Friday, October 31, 2008

Bragging Rights and Dead Horses

Greetings fellow fat tire cyclists.  Just over one week until race day - still plenty of time to get your registration in and get an orientation ride to secure home field advantage for yourself.  I have been asked if there is any shame in registering for the beginner class.  I will share my response for what it is worth (edited to protect the identify of the rider):

"Anybody who tapes on a number and rides in the race earns bragging rights, regardless of class.  One lap on the new course is still 50% longer than last year's course, and last year was no picnic.  I think the 2nd lap will bury some in the sport class - I predict quite a few bonks, crashes, and mechanicals.  Also everyone knows you've been off the bike for a while. I'm sure you would get some friendly encouragement like "c'mon you should go for it [sport class]" but nabuse, at least not from me, and I don't think anyone else either. "

Have I beat this horse enough yet?  Not to worry, only one more week of dead horse beatings left...

Happy hour ride today @ 4:00pm (early due to trick or treating activities).  Sunny and very mild today, great conditions for biking and trick or treating!  We'll call this our Friday double-header.

Some conflicts so we'll have to move the Sunday ride to 4:00pm.  Hopefully that doesn't throw a wrench into the monkey works for anyone.  


"Ride it like you stole it"

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How Low Can You Go?

This picture of an Alaskan eco-friendly bike rack reminded me that it's almost that time of year...that time when our caloric intake increases (think lasagna, turkey gravy), our caloric output declines (think couch, NFL football), we deposit another layer of fat around out internal organs, turn all pasty-white, and shave another 4 months off our life expectancy.  This is known to many as winter.

But it doesn't have to be that way.  Bicycling IN the cold and wet does NOT mean BEING cold or wet.  Your natural inclination when starting off on a cold winter bike ride is to bundle up with too many layers (because logically, you expect to be cold).  Then after 10 minutes of exertion you start to sweat, your layers (maybe cotton) get soaked, and on the first downhill your wet clothes start to freeze and so do you.  So you are miserable and frustrated and longing for the couch.  We have learned the hard way (through experience) the secrets to staying comfortable when winter cycling.  Here they are, in no particular order:

Dress for Success

Clothing should be synthetic (NOT cotton) and breathable with two possible exceptions:  Underwear or jock or whatever you wear down there (wear whatever you want, enough on that) and socks can be wool if you are old school but not cotton.  So starting at the top and working our way down:
  • Skullcap or a balaclava (a.k.a. chickenhead) if it is really really really cold. $10.
  • Clear glasses to keep your eyes from watering up.  Clear because you'll be riding at night.  You probably already have some of these.
  • Breathable windproof top layer.  Not insulated, it's just to cut the wind.  Definitely breathable becuase you will be sweating. 
  • A long sleeve synthetic shirt or two.  Zipper is nice - believe it or not you will find yourself occasionally unzipping the jacket/shirt while riding in order to shed excess heat.
  • Gloves - windproof and you guessed it, breathable.  Full finger for obvious reasons.  $20
  • Pants.  You would be surprised how late we ride with shorts.  Sebastian has been known to stay with shorts well into the 30s.  But at some point you will want long pants - insulated, breathable, and windproof tights or baggy long pants.  Either of these with a pair of synthetic long johns will get your through basically anything.  I prefer the tights because they don't snag on bushes etc, but if you are homophobic or just don't see yourself in tights then baggies are great.  $50.  What DOESN"T work great is a fleshtone leotard.  I am not going to mention any names (107 Gottier Drive, 484 228-8349), but most of you already know what I am talking about here...
  • Neoprene shoe cover.  This is critical because your feet are very exposed and cleated to frigid metal pedals, and if your toes get cold you will be miserable.  $20.  Old school alternative is duct tape around the front of the shoe.  $0.05
You should actually be a little chilly (feel under dressed) when you first climb on the bike.  If you start off comfortably warm, then you are likely overdressed and will soon be sweating and shedding layers.

The Bike

Most lower end forks use an oil-elastomer suspension versus an air or coil spring.  This is fine when it is warm out, but when the temperature drops to the low 30s and below, that oil and elastomer thickens up and by the time you hit the low 20s, it is pretty much a rigid fork.  That’s fine, people ride all rigid bikes all the time, but good to know.

Glare ice is a really nasty problem when you are on a bike.  With no friction between the wheels and the ground, the bike will shoot out from underneath you faster than you can say “broken collarbone” and then gravity does the rest.  This happened to me at the beginning of a ride last year, and I just put my tail between my legs and went straight back home.  If it is glare ice conditions, then best not to ride.  Now I have not done this yet but it seems like a great idea – studded bike tires.

If you are using a camelback for water you will probably be ok (you might put it underneath your jacket to keep from freezing) but if you are using a water bottle, you will want to (a) fill it with warm water and (b) put it upside down in the bottle cage.  Water freezes from the top down, and if the spout is at the top it will be clogged with ice when it is time to drink.  Or just use vodka instead.  

The Ride

Remember the ground is frozen solid and doesn’t give when you bury your shoulder into it. Also if you are riding through a mud-pit that has recently frozen, then all those knobby tire tracks and grooves are like hardened cement and if you go down hard on that it is going to tear you up something awful.  If your tire gets into one of those grooves your bike may get a little bit squirrelly.  Forewarned is forearmed.

Right about now you may be asking yourself "how low can you go?"  Well, last year we had gotten pretty good at this sort of thing and we set a record (for us) for low-temperature riding - 7 degrees fahrenheit.  And the ride was a blast – church quiet in the woods, trails wicked fast, and not a lot of congestion on the trails as you can imagine. 

That's about all the advice I have about winter riding.  If you made it this far then hopefully you are considering giving it a try.  Bottom line - there is really no good reason to put the bike in storage over the winter.  Some of our best riding (in fact one of THE BEST riding memories for many of us) has been in the deep of winter.  

It's too good to give it up for half the year.  You need to give it a try.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Gin Something Up

Two more weeks to race day.  We have a respectable contingent who intend to race but there is always room for more.  You will be glad to know that the trails weathered the weekend rain and equestrian event pretty well - yesterday the trails were well fertilized but overall still in great shape.

Everyone survived the big-wheel race down Kaiser drive yesterday.  We did have some attrition due to mid-race "mechanicals" - to be expected when you load a $35 plastic trike with 180 pounds of rider and shove it down a steep paved incline with a 90 degree turn at the bottom.  I understand video will be forthcoming.  We are already looking forward to lowering the bar, yet again, next year.  Can't wait.

Aside from Tuesday, the weather looks pretty good for this week.  Be sure to get out there while there is still some color in the trees, life is too short to miss opportunities like this.  As usual if you want to "gin up" a ride this week just say so.  I am doubtful for tonight as I still have to clean up some carnage from yesterday.  


Friday, October 24, 2008

More Intoxicating AND Less Filling

If the sheer number of grinning bikers in the woods these days is any indication, then fall riding is so definitely ON baby! The sights, smells, sounds, moderate temps, and general sensory overload make it a special time - you just gotta jump on it if you haven't already!

Todd has tweaked the Nov 9 race course and marked some of it with very pretty pink ribbons. Today and Sunday will be great opportunities to check it out as he continues to dial in the course. This is called home field advantage and at our advanced age, we need to leverage it to the hilt.

Sunday ride will assume 9am departure as usual. I would like to push it back a few hours so things can dry out after the Saturday monsoon, but our neighborhood block party may be moved to Sunday in which case we'll need to finish before noon (so Dads can prep for the big-wheel-trike-race down Kaiser - as Sebastian so aptly said we have "lowered the bar yet again"). So most likely we'll stick with 9am but if it changes I will put out an email by 5pm on Saturday.

Finally I guarantee that today's happy hour ride will more intoxicating and less filling than whatever else you may have planned. We have a few already confirmed and will likely roll sometime between 4:00 and 5:00. Let me know if you can jump on and if so, any time constraints.


"Old age and trickery beats youth and speed"

Relive our (mis)adventures at

Monday, October 20, 2008

What if the Candidates Were Bikes?

Found this on the web.  Clever and topical but no mountain bike, maybe next time.

Spring City Recon

It's been a great run with 5 rides in as many days.  On Sunday a couple of us went to Spring City to check out the trails along French Creek.  Not a lot of miles, but great trails, lots of twisty single track, and some spectacular scenery along French Creek.  

On our way to Spring City we  stumbled upon a cyclocross race at Ludwig's corner.  Quite a spectacle with a few hundred vehicles including large RVs, food and beer concessions, about a mile long serpentine track with lots of short steep climbs and descents, some tight technical turns, obstacles that force the rider to dismount and carry their bike, and varied surfaces including lots of grass, loose sand, pavement, and a live announcer calling out the race.  Mostly people were riding cyclocross bikes which resemble road bikes but seem to have fatter knobbier tires (at least that's my assessment).  I would also say there was more brightly colored spandex than necessary but hey, it's their gig not mine...

The weather looks dry for as far as Accuweather can see, so we should be able to get in plenty of riding this week which is a good thing because it's like, the best time of the year to ride.  For this week we'll stick with our opportunistic protocol - chime in with time preference and we'll sort it out via email by 5:00pm or earlier if appropriate...  


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Keep it SImple, Stupid

By the way I wanted to say thanks to Rob for reminding of Henry David Thoreau's timeless words "As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler." I had eagerly taken on a bike wrenching project for a friend (we'll call him Mike Young) who had mangled his drivetrain in that insane stretch of bridges, logs, rickety causeways, 4x6 handlebar grabbing posts, mud and brambles that is the price of admission to the new Lakeside Trail.

The job was not complicated - straightening of a couple of chainrings. I had begun working on disassembly of the crank and discovered that this bike did not use slotted nuts on the inside (as I had seen on every other bike I have tinkered with over the last 47 years). I was now imagining this quickie 20 minute job morphing into a 2hr PITA when Rob happened by. Being one who could never pass an unfamiliar bike without a cursory inspection, he quickly assessed the situation and suggested I employ the crude but effective prybar approach. Which I did. About 6 minutes later the job was complete, the bike fully functional, and I had gained 14 minutes and hopefully the enduring admiration of my friend with the once-mangled drivetrain.

Now this is not to suggest that all bike problems can be solved with a prybar (some call for a hammer) or that I am completely devoid of any imagination or mechanical ability. But it does serve to remind that with bikes simpler is better and that having a neighbor who knows a thing or two about bikes and who walks his dog in the morning is invaluable.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Brotherly Love

Welcome back - Wednesday night we welcomed back an old soul who hadn't been seen in 8-9 months.  If he was rusty from the layoff, it was not readily apparent.  We thought about turning him on to the Lakeside trail but decided to save that for another day, better to witness the carnage in daylight.  Anyway we're hoping to see more of him on upcoming rides.  Also a little bird told me that another rider is completing knee rehab in the next week or so and is looking forward to getting a bike between his legs soon.  

MC race course - the problematic left hand turn in the baby head field has been effectively neutered.  Someone found Jim's line behind the big tree and blazed the new trail a mile wide.  Personally I think they went a little overboard but it is no longer a white-knuckle turn and you can enter the ensuing climb with some momentum which is nice.  Someone also removed a log-hop from the Entrail climb - another loss in my opinion but it appears some little biking-elves are committed "cleaning up" the course for November.  

Brotherly love - Rumor has it that Steve McLaughlin and his brother-in-law Chris Dougherty are engaged in a pissing match to see who can turn in the best time at the Nov 9 race.  McLaughlin muttering something about his "(very much) older brother in-law" and I think Chris retorting something about Steve's nice new bike "gathering moss" in the shed.  A good start on some trash talk that should lead to some stellar performance(s) on game day...  Keep up the good work guys!

Happy hour today - Lots of interest in a happy hour ride today, which should be spectacular now that real fall weather has finally arrived.  If you are interested please chime in with your time preferences/constraints.  We'll do the math and find the time that works best.

Sunday ride - will be a roadie to some unexplored territory up near Spring City.  We don't know much about these trails except that horses ride them (so they should be fertile) but we figured what the heck...  Again, chime in if interested.  We'll be shooting for an early departure on Sunday.  

That's all for now


"Just one more hill..."

Monday, October 13, 2008

On Best Behavior

You couldn't swing a dead cat in MCSP today without hitting a park you will be relieved to know that we were on best behavior and tried to ride single file whenever possible.  We rode the Nov 9 course again and at the conclusion all riders agreed it is challenging but has a lot of variety and a high "fun factor."  Jim Ahern successfully demonstrated the right line for the one technical turn that had us stymied (sharp left exiting Entrail into the baby-head field).  Next we need to figure out a strategy for that miserable grind from the Blue up to the Green trail.  

Nov 9 is shaping up with solid confirmations from 4 riders and 5 more who have voiced positive intentions.  There are some veterans who have been uncharacteristically silent, my strong suspicion is that you just want to keep us in suspense and will signal your positive intentions shortly...    

The 5-day forecast for this week looks good - dry with nigh time lows in the 50s - so we should have no problem getting a few rides in this week.  Again we will employ the "flex" ride schedule - if you are interested in riding just chime in with any time preferences and we will nail it down via email by 5pm on ride day.    

That's all for now.


"Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you"

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Fellow Marsh Creek night riders, following is today's excerpt from the dtownmtb forum on yahoo. Interesting turn of events, good news looks like Todd (our ambitious race course designer) has a r'ship and will try to  smooth things out...


“There was a group of three park rangers standing at the north end of the Struble trail on Wednesday evening, just before 6 p.m. I assume they were there to intercept mountain bikers headed toward the park, knowing many ride on Wednesday evening. 

We parked in the township lot off Shellmire Road. We shot down Dorlan Mill Road and then entered the park via the usual gravel road. Doing this allowed us to escape any contact with the park officials at the bottom of the hill. We didn't see any of them for the rest of the ride.

Thought I would pass that along.”



Are you sure they were mc rangers and not the county park rangers? County ranger gave group some shit last ride for not riding single file...   Hopefully we will get it all worked out soon... I plan to meet with park guy next week when i am back in town...



“Not riding single file, that's awesome.  Are walker's supposed to be single file too?  What about dogs on a leash, should they be single file with their owners too?   What was your response?  I probably would have been speechless (and thought of a good comeback 20 minutes later).” 

Riding from the neighborhood probably helps maintain a low profile but until this thing blows over it probably makes sense when riding at night to avoid (or at least be stealthy in) high traffic choke points like the boat launch and the Dorlan Mill access road.  Of course if you are riding “lights out” then it will be hard to plead ignorance if you do get caught.  Anothe roption would be to tape a fishing license to your helmet - that activity is apparently permitted in the park at any hour of the day or night.

Never a dull moment...

Start the Stampede

Not much interest in a roadie this weekend so we'll regroup and try again later this Sunday will be local at MCSP departing at 9am from the 'hood.

Tootsie-pop-finger-guy and I rode the race course last night to see what a loop would feel like. We rode non-stop but at an easy pace, which got us around the loop in 1:04 (including one slow-motion crash by yours truly).  For those of you considering the race but concerned about level of difficulty here are a few observations...

Really just 2 truly painful sections:
  • The double track road from the dam to the farm.  We all know this stretch from the pre-lakeside-trail days.  It sucked then and it sucks now too.
  • On the climb up Blue from Sebastian's mudpit, we think the course zigs left up a new trail which I had not ridden until last night.  It bypasses the rooty section on the bobsled run (that's good) but it grinds straight up to the top of the ridge (that's bad).  It is the most miserable climb I have seen at MCSP but it is fairly short.
The rocky climb wasn't bad at all because I didn't ride it, I walked it (shamelessly).

All of the uphill grinds are followed, eventually, by some flats or downhills which gives you an opportunity to rest.  I know it's not exactly a flash of brilliant insight that all uphills eventually turn into downhills when riding a loop, but my point is that it is remarkably easy to rest while coasting so don't get freaked out by the non-stop aspect of this. 

There are a couple of sketchy sections:
  • Eddie trail descent (weight back, hold on) - I think most of you have done this one already anyway.  And the stinging nettles have been removed.
  • Left turn in the baby-head field from Entrail.  Haven't figured out how to do this one yet, but heck it's just one turn.
I think that's all.  I have encouraging indications from other riders indicating they may jump in.  Seems like some of you are just waiting for someone else to jump in first, start the stampede so to speak, so for Gods sake would one of you please announce your intentions??? 

I am traveling the remainder of this week so don't expect any rabble-rousing from me until the weekend. 


"Tune in, Turn on, and Go long" --Tom Warren

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Latest Helmet Technology

The 35th Marshalton Triathlon was a showcase for the latest in helmet technology.  Next year I may ride with the ultimate "brain bucket" - a water pail with a chin strap - to see if I can make the highlight reel.  

With the Marsh Creek Classic just 5 weeks away, weekday ride frequency will pick up as we try to stay sharp and maybe lose a pound or two before race day.  This means there will be someone riding most weeknights, weather permitting, so if you are interested in jumping on just chime in and we'll nail down the ride details before 5:00pm on that day.  

There is some interest in a roadie for next weekend (Sunday).  Let me know if interested and if so, any preferences for place and time.  Last Sunday's casualty (the one with the "finger the size of a golf ball [that] turned the shade of a purple tootsie pop just before you get to the sticky center" has requested a location that doesn't rattle your fillings loose - so maybe some place like White Clay or Fair Hill.  We'll try to nail this down by mid-week.


"It's a long way to the top
     . . . if you wanna rock and roll"

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Fun and Games

The Marsh Creek Fall Classic race committee has a real treat in store for riders on November 9th (attached is the proposed course map).  The first 3 years we were relegated to riding laps in a corner of the park.  This year riders will spread their wings and experience more of what the park has to offer including a trip up the rocky climb (I feel a dismount coming), a trip through the tricky-double-bridge-rickety-causeway-mud-pit section on the way to the lakeside trail, a ride down the Sole trail, and some moderate grinds up the double track behind the dam and up the quarry trail.  It's not all fun and games though as there are a fair number of flat sections interspersed for recovery and/or being passed by women in spandex and lilac perfume (there is no shame in that – otherwise I would have hung up my cleats by now.) 

Following is a colorful narrative course description from the designer (Todd Strauss).  I have added red text for clarity: 

It will be clockwise…starts in the oval loop at the "top" of the park near chalfant follow "blue" thru the field heading toward the boat ramp, left towards chalfont lot then right onto the newer trail with the rad teeter… along the lake back up to the doubletrack behind the bathrooms, out to the grass thru the upper "boat" parking lot, out to the dam along the new trail – across the top of the dam, down the sole trail… back up the fire road, across the field, up the drive, thru the field at the corner of skyline and lyndel , up the nastiest climb in the park (the rocky climb, ouch!), down to the tracks (must be taking a left off the bobsled run somewhere), up again over the 4 little ladder bridges, climb staying right then head left to what I think is a newer trail, to a left on green then left down along the old stone house (eddie trail complete with singing nettles), down to the tracks, out to the quarry, climb the quarry along the fence, down a little, bang a left climb some more, back down to the field, thru the field, climb a little more (on the "entrail"), thru a tiny bit of field, down, hard left (very sketchy turn in the babyheads), climb, turn left around the double track… the end…

If you have ridden with us at MCSP more than once, then chances are you have already seen 90% of this course first hand.  Remember it is not about the podium (those spots are reserved for the sand baggers), it's about the buzz and excitement of race day, the personal satisfaction you get from testing your comfort zone, and most of all having your kid(s) at the finish line cheering adoringly as if you just broke an Olympic record or something.  So get off the fence (or climb on it and then jump off on this side) and go register yourself already.

I am doing the Marshalton Triathlon this Sunday with Ruth and Sara so you won't see me in MCSP on Sunday, but feel free to meet me at Marshalton after you read about or register for this totally family oriented ultra low key event.  Last year they had a live band, corn maze, food, and free climbing wall.  This year they are adding a tailgating section to the parking area.  That should give you a sense of the "fun factor" for this event.

That's all for now...


"A journey of 1000 miles must begin with a single crank-turn."