy to move.

The beginners course has a lot of windy sections and small bumps and a few little challenges.  It did not bob under hard pedalling, but I didn’t sense a plush ride from the rear.

Sadly I didn’t track the ride from the start, so I can’t compare times.  But I’d guessed that it was potentially a very fast bike.

Second ride – Camber Comp (Take 1)

Thought I’d try a simpler model, ended up with another full-suspension 29″ with lots of nice bits; hardly a test of contrasts.

First stop was to figure out the SRAM shifters.  Both up- and down-shifts are performed by the thumbs.

Second stop (gingerly) was because of very gritty brakes, both front and rear.  Returned the bike for a new set of front pads that squeaked, but felt much better.

Second ride – Camber Comp (Take 2)

This time I tracked the lap using MapMyRide.  I couldn’t pick much difference with the Epic, to be honest.  Again, the weight was impressive and it didn’t bob when I pedalled.  I got the sense that it was rolling over obstacles with ease.

Third ride – the Black Maria

I took my bike out of the car for an A&A – B comparison.

First impression was that the extra weight of my bike wasn’t obvious.

Second impression was that my handlebars are much narrower than the current trend (as confirmed the day before at The Cyclery) and allowed me to ride through gates instead of shuffling through sideways.

And I really must do something about my brakes, they are vastly inferior to anything available today.

Then I noticed what everyone may have been talking about as the difference between a 29″ and 26″ wheel.  The front wheel on my bike seemed to move in the vertical plane more than the 29″s.  At any reasonably sized bump, my wheel seemed to lift whereas the 29″s seemed to go forward and over.  Was this the sensation that everyone was raving about?

My bike bobs and squeaks when I’m climbing, indicative of the difference between an old and new rear suspension design.

Both here’s the thing… I was 1 minute faster on my bike for the lap.  Possible reasons include:

  • Familiarity: Maybe, but I wasn’t struggling with any of the bikes on the timed laps.
  • I tried harder: No, I put the same effort in each time.
  • Learnt the course: Maybe, but it was still challenging each time.
  • Manoeuvrability: the course had tight twisty sections and the smaller wheels were much easier to fling around and put exactly where I wanted them.  The advantage of 29″ may only be obvious on a longer track.

Conclusion

What a brilliant promotion.  If I was genuinely in the market for a new bike (I just need the money) I could have spoken to the experts at length.  They were very happy to provide advice to those looking for a new bike.  While they only had their high-spec bikes available for testing, they were happy to talk about any of their range.

I rode for only 10-15 minutes each time, but they were happy to see me in 45 covered in mud, at least at the beginning of the day.

If you’d like a test that’s more than a lap of the car park, get down to Tasmania this weekend for the next Test the Best.