Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mixing it up on the Mountain Bike

I bought a 29er in January and I have been on the bike a total of seven times since its purchase.  Of the seven rides, one was a disastrous tour of Tamarancho – where I spent 50 minutes of a two hour ride on my face.  Another was a Bike Skills class where I fell probably 40 of the 60 passes over a single switchback (I have been meaning to post something about this class).  Needless to say, I am not much of a mountain biker.  Still, I love the fire trails and getting outside for a spin.  And I need to get the dollar cost per ride of this bike down into a more reasonable range.

Yup, that's 5.40 in the morning
I’ve been begging my buddy, Busta, to take me out and show me the ropes.  I am wildly envious of the random mountain bike rides that I see him take– China Camp, Tamorancho night rides, Pine Mountain, etc.  But somehow Busta never calls or lets me know about his rides.  I usually give him grief afterwards.  And he makes some lame excuse like, “I was with clients” or “This was a group ride where I wasn’t in charge”.  Out of the blue, however, I got a text from Busta on Saturday afternoon suggesting a 6.45am ride, route undetermined.  There was no way that I was turning him down.  Only three problems … 1) Busta was hosting a birthday party for his daughter at 11am on Sunday and he had to be home in plenty of time, 2) prior to the ride invitation, I promised Amy that she could go for a run before the party and 3) I was sleeping with the kids in the tent in the backyard on Saturday night.  Through a dozen texts between Busta, Amy and myself, we solved the problem and the ride was confirmed – 1) 6am departure would give Busta plenty of time to get a ride in and get back, 2) Amy could run at 9am, as soon as we got back and 3) I would wake up in the tent at 5.15am and get the kids into their own beds before I left the house.  Phew …
Morning fog rolling over Phoenix Lake
The ride itself started at Natalie Coffin Greene Park at the end of Lagunitas Road in Ross.  This is the entrance to Phoenix Lake and Mount Tamalpais.  I got there early to work on a few things that I picked up in the Skills course (yes, I got there early to a 6am start time). Where my normal MO is to hammer out the hills in the middle ring, I was specifically working on spinning at a high cadence in a low, low gear (more on this later).  Around 6.05am, Busta shows up with a friendly but unfamiliar face, his buddy Jay.  These guys each had on the sweetest gear ever.  Busta in a red, full Specialized kit with a jacket and jay with a white and green Cathay Pacific pro-style speed suit.  Words do not properly convey the sweetness/ridiculousness of these outfits … especially for a casual Sunday morning spin.
Busta ... Specialized enduro racer meets the Keebler elf
I was quickly informed that we will not be riding up Tam, but rather to the top of Bald Hill.  I knew from San Anselmo lore that Bald Hill is one of the steepest climbs that we have to offer, so I was instantly intimidated.  Jay and Busta did their typical climbing special as I was quickly left behind.  I was having troubles shifting as the chain kept skipping on the cassette.  About ten minutes in, as the pitch tripled, I shifted to middle ring to hammer out a steep section (remember, contrary to the low gear spin that I was practicing).  On pedal number two of my hammer session, my chain let out a creak and a pop   Without knowing exactly what had happened, my right foot flew out of the clip and I luckily caught myself from falling.  But then my left foot kept pedaling during the near-fall and rotated the right crank back into my calf.  I looked down to see a sweet, six inch gash in my calf.  The pedal hit hard enough to bruise the muscle but not with enough force to break the skin.  So all the bleeding was contained within my calf.  So that was cool.  Better yet, though, I realized that my chain had snapped and my ride was probably done for the day.  I whistled up to my pals who were resting comfortably at a break in the hill, probably wondering what the hell was wrong with the fat guy.  They both came down and, to my surprise, Busta had a chain breaker tool and Jay actually knew how to use it.  After only a few minutes, they had removed the dead chain link and put the chain back on the bike, albeit a little too short to properly function in the lowest of gears.  But, thankfully, the ride could go on.
Cleat meet calf ... That's gonna leave a mark
I think this is a sign of a mechanical issue

As I continued to struggle with traction up the hill in my middle ring, Jay stayed back with me to “see what you (sic) are doing wrong”.  After only a few minutes, after I spun-out my rear wheel and teetered over for the fifth time, Jay had the answer.  With Yoda-like counsel he says, “You have the fitness to get up these hills.  In road biking, power is critical on the climbs.  On a mountain bike, traction is the most important thing going uphill.  It is amazing how little effort is required to keep the bikes momentum.  Just get in your lowest gear, stay seated, point your chin at the handle bars and keep pedaling.”  Jay picked me up, pushed me to get the bike started and, as he suggested, I pedaled up the steepest part of Bald Hill with little trouble.  I was going 2.2 miles per hour, but I was riding rather than walking.  The pleasure was doubled as we looked up the hill and saw Busta teeter over fifty yards ahead, still attached to his bike, with his wheels pointing up towards the sky.  Good times.

East Peak Tam from the top of Bald Hill

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