Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Strava hunting for dummies

Ah Stava. Even the mention of that word can bring up debates about suspected poor trail etiquette of its users. Segment speeds are used as fodder for anti-bike advocates. But it's a heck of a good training tool.

You need ideal conditions: Strava leaderboards list people's personal bests. There might be asterisks for weight classes or age groups (for premium users), but it doesn't give a shit if you got your best time against the wind, in the mud, or on a busy night. Road bike segment leaderboards will be packed with people on slick road tires (not mountain bikes), often riding in a group to share the workload, and with a tailwind. So don't go hunting solo, into the wind, on your mountain bike. Conversely for mountain bike trails, you're going to want tacky trail conditions, no fallen trees, and you should ride the trail when it is not busy so you won't have to slow down or stop for other riders using the trail.

Know your segment: It doesn't hurt to preride your segment to find the fastest lines, how to pace yourself, or study online where it starts and finishes. Some segments are poorly made with non intuitive starts and finishes or based off poor GPS traces, but those are the cards you have to deal with. Don't be a loser and make your own segment.

Don't hunt at the very beginning of the ride: Not only are you not warmed up yet, but your GPS likely hasn't had enough time to really lock in on the satellites. You might be able to put in a good time, but it won't count if your GPS trace is out to lunch.

Experiment with entering and exiting trails from different directions: These might be ways to trick your GPS track into giving you a head start or an early finish line. At the very least, you'll find a way that lets you carry speed in and out of the trail. Don't start hunting from the entrance of the trail, or stop right at the end of the trail.

Average wattage: For road segments, you can look at average wattage of your previous attempts to make sure that you don't blow up early or leave too much in the tank.

Be smooth: Some of my best times happened when it felt like I held up a little on the throttle and rode more smooth and controlled. I paced better so I could give it more gas at the end without giving up too much at the beginning.

Don't hunt: Bask in the glory of beating the Strava heroes in a real race! (Mostly) closed course, mano et mano.

Some mountain bike segments are too close to roads and it's hard to compete with road bikes as you weave through singletrack alongside the road. Sometimes the trail has been rerouted, making it almost impossible to beat the previous times.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Is ski mountaineering race gear too expensive?

Possibly if you are looking to get into the sport, or are Canadian! And I'm not even talking about carbon.

When I purchased my first full brand new setup, the dollar was at par. The Canadian dollar is now at $0.76US, so gear ordered from the States (or imported by a distributor...from the States) is now 30% more expensive!

Online skimo gear shopping is as good as it has ever been in North America thanks to, and's continued supplying of race stuff. still looks to have a solid offering as well. But I can't help but notice that the box stores with probably the biggest exposure: MEC and REI have pared down their skimo offerings (edit, MEC is offering the Salomon Minim for $550. This is the deal of the century!). Boulder Nordic sport looks to have gotten out of the game. CampSaver too? Certainly these shops have had enough of skimo gear collecting dust in the back before getting snapped up during end of season clearance sales.

The gear is highly specialized, but it hurts that what is essentially a stripped down (less material, less parts) boot like the Alien or the PDG sells for at least $100 more than a comparable TLT6/7/F1 Evo style boot. Blame lower quantities, less competition, and the fact that racers will pay anything for a weight advantage.

There's a history of weight weenie skiers paying ridiculous amounts of money for minimal weight savings. For years Dynafit sold exotic titanium(or the aluminum alloy Titanal?) toe pieces on $700 bindings with something like a 30g per binding weight savings over the toe piece on a $350 binding. And there are certainly lots of recreational ski tourers who give up adjustable release and cheaper bindings to ski on low tech style bindings; extra granola bars lying in the bottom of their backpack be damned!

$700 for 30 gram weight savings! Skimo racers lapped these up in 2009
I'd think that a pairing of a low-tech race heelpiece (not the sketchy, non lateral release Expedition model) with a standard run of the mill steel TLT Speed toepiece, something that would retail for $385US, weighing only 60g per ski more than the $800US Low Tech Race would fly off the shelves. Fortunately it is possible to build this setup part by part on, though it comes out to $430US. And I certainly see enough people skiing Dynafit's 2nd tier PDG ski and boot setup to justify this offering.

On a related skimo note, on the eve of a season with updated helmet regulations, it is certainly alarming to see that the Camp Pulse and Mammut Alpine Rider helmets (I was able to snag a display model at a nearby Atmosphere store) have been discontinued and the $190 Salomon MTN lab is the only helmet available. Supposedly there is a less expensive Salomon helmet and a Dynafit helmet on the way, but things have definitely gone up from my previous $90 Edelrid Shield2.

New rules are requiring skimo racers to use 3 antenna beacons. In response to this, Pieps has come out with the 150g Micro beacon.  $400 to save 65 grams over a BCA Tracker 3 with greater functionality (so still pretty much a race-only beacon). Hilarious when you consider that the current generation of backpacks from CAMP, Dynafit, Ultimate Direction, etc give up at least that much weight to my CAMP XLP 290 that I bought in 2010.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Hiking nugs

Might as well use this SLR that's been collecting dust (on the sensor too :( ) for the last 8 years

High Rockies trail

Canmore has some more cruisy cross country. The high rockies trail has two distinct flavours: Big ring doubletrack and perhaps Matt Hadley's magnum opus:
 Undulating flow. The climbs are never long, yet the descents stretch on with very little braking required. The trail is also wide enough to make passing easier on this 2-way trail.
 Welcome to the nug zone. The trail works it's way through a boulder field on its southern end. But no worries, the trail tread is still buttery smooth.

A pretty solid ride from Canmore and back. That's for sure!

Kootenay Sufferfest Galena Ghost Ride

I put this on my top 5 races list for this year, and I may have inadvertently convinced a couple of people to sign up, there was no backing out now. Not even a suspect weather forecast?

The final running of the 100km point to point mountain bike race. Quite the endeavor for the organizers, especially mixed in with a long weekend of running and cycling races. I was eager to return after having to miss out on the 2015 edition due to injury, but nervous staring down the barrel of 100km and 3000m of climbing off road.

Galena trail is a good trail for all abilities

A great race. I was able to beat my time from 2014. I had forgotten how hard the beginning of the race is through the True Blue area. The final descent down the Alamo trail is a big one, a real brake burner!
lots of great riding to break up the long drive

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sagan: from the bottom to the front in less than half a lap

As we go into another midweek cyclocross season, I can't help but feel inspired by Peter Sagan's ride at the Olympics. He started in position 50 (7th row) and within half a lap, was up to the front. A couple of flat tires would ultimately derail his chances at a high finish. I'm sure he provided a good scare to his competitors who had mostly written him off as not being up to the demands of XCO and having a terrible start position. I'm sure he had to pull some sketchy passes to make it happen, but you can't help but respect someone who can ride through a field of that caliber.

Now on the subject of Wednesday nighters. If I can start on the front row, I'll see how long I can hang at the front. If I have to start further back, I'll see how many punters I ride through.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Rant: Stybar won from the forth row.

A season of Fat tire Tuesdays has just wrapped up. I appreciate the efforts put in by the Hardcore and Redbike cycling clubs to provide the Edmonton community with a venue for some low key racing. Staring down the barrel of 12 races alternating between Sunridge and Terwillegar was daunting, but due to rainouts, only 8 ended up going off. I like that the organizers can just pull the plug at any sign of adverse weather or trail conditions, it saves us from having to clean our bikes, crashing, and/or breaking bike parts.

At the beginning of the season, I was nervous, as I usually am for these type of races. A long elite race gives me plenty of time to settle in and eventually arrive to a consistent finishing placing or time. Smaller elite fields and longer sections before the trail narrows mean starts aren't as critical. These short fat tire Tuesdays sometimes barely crack 30 minutes. One major mistake or bad legs could mean getting embarrassed by a sport class rider! Good starts are important, as the lead group can get out of sight within a half lap if you get stuck behind a weaker rider on the singletrack.

I struggled in week one with a slow start that forced me to have to close a MASSIVE gap halfway through lap one, except I couldn't and ended up missing the podium. Week two, things clicked and although I again had to chase midway through lap one to regain the lead riders, I was able to attack on the next lap. In the next 5 races, it almost felt like I had the respect of the rest of the group as I was allowed to go 3rd or 4th wheel even with a small "buffer gap" into the singletrack off the holeshot.

Anyways, with the finale of Tuesday night MTB racing for another summer, the cyclocross bikes have already started coming out, and I'm sure Jeremy Powers DVD's and cyclocross camps are already showing up on credit card statements. Everyone is being told that you must start from the front row just as Tour de France commentators routinely emphasize how important it is to be at the front of the peleton. To avoid crashes, to avoid bottlenecks. I used to love cyclocross as it was the only discipline where I quickly rose through the ranks. Now, I'm a little jaded. What was once a fun celebration of a cycling season has now become THE cycling season.

Cyclocross is big in Edmonton and a midweek race can bring out a couple of guys capable of a top 5 at nationals. We can play "see how long you can hold on to their wheel" with some top caliber riders. There are 15 or so Alberta cups providing plenty of opportunity to upgrade, so anyone who is fast should be in elite. So why are the front rows packed with midpack expert and sport racers 10 MINUTES BEFORE the start? Racers who can't even last a lap of "see how long you can hold on to their wheel". I and other elites like to get a fair shot at "trying to hold the wheel". Or should I use these races to learn how to battle from further back? Not something I really have to worry about in small AB cup elite fields, but if I ever decided to race nationals. Does it even matter? Stybar won World Championships from the forth row.

Cyclocross is all about heckling. Make sure to let the people on the front row know if they are racing outside of the top 8.