Friday, June 16, 2006

The Tech Side of the Race

I've had a few conversations and a few random emails so I thought I would share some of my personal race strategy/equipment info with everyone...

Everyone has their own reason for racing. I like to go out, socialize, talk friendly smack and ride as hard as possible. Winning really isn't a consideration. Generally, I've found that the more that I race, the more disciplined I am during the 'season' and it gives me just enough focus (I need all I can get) to stay in shape and temper my riding with what is best for me regarding recovery, intervals and miles. It's also fun to ride somewhere you don't usually ride with people you've never met. It's just part of the whole mtb community, of which I consider myself a part.

My bikes and gear have changed in a BIG WAY over the last 6 years. I used to Mr. One Bike Guy, commuting to DC, riding and taking that bike on trips for work. That was the first stage of my riding... getting REALLY in tune with one bike in all situations so I was comfortable and could push my limits. It's easy to push limits on a hardtail steel bike that is too light for you and only takes 2.2 tires and vee brakes. From 1993 and my first rockhopper, then my first 'race' bike - 1993 Sworks Steel rigid - then a Marin ti team bike, Bontrager Race Lite, Stump Steel single (in 1998), Phil Wood Kiss Off singlespeed... I've had a good stable of rides. Still do...

After spending some time on a 6" fsr bike in CA on a visit with Lars, I realized that there's nothing wrong with more weight, more control and more comfort. My loving wife bought me a 2001 Rocky Instinct 3" bike that took me a while to get used to. Once I got that dialed (new fork, brakes, wheels) I started wanting more. In 2004, I hooked up an Sworks Stump FSR 120, almost 5" of love. I started riding skinnies, doing drops and hitting jumps. I wasn't really racing during those years, with the new wife, house, kids, long-ass commute. There just wasn't time.

I managed to get a few races in during 2004... The single rocked at Lodi. I went fast (kinda) and got beat up a bit. That was before the stump fsr. I tried to race the SM100 off the couch, which, if you don't know already, is a bad idea. I made it uncomfortably to mile 75 on the shop YBB. I realized what the future had in store for me. In 2005, the only race I remember was the SM100. All I wanted to do was finish. I was stoked with a 12:22:17 after four weeks of training. The time was right for a return.

Now that it's 2006, I upped to the Stump FSR Carbon bike (130mm) with super-control Trail Tune Brain Fade. I'll be racing that bike DH or Slalom next weekend and I just raced it to 3rd in Expert at Big Bear, but I digress. I also picked up a new road bike for long miles of training. I lost a little explosive speed but I have KILLER endurance. I wish I had both, but it's easier to train for long distances than speed AND distance. I'm glad I've got one... I'm spending time on an Enduro SX Trail to try and do some weight/resistance training on a heavy bike, pushing a big gear around. Oh yeah, and hitting drops and jumps...

Along the way, I have learned that some base layers make my nipples bleed (TMI?), stiffer shoes are more better, supporting my arches in my feet makes ALL the difference on long rides. Tire choice is critical as is suspension set-up and heavier is usually better.

For most courses around here when it's not wet, I use Nokian 2.2 NBX lite tires. They measure 2.0 and are very light. You have to watch the PSI if it's rocky, but it's easy to get it right. I also spend a lot of time on WTB ExiWolf (used to be EpicWolf) tires. This is a popular tire with the 29'er set in 2.3 although a lot of those guys say that it wears out too quickly. I have had great luck with the 2.1s in 26" and the 1.9s as well (although I haven't ridden them since last year).

I've learned that tires are the first and most critical piece of suspension that you have. If your sidewall is too stiff, you'll bounce off of everything and feel out of control, too light and you have to run a ton of air, causing you to bounce off of everything and feel out of control. I think that the width of your tires is the most important indicator of how it will react. A really knobby 1.9 with 45psi is not as fast or controllable (for me) as a light, low-tread 2.2 or 2.5 down around 34 or 26psi.

There are a few people out there who are super-conscious of this stuff. My bro Lars is the NorCal king of mtn bike stuff... He deals with a lot of competitive guys racing xc and dh in pro and expert classes. I've realized that once you get to race day, you aren't getting any faster. You've got to run the legs ya brung. BUT, you do have equipment, tire and suspension choices that can make you faster or keep you strong. It's not about the bike... it's about the bike and the rider.

Next weekend at the City Bikes Capital Cup, I'll be racing DH both days and slalom. I've never actually raced like that before, but what the hell. Life is short, try to do whatever you can to come close to ending it...

See y'all out there.


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