Monday, July 27, 2009

My Big Unit

I may not be Ryan Trebon or Barry Wicks, but I do have a Big Unit and do win some races from time to time with it. Since coming back from Breckenridge, I have not played with My Big Unit (MBU) too much. I guess playing with it for 11 hours in one day is enough for anyone to stop for awhile. After my Breck Trip, I did give MBU a service check and a buff job... and even pulled it out of the garage to play with it for a short while in the neighborhood. You should see the looks I get sometimes when I do that. Anyway, I don't like to neglect MBU, so in a few days I will be pulling it out for another long play session at the Wilderness 101. What makes MBU so special? Well, let me tell you.
First off, let me explain that MBU is not a part of my anatomy, as probably most of you have guessed already. Big Unit is actually the name Kona has given to the fast single speed frame that I am racing on this season. I ordered MBU right before the Mohican 100, but unfortunately it came a day too late for me to use at the race. I am sure if I would have used it there my race would not have ended so abruptly. Since the Mohican, I have had some incredible rides and races on MBU.

Kona built the Big Unit with their special race butted scadium tubing. This stuff is sweet! Not only is super light, but it has a very compliant ride for an aluminum type of material, while still being super stiff laterally. I find that having a laterally stiff bike is extremely advantageous for a single speeder because more energy created by the legs is put into the drivetrain, creating more speed. The Big Unit does this not only with the use of the scadium, but also with a top tube and down tube that has more of a square shape than a round shape. Additionally, Kona uses a CNC chainstay yoke rather than welding the chainstay tubes directly to the BB, which not only gives more mud and chainring clearance, but also gives a stiffer feel to the rear end. This 29er frame is designed so well, it seems to accelerate closer to how a 26" wheel bike does. It is certainly the most responsive 29er frame that I have had a chance to ride.

The thing I like most about my Big Unit is the fit. If in the future I would decide to build a custom frame, it would fit like my 19" Big Unit. This frame feels like it was measured and designed specifically from me. Many times when I get a new frame it takes a lot of time for me to figure out how to make it feel "right." The Big Unit was not like this at all. It was a perfect fit right out of the box. More bike companies should consider using 1" increments in frame sizing instead of using 2" increments. I know for me an 18" is almost always too small and a 20" frame is too big. For most companies, there are no other choices, so for Kona to provide a complete range of frame sizes is completely cool in my book.

Well, enough bragging about MBU. I just thought that I would tell everyone in cyberworld that My Big Unit rocks! The 5th stop on the NUW Series, the Wilderness 101, in Coburn, PA is this Saturday, August 1st. If you want to do a truly hardcore, but completely fun, backcountry endurance mountain bike race, then you should give it a try. I have a feeling that this race is going to be packed with talent this year and will also see some super fast times because of the talent depth. Hope to see you there for the fun, but, if I do, please don't ask to touch my Big Unit! - Gerry

Monday, July 20, 2009

Breck 100

Wow, it is hard to believe that it has been 3 weeks since I last wrote anything on here. I have wanted to write more, but just haven't been able to find the time this month. Since my last posting, I have done the Breckenridge 100 and two road races: the last race of the WVMBA Road Series in Philippi, WV and then the Renfew Ras, near Butler, PA on the following weekend. Both were fun races that provided me a chance to do some fast rides without completely destroying me. Racing on the road also gave me more time to ride long miles during the week. I have been averaging 20-25 hours of ride time per week since my last post, which probably explains my lack of writing time lately. Anyway, I ended up winning the WVMBA Road Race and the overall WVMBA RR Series in the 40+ men category. At the Renfew Race, I came in second after being beaten by the tag-teamed effort of my former Freddie Fu Teammates Brian W. and Jason Z. After being schooled in road racing tactics by those guys, I remembered why I race off road more now than on the road.

I took a completely different type of beating at the Breckenridge 100 Ultra Endurance Race this past weekend, which not only tested me physically, but mentally as well. I arrived in Breck on Thursday Afternoon, built my bike, and then went for a ride on the first part of the course. I figured why not spin out the legs for an hour or so...well, the "so" ended up being 3.5 hours and 47 miles later. Even though my pre-ride of the course was much longer than planned, I was happy to learn from the ride to NOT use a 32x18 on the first climb. Man, did that hurt! Luckily, I did bring some lower gears with me to use in the race.

I did a much easier ride on Friday and was actually pretty happy with how my legs felt after my unexpected long ride on Thursday. On Friday Afternoon, I met up with an old time buddy of mine and Pittsburgh/State College Native, Jamey McCalla, who now lives in Colorado. It was cool hanging with him and even cooler that he offered to help me at the start of the Breck 100 on Saturday.

So, Saturday Morning comes, Jamey awakes from the depths of his mini van and I climb out of my closet sized hotel room. I notice and I am happy that the sun is shinning brightly in a perfectly blue sky, but also notice that the temp outside is 40 degrees at best. Keep in mind this is at 9000 feet, the first climb of the race peaks at 12,500 feet and that typically the temperature will drop about 3.5 degrees for ever 1000 feet of elevation gained, which means it will be about 30 degrees on the mountain top. And, yes, if you are wondering, we did have to go through snow near the top of Wheeler Pass.

During the race, the climb to Wheeler Pass was much better than my Thursday Climb up the same slope, but breathing in the thin, low oxygen Colorado Air was still causing me difficulty even with an easier gear choice. By the summit, I was probably in the top 15 riders or so overall and was riding near last year's SS race winner, which was just where I wanted to be. Things changed quickly, however, when part way down the crazy fast first descent I flatted.

Flats are part of mountain bike racing and usually no big deal, so I quickly jumped off the narrow trail and began my repair. The repair took much longer than I thought that it would. First, I could not get my tubeless ready tire mounted back onto my UST Rim because of the tight tire bead and my wet Stan's Liquid Soaked Hands. Then, when I finally did get the tire mounted and put CO2 into tube, all of the air came out. I had no choice but to take out the bad tube and start begging every 29er rider I saw for a tube, since I did not pack a second tube or patch kit. It took a while, but one heck of a nice guy did stop to give up his tube...a 26" tube. I was desperate, though, and everyone knows beggars cannot be choosers. Mounting my tire with a 26" tube proved to be even more challenging than it was with a 29er tube, but after battling with it for what seemed to be forever, being bitten by about 100 mosquitoes during the change, and seemingly to have ever rider in the race pass me, I was off to race again. I figure that I easily lost 30 minutes with my horrible tube change.

As you can imagine, at this point, I was not too excited about what laid ahead. More than anything, I just wanted to make it off the mountain and was less concerned about finishing the race. But, I figured I needed to do a long ride anyway to keep my endurance up, so why not continue on with the race course and enjoy the Colorado Beauty until I did not feel like going any further.

It was great to see Jamey waiting in the pits after the bad luck of my first lap. He helped me get my belongings and mind back in order and onto the trail in a very short time. He had to leave for work after that lap, but would return for the finish. In addition to Jamey giving me motivation to carry on, I also seemed to gain strength from chasing people in front of me. One good thing about being so far back near the start of a long race is that there are a lot of people ahead to catch and for me everyone that I caught seemed to give me more motivation to push on further.

Lap 2 was crazy hard, probably the hardest of the three, especially on a single speed. I don't think it was at all sane to ride the hills that I did on that lap with only one gear. It just plain hurt! With the amount of pain I was in at that time, I started to wonder how on earth I was going to finish the loop, not alone the 3rd loop. But, after coming in for the finish of the 2nd loop, I heard the announcer say over the intercom system here comes Pflug and he is looking strong. Even though I wanted to quit, how could I when the announcer says something like that about me in front of all the spectators there?

I can honestly say that I have never suffered on my bike like I did on the third loop of this race. I had to dig very deep to get through that lap, but by working with a couple of other riders and focusing on completing the course, I was able to finish the race as the 2nd placed single speed rider with a ride time of 11 hours and 6 minutes.

I have done quite a few 100 miles mtb races, but this one takes the cake as being the most difficult. I am not sure if it was the terrain, the high altitude, or the combination of the two. But, as hard as the race was, it was also an awesome experience, with amazing trails and many unbelievable views. Next up is the Wilderness 101 NUE Series Race on August 1st. Hope to see you all there for some shared suffering!

Happy Trails, Gerry