Monday, September 28, 2009

Welcome the pain.

There is no doubt in the mind of anyone who has ever done a cyclocross race that it is a painful experience. Out of all the types of bike racing I have done, cross probably hurts more in 60 minutes than any other type of race. To be successful at cross racing, one needs to look this pain in the face and welcome it with open arms. This past weekend I took two full doses of this cyclocross pain while doing the 2nd Team Lake Effect Series Race at the Kent State University Stark Campus and at the 2nd Month of Mud (MOM) Series Race in Raccoon Twp.

Like my last race in Cincinnati, OH the weekend prior, these two races were held on muddy courses. With all the mud, using my single speed cross bike was a very prominent choice in my mind each day. But, after doing a couple laps on the single speed at the Stark Race on Saturday, I determined that using gears would be the fastest and best choice for this race. BTW, I must admit that I was very impressed with how my SRAM 1x10 drivetrain held up in all the mud. Unfortunately, other parts on my bike did not fare as well. For one, my stem decided that it was time to loosen up during the race. After each lap past the mid point of the race, my bars decided to move a little bit more towards the left. By the end of the race, my bars were at a 45 degree angle when my front wheel was pointed straight ahead. During the race, I was not too sure of the exact problem with my stem, but I knew that I wasn't going to stop and figure it out. Additionally, the cotton casing on my tubular tire became so water logged that the glue started to separate from the rim, which then caused the value stem to move on the rim. This created a large bubbled area on my rear wheel that could be felt with each rotation of the rim. Luckily the tire stayed on the rim for the remainder of the race. Somehow even with these problems and my bad start from being in the second row of riders, I was able to finish 3rd overall in the elite men's race. I guess my body had a huge craving for some pain on Saturday that only a cyclocross race could deliver.

Since the MOM has a single speed category and because I spent too much time cleaning my two muddy bikes on Saturday, I decided the best thing to do on Sunday would be to race a bike without gears. With the course not having any road sections and being very muddy, I figured this would be a good single speed course anyway. My choice seemed to be a good one after the first few laps, once Mike Mihalik and I escaped from the front of the pack. We rode good together until there was about 2.5 laps to go. It was at this point where my body said to me "you have had enough pain for today old man, take a break." Unwillingly, I then let Mike slip away from me and began my individual time trial to the finish. The one disadvantage of using a single speed over a geared bike is the amount of effort needed to keep the one gear rolling. There is no way to make the cranks spin faster other than pedaling harder. And, eventually the body will feel the effects of all this added effort, as mine did on Sunday. By the end of the race, another rider, Kevin Kralik, caught me just before the line. I ended up finishing in 3rd place overall and as the 1st single speed racer. I guess my eyes were bigger than my stomach, as I took a little bigger portion of pain than I could handle on Sunday by attempting to take an overall victory on the single speed. I may not have taken the victory, but I did get a very large Chinese Buffet sized portion of pain for the day.

I am finding comfort in the fact that my cross legs do seem to be coming around a little better each week. I felt much better this weekend than I did during the two prior weekends of cross racing. Maybe it is just a matter of accepting the 60 minutes of pain and realizing I have to pretty much put in maximum effort during the entire cross race. Getting used to not being able to recover is certainly different that a road race or mtb race. Unlike road or mtb racing, a cross race does require a complete welcoming of pain.

I need to say thanks to Stark Velo/Team Lake Effect for the serving of pain they offered me on Saturday and also a big thank you to the MOM Organization for their dose of pain on Sunday. This weekend I will be competing at the 3rd MOM Series Race at the Grove City Community Park in Grove City, PA. This is the longest standing cyclocross race in Western PA, so it will probably attract a big, fast field of riders like it usually does. It is hard for me to believe that way back in 1995 I was the person that actually brought the MOM to the Grove City Community park and that it is still going strong today. Wow!

See you all on Sunday at GC for some welcomed pain. If the weather is nice, I am planning to do a ride after the race from GC to Mars, PA (40 miles or so) for some bonus points. Anyone interested in joining me for the ride, please jump on the pain train. Happy Trails - Gerry

BTW - thanks to Robert Sroka for the photo!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dust and Mud

This past weekend I competed in the two day OVCX Kings Cyclocross Race Series. Each day was held at the same location; an old, closed, public golf course. The race course, however, was made complete different each day by changing the direction of the course and the barrier placement. Not only did the organizers change the course itself from Saturday to Sunday, but Mother Nature did her part by adding some precipitation to the mix on Sunday. The contrast from the fast dusty conditions on Saturday to the slick muddy conditions on Sunday did make for some interesting racing.

On Saturday my bike choice was easy to make. I chose my lightweight geared bike with a 1x10 drivetrain and tubular rims/tires. I took the hole-shot at the start of the Saturday Race and seemed to be able to keep my speed pretty high all day. Unfortunately, I made two costly mistakes during the race: one on the first time through the fast double barriers and a second about mid race, when I stacked it again on the same double barrier section. I did not lose many spots on the first mistake, but the second crash created a gap between me and eventual race winner, Phil Nobel, that I could not close. I ended the day in second place, but was happy with my placing considering my barrier mistakes.

The weather man promised rain all morning on Sunday and his prediction proved to be an accurate one for any race held after 10am. From looking at the weather forecast and radar image of the coming rain, I made the decision to race my single speed cross bike on the second day of racing. Before the rain actually fell, I pre-rode the course and thought that my single speed would certainly be the fastest choice on a muddy course. I started the race in a fairly good position, going into the second turn in about 7th place, but then got stuck behind another rider who had crashed right in front of me. This caused me to lose quite a few spots in the pack and also allowed a group of about 5 riders to sneak away from the rest of the pack. I pushed my single speed as hard as I could, but could not close the gap to the lead group. Additionally, the mud on the course started to dry out a bit, which made my single speed choice not such a good one. I definitely think my geared bike would have been faster. I kept wishing for the rain to start falling again during the race, but it never did. I ended up in 5th place by the finish, which gave me third place overall for the weekend.

Overall, it was a really good two days of cross racing. The OVCX guys should be complimented for putting on a fun and well laid out course for each day of racing. Racing two days in a row was a good test of my early season fitness, too. I am probably where I should be for the beginning of the season fitness wise, but I still need a little more time to develop faster cyclocross speed. I think if I can continue doing two races every weekend, I will get my cross racing legs back in no time. Racing cross and the high intensity of doing it, is certainly a lot different than doing a long endurance mtb race. But, I do feel as if I am racing a lot better this year than I was at the same time last year. Hopefully I can build on this good early cyclocross season fitness and have some really good races later in the fall.

This weekend I will be doing the 2nd race of the Team Lake Effect Series in Stark, OH on Saturday and the Raccoon Twp M.O.M. Cyclocross race put on by my friend Dugo on Sunday. Hope to see you all there! Happy Trails - Gerry
To checkout more photos from the OVCX Race, click here

Sunday, September 13, 2009


On the evening after my first cyclocross race of 2009, I felt compelled to write a blog about kissing. Nah, not even close. This blog, like all my others, is about bicycle racing. Sorry, ladies...

Anyway, when I was a US Marine, the acronym KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) was used to remind us to keep problem solving simple. The time has come for me to use KISS again, but with a new meaning; Keep It Single Speed. But, my reference to a single speed in this blog post is being directed to a cross bike this time, not a mountain bike. As I have preached many times before, there is no bike as dependable, efficient and fun to ride as a single speed, which makes it a perfect choice for cross racing, especially when held on a muddy course.

As many of you know, I am a cyclocross racing fanatic, enjoying the sport both as a competitor and as a spectator. There are very few things I would change about the sport, but there are some UCI Rules I would absolutely change if I had the ability, which could make cross racing even more exciting in my opinion. Not that there is any chance for these things to actually occur, but I feel like they need to be mentioned. First, and most importantly, I would require all riders to race on a single speed bike. Second, disc brakes would be allowed for use in any race if you wanted to use them. Finally, my third rule change, which will tie my other two rules changes together, would be to do away with the "pit" and pit bikes.

Let me explain my thinking here a little bit before you start typing your angry emails to me. If everyone in the race could use a single speed bike with disc brakes, there would really be no need for a second bike. The flawless operation of the single speed cross bike would make the necessity of having a bike in the pit on a muddy day completely unnecessary. On a single speed bike with disc brakes, the drivetrain would not need to be cleaned of mud and mud would not accumulate on brakes/wheels. Additionally, the brakes would actually work in all types of conditions. These rule changes would put every racer on an equal playing field and would select the strongest, most skilled rider as the winner.

I have been trying to build the perfect single speed cross bike for the past 4 years or so. This summer I was finally able to build a single speed cross bike to meet all of my demands. To begin my build, I bought a SWOBO Crosby complete cyclocross bike. For more details about the crosby, click here. I had to buy the whole bike because a frame only choice was not available. The Crosby, as it was designed by SWOBO, is an awesome, completely cool looking bike for commuting or even recreational racing. But, my goal was to build a true, lightweight, single speed cyclocross racing bike with disc brakes, so almost all of the OEM parts were stripped off the bike.

I chose the Crosby because it was adaptable for using disc brakes. Additionally, the frame has rear sliding dropouts, which allows for the use of a quick release rear wheels instead of bolt-on wheels. SWOBO designed the frame with plenty of mud clearance, even with the use of wide 700x35mm tires. The frame has a large, multi-shaped downtube to give the frame a lot of lateral stiffness, which is very important on single speed bikes. It was also built with a slightly sloping top tube to give better standover clearance. The underside of the top tube is also flattened to make it more comfortable for shouldering. A few years ago, I had a very similar frame design in my mind and sent my ideas to a couple of custom builders. Most of the builders did not understand what I was trying to achieve and the one that did understand my thoughts quoted a price of nearly $900 for just the frame. SWOBO sells their whole bike for pretty close to this price!

I added a Civia Full Carbon Disc Brake Specific Fork, FSA RD-460 Road Disc Wheels, a Thompson Seatpost/Stem Cockpit, Profile Alpine Pro Carbon Cranks, Bontrager Cyclocross Race Bars, a WTB Saddle and Time Clipless MTB Pedals to complete my custom lightweight build. And, BTW, the Speedgoat Stickers on the downtube are not included. The stickers were an extra put on by me to advertise for the coolest bike shop in the world.

Is there anybody else out there ready to start a single speed cyclocross revolution? We could be called the KISS Army. Oh, wait, I almost forgot the fan club for all of the KISS Rock Band Fans is already called the KISS Army. Thinking about it now, though, I am sure they wouldn't mind us stealing their name for a good cause.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to say something about my first cyclocross race of the year. First off, I need to recognize the outstanding job that Team Lake Effect did in putting on the race and designing the course. Everything seemed to go smoothly during the event and the course was a lot of fun to ride also. Considering that I have had a pretty nasty cold all week, I am pretty happy with my final 6th place result. I was able to battle at the front and hang in with the lead group until the last half lap or so. The skills seemed to be on target and the bike functioned flawlessly. It is early in the season, but I do feel like once this cold decides to clear-up I will be ready to roll. Happy Trails - Gerry

Monday, September 7, 2009

Another Beer Glass

Pretty much ever 100 mile race I have gone to over the last three years has given me a beer glass either for registering or as a finishing award. Needless to say, I have accumulated a pretty significant amount of beer glasses during this time. This past weekend I added another glass to my collection after finishing the Shenandoah 100. Grabbing a glass out of a filled cupboard of old race glasses for a drink of water or any other beverage can certainly awaken some old race memories with the collection I have built.

As my collection of glasses has grown over the years, so has the NUE Race Series. It is amazing how fast the 100 mile races have become. It is also pretty cool to see how many people are getting into doing these long races. Only two years ago, I was able to finish 5th overall with a time of 7 hours and 48 minutes. This year I finished 9th with a time that was 13 minutes faster than 2007. I might be getting faster, but it seems as if so is everybody else.

I changed things up a little for this race by using gears instead of riding a single speed bike. After racing all season with only one gear, it was certainly nice to use the "easy button, " as Staples Office Store might call changing gears. The thing I liked most about using gears was being able to throw my chain into the big ring on the fast, flat sections on the course. Climbing has never bothered me too much on my single speed, but I must admit it was nice going into an easier gear every once in a while. Which bike do I prefer to race, geared or single speed? I would say without a doubt it would be the single speed. It was nice experimenting with a geared bike again, but I will definitely be racing a single speed mtn bike again next season.

There was not a lot of drama in my race. I guess because it really did not have any real meaning to my season or the series and because I definitely did not suffer as bad as when I race on a bike with only one gear. My main goal was to beat my PR time from 2007, which I was able to do. I think the experience I have gained from racing so many 100 mile races over the past few years definitely helped with lowering my time. Additionally, my time was made faster by a strong group of riders with which I spent much of the day. Jens Neilson, Blair Saunders, Rob Lichtenwalner, Greg Kuhn and I all seemed to work well together during the race. It is always good to race with guys that want to work and it is kind of frustrating when there is one in the group that doesn't want to help out with the pulls.

Anyway, I earned a ninth place finish at Shenandoah and another beer glass to go with it. Now that mtb season is officially over for me, it is time to start cyclocross racing. My first cross race is next weekend in Cleveland and I will be racing cyclocross ever weekend from then until Nationals in December. See you at the races! - Gerry