41. O-Cup # 2

Did I Ever Tell You About The Worst MTB Race Ever?

O Cup #2 @ MTB Kingston.  What.  A.  Race.

What was it?  Was it a MTB race, or a Tough Mudder?

Wait, it was a Mountain HIKE race (see what I did there)?

Team-Colin-O-Cup-photo-by-Sean-Hickman
Mudfest! (photo courtesy Sean Hickman, MTB Kingston)

For my fourth race in five weekends, I thought I’d take it easy, and I registered for the Sport Men category (24k) in the Substance Projects, Scott O-Cup #2 Race (presented by Plastiglas and powered by Caterpillar), at MTB Kingston.

24k at MTB Kingston?  Pfft.  Easy.  After the freezing cold 40k windstorm that I struggled against in the Steaming Nostril, the 50k rainy mess that I conquered on my rigid single speed at the H2i, and the constant challenge of the 70k wind tunnel of Paris to Ancaster, I figured I’d seen the worst of Springtime in Ontario.

Me:  Is that all you’ve got Ontario?  Some wind and a bit of rain?  Hah!  I mock you and your weak weather!

Springtime in Ontario:  Hold my drink…

Stupid Team Colin and his arrogance.  Stupid Team Colin for slapping Springtime in Ontario in its metaphorical face with his riding gloves.

Stupid Team Colin.Team-Colin-O-Cup

“It’s my fifth year of racing” I thought “I’ve seen it all”.

I could not have been more wrong.

O Cup #2 was an absolutely gnarly, awesomely boss, mountain bike race.  I hated almost every second of it. Here’s why:

  • It was cold, damp and muddy.  (or, in Team Colin language, it was “Brrr and ick”)
  • I chose the wrong tires and couldn’t find purchase on most climbs, around corners, and just trying to pedal
  • I hiked my bike more often than I biked my bike
  • My drivetrain is now a rusted string of orange used-to-be-a-chain
  • My brake pads are not
  • I don’t think I’ll ever get the outside (or inside!) of my shoes clean
  • I don’t even want to try to clean my socks–mostly because I think they’ve just been through enough
  • I used the wrong lube (okay, I didn’t use any lube because forgot to lube my bike after cleaning the drivetrain the day before), and had to actually dunk my bike into a stream on my last lap in order to have a working drivetrain
  • Despite my best efforts with a hose after the race, my bike is now a mud encrusted heap of what was once carbon perfection

I could continue, but I won’t, because for every second that I hated the race, I loved it even more.

O Cup # 2 at MTB Kingston was AWESOME.  Here’s why:

  • It was one heck of a boss ride
  • It was MTB racing at its finest

End of list.

O Cup #2 at MTB Kingston was soooooo MTB from start to finish.

What, we thought a sealed bottom bracket was just a conversation piece?

We thought disk brakes were something bike manufacturers made just for fun?

Nope.

After the race, I heard some riders saying things like

“Well that was an expensive hike”

“There was just too much mud”

“It should have been cancelled”.

If you were one of those people, I hate to say it, but I think you got it wrong.

Team-Colin-O-Cup-Post
Team Colin Post Race: MUD & SMILES!

Our bikes are bred for the awful slop that Mother Nature threw at us on Sunday:  they yearn for muddy chain suck and the strain of trying to crank up slippy-sloppy climbs; they pine for the chance to (try to) shift through ten pounds of derailleur mud; and they ache to be spinning on mud-encrusted wheels that look like more like fatbike tires than the 2.2 Rocket Ron’s I (should have) put on the night before.

 

So what if our tires looked like homemade “Gift for the Cyclist in your Life” crafts on Pinterest after we rolled through a the carpet of pine needles on mud drenched wheels?

That’s MTB.

So what if it was really hard?

That’s really MTB.

So what if it was muddy?

That’s totally and thoroughly MTB.

And so what if  we’ll probably never again feel clean, and our bikes creak instead of purr, and there’s still sandy grit in our bodies where sand should never be, and…

That’s the heart of MTB.

I don’t say this in a chest-beating, full-of-machismo, way.  It’s just what we DO on a mountain bike.  We ride.  And no matter what the weather throws at us, or how the course conditions cry havoc and let slip the dogs of mud, we ride.

Seriously, did Neanderthal racers complain when their mountain bike races were held in a gruelling mess of knee deep primordial ooze?  No.  They said “Ooga booga, Ugh! Ugh! Ughhhhh!”, which , roughly translated, means “Awesome, it’s muddy, let’s race!  And could somebody please invent padded cycling shorts!”

Our bikes were bred from greatness, and designed to perform in precisely what we faced on Sunday:  Mud, and grime, and water, and more mud and grime and water.

I know I always say this, but we didn’t bring a teacup to a garden party, we brought a mountain bike to a race, and Mother Nature did everything she could to make it boss. The weekend before, at P2A, Mother Nature challenged riders with the strongest wind ever recorded on earth (totally true), and on Sunday, Mother Nature challenged us with a week of biblical rain.  Clearly, Mother Nature is hardcore.

And that’s awesome.

Besides, where’s the fun in going to work on Monday and saying “I did a mountain bike race on the weekend.  It was sunny, warm, and easy”.  If we wanted easy, we’d be tooling around a golf course wearing plaid socks and a heinous pair of walking shorts, deciding whether we need to chip the next shot.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that (golf, the socks, or the shorts–okay, maybe there’s something wrong with the shorts…).

We chose to spend Sunday playing bikes in the mud.  Boom.  These guys came just to watch.  Great to see you Angela, Dan, and Nick Emsley!

Team-Colin-O-Cup-Emsleys

Besides, when you see pictures of the pros, are they clean and pristine, and riding on easy street?  Nope.

Unless it’s golf.

Before a Race Report, I want to talk about the trails for a sec.  It’s usually not cool to ride when it’s muddy because our tires inflict so much damage on soft trails (Um, that’s why it’s called shredding).  People work hard to maintain trails, and mud riding can wreck all the hard work. Worse, the cycling community seems a bit salty these days whenever the question of trail closures and mud comes up.  Maybe it’s because this is a particularly long wet season, or because it’s been a horribly long winter.  Regardless, the sentiment reared its head a few times on Sunday, so I spoke to Rob Sangers, the owner of the private property where the race was held.  Rob is a HUGE cycling advocate and devotee. These are his trails, and he (along with a legion of MTB Kingston volunteers) made sure the trails were as good as they could be for the race, and they’ll be working hard over the next few weeks to repair the damage–which was likely substantial.  Aside from the fact that the race took place on only a small portion of MTB Kingston’s network, this was a calculated risk on their part.  They knew the challenges, and faced them head-on by reinforcing many of the trails with gravel and sand in the days leading up to the race, choosing trails that were rideable in the rain, and designing much of the race on motocross and farm track that was less susceptible to water and wheels.  Rob said “I’m not afraid of work. I’m a farmer.”  Indeed.  He’s got the right attitude, the work ethic, and the access to equipment to make it happen. This isn’t a group of riders spending a Saturday morning with a wheelbarrow and a shovel, this is a massive crew of trained individuals…with tractors.

Rob and MTB Kingston weren’t at the mercy of the OCA, and it wasn’t hubris or greed that made this race happen, it was love and passion for all things MTB. All parties collaborated prior to the race (and toiled to prep the trails), and will continue long after. In fact, they’re still working to make sure the trails are better than ever when the water finally subsides and the animals find their way, two by two, back home.

The result of their planning and dedication was a truly remarkable racing experience.

Wait, did somebody say Race Report?

Team-Colin-O-Cup-Commissaire-Jeff
Commissaire Jeff and a clipboard that means business.

I did the 11:45 start, in the Men’s Sport 45-49 category (boy, there sure are a lot of categories in an O Cup race).  The 9:00, 10:00, and 1:45 races followed slightly different courses, but the meat and bones of each course was fairly similar.  The meat and bones of the course, if you haven’t gathered was covered in mud, and it deteriorated throughout the day, causing a great deal of re-routing and section closure.  Commissaire Jeff, Rob, and Dan displayed a remarkably chill attitude when faced with the massive changes.  By race time, the 8k lap had been reduced to about 5k, and little did I know during my wave even the number of laps was reduced from 3 to 2.

Race Report:  O Cup #2 at MTB Kingston (May 7, 2017.  Glenburnie, ON)

The first bit of the race was a awesome.  There was a quick shot along a crowd-lined slope, through a barn, onto a 1k pump track (with some superbly dialed berms), and up a sweet farm track for a long-ish but gentle climb.  Then, we were back past the Start/Finish area for a hero sprint, and down into the valley along another farm lane.Team-Colin-O-Cup-Start-2

Then it really got awesome. The descent into the valley was our first introduction to the mud that would follow:  Deep, flowing, thick, and nasty–and this was on a wide downhill!

The course improved and as soon as we were under the forest canopy.  Everything dried and the course was fast and dry. No it wasn’t.  It was horrible.  The trails for the next kilometre were a mix of calf deep sludge, mud covered roots, standing water, and slick, sucking, muck.  I mostly walked, and rarely rode.  It was a SLOG.

When the course wound deeper into the forest, there was a nice stretch of mostly rideable single track.  Of course, “nice” is a relative term, and relative to the day as a whole, it was only marginally nicer than the previous trek.  It was slow and slick, and took every bit of concentration not to slide into a tree or kiss the muck.

Prior to the race, Dan suggested I ride with studs on my tires to help with traction. I always say “There’s already more than enough stud on my bike…” but he was right. Studs would have helped.  He’s also right when he laughs at me each time I make that joke because I am not the picture of studliness.

Studs or not, the last 500 metres or so of the race were totally unrideable for me. The mud was calf deep, and seemed even stickier than the rest.  My bike just wouldn’t roll. Worse, by this point in the race, my drivetrain was a hulking mess and I couldn’t crank on the pedals without my chain jamming into my chainstay The climb up to the finish line, and the 90 tight and steep corner at the top was a nice touch, and would have been great without mud, but alas, mud was the word of the day and, and mud it was, so I scampered up the hill as best as I could and bowed my head so the crowd couldn’t identify me.

Team-Colin-O-Cup-StartThe second lap was a case of lather, rinse, repeat–except in mud.  By this time in the day, the course was at its worst.  I pedalled when I could, trudged through the same slop, and just tried to finish the lap.

I didn’t discover the last lap was axed until I was finishing my second lap.  I was prepared to tough it out for another, but I’m glad I didn’t have to.  My time was 1:40 for 2 laps, and a total distance of just over 10k. Yeah, it was that bad.Team-Colin-O-Cup-Emcee

Congratulations once again to everyone who raced.  The results are listed on the OCA website.

It’s just too bad the emcee was so lame…

End of Race Report

The honest fact is that races like this are really really really tough.  It wasn’t a long race, but my lap time was over 45 minutes, and the difficulty of the terrain was so challenging.  So what did I do?  I pedalled a bit and walked a lot and walked some more, until I finished each lap.  I figure, you can’t finish a race dreading it, and you certainly can’t finish it by not moving, so I kept at it. Eventually, the race has got to stop, even when it feels like it won’t.

But you know, there was a plus side to the race too, because I had my bike with me. With all the shouldering, lugging, and dragging, I think we really had a chance to bond. I touched it in special places.  It’s a good thing I was wearing gloves.

Team-Colin-O-Cup-Start-2There was another plus, and it didn’t involve forbidden bike love.  I stuck around to see the Elite riders in the 1:00 wave.  By that time of the day, the course was absolutely mangled, but one by one, they sprinted past, and one by one I saw them nail the climb across the valley before entering the forest, and one by one, they RODE UP THE LAST CLIMB.

It probably wasn’t easy for them either, but they did it.  What a great reminder of what we aspire to, and what a great example of boss riding.  When I dreamt of MTB as a kid, it was races like these that made me want to ride.

Because that’s MTB.

We’re all MTB.  Seriously, anyone who did the race is now a member of the “MTB League of Bossness” (not a real organization).  Making the choice to enter the race was enough of a BOOM.  Starting the race after seeing the course conditions was another BOOM. Finishing the race was, well, that’s just damn epic.

Team-Colin-O-Cup-Band
“I’m with the band”

You know what else is MTB?  Substance Projects.  Slick event, fun time, and there was even a live band.  Yeah, a live band.  Literal mic drop!  This group of local high school students was amazing.  They had a tight and mature sound, and played covers, along with a few originals.  The future of rock in Kingston is safe.  Well done boys!  The Banters.  Check them out.

Back to the O Cup.  For those who took a look at the weather on race day morning said “Been there, done that” and decided not to race. That’s too bad, because sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of the true spirit of mountain biking.  There is no HTFU (and I really don’t like that term anyways), but there is a whole bunch of GIYBAEESOIBYDCGAAH (Give It Your Best And Enjoy Every Second Of It Because You Didn’t Choose Golf As A Hobby).

Maybe I’m seeing this wrong.

I don’t see the glass half full or half empty, I see it as 100% AWESOME.  The half full part is filled with the potential of what’s to come, and the half empty part is the experience of something awesome, something learned, and something DONE.  There are always a million reasons NOT to ride, and sometimes only a few reasons TO ride, but I have yet to regret the decision to ride.

Or maybe I’m just seeing AWESOME.

Now that I’ve “been there and done that”, I can say this:  I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.  Bring it on Springtime in Ontario.  Bring it on.

Oh, and the answer to the title of this blog (Did I ever tell you about the worst MTB race ever?):  It was awesome. The worst MTB race ever was awesome.

Because that’s MTB.

Ride.

 

PS.  Hey, did you race on Sunday?  What did you think of the course?  The band?  The mud?  The awesomeness?  Did you clean your bike yet?  Comment on this post, or send an email (teamcolinblog@yahoo.com).

A HUGE THANKS TO:

  • THE SPONSORS
  • SUBSTANCE PROJECTS AND DAN MARSHALL
  • OCA
  • COMMISSAIRE JEFF
  • MY RACE PHOTOGRAPHER FOR THE DAY, NORMA MACLELLAN
  • THE SMOKIN’ CARNIVORE FOOD TRUCK
  • THE BANTERS
  • MTB KINGSTON
    • Rob Sangers
    • Kyle Sangers
    • Wally Stanton (the dude who put a bridge in for us)
    • Sean Hickman (the dude who also took an awesome pic of me)
    • Peter Dawson
    • Chris MacFarlane
    • the MTB Kingston Youth Race Team (who used one of their practices to help)
    • and EVERY MEMBER of MTB Kingston who will be working to get the trails back in shape

Nothing would have happened without these people (and probably many more that I don’t know about).  Thanks again.  Many of us just showed up and raced, but you made the day an awesome reality.

BOOM!

36. A Spring Ride

Nothing Like a Spring Ride

Spring started two weeks ago.

Except I think Mother Nature didn’t get the memo.

But I don’t care.

I don’t care because it’s not warm, but it’s warm enough to get outside.  I don’t care because the trails are too fragile to ride, but the roads, urban paths, and gravel aren’t.  I don’t care because THIS IS SPRING IN ONTARIO.  Unpredictable, cold, windy (I really hate the wind), crappy, horrible, and wet.

And AWESOME.  Yes, awesome.  It’s shoulder season, and while most of us are itching to hit some sweet singletrack, there’s still plenty of riding to be done.

And so, last night, after work, I was sulking.  I was sulking because I have this boss new bike, and for the past two weeks, I’ve been dying to let it roar.  Lately, so many riders have been posting pictures from their rides on social media, but I’ve been fairly inert. Forget the bike, the savage beast inside ME wanted to roar.  I NEEDED to get out for a ride, so finally I planned to leave work early and go for a romp on my CX bike–just some park paths, a bit of gravel, and bit of road, and a ravine or two, down to Lake Ontario. It wouldn’t be much, but enough to warm me up for Sunday’s Steaming Nostril, and tame my restlessness. And then I left work a bit late, and got home with only 2 hours before sunset.  Aw dang it!

My wife hates it when I sulk (but I wanna sulk…) so she said “Go for a ride”. What else could I do?  I squeezed every ounce of those dwindling hours of light.

I wrote this on my Facebook page:

…most people in my neighbourhood don’t even realize that we basically live right on Lake Ontario. It’s true. It’s only a quick shot up the road, through a ravine shortcut, into the park, up to my old high school, along a 2k road connection, down (and up) a sweet gully, over the train tracks, into Morningside Park, through the university campus and Colonel Danforth Park, straight to the lake, and then a quick boot to Rouge Beach. Yeah, I pretty much have beachfront property.

And would you look at the beauty I rode.

Norco-Threshold
My new (used) Norco Threshold SL.

It was my first proper rip on my new (used) Norco Threshold.  Forget that I had drivetrain problems; and forget the fact that I had to turn it upside down three times during my ride; and forget that I coiled the chain so badly around my crank that I bent the heck out of it and need a new one. Despite everything, this bike purrs. It climbs like a rutting bobcat, and tears at everything else like a tyrannosaurus rex.  What a rip.

I’ve lived in Scarborough my whole life, so it’s safe to say that I pretty much know most every rideable nook and cranny (although I’m always looking for more) around my house.  I don’t really follow a set route.  Depending on weather, conditions, and my mood, I usually just make it up as I go–and Wednesday was no different.  Wednesday was about climbs, wood chip trails, winding park paths, and repeat.  I had an hour to get to Rouge Beach (the furthest east I figured I’d make it), and an hour to get home before the street lights went on.  That was my usual curfew time growing up.

I made it to the beach.  And somewhere along the way, which is usually the case on a great ride, I changed a bit.   I remembered something.  I remembered the joy, bliss, and absolute peace of a ride.  I remembered the physical, emotional, and mental cleanse of a sweet rip.

I spent the winter riding at Joyride, spinning in my basement, and even on a fatbike (or three), and while all of it was awesome, nothing–and I mean nothing–beats being outside.

Part way through my ride, I also remembered that sweet climb up to a great lookout at the Highland Creek Sewage Treatment Plant (at the foot of Beachgrove Road).  It’s a quick detour, but totally worth it. There is a walking path climb that starts at the top of a paved climb, and it was dry enough to shred.  The paved climb is sprintable, but not really, so when I hit the walking path, my lungs were already burning, and my legs were on fire, but it didn’t matter because the change in cadence from the pavement to grass was enough to reinvigorate me.  I hit the climb and the wind kicked in (stupid wind).  I dug in and gave it everything I had left.  At that point of the hill, you can really smell the poop curing in the nearby sludge tanks, but it didn’t matter because I devoted my attention to managing the ruts, fighting with that damn wind, my legs, and my lungs.

And before I knew it, I hit the top for the sweet view.

But I was in the zone, and I didn’t remember to stop and enjoy the view.  I de-snotted, got out of my seat, moved back on my bike, steadied my grip on my brakes, and hit the descent on the other side of the hill.  More ruts, a bit of spongy trail, a horrible wall of poop smell, and I was at the bottom.  I shook it off, did a 180, and continued on my way.  It was 6k to Rouge Beach against a punishing head wind.  I kicked the wind in the throat, and made it the shack on the beach with just a bit more than an hour before dark.  I was feeling strong–not summer strong–but strong enough.  My back was feeling the climbs, and that bloody wind was just mean, but my legs felt good, and my heart was still beating.

Heck, it wasn’t just beating, it was singing.

I never really forgot how a awesome a great ride makes me feel, but between work (that’s been a bit of a mess lately) and life (that’s been a bit hectic lately), and trying to carve out some time for a proper rip, the joy took a back seat.  Not anymore.

It’s Spring, and I’m back in the saddle.  Boom.

I took a different route home, and made a quick stop on a bridge overlooking MY ravine. I made it home well before the street lights came on (phew).  My route was awesome, and I wondered about the awesome secret routes that other riders carve close to their homes.  That’s MY ravine in the background, but I also wonder who else OWNS it.  And how THEY use it on their rides.  A-Spring Ride

After a winter of waiting, the outdoor riding season (in shorts) is upon us, and I’ll take the uncertainty of spring weather, the waiting for the trails to dry, and the stupid jerky wind, because spring riding is AWESOME.  It’s not sweet singletrack, but you can smell it in the air. And I’m not talking about the smell of the poop from the sewage treatment plant–I’m talking about the smell of the eminent singletrack bliss.

I know it sounds hokey, but for me, nothing soothes the savage beast like a sweet rip. Initially, this ride was intended to be a warm up for this weekend’s Steaming Nostril (Runny Nose distance), but it became so much more, because at the heart of every great ride is fun, a bit of evolution, and just a great time playing bikes.  Team Colin:  1, Savage Beast:  0.  Roar.

Here’s to a season of sweat dripping into my eyes, cramped calves and sore wrists, the occasional sun burn, horribly awesome climbs, shiver-inducing descents, grit-covered water bottle nipples, the promise of the road, the grind of gravel, and miles and miles of sweet singletrack.

Even when it’s windy.

Ride.

 

PS

I’d love to hear about your secret route.  Or whether you think I got this right.  Comment in the space below, or send a message to: teamcolinblog@yahoo.com

 

 

Review: Norco Ithaqua

The Norco Ithaqua 6.1.Norco-IthaquaMy first bike review.  The Norco Ithaqua 6.1.  What a bike.  I reviewed the bike in December, and tt was featured on Riding Feels Good.  
Now that I’ve reviewed a few others, I thought I’d include it in my blog.  If you want to read it, you can follow the link above, or read the text below.  The review was also featured on Norco.com.  Pretty cool.
Team Colin Reviews the 2017 Norco Ithaqua

Christmas came early this year for Team Colin, in the form of a test ride weekend with a 2017 Norco Ithaqua 6.1.  Norco’s answer to the question “Hey Norco, could you please build a racing fatbike for me?

 
They answered “Yes”, and the Ithaqua is many other things too, but at it its core, it’s just a big, mean, race-ready, fatbike.  It literally squashes the Sasquatch and Bigfoot (The Ithaqua’s little brother and sister), and rides like a raging behemoth.  This bike is one big mother.  Really, I think that’s what I like about it the most.  It’s long, lean, and robust–and its size and geometry combine for a tight, yet supple, and burly feel.
 
Wait, Itha what, now?
 
Ithahaqawaqana?
 
ITHAQUA.  Remember that name.
 
Seriously though, did I just write “burly”!  And what’s an Ithaqua?
 
Well aside from being Norco’s aforementioned big boss mountain bike, it’s a big boss legend too.  Here, from the Google, are some notes about the legend of the Ithaqua:
 
“Ithaqua is a horrifying giant that controls snow, ice and cold…prowling the Arctic, hunting unwary travellers and slaying them gruesomely.
 
Ithaqua is the only one of his kind.  Those who join Ithaqua’s cult will gain the ability to be completely unaffected by cold.”
(The Wikipedia)
I think the engineers at Norco read the legend, and then built a bike around it, because they have created something truly awesome.  Seriously, Norco didn’t just build a bike.  They built a legend. This bike is sooooo badass.  Yeah, I just cussed.
 
The Ithaqua frame is made of mid modulus carbon, and…BORING.  Okay, if you want to read the actual review part of this “review” (note the quotation marks, denoting how serious of a reviewer I am), you can scroll down to the “Norco Ithaqua’s Five Cs of Awesomeness”.  I’m not big on “mm”, degrees of anything, or specific specifics, but I think you’ll get the picture.  However, first, I want to gush a bit more. 
 
Well, the cat’s out of the bag.  I love this bike—I love this bike–and the tone of this post is going to be, um, glowing.
 
Full disclosure:  I’m not a techie cyclister.  When riders are comparing gear ratios and suspension travel, I’m more apt to say “Hey, cool bike”.  To be honest, I’m still not even sure why Kevin, the rep at Live to Play Sports, let me demo the bike.  True story:  when I left the warehouse, I speed walked to my van shouting “Start the car!  Start the car!” even though I was alone.  Shh.  Don’t tell Kevin–I want to try it again on snow.  Also, don’t tell Kevin that I yell to people who don’t exist in my car.
 
Okay, so I like the bike, but does the Ithaqua live up to its lofty, mythic name?
 
Yep.  Absolutely.  You bet.  Oh yes, it honestly and truly does.  And omigod does it ever.
 
I had the bike for four days, and tried a few types of terrain.  Unfortunately, the weather in Ontario can change pretty drastically in one week, and the demo days were snowless.  Boy, what a difference one week can make.  We’re on our third straight day of snow here.  Anyway, on the Day 1, I rode it on the streets around Mount Albert, Ontario, to get to their Christmas Parade.  True story—at times there more people were craning their necks to see the cool bike behind them than there were watching the floats.  The next day, I spent a few hours on the XC Loop pumptracks, and skinnies at Joyride 150.  Tooling around the park was awesome. Then, on Day 3 (the morning after Joyride) I met my riding buddy, John (and his friend) for a proper rip in Northumberland Forest.  After a rough work week, a few sleepless nights, and pounding the bike at Joyride for a few hours the day before, I was not in the mood for a ride.  Also, it was cold, and I was tired.  What can I say, I’m delicate.
 
And then I sat on the bike (vroom). 
 
And then we started riding (vroom vroom). 
 
And then we hit a few climbs and some technical stuff (VROOM VROOM). 
 
If I thought Joyride 150 was fun on the Ithaqua, ripping actual singletrack was a blast.  You don’t just ride over logs with an Ithaqua.  You ride up the trunk of a tree, through its canopy, and down the other side of the trunk.  This is a beast of a bike.  I thought I was Batman, riding something cooked-up in the Wayne Industries laboratory.  The bike climbs like a jackrabbit, handles trail features like a ballerina, and just rips like a demon.  Put plainly, it was gnarly and fun.
 
The next day, my demo weekend was over, and my time with the bike was waning, but I wanted to feel the thrill jut a bit more, so I spent Day 4 just messing around.  I managed to sit on the bike and play around as much as I could: In my driveway; around my house; next door to see the neighbours; or whatever.  I don’t think there’s a more fun ride when you want to play bikes, and as much as the Ithaqua will “hunt unwary travellers and slay them gruesomely” in a race, if you scratch its surface, it’s a bike, and bikes are fun—this one is just that much more fun because it’s made so well.
 
Enough gushing, here’s my review of the Norco Ithaqua 6.1:
 
For those inclined, here are the Specific Specifics on my demo:

Frameset

  • Frame:  Mid-modulus carbon fibre fatbike frame (weight:  1350 grams)
  • Fork:  Norco Carbon 150×15 Fat Fork  (weight:  690 grams)

Components

  • Seat/Seatpost:  SDG Duster RL/Race Face Next Carbon 31.6 x 400mm
  • Headset:  Angular Sealed Cartridge Bearings w/2x10mm Matte UD Carbon spacer
  • Stem:  Race Face Turbine 35mm/60mm
  • Handlebar:  Race Face Next 35 Carbon 760mm/10mm Rise
  • Brakes:  SRAM Level TLM (180mm front, 160mm rear)
  • Brake Cable Housing:  SRAM Hydraulic

Wheels

  • Hubs:  DT Swiss 350 (150×15 front, 97×12 CL rear)
  • Rims:  Sun Mulefut 80SL 26″ 32H”
  • Tires:  Kenda Juggernaut Pro 26 x 4.5 (Tubeless)

Drivetrain

  • Rear Shifter:  SRAM X1 11spd
  • Rear Derailleur: SRAM X01 11spd Carbon Cage
  • Cassette:  SRAM XG1175 10/42 11spd
  • Crankset:  Race Face Next Carbon 28T
  • Bottom Bracket:  Race Face PF92 Fat Bike BB

$6,099 (Canadian MSRP)

And here,as promised the

Norco Ithaqua’s Five Cs of Awesomeness

1.  CARBON

The Ithaqua’s frame is a thing of beauty,and you can’t get any sweeter than a carbon bike, but it doesn’t end there.  The fork is carbon, the handle bars, crank, and seatpost are carbon (Raceface Next).   Rides awesome, looks awesome, and lasts awesome.  Carbon.  Oh, and when it’s cold, you can lick carbon and your tongue won’t stick to it.  I mean, you know, if you’re inclined to—no judgement from Team Colin.

2.  CRANKING 

The cranking performance of this bike is phenomenal,  The driveTRAIN is a grinder.  Focus on the word TRAIN, because the Ithaqua’s 1×11 is unstoppable.  The 28 x 10/42 gearing is going to haunt my bike upgrade dreams for a while.  It took a beating at high speed, or at low cadence while hammering up a steep climb.  The Ithaqua doesn’t purr, it howls, and the drivetrain is designed for some serious forward movement.

3.  Componets

The build of the 6.1 is exceptional:  DT Swiss 350 thru-axle hubs, Mulefut rims, and Kenda Juggernaut Pro tires: Awesome.  Race Face Turbine stem:  whatever, it’s just a stem—but it’s stubby, it rocks, and with 760mm bars the bike handles nimbly, and solidly.  Every detail on the bike is meant to help win a race.  Even the SDG Duster seat is sweet (and it has orange accents to match the frame, natch).  Norco jams an exceptional pile of high end components on their bikes, and this one is no exception.  Seriously though, 76cm wide bars?  A w e s o m e.

Oh, and they’ve got these new, screw fit internal cabling ports that keep cables super snug.  Sweet.

4.  C’braking

Braking isn’t usually a review section (and “c’braking” isn’t even a word) but the SRAM Level TLM brakes are a work of art and deserve some love here.  They use DOT 5.1 fluid, instead of mineral oil, which will give awesome, consistent, braking in extreme conditions—and especially the cold. Plus, the TLM upgrade even has something called “Bleeding Edge” to make quick, RIDER, maintenance a snap.  These brakes could stop a, wait for it, TRAIN. 

5. C’geometry

Yeah, this word is a stretch, but I promised five Cs.  Any way you slice it, this bike performs.  Components and C’braking aside, I think the fit and feel of the frame is what really sings.  And I mean SING.  Sure, the components on the 6.1 are going to make a few things easier, and they may even win a race for someone who wins races, but the frame is the star here, and it is spectacular.  The top tune brings the centre of the bike pretty low,and gives is a zippy feel when cornering, and the head tube is steep and sharp.  Norco says: “…the bike features Gravity Tune, our unique geometry philosophy that adjusts the rear centre length in proportion with the front centre, giving riders of all sizes equal weight distribution over the bike”.  The name”Gravity Tune” may be a brainchild or a engineer or marketing guru, but whatever you want to call it, it’s awesomely sweet.

Okay, made up words aside, when the “Five Cs of Awesomeness “ are put together, the Norco Ithaqua is a stunning, race ready beast. 
 
However…
 
Kevin at Norco made me promise to find a few problems with the bike.  So, to appease him, here goes.  The first major problem with the bike is—I’m kidding, seriously, there’s nothing wrong with the Ithaqua.  At over 6 grand, how could anything possibly be wrong?  Honestly, if Norco couldn’t get it right (and boy, did they ever get it right) at this dollar figure, they’d be out of business.  Which I guess is the only problem. It sure costs a lot to get this level of perfection.  Are you happy Kevin?  Instead of being critical, I’m just outing myself as a big ol’ cheapo.
If I had to really search for something critical, I think I’d like to see a dropper seatpost. Given the size of the bike (and the price), I think it might be a benefit.  Also, I wonder how it’ll perform in the deep snow–especially when you have to dismount–and whether a dropper might make climbing and dismounting a bit easier.  Wait, is it just me who often has to shoulder his bike on trails…
 
If price is an issue, you can drop to the other models, the Ihtaqua 6.2 or the 6.3.  You lose a few things, like those sweet carbon components, but it’s the same frame, and I really think the frame is all the difference.  Plus, all models have SRAM Level brakes, and you’ve still got the same tires and wheels (although you take a bit of a hit on the hubs–which I don’t think is a big problem).  Finally, you get a lesser drivetrain, but I think the only disadvantage is the loss of a bit of durability, not performance.  And all of this for almost half the price. I gotta say that $3,600 for an entry level Ithaqua, is still expensive, but I don’t think Norco is trying to appeal to the average, looking-for-fun, fatbike rider.  I think they’re appealing to the racing, RESULTS-DRIVEN racer, hardcore racing, fatbike RACER.
 
And they’re probably looking for the average, looking-for-fun, fatbike rider too–just one who carries buckets of money in their jersey pocket.
 
It’s plain and simple, the Ithaqua is a racing fatbike, and to get this level of performance, it’ll cost some serious cheddar.  When I compare the bike to my Norco Bigfoot, it’s 10 times better, but only three times the price.  Hey, with that kind of economic justification, I think I may have just found a way to attack the N+ discussion with my wife. It would actually be like losing money if I didn’t consider buying one…   
 
What an awesome demo weekend.  It was Team Colin’s first legitimate demo, and one that’s going to be tough to top.
The Ithaqua has the heart of a race bike, wrapped in a fatbike shell, with the soul of a monster.  AND IT’S REALLY FUN TO RIDE!  Awesome.
 
Ride.

27. Fatbiking 101

20161006_155308-1Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

I know it’s only October, but do you see that picture up there?  The trails won’t look like that for long.  Winter is coming, and it’s time to start thinking about the fatbiking.

I didn’t want to become a fatbike RIDER. Between my hardtail, single speed, road bike, and dirt jumper, there are plenty of cycling disciplines that I can be bad at. But then, last year, December came, it snowed, and a friend of mine said “Want to borrow my fatbike?”. So I did, and, in doing so, I was pulled into a world of awesome bikes with 4 inch wide tires, huge chainstays, and what can only be described as clown forks.

I didn’t want to become a fatbike RACER. Between a busy family, and an already full winter of tobogganing with my kids, riding in the warm confines of Joyride 150, and packing on winter weight, I had no desire to jam my fingers and toes into layers of protective neoprene, Gore Tex, and polar fleece. But then the 45 NRTH Ontario Fatbike Race Series happened, and I was pulled into a world of racing bikes with 4 inch wide tires, huge chainstays, and what can only be called clown forks.

I didn’t want to become a proficient fatbike rider… And I’m not, so at least got that part right…

But there’s a reason I lack proficiency. It’s because I just don’t ride one often. And it’s no wonder why: I’m in LOVE with my hardtail, and my single speed (and I’m in LIKE with my road bike) so it’s tough to find the time to give my fatbike an honest try—especially since we’re still just getting to know each other

However, after my last blog, and in order to improve on that “lack of proficiency” for the upcoming fatbike race season (read: GET FASTER), I figured I had to reacquaint myself with my fatbike. It went something like this:

(Team Colin opens garage door and approaches his bikes)

Me:               Hey fatbike, what’s up?

Fatbike:       Chillin’ like a villain.

Our discussion wasn’t informative (and I wondered why my bike was talking like a teenager) so I decided to take it for a rip. I loaded it onto the Team Colin Support Vehicle, loaded my hardtail too (just because), and set off for Durham Forest in search of some magical single track.

While I was riding I thought about last year’s fatbike race series, and how I very quickly went from a guy who didn’t even own a fatbike, to a guy who raced a fatbike.

Here’s what I learned about the fatbiking:

  • Plainly put, it’s different. While fatbiking in the spring, summer, and fall, is at least similar to mountain biking, it is completely different in the snow. In the same way that a road bike is different from a MTB (and in the same way their applications are so different) a fatbike on a snowy trail is even differenter. Last year, I thought I could just jump on one and book it. I was wrong. This year, I’m embracing the differences. Aww, fatbike hug.
  • Traction is waaaaay better than I thought. The techie riders have tried to convince me to get studs for my fatbike, and while I’m sure they’re great, I’ve been riding without them, and I just don’t feel the need to shell our a few hundred bucks for a few sets (because one set isn’t never enough). Besides, one stud on a bike is enough. Hazzaah. See what I did there? Because I’m the stud. Oh, forget it.
  • There are two types of fatbike riders. I’m the other type. It’s a bit like a novelty for me: fun and, well, fun. And I want to keep it that way. The fact is, I’m not willing to put in the time to get better (so I probably won’t). And while that’s not the winning spirit, it’s a fact of life.  Also, it keeps things fun. Plus, I’m really good at not winning races. Stick with what you know!
  • The general riding skill required to ride a fatbike in the snow can be pretty demanding: in BAD conditions, trying to stay on the trail is like riding a long skinny trail feature; in GOOD conditions, it’s great–although I still struggle to find my line; and in PERFECT conditions, well, perfect conditions are perfectly impossible to anticipate, create, or plan for. Snow melts, snow becomes ice, snow melts and then becomes ice within minutes. So I don’t even try to anticipate the conditions, but I prepare to adapt because they will—probably several times throughout a race. Like any great love, sometimes the snow will love me, sometimes it won’t. I can live with that.
  • It’s cold. I need to get better-than-good gloves, and maybe even a set of pogies. A helmet liner, ear mufflers, and a neck wrap are also par for the trail. I’d like a pair of 45NRTH boots (I can’t seem to find my size) but my neoprene booties have served me just fine. Although I’ve also seen many racers just wear cycling shoes, and they seem to survive. While it’s always cool to have a reason to buy new bike stuff, crushing my pocket book will not only lesson my kid’s RESP fund, it’ll take away some of the fun.  UPDATE:  I wrote this blog in the fall.  However, at the Frozen Beaver last weekend (January 28), I spent most of my race with the toes of my booties pushed up and over the toes of my cycling shoes.  Booties aren’t meant for hike-a-bike hills, and the toes don’t stay in the boots when you scamper up a hill.  I think I’ m going to look for a pair of winter boots that will fit the bill.
  • It’s hot. While much of my body is really really cold, my goggles and glasses steamed up, my back was a swamp, my neck was a wetter swamp, and in locations where my neck or back met the cold air, ice formed. Yay. Ditto for my beard. Ice encrusted anything is kind of a drag, and it’s a constant battle between the two extremes, but it’s manageable. The key was to not cool down too much when I was too far from my car or the trailhead.  I like to wear my fall/early spring kit.  Between -2 and -10, I wear insulated bib pants and wool socks, with two or three layers on top:  a wicking, long sleeved bottom layer, technical long sleeve, and a jersey.  Gloves are a different matter.  I always bring a second set in my jersey pocket.  I’ve never used them, but I always have them just in case.
  • Snot management. There’s lots of it. Sorry, you’ll have to figure this one out on your own.
  • Ice. Water freezes below zero, and winter temperatures are typically below zero, so my water bottle is going to freeze. If I had a camelback, it would freeze too. Even an insulated water bottle will freeze, but it will take a bit longer. And while it’s true the bladder of my camel back probably won’t freeze (you know, sweaty back) the tubes will. I heard a cool tip recently.  To prevent frozen tubes, after you drink, blow air back into the bladder.  Not sure if it works, but it’s worth a try.  It’s not great to drink cold water when you’re freezing, trying to stay warm, and sweating through your clothes—all at the same time—but you need to replenish fluids. I’ll be sure to bring a thermos of warmth for after the race. Nothing like a hot cup of cocoa with my fatbike bae. I wonder if it likes marshmallows.
  • Passing. It’s probably not going to happen unless someone veers off course. Everybody struggles with the narrow single track, and everybody wants to pick up time on the very limited double track—which is also pretty narrow. Again, not the winning spirit, but well, whatever.
  • Tire pressure and PSI. Whatever I think my tire pressure should be. It should always be lower. When I think it’s too low, it should probably still be lower.

On a side note, the above PSI recommendation is for riding a fatbike in the snow. In the other three seasons, my tire pressure is still wrong, but it’s either too low or too high. I’m just not sure which it is.

Back to the things I learned:

  • Cleaning and lubing: Snow takes time to melt, and while it does, the water stays on my bike for longer. Water turns to rust. Rust turns to “Damnit, why is my drivetrain so rusty…”. Team Colin promises to brush the snow off his fatbike after a ride, dry his fatbike when he gets home, and keep the chain lubed. Finish Line Wet Lube (for Extreme Weather Conditions) is good, but it’s gloopy, and shifting is a touch slower. Which reminds me, I have to degrease my chain.
  • Train. When it’s too cold, or dark, or icy, or whatever (because that’s what Canadian winters are), spending time on my bike will keep me fit, happy, and ready to ride some more. I go to Joyride 150 for some sweet training rips as often as I can. When I’m there, I ride the skinnies, so that when the trails are slush, and I have to keep my wheels in long rut, it’ll be easier.
  • Muscles get cold.  Cold muscles hurt.  My performance is never the same, and I always feel like I’ve got more in me, but everyone is dealing with the same issues.

And that’s what I learned about the fatbiking last year.

Last year, after a race, I posted the following: “Fatbiking is hard, like, really hard…”. And it is, but it isn’t. To the legions of fatbike riders who have adopted it as THEIR discipline, and ride one all the time, it’s easy. To those of us—LIKE ME–who adopt fatbikes only when the trails are covered in snow, it’s a bit more challenging. And although it’s not as hard as I originally thought, it’s still not as fast as my MTB. At least I can implement some of the things I learned last year, and most important, approach the sport without expectations of Olympic glory.

The thing about fatbiking for me, is that it’s still filed under N for novelty (which is why I brought my hardtail on my last fatbike ride), and I think it’ll remain a winter pursuit. It’s a novelty because I don’t ride one often; it’s a novelty because the ride is so vastly different from anything else; and it’s a novelty because, well, clown forks.

But being a novelty isn’t a bad thing. To be honest, with a 35 pound bike, my kit, a water bottle, and a few tools, I’m cranking the better part of 300 pounds up a hill. If I took it more seriously, I don’t think it’s possible for me to be much better anyway.

To make it easier, I tried to ride without clothes and a water bottle, but I kept slipping off the seat.

And I got thirsty….

Naked fatbiking probably has a place, but, you know, shrinkage.

Back to wearing clothes while riding and not getting arrested for indecent exposure. Thanks to last year’s 45NRTH Ontario Fatbike Race series, I got to race a my fatbike four times–in the dull, dark, dead of winter, and it was fantastic.

Thanks to fatbikes, the (outdoor) riding season never ended.

Thanks to the 45NRTH series, the race vibe was always just a few weeks away regardless of what month it was.

And thanks to Dan Marshall, Cycle Solutions, and Substance Projects, the race vibe wa always wicked.

Fatbiking is for everyone. Fatbiking is for you. Fatbiking is sort of for me, and as long as I keep my clothes on, it’ll be a blast this coming winter, and for many winters to come. After all, at the heart of any great ride, is the fact that riding is equal parts challenge, fitness, joy, and fun. I think my fatbike and I are going to be just fine.

Ride

 

 

 

PS.  Here are some awesome fatbiking sesources

Click on Substance Projects 45 NRTH Ontario Fatbike Series:  Race!

Check out Shikaze’s blog. He’s a real fatbike rider and an awesome racer:  Steve S!

The guys at Cycle Solutions:  BUY CS! and Evolution Cycles  BUY EVO! can hook you up with a sweet deal. Jamie at Evolution is loving his new Norco Ihaqua fatbike.  Ask him about it.  UPDATE:  I wrote this blog in the fall.  Since then, I had a chance to demo a few pretty sweet bikes:  A Norco Ithaqua 6.1 from Norco, a Trak Farley 9.9 from Cycle Solutions, and a Norco Ithaqua 6.3 from Evolution Cycles (that I raced last weekend).  Each bike was a thing of beauty

Fat Bracebridge seems to be the epicenter of all things fatbiking:  FBC.

Okay, maybe these next two aren’t awesome resources, but for a long read about my experiences in the last two races of the inagural 45NRTH Ontario Fatbike Race Series, check my first few blogs. Here’s a link or two.

That time I rode my fatbike in Kingston:  My first blog!

That time hated my fatbike, but learned a whole bunch about it:  Fat Bracebridge!

(By the way, the bike in the featured image of this post is my 2015 Norco Bigfoot 6.1.  I took the shot on Ogre and Out at Durham Forest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

26. Get Fatbiking!

Why YOU Need a Fatbike.

Winter is coming.2016-2-frozen-beaver-2016

And while that may be a bad thing for people who play games on thrones, it’s not a bad thing for people who play bikes. Not bad? Pfft. It’s awesome. It’s awesome because for many cyclists, the coming of winter used to mean the end of the riding season: No more single track; no more Saturday morning group rides; no more weekend races or midweek series; and no more general biking awesomeness to soothe our restless souls.

But now, thanks to the magic of a gigantically wide fork that holds a super squishy tire, the upcoming blanket of snow means the start the fatbike season. Woot woot.

You see while we may not have been on the trails in past winters, the trails were still out there. They were just under a blanket of snow and not very fun to ride  on our regular MTB tires. Yeah, the sweet single track, the same climbs, and the same trees were all out there, longing for us, pining for us (especially the trees–see what I did there) but they just weren’t possible until a fatbike came strutting its stuff into our local bike shops.

Yes, I know, for people who already have a fatbike, they’re awesome any time of year, but they’re especially awesome when there’s snow. It’s a proven fact.

By the way, for anyone who hasn’t been in a bike shop lately (or for roadies) a fatbike is:

…a bike with tires that are 3.8” wide (or wider), and rims that are at least 2.6” wide. They are designed for riding on soft unstable terrain, such as SNOW, sand, bogs and mud…

Thank you Wikipedia.

What, you don’t have one yet? Well, here’s the reason why you should buy a fatbike right now: Um, can ride a bike any day, any where, in any condition. That is all.

Need another reason?  See that sweet picture in the header (The one taken by Ted Anderton of Apex Race Photography). See the smile.  Yup, awesome.

However, if you want an official Top Ten List of reasons. Here it is:

Top Ten Reasons Why YOU Need a Fatbike This Winter

  1. Fatbikes are faster in the snow than you think. Seriously, fatbikes are wickedly, surprisingly, fast.
  2. Fatbikes are funner in the snow than you think. Seriously, fatbikes are wickedly, surprisingly, fun. Riding a fatbike is as close to being a kid as you can get. Giant tires. Bouncy ride. Big mittens. Snot everywhere. The only thing missing is a Gilligan’s Island lunch box (with matching “L’il Buddy” thermos, natch), a PB&J sandwich, and a glass of milk.
  3. Fatbikes look really cool. Since they’re so new, you get to be the center of attention everywhere you ride. People will stop in their tracks to ogle your beefy tires and massive forks, and bask in your general awesomeness for riding such a boss looking bike.
  4. Fatbiking is an awesomely huge challenge. Riding in the snow is a great way to push your riding style. Aside from the constantly changing trail conditions—which will actually change quite drastically during your ride—the technique required is pretty significant, and that’s a cool thing. Cornering, weight distribution, climbing, descending. They’re all different. Own it. And even though you can ride anywhere and don’t really need a groomed trail, as the sport becomes more popular, many trail centres are grooming trails especially for fatbikes. Sweet.  Check it out:  Fatbiking in Bracebridge
  5. Fatbiking is more fun than cross country skiing. Okay, maybe it’s not, but at least you won’t need a different roof rack. Wait, I take that retraction back. It’s way more fun!
  6. When you dress for winter fatbiking, NO MORE CRAMMING YOUR BODY INTO A SPANDEX KIT. Trust me, this is a good thing for all of the people who have to look at us wearing our riding kits. Or maybe it’s just a good thing for all of the people who have to look at ME wearing MY riding kit. Sorry people.
  7. When you fatbike, all of that winter food that you’ve been jamming down your gullet now has a way to get burned off. So eat the whole bag of Doritos. Double up on the poutine. Cheese? Yes please.
  8. When you ride a fatbike throughout the winter, you get to keep riding an actual bike, instead of sitting on a spin bike or rollers in your basement or gym, pedalling like crazy to get nowhere. (I’m kidding, that’s not fair to say. On a spin bike, you don’t travel nowhere. You travel from a room with a dry floor, to a room with a floor splotted with your sweat drops.)
  9. You know Monday mornings in the dead of winter, when everyone gets to work, and talks about the game they watched, or the roast they ate, or the movie they went to see? Not you. Nope, you get to say “Yeah, I went for a bike ride. Mm hm. On my bike. Yeah, it was cold and snowing, but, you know, I’m pretty boss, so I rode. Oh, you stayed in, did you….”. If you have a mic, this is a good time to drop it.
  10. Crashing in the snow is awesome. It doesn’t hurt as much as dirt because snow is usually softer, you give yourself a sweet self-inflicted snow job, and then you get to look like a drunken infant as you bum your way out of the two feet of snow that lines the trail. You’ll laugh so hard. And so will anyone who is watching. Which brings me to the final reason…
  11. The people who ride fatbikes are statistically proven to be way cooler, more awesomer, and just plain radder than people who don’t. True fact.

That was 11 reasons. Yeah, fatbikes are just too awesome for 10 reasons. 11 awsome reasons why you need a fatbike this winter, and 11 awesome reasons why fatbiking is awesome.

So you see, while the coming of winter used to mean that our bodies could spend a few months recuperating before the spring season, or letting the poison ivy in our blood stream take a break, it also meant storing our bikes for the winter, and starting our off-season exercise regimes, which typically included competitive sweater wearing, solo cookie eating contests, and a weekly series of weight gains, body flab increases, and missing our bike(s) like the desert misses the rain(s), but it’s almost 2017, and all those things are in the past.   Fatbiking, baby. Boom.

Now that I’ve convinced you to buy a fatbike (What, you needed 12 reasons?), it’s probably time to get to your bike shop, or if you live in Toronto, to go to the fall bike show (on October 15 Fall Bike Show).  Although I won’t be there because I’ll be racing Dan Marshall’s Sausage Suit ITT

You should go to my shop.  My shop is awesome–and I’m willing to bet if you tell them Team Colin sent you, they’ll probably throw in a sweet discount: Cycle Solutions

I don’t often go to other shops because I have such a strong relationship with the staff at Cycle Solutions, but if you can’t make it to the east end of the city, here are a few shops that I think are pretty awesome, either because they sponsor races and promote the sport, or because they have treated me well when I walked off the street and visited them: Evolution Cycles is a great shop in Richmond Hill; if you live downtown, try Bateman’s Cycle; if you live in Newmarket, go to Spoke-O-Motion; and if you live in Oshawa, Impala Bicycles is pretty good. Honestly, every local bike shop is awesome.  If you don’t already have YOUR bike shop, visit one of these and start a relationship.

Oh, and as an added bonus, after you buy your fatbike (not if you buy one…), there’s a fatbike race series. Yeah, a fatbike race series. In its second year, The 45NRTH Ontario Fatbike Race Series, presented by Substance Projects and Cycle Solutions, has 5 races scheduled from December to February. You can’t beat that. For someone like me, it’s great to have the opportunity to race poorly in the spring, summer, fall AND now the winter. Also, riding alone in the summer is okay, but in the winter, with shorter days that get dark way to early, it could be a problem if you crash. While crashing in the snow is less hurty, a bad crash could mean being alone…in the woods…in the dark woods..trying to shuffle back to the trail head…alone…for help. Be safe and ride with a friend. Better yet, ride with a bunch of friends at a fatbike race. Get more info here: 45NRTH Ontario Fatbike Series

You can thank me later. I’ll be the one grinning from snot encased ear, to snot encased ear, covered in frost from multiple self-inflicted snow jobs.

Before I finish, Team Colin is going to make a proclamation. There is a good deal of debate online about whether it’s a “fat bike”, a “fatbike”, or a “fat-bike”, and it’s time someone made the call. I’m making the call. It’s a fatbike. I’m making this proclamation because I don’t like separation of the word “fat” in Fat Bike, Fat-Bike contains an unnecessary hyphen (unless you like that sort of thing), and fatbike is a cool new word—just like the sport!

One word or two, hyphen or not, whatever you choose to call it, there’s only one word needed to describe fatbiking: AWE. SOME.

Ride.

PS

More on HOW to fatbike, in my next blog post, “Fatbike 101”.

In the meantime, you can read about my first ever fatbike experience, on my first ever blog, in My First Blog!

24. Great Albion Enduro

The Great Albion Enduro.

Superfly Racing wasn’t just going to host an enduro race, but a GREAT enduro race.  Sweet.

The Superfly website billed it as follows:

“…one of Southern Ontario’s most popular riding centres, switch directions on half the trails, add some unique unmarked trails, AND add a chunk of pure singletrack in the Palgrave tract, along with several kms of rail trail, and what do you get?  The GREAT Albion Enduro.”

Lofty goals.  However, even though I knew Superfly Racing always stage awesomeness, I was still a bit skeptical.  I mean, without even scrolling down on the event website, they used the word GREAT five times.  Let’s be honest, I’m no stranger to awesome superlatives (and in this case, super hyperbole), but every time I use the word “awesome”, it’s because whatever I’m describing is totally, 100%, honest to goodness, awesome.  But with such gratuitous use of the word ‘great” Team Colin had to check out the Albion Enduro—sorry, the GREAT Albion Enduro–to see just how great it would be.

Wait a sec, what’s a Palgrave?

All I had to do was decide which distance.  40k or 80k?  I’m not a frequent Albion rider.  In fact, it would be only my second time there (My first was at Superfly’s Endur O-Cup in July.  Blog # 17) and I clearly didn’t even know what a Palgrave was.  Then I heard that the Green Monster was going to be at the end of the race.  The Green Monster is to climbs what bullies are to the school cafeteria.  Mean, dumb, and nasty.  Superfly’s website also said the race would give us about 800m of climbing.  I spent a good deal of time debating the distance.  40k would be fun, and 80k would be a slog—especially since the last time I tackled the Green Monster, it was in the middle of a 25k race, not the end, and this time I’d have to do it twice

But then I realized that I was up to it.  Prior to this season, an 80k mountain bike race or ride wasn’t even a distant aspiration, but after the joy I experienced in the 109k distance of the Eager Beaver, the fun of the 100k Kawartha Lakes Classic road tour two weeks after the EB, and the (almost) ease of the 38k Kingston XCM, I realized that distance riding wasn’t as tough as I always thought it was.  It’s kind of dumb that it took me four years to finally ride a hundred k, but there you have it.  Also, it’s nearing the end of the MTB riding season, so I’m in peak shape, and I figured it was time I challenged myself with a proper marathon distance.

So I registered for the 40k.  No, that wasn’t a typo.

My family couldn’t come to the race—and I’m not just talking about my wife and kids.  I’m talking about my bike shop family, my Substance Projects family, and my MTB family at large.  Without my FAMILY there to help me celebrate the experience, I felt like a giant tree would fall in an epic forest, and nobody would be there to hear the BOOM.  Nobody would be there to share it with the tree.  Yes, I’m the giant tree.  When I bust out my first epic 80k MTB ride, I want to be able to share it with the people who enabled me to get there—because that BOOM is going to be, wait for it, awesome!

Full Disclosure:  Sean Ruppel and Superfly are awesome, and I know they’re family to legions of riders, but they just aren’t MY family (yet) because I’ve only done a two of their races.  I always think it’s so wicked that pretty much EVERYONE in the MTB world is awesome.  My local bike shop is awesome, but I bet yours is too.  My MTB family is awesome, and I KNOW yours is too.

Registration.  With the inherent craziness of the start of a school year in a household that has two teachers, a 9 year old, and an 11 year old, I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to race, so I couldn’t pre-register, but Supefly allowed Day-Of Reg., so I waited until the morning.  Rain was coming, and the old me might have crapped out, but the new me was actually looking forward to some nasty weather to keep things interesting.

If you’re going to play bikes, its way more fun in the muck.

To skip ahead to the end of the day, and to save the effort of reading this entire post, when all was said and done The Great Albion Enduro lived up to its name.  And more.  it wasn’t just all of the awesome (and great) stuff at Albion Hills.  It also included an awesome (and great) chunk of Palgrave, and all of the awesome (and great) extra touches of a Supefly Racing event (Sean Ruppel at the helm, wood oven pizza, a little sample of super hipster beer–courtesy of The Second Wedge Brewing co., handmade awards for the Clydesdales, the 3 Rox Racing yard sale, and a dude playing a guitar—even though I was sure I heard a lady while I was racing).  Oh yeah, and a free shirt!

Race Report

The Great Albion Enduro.  September 17, 2016

I met my riding buddy, John, a few minutes before the start.  After playing it safe at the start in Kingston a few weeks ago, we decided to seed ourselves closer to the front of the pack for this start.  We worked our way up as far as we could, and after a few cautions from Sean Ruppel, the race started.  A few wheel jams in the first few hundred metres, and then we turned right to a short climb that started to thin the pack.

John likes to hit his own pace, so while most riders rode single file, he darted in and out of the pack to pass.  I just tried to keep up.  The rain drops started falilng, and we spent the first few k on easy double track (with a smidge of singletrack) before looping back through the Start/Finish area.  The rain picked up a bit, and made for some slick grassy sections, and I realized that my Thunder Burt tires, with minimal knob and aggressive sidewall, were a stupid choice.  After a few slips and spins, they threw me off my game a bit, so I spent the rest of the day riding very tentatively.  Stupid tires.

Pfft.  Stupid me.  When I knew rain was in the forecast, I should have changed them.

The course wound through some great Albion single track before a a quick zip along a side road that took us to the Palgrave Tract.  Ohhhhhh, a Palgrave is a forest….with trails. Sweet.  The Palgrave Tract was tight, twisty, technical, and tonnes and tonnes of fun:  great rock gardens; short, punchy climbs; sweet jumps and drop offs; rocks, roots, and general MTB goodness, and all the other ingredients of an awesome MTB mix.

We left Palgrave for a return along the side road, and zipped up to a short stretch of rail trail.  It was raining, we were booking it.  So awesome!  The thrill of pedals, trail, wind, and adrenaline.

The guy who drafted me the entire time on the flat stuff thanked me for the break.  If you’ve ever drafted behind a Clydesdale, I hear it’s pretty sweet.  We’re like a brick wall, and we create a LOT of suck.  I imagine the person behind me throwing their feet off their pedals and screaming “Wheeeeeee”. It’s just how a Clydesdale gives back.

You’re welcome, Otto.

The course took us back into Albion Hills and the race got even more fun.  Apparently, many of the trails were run backwards, but everything was new to me, so I didn’t know the difference.  The roots started to get wet, and there were a few slippy-slidey sections, but the rain never really took hold, and it was mostly just managebly wet.

And then I lost a cleat screw on my shoes.    I tried to continue as my foot twisted in my pedal, but it was no use.  I had to dismount to fix it.  I spent a few minutes trying to fix it while riders passed.  The bolt sheared of, and there was no easy fix, so I spent a few more minutes trying to jam my clip back into my shoe so I could continue.  I couldn’t unclip in the event of a bail, but I could finish the race.  Tricky business, not being able to unclip.  Tricky business.

Okay, the tire thing was my fault, but the cleat thing was totally my shoe’s fault.

If my knobbyless tires threw me off my game at the beginning of the race, not being able to unclip really threw me off my game.  In truth, the inability to unclip made me ride through, over, and up many features that usually scare me, but I was so tentative, and I know I could have given more.

The last 15k was the pure, sweet, singletrack that makes Albion Hills such a great destination.  Damn, they know how to cut a trail at Albion, and damn, Sean nailed the course with the perfect mix of single and double track, trail variety, and just plain fun.

Not to mention butter tarts.  The aid station at around 32k had butter tarts.  Mmmmm.  Sweet buttery tart goodness.

It was another quick zip through a maze of Albion trails (apparently in reverse, but like I said, it was all new to me), to the bottom of that jerk, the Green Monster.

I have four words for the Green Monster:  You don’t scare me, you big stupid jerk.  Okay, that wasn’t four words.  And it wasn’t true either.  Like a true bully, the Green Monster had me shaking in–my clipped/unclipped shoes for the entire race–not because of WHAT it was, but what it REPRESENTED.  It wasn’t just big, it was at the end of the race, and it became bigger and bigger by the minute.  By the time I got to it, it was a giant ball of fear.  It was the kids who made fun of my Ozzy Osbourne 3/4 sleeve t-shirt, or my stupid glasses, or my shaggy 70s haircut.

Well, I’m not going to take it any longer you big jerks—I need these glasses to see, and I really like Ozzy Osbourne, and my mom makes me get this damn bowlcut every time we go to the barber.  I mean, um, I’m not going to take it any more because the only way to manage a big hill is to get to the top of it by any means necessary.  So, after fearing the hill for the entire race, and holding back so I’d have something to give when it came, I rode up half of it, and then gave up to walk—with everyone else.

Seriously, Colin, it’s just a hill.

After the climb, the course gave us one more k of sweet Albion trail before the finish, and as I found a final burst of energy on the last switchbacks down to the finish line, I heard the sweet acoustic echo of a folk singer crooning “Bobcaygeon”, one of my favourite songs.  What an awesome way to cap an awesome race.

And Sean even announced my finish.  He didn’t say “Team Colin” because we’re not super cool BFFs yet, but it was a nice touch to announce all of the riders

2:44.  5th place Clydesdale.  1,000m of climbing.

End of Race Report.

Sean Ruppel and Superfly sold themselves waaaaay short.  The race wasn’t just great, it was awesome.  Spectacular course, cool vibe, great music, terrific people, sweet t-shirt (even though it wasn’t Ozzy barking at the moon), and more fun than a 44 year old guy should be allowed to have on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

But here’s the funny thing.  It really was awesome.  And it sort of wasn’t. Everything about the race was awesome, but nothing about my experience was–there wasn’t a life changing epiphany, or profoundly challenging experience, or anything exceptional.  My blogs usually write themselves because I’m always moving forward (as a person, a rider, and a racer), and the content of my post becomes whatever challenge and circumstances brought me to the end of a ride, but this one was different.  Not bad different, and not unawesome different, just different.

It was my 40th race.

The 40th time I strapped a hemlet on my head and threw myself to the universe.

And nothing went boom?

So I had to dig.  But it wasn’t hard to find, because it was a Saturday afternoon and there was a bike race, and I did it.  And for as long as I’m able to pedal my bike, that energy will continue to create the most epic of booms.

Ride.

Sweet photo courtesy of Ted Anderton at Apex Photography.  He always makes me look better than I think I am.

23. The Kingston XCM

2016 Kingston XCMWohoo, the Kingston XCM/        Oh No, the Kingston XCM

I have a love/hate relationship with the Substance Projects/Cycle Solutions XC Marathon Kingston Trophy, held at the MTB Kingston farm. On the HATE side, it’s the furthest race from my home (over two and a half hours drive), the date has fallen on a steaming hot day for the last three years, it’s the longest race of the XCM, and it’s one hell of a tough course. In the past, the race has just slaughtered me—I feel like a tool on the technical stuff (and have to walk many of the features), and I push so hard on the rest of it, that I always finish the race like a zombie. I’ve raced it three times, and each time I get beat up.

On the LOVE side of the equation, it’s a bike race, so there’s that. Plus, I figured I was up to the challenge. After all, I’m in way better shape this season because I’ve been riding my single speed so often, and I just did two, one hundred K rides in the last few weeks (although not on a mountain bike)…

Also, I had something to prove. Last year I missed the turn from the road to the Start line, and rode a frantic 6k prior to even starting the race.

And, since the Kingston XCM is the last mountain bike race, on the last weekend of the summer, it would be a great chance to squeeze the last bits of cycling out of an awesome summer holiday.

Finally, the Kingston XCM was the day that my wife’s cousin’s daughter was getting married in Niagara-On-The-Lake.

Wait, what?

Aw dangit. How on earth could I race in Kingston in the afternoon, and then make it to a wedding that was four and a half hours away.

Oh crap.

With a bit of fancy talk, my wife’s family agreed that I could skip the wedding ceremony, as long as I made it in time for supper at 7PM. Okay, maybe it wasn’t whole hearted agreement, but they more or less acquiesced to the idea. Wohoo for tacit approval!  They would pick up my wife and kids, and drive them to the wedding.  I’d show up for dinner in my car, and then drive them home.  The A-Team couldn’t have planned it better.

The race started at 11:30, and dinner started at 7:00: That gave me 7.5 hours of DO time. So I started doing some math. I love doing math. The race would last two and a half hours (or so); it would take me about an hour (or so) to cool down and shower; another two and a half hours (or so) to get back home to Scarborough; about half an hour (or so) to change; and about 90 minutes (or so) to drive to the wedding.  That’s about 8 hours of DOING, and a lot of “or so” that could complicate the endeavour.

Double crap. Stupid math.  Okay, so maybe I’d miss the first course, but I’d totally make it in time for the salad–I mean, what were the chances there’d be traffic or construction on the highway into, through, and out of, Toronto, on a long weekend?

Triple crap. The chances of traffic and construction into, through, and out of, Toronto on a long weekend were about 100%

Okay, so all I had to do was find a way to bend time-space continuum in order to accommodate me.

It wouldn’t be easy, but I’m Team Colin, and I’d find a way. My team was counting on me. Yes, I’m aware that I am the entire team.

I love planning, so the first thing I did was figure a way to break the day up into manageable chunks. I assigned 4 parts to the day I would now call

The Day Team Colin Did The Impossible.

Here’s the plan:

1.) Get to Kingston

2.) Cram body into spandex and race the Kingston Trophy XCM

3.) Drive home, shower, and cram body into a bow tie (and a shiny blue suit!).

4.) Drive to Niagara-On-The-Lake in aforementioned bow tie and blue suit, be charming, and engage in general wedding frivolousness.

Chunk 1: Get to Kingston

I figured I’d camp in Kingston so that I’d get a better start to the day. I conscripted my friend to keep me company and be my co-pilot, packed the Team Colin support vehicle, and drove to Kingston on Friday afternoon. Getting there was easy, I thought, I could totally make this happen.

Just after parking my RV on Friday night, a guy named Bryant popped up beside me. Bryant was using this race as a training ride for the Single Speed World Championships. I was the loser in the single speed category of the last three XCM half marathon races. There could not have been two more disparate riders camped out beside each other. He totally threw my confidence. I spent the night wondering why I was there, and how I could call myself a racer compared to him? It was my 10th race of the season, and I hadn’t been even close to the podium. But that’s for another blog post.

I shook it off, fell asleep, and awoke the next the morning, fresh and ready to race.

Chunk 1 completed.

Chunk 2: Race the Kingston XCM

It was a bit of a ride from the parking lot (and camping area), to the start line, which was on a farmer’s lane separating two fields. I met my riding buddy, John, at the Start Line, and we hovered near the back of the pack. Dan Marshall arrived, announced a few cautions, and the race started.

Race Report: Kingston XCM. September 3, 2016

The pack bolted along the gravel farm track, before heading across the field on a bumpy grind to the trails. It didn’t do much to thin the pack, and on reflection, our start position was dumb (even though it was nice to ride together for a while) because it was a dreadfully slow pace at times. We got hung up by the group every time there was a narrow tree gap, or at a tough technical feature. Kingston doesn’t have giant climbs, but it has rocks, roots, and trees, and the trail builders have mastered the craft of utilizing them very very well.

It’s not enough to call the trails at MTB Kingston awesome. They are funner than fun, awesomer than awesome, and excellenter than excellent. Put plainly, it’s a bunch of sweet, technical, awesome single track. We were going at a slow pace, but the tight corners, techhie rock gardens, and angry trees kept us on our game.

Just like the day was separated into chunks, so was the race: the north side that was perched on a ridge above a lake (with a sweet maze of tight and twisty single track); the corn field, barn, and pump tracks (so sweet) that led into some more super fun single track; the off camber section that led to what Dan called “The Rocky Stuff; and the last bit of single track that ended with a short climb to the finish. There would be aid stations at 15k (in the barn) and at 30k.

After the first few k, the trail widened into farm track, and John and I upped our pace. We passed a dozen or so riders.

We were at the 8-10k point of the race, flying through a corn field on the south side of the road, and it happened. TWINK! I popped a spoke. I didn’t think much of it, and kept riding.

GNARRRRRLTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTK.

What the?

My stupid damn spoke—a few riders passed–wound itself around my cassette—a few more riders passed–and jammed my rear derailleur up and into my other spokes. Riders kept passing.

I spent a few harried minutes trying to remedy the situation. Finally, with my spoke out of the way (and bent around a different spoke) and my derailleur sort of straightened, I got back on my bike and pedaled. It was no good.

After three more tries at straightening my derailleur and trying to ride, I was at least able to pedal. I was within eyesight of the parking lot and could have easily taken a DNF, but I was there to race, and even if it took me all night, I was going to finish.

Each time I pushed hard, my gears clunked and skipped. Through the barn, out onto the awesome pump track, and back into the forest. I could only coast or pedal gently, and kept getting passed.

And then, ahead of me on the trail, Matt Morrish (the manager of my bike shop—and sponsor of the race–Cycle Solutions) stood, bathed in a ray of light that broke through the treetops. Birds fluttered around his head, an ethereal glow surrounded him, and through the haze of my cussing and frustration with my disabled bike, I heard him shout, “Take my bike. Get on it. Ride. Ride! Go! Go! GO!”

He’s about my height (but not quite) and not even close to my size, but when your bike shop manager tells you to finish a race on his bike, well, you finish that damn race on his bike.

We traded bikes, and I was off. There was no time to adjust the bars or seat height, and I even took off with his water bottle and GPS.

I faltered, struggled, and generally looked like a boob. I’ve never ridden a full suspension, and felt like I wasn’t balanced. My bike for the race was my geared Norco Revolver (a hard tail with a 2x drivetrain), and I usually ride a rigid single speed. The bike Matt was offering was a full suspension behemoth, with a 1x suspension.

Plus, I didn’t know how the bike would handle the trail, how much I needed to work the bars at a log or rock, or even how to climb. And since his suspension was dialled for him (a mere wisp of a fellow compared to me) I kept bottoming-out at every log over and root.

I like to get out of my seat and grind up climbs, but I just didn’t have the comfort to stand. So, when we hit the off-camber section of the race (that went up and down a steep ridge a bunch of times) all I could do was stay in my seat and pedal the best I could. With no flow, poor cadence, and little climbing power, I rode like a chump.

And then came The Rocky Stuff. I don’t know who Peter is, but Peter’s Loop nailed me to a tree. It was awfully, horribly, awesome. It was especially tough on a foreign bike, and I had to walk more times than I care to admit, but I got through it. We sailed through the track on the side of a field, and came out to the aid station. Since I was panicked at the first aid station, I didn’t stop. Then, when I traded my bike with Matt, I forgot to look at the GPS to see where I was in the race. Consequently, I raced most of the course without a clue where I was. Based on how I felt, I figured I was the at first aid station (at 15k). I wasn’t. I was at the 30k aid station, and there was only 6k to go. I guess all the time I spent beating myself up made me forgot about my last two rides—both of which were over 100k, and both of which were somewhat easy. I was racing, I felt like I had only ridden 15k, and I was hardly tired. I finished fuelling, and got back on the bike for the last stretch of single track before the Finish line.

In those last few km, I finally felt comfortable on the bike, and had the confidence to book it. It was 6k to the end, and it was awesome. Great trail, great bike.

Even though I felt strong, I held back a bit in anticipation for the last climb, which always kills me.

It didn’t kill me this year. I don’t know why, but it didn’t kill me.

2:23. 4th place Clydesdale. Without my technical, I know I would have finished under 2:10. I’ll take it.

I cooled down, showered the race grime off my body, ate a burger, and came down from an awesome adrenaline rush.

The Kingston XCM may have hurt me in the past, and it did a number to my bike this year, but I think I proved my point.

Chunk 2 successfully managed.

It was almost 2PM. Five and a half hours until dinner.

Chunk 3: Drive Back Home

I made it home in by 5:30, showered again, and successfully changed from a guy crammed into spandex, to a guy crammed into a bow tie.  In the last few minute of the drive home, I started to feel the tiredness. It took me a bit longer than I thought it would to unload my bikes, shower, snack, and get dressed. By 6:15, I was back in the car.

Chunk 3 done. 45 minutes until dinner. 115km of driving. Okay, so maybe I’d make it for the desert table…

Chunk 4: Drive to Niagara

The drive across Toronto was slow at times, but the rest of the drive was smooth sailing. I made it to Niagara-On-The-Lake a bit late, but not too much. My salad was waiting at my place setting. I missed the soup, but I made it to the wedding. All in all, a win for team Colin. Boom. I can’t recall eating the salad, but after a day of racing and driving, it was good. I could have inhaled it with a straw.

Chunk 4 done.

I ate the rest of my meal, I danced, I was merry, I fell asleep in an armchair the foyer for a moment or two, and well after midnight, I sleep-walked to the car, and fell into a deep slumber as my wife drove us home.

Impossible day? Pfft. Impossible is just a big rock garden, or a gruelling climb, or a crazy trail feature. Sometimes you ride it, sometimes you walk it, and sometimes you carry a borrowed bike over it.

And that’s how Team Colin finished the race on someone else’s bike, and made it to Niagara-On-The-Lake in time for the salad

Ride.

PS.

For another perspective on the race, check out Riot On Racing’s post Riot On Racing.  There might even be a picture of Team Colin in the post…