Sunday, April 12, 2015

More like "Not-a-Single-Unicycle-Palooza"

Today in Montgomery, New York hundreds of single speed mountain bikes are racing through a 32 mile course and having a blast!  Today is the Singlespeed-a-Palooza race.  Unfortunately, not a single unicycle is there.

Last year we had a great turn-out of 11 muni riders.  This year, well before the registration time, I poked and prodded the unicycle community on the unicycle forums, Facebook, and email, but no one showed interested in attending.  I'm not sure why.  Some people had big events on the same weekend or an adjacent weekend.  Others probably just still recall the long drive they made and the difficulty of the race.

This year the course for the mountain bikers is extended to 32 miles and the unicycles would have done a shorter 24 miles.  This would have allowed the bikes and unicycles to start and finish around the same time.

I'm a bit sad not to be a part of it.  But then, preparing for this early season race is so hard.  Everything has been snow, ice, and mud out there, and you really need some good saddle time to be ready.  It's also a super busy time of year for me, with many family birthdays and Easter eating up my weekends.  I was sick for a good solid week in March and unfortunately I'm sick again!  So I would not be happy racing today.

At least the prospect of attending SSAP got me psyched up to work-out during the winter..  I've continued working out though probably not as much as I could.  Currently I'm just doing the Stronglifts 5x5 every few days though as I reach my limits on that I'll probably start mixing more cardio in.  Really I'm hoping to shake this cold so I can get out and ride!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

More like "Slowjack"

Today was a warm day with a high around 70°F so I left work a few hours early to ride.  I know the trails are still covered in snow and ice so I figured I'd ride the Hojack and keep it simple. Knowing the Hojack has been a mess in the spring of previous years, I've been wanting to try my fat tire on it.

Riding the road to get there was pretty darn boring with the 26" tire.   I longed for my geared 29er.  When I got to the Hojack I still wanted it because it was clear and easy.  Though really I knew this first section melts sooner and at least some snow and mud were yet to come.  Boy was I right.   It was a mental challenge to keep pushing to the end of the Hojack because the going was tough and I was only averaging about 5 mph.   More like "Slowjack"!

I took a bunch of pictures to show the variety of trail conditions I encountered:

Notice how it starts out nice...

but gets quite snow covered.

One section had inches of water for as far as I could see.

More snow.

Approaching the end...


I took this picture in an attempt to show my level of excitement for making the return trip.

Riding on the far left in the leaves was easier
On my way back I felt like I was getting better at riding through the snow and I found riding way off the trail was much firmer. Sometimes I could see my previous tire mark and avoid areas that I had previous sunk into.

I was getting quite fatigued by the end.  It was 13 miles much felt more like 20 miles of effort.  I expect to be sore.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Save The Tread?

I've been seeing this "Save the Tread" banner on Facebook posted by local trail groups, bike shops, and mountain bikers:

At first it sounds like a good idea.  The trails are wet and muddy in the springtime and hiking and biking them makes a mess.  So I should avoid the trails for the next month, right?  It's not quite that simple.

Good trails are constructed in a way to shed water.  Other trails are created without such thought and it's left to chance whether they will have chronic mud problems.

In the spring thaw, even the good trails will have slow-draining frozen earth and ice dams that prevent them from drying quickly.  Given a few warm weeks, these good trails will generally dry up.  Using them before they're dry would be a shame because any extra trail work it causes could have been avoided with just a little more patience.  So staying off these good trails during the spring thaw and after heavy rain makes sense.

On the other hand, some trails are chronically muddy.  Usually the problem is the trail has no elevation change or camber to allow water to shed and often have loamy soil that holds water.  With no solutions to the water problem and nobody actually trying to fix them, these trails are chronically muddy.  If you had patience to wait for a month or so, these muddy sections might dry out, though I've seen some sections stay muddy for the entire spring and people are not going to wait a month for the trails to dry out.  Plus the areas closest to the trail-head are more likely to get some maintenance and be dry, which invites trail users to use them.  When trail users move further in, they encounter muddy sections but push forward, walking through or around the edges, hoping for better conditions ahead, but leaving boot-prints and ruts.  So staying off these poorly constructed trails is futile because too many people don't.  You can't hold back the masses for the entire spring.  So should those of us who really think about the maintenance of the trails stay off?  I don't think so.  Nobody can tell the difference between a wrecked trail that's had 900 users pass by versus 1000, and we want to go out and play in the mud too!

Look at the poster again:


I feel rather certain that muddy area is chronically muddy.  There is no elevation change, no camber, and, although I'm no botanist, the vegetation in the muddy picture just looks like the type that I see local chronically muddy areas.  It's practically a rice paddy.  With spring rains, that mud pit is gonna be big, fat and happy for a long time.  The smaller inset image is a completely different trail.  It's beautiful because it was built to stay dry.  It probably only takes a few hours to completely dry after a rain

So if you're going to use the bad trails in the spring, it's important to know which trails are the good ones and which are the bad ones.  It's easiest to classify entire parks, through even parks with mostly good trails sometimes have a few trails or sections that tend to stay wet longer.

In my opinion, the well constructed, well maintained parks in the area are:  Bay Park West, Tryon, Dryer, and Ontario County Park.  Let these dry out before using them.

Pretty much all trails in Webster are chronically muddy including Whiting, Webster Park, the Hojack, Chiyoda, and the Big Field.  I'd suggest allowing Whiting to dry out, but nobody does and it gets wrecked every spring anyway, so go have fun.

After they're destroyed, one thing that does help these trails heal is using them heavily when they are getting close to dry.  The cratered dirt is easily flattened when it's still soft.  If it dries before people flatten it the trails stay riddled with bumps for most of the summer.

So there you go.  Don't feel bad about riding chronically muddy trails!  If you don't, someone else will!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Robi Comes To Town

Robi visited from Albany and he, Dustin and I rode at Webster Park.  We're not quite thawed out around town yet and, as expected, the trails are significantly worse.  Trampled snow in the shade takes longer to melt.  Every part of the trail was cratered with frozen boot-prints and many parts that got sun were solid ice.  It reminded us of a similar ride we did over a year ago when Robi visited... bad conditions.  Next time he visits we better have dry trails!

The rough conditions made riding at least twice the normal effort.  Robi and I both have fat tire munis that helped a lot.  Dustin made the best of it with his standard muni tire and was never too far behind.  Dismounts and hiking were frequent for us all.  Sometimes we'd hit a section of dirt or smoother harder snow and we got a glimpse of the good old days when trails were smooth and dry.
Robi's right foot misses his pedal
 The primary reason Robi was in town was to get the start of some tattoo work done.  Check it out!  Muni themed and quite awesome!  There's a local tattoo artist who is worth the drive.  The plan is for him to come back for more tattoo work, so hopefully we'll ride again soon!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Mac5 Winter Fat Tire Festival

Today I raced at the Mac5 Winter Fat Tire Festival in the Open race.  After my test lap yesterday, I could only hope the trail would be more solid and more rideable.

The Open race was the second race, so I showed up after the first race was just about over.  I was pleasantly surprised by a painting in the snow of a guy on a uni.  Ha ha... hey that's me!  How much more welcoming could they be?  It looks like he's wheel-walking. Nice!


The word around the starting line was that the trail was getting rather chewed up as more riders rode it.  Ugh.  My hope was that the fat tires of the first race would have solidified it more, but the opposite had happened.  Oh well.  I was paid and ready to go, so it was what it was.

Somehow I misplaced my sunglasses before the start but decided I could ride without them and the race was soon underway.  Like in my test ride, some parts were rideable and some were nearly impossible.  All of it was difficult.  When I did get a good section of riding, it wouldn't be long before some deep soft snow or a rut the width of my tire would trip me up.  The extra effort to get through the snow meant my heart rate was near its limit and when the going got even tougher, the odds of riding were against me.  I walked a lot.  Maybe even as much as 50%?  I'd feel bad about that but at any point during the race I could look around and see many bikers walking too.  Mounting was harder too.

The snow was too soft in places, too rutted, and riders walking on the trail just compounded the problem.  The trail grooming for this kind of race hasn't quite been perfected yet.  Still, it was certainly a good time and I appreciate the huge effort that Trail Methods and others put into it!

Thanks to GregFrancis.com and RonHerkensJr.com for taking photos during the race.







I was glad to have some good riding near the start and finish so people could see I wasn't just pushing my uni around the course.  Unfortunately since the trail was actually worse than yesterday, my lap time was slower and I could only fit two in.  But I got out, got a good workout, saw some mountain bike friends, impressed some people, and got a consolation prize of a balaclava which I'm sure I'll use.  My missing sunglasses never turned up.  Bummer.

I think this kind of winter race is a lot of work for organizers and riders, but it's a lot of fun too.  If the trail grooming could be improved we'd add even more to the fun.
Thanks again to Trail Methods and Mac5 Bikes for putting this together.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Mac5 Winter Fat Tire Festival Test Run

As mentioned in my previous post, tomorrow there is the Mac5 fat bike mountain bike race here in Webster at North Ponds Park.  There's a lot of snow out there but the race organizer, Eric Eagan of Trail Methods, has been doing a lot of work to make it rideable.  Still, I wanted to get out there and try it before committing.

This afternoon I drove to the park to check it out.  Eric and company were there doing their final work.  It's a warmer day so the snow is softer and that's not good for riding.  I brought my fat tire uni and did a test lap.

My fat tire undoubtedly enabled me to ride what I could. Every part was more work than dirt trail muni but the softer parts were much more difficult... nearly impossible even.  I found myself dismounting way too often than I like and sometimes it took about 10 tries to remount.  For most of the difficult parts I was saying to myself, "This isn't going to be worth racing."

 
However conditions will likely change by race time.  It will be colder overnight and in the morning so the snow should be more solid.  There are actually two races, each 60 minutes.  The first is for fat tires only and the second race is open to any tire widths, though it sure seems like a fat tire is required, though I don't really know what bikes are capable of.  I'm planning to ride the second race.  Looking at the current registration, there are few riders in the second race for me to get out of the way of, but more importantly, I'm hoping the racers from the first race will help flatten and solidify the course.

So contrary to my own thoughts during my test ride I'm going to give it a try.

My test lap took me about 26 minutes.  I did a lot more stopping and standing around than I usually do and expect to ride faster.  Also I cut a corner by mistake, but stopped and tried to figure out the right way.  So I'll likely do three laps in the 60 minutes I have.