January 30, 2017: A Race Where I Got Spanked By Gravity

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Is it possible to achieve terminal velocity when falling off a bike? Are there places on the earth where gravity is noticeably stronger than normal, like, perhaps in an icy corner on a golf course that, coincidently, has a bike race on it? Would it be really weird to wear super-padded underwear under cycling spandex so that when you continually land on unforgiving frozen ground on the same side, your hip doesn’t start looking like a rotten moldy tomato that has been half eaten by a wolverine? Is there ever a time in a bike race when just giving up and walking back to your car is justified? These are some of the thoughts that I was having between 9 and 10:15 a.m. this past Saturday.

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Luck plays a big role in our lives. All the preparation in the world can’t cover every possible scenario. I’m not claiming that my awful race at the USA Cycling Fat Bike National Championship on Saturday in Grand Rapids, Michigan was just bad luck. I could have anticipated that course conditions might have changed significantly from the time I pre-rode the course at 8 am to one hour later when my race started. I could have realized that the speed you ride in warm-up and the speed at race pace might make some of the slippery sections even slipperier. I should know this from the 218 cyclocross races I’ve done in my life. I could have realized that if I crashed at a certain place on the course on the first lap that perhaps I shouldn’t take that same line on the second lap and expect a different result. In retrospect, there were a lot of things that I should have done differently. After the fourth bone jarring crash in the first two laps of a four lap race and finding myself so far in last place that abandoning seemed like the right decision, I had to remind myself how much I hate seeing a “DNF “ next to my name in the results.

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I had a few friends at this race taking pictures. Somehow, they all show me upright, happily racing my fat bike. Luckily, none of them were within sight of me lying face down after each crash trying to get the birdies flying around my head to go away. Luckily, about a quarter of the way through the first lap when I was racing around a fast sweeping icy turn to stay with the leading pack of racers and went down so hard that my rear derailleur got jam packed with ice and grass and I had to spend about a minute struggling to get my chain back on, I didn’t take any of the racers out coming from behind me. Luckily when I was lying in a half frozen puddle after my third crash and was staring up at the clouds wondering about life and what the first sip of a Manhattan was going to taste like that night and why I might consider doing a fat bike race under these conditions to be “fun” and two women pushing a baby stroller came running over to see if I needed medical help, I was able to get up and continue “racing” for another 25 yards before crashing again. This was the second time in the race that I really begin questioning my sanity. I guess, all things considered, I was pretty lucky. Gravity, however, was not particularly kind to me and again, showed me that it is the ultimate force in the universe.

January 15, 2017: Wake Up Sleepyhead! The Season Ain’t Over Yet!

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The US National Cyclocross Championship is generally the end of my long season of cycling. There’s not really a cycling off-season for me but cyclocross racing absolutely consumes me, body and soul, from late August until early January. I ride year round mostly because I just like to ride and don’t really feel like my body needs an extended break. I’ll mix in other activities such as snowshoeing or XC skiing but these last two winters I usually opted to take out my fat bike on the snowmobile trails behind my house when we had decent snow cover.

The US National Fat Bike Championship (yes, such a thing really exists) is in two weeks. I’ve entertained the idea of going the last two years when it was in Utah (these were the first two years it was held) but the logistics coupled with my susceptibility to getting pneumonia a week or two after ‘cross Nationals has kept me from doing it. This year, the race is in Michigan, relatively close by, meaning I can drive there in one long day. A day or two after my Nationals race was over, I asked some of my friends if they had any interest in going out there to race with me. This is where Tim Leonard comes in since he was foolish enough to say yes.

I’ve only raced on my fat bike once, in fact, as of yesterday, I’ve probably only been on my bike 20 times and logged only 30 or 40 hours. My fat bike weighs a little more than 2 of my cyclocross bikes so it takes a significant amount of force to get it moving and turning in order to overcome it’s inherent inertia. However, I think racing on a fat bike is probably like racing on a cyclocross bike only easier. There aren’t any barriers, there aren’t a lot of hairy, off-camber turns, there aren’t any run-ups, there is little to no running, and with freakishly large clown tires run at ridiculously low pressure, the grip on snowmobile groomed snow (more than likely the surface we’ll be racing on) is pretty amazing. Throw in temperatures in the single numbers and what’s not to love about it?

Why am I so drawn to a sport that is raced primarily in the nastiest weather of the year? Why couldn’t I have taken up surfing or beach volleyball or competitive tanning or, god forbid, golf? Why couldn’t I have taken up a sport that is played or practiced when the weather is pleasant and therefore a lot more enjoyable? I guess the existential answer is that cyclocross and fat biking must have chosen me. So it’s time to wake up, get out there in the miserably cold and slippery conditions and continue to have even more fun.