Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thank you Hannah Clarke

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

My Felt Edict 1: Bike Review

A lot of people (even strangers) have been asking me about my new bike; it's a big change that's long in the making: my first full suspension bike. Firstly, bikes these days are amazing. They've engineered them to absorb whatever you are riding over, while still being compliant when you push down on the pedals. Carbon fiber is not limited to the super high end bikes either, and it's much stiffer, stronger, and in many cases lighter than it used to be. Shocks have remotes that turn them on and off, or allow you to flip through different settings that dictate how the bike feels when you're riding it. Drivetrains (the gears and shifters and chains) are lighter, more precise, simpler, and have astounding gear ranges just in the rear cogs. New axels, wider handlebars, and the crazy ranges in tire treads, thicknesses, and rubber compounds have really given mountain bikes a new feel in the past few years.

To me, any rider who can only afford one bike should be riding a full suspension bike, they're super light, super stiff, and offer more traction in any trail than a hardtail. I also knew which bike company that offered full suspension race bikes I wanted: Felt. Ever since working at Muskoka Outfitters in the summer of 2010, I've had my eyes on these bikes. Being an employee at a bike shop gives you the inside scoop on all of the tech that the companies using, and quite frankly Felt really doesn't cut corners. Most companies use different grades of carbon fiber on their bikes, the more you pay, the more high modulus (light/stiff/durable) your bike will be. Felt is a small company <50 employees based out of California that basically got it's momentum as a 3 man company with the idea of making the best bikes, not the most bikes. The fact that most people don't know much about Felt and they they don't currently have any big teams just shows that they are a product driven company as opposed to a marketing-driven company.

My new Felt Edict 1 actually blew me away with how she rides. As a guy who's always raced a hard tail, you expect that a full suspension bike is going to bob every time that you push down on the pedals, that it will be heavy up the hills, and that the pivots will come apart. It took me a week to actually figure out which setting on my rear shock was locked out, the added traction of rear suspension has given me more confidence flying down hills, and even helped me to get up hills faster than before because the rear wheel doesn't bounce at all. Felt engineered the bike to have 100mm of travel in the rear, but kept the whole thing super stiff through the carbon linkage, and by not putting pivots in the rear. Instead the bike is engineered so that it has a certain amount of travel that's given by the rear shock, and once the rear shock is compressed, the frame flexes, resulting in smooth and stiff suspension.

Suddenly having another shock to preload has turned out to be tons of fun too, now I can preload and pivot my back wheel quickly and smoothly. This is a tough trick to do but in the right circumstances it lets me get around a corner without my brakes, it's important to have a bike that's laterally stiff enough to handle this kind of force, which the Edict does wonderfully. I can also preload before my hops now which is smooth, helpful, and fun!

The bike is a 22 inch frame with 29 inch wheels (the largest size bike you can buy really), but it whips around better than any 29er that I've ever ridden. Felt built the bike with a super steep head tube angle, which keeps the wheelbase tight, and the bike twitchy around tight corners. It also lets me lean through my corners better and keep a smaller "footprint" on the trail - letting me pedal around corners that were so tight that on other bikes I would have come to a stop to get through.

It's pretty rare that a bike looks better in person than it does on the internet, but I couldn't stop smiling when I unboxed this beauty. The pictures on the Felt site don't do the bright blue justice, and the Textreme carbon fiber is lighter, stiffer, and prettier than anything else I've seen. I love that checkerboard sheen that my bike has. It's an incredibly thin carbon fiber that is tougher because the wider strands laced at 90 degrees. Felt imports their carbon from Sweden, and though it's a crazy expensive carbon layup, you can get it on $6000 mountain bikes.

They kept the price very competitive on the bike by using the less expensive parts where it makes sense; wheels, shifter, and lockouts for the front and rear. All things considered however, this bike was 24. pounds with my pedals out of the box. The extra 2 pounds would cost around $4000 to lose, and since I got the bike I've put carbon wheels on it, and changed the stock mechanical lockout (which was warrantied anyways). Racers typically have two sets of wheels anyways (I know that I always have), and with such a stiff rear end I haven't found the need to put a remote lockout version of the shock on. I've raced everything from super technical courses like the Pan American course, to the fast and hilly Ontario courses like Albion Hills. I've found a new and reliable sidekick in all of my bike adventures, and am riding with more confidence and control than I have in the past.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Nationals 2015, Saint Felicien

It's been a while since my first elite national championship race in 2012, which was at St. Félicien as well. I'm happy to say that my blog writing has improved at least!

My last blog post alluded to the fact that I wasn't feeling strong yet, and that the blown disk/sciatic nerve problems were over - but all of that time stuck in bed had a real toll on my body as well. I had most of the week to prepare on the course, and I was feeling quite confident in my technical skills/speed and control through some pretty gnarly sections of the course. The course itself was amazing; it started with a steep gravel climb up to the top of a ski hill, then we descended through berms, over rollers, and over a bridge that crosses the course into a big rock garden. Next we climbed back up a bit, went through a big rocky feature, then over a drop that shot into a berm. After this was a climb that brought us to a flat section of fast trail then tons of man-made rocky features with spectators everywhere. Next was a steep, technical climb back to the top of the hill, and some fast trail before a totally steep and technical descent, more climbing, descending another total steep chute, and that was the lap (repeat 6 times if you are racing the elite men's category). 

Thanks Eric Barnabe for taking these photos
I was really happy with my tires for the course, and got to practice on consistent conditions all week - which made it all the more annoying when it poured torrentially the night before the race and rained all morning. This made the course a lot tougher, and watching the women's race was somewhere between funny and worrying, as you could see people falling everywhere. I switched my tires the day before the race so that I would have grip in the muck, and convinced myself that a race in such tough conditions may help to slow the other, fitter guys down a bit. 

All of that mud didn't stop my charm (Hannah Clarke photo)
The race start line was one of the most tense that I had ever been on, nobody was talking (french or english), the crowds were all completely silent, and I don't even think that there was any music playing over the PA system. Maybe it's because we had all seen how much the women were falling in their race, and were all a bit scared, but nobody was even looking at each other, everyone was just staring at the steep hill that we were about to climb, probably wondering if they'd have some sort of cardiac arrest induced by chasing the Pan Am champion up hills and through the bush for close to two hours. Finally the silence was broken "30 seconds until start", said the PA system, and then about a quarter of the guys started praying. 

The back of the race start, check out the focus on my face (André Chevrier photo)
The start was eventful, something happened probably 5 seconds into the race that almost caused a 12 person pile up, but we managed to stay on our bikes, and I felt strong as we shot up the hill - for the first 10 seconds, then I was just trying to move forward and not be last up the hill. As one may expect, it didn't matter anyways because there was a bit of a traffic jam going on anyways, so the leaders were already pretty much down the hill by the time that I could move at my own speed.

Pan Am champion still in good form leading the race, I'm in the traffic jam by the trees (André Chevrier photo)
I got into a groove, and made some passes in the upcoming section, aggressively moving my way into the top 20 (probably my favourite part of the entire race was when the trail widened up and I passed 3 guys at once as spectators were cheering and yelling). My speed was short lived however, as I opted not to wear glasses for the race, and I got a ton of mud stuck in my eye. Racing with the pros in the mud on a technical course with one eye closed is not ideal, so I slowed down and kept moving until the feed zone, unable to blink the much out of my eyes (contact lenses were also a concern). I came through the feed zone on the first lap looking for a neutral water feed, but the neutral feeds weren't ready for me (nobody gets a feed in the first 10 minutes of a race). I had a quick stop to rinse my eye and got going again, but by this point I had lost probably 5 positions. 

Chasing wheels early in the race, still clean and ready to put my surprise attack on these guys
(Eric Barnabe photo)

It's tough losing ground so quickly for a few reasons; firstly there's the obvious one that while everyone is going super fast and jostling for positions early in the race I was just trying to be able to see again. Secondly I was riding with guys that push me, meaning that I would ride harder because they are so close to my ability (if not a bit better). By the time I was moving again I was being caught by the last few guys (who are still incredible athletes - it takes real commitment just to make it to the elite category), but it's not the same as racing right beside the faster guys who I had worked hard to pass and to stay with. 

The paparazzi were sneaky in this race, hiding in the bushes (Hannah Clarke photo)

The rest of the race I worked on consistency and keeping the rubber side down. It was a tough race, but I was riding all the features, and apart from a bit of a pile up in a steep, muddy chute it was pretty incident free. I felt way better than the week before at Baie St. Paul, and my legs were strong - I just didn't have the lungs to support racing fast. I could push at about 85% of my normal self I think, but technically I was riding well, and I was stronger than the week before!

The picture quality isn't great, but watching this moment of racing is going to always stick with me, Quinton, you rock man.

It was great to race in Quebec, I met some pretty fantastic people, and they treat their athletes properly - free beer for elite athletes after the race. Because most of the elite athletes don't really drink, I was able to wrangle up some extra free drinks and had a good post-race social with my friends Dylan and Emily. None of us were overly thrilled with our race, but there was a second chance - the team relay is always the next day. The course would be the same as the elite course minus one of the super technical descents and some climbing. We decided to put a team in and give it a go. After a few beers I thought that the reason that I didn't go fast was simply because I didn't try hard enough, and was set on kicking ass in the relay to prove to myself that I was really fast.

A lot cleaner without that rain (Scott Lynch photo)
I did get blown out of the water, which makes sense because while the other athletes were still training 10-20 hours per week, I was sitting in bed. I'm happy to say I have power back in my legs, and the lungs will come back with time. At least I know where I stand, and the team had fun anyways!

What a buff team! (Sylvie Chénier photo)

I may only have a few big races left this season, but I've been training very hard again, I'm just as focused and motivated as ever, and with the support that I've got, I'll be flying at the Ontario Cup in 2 weeks in Muskoka.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Baie St. Paul Canada Cup, travels through the Quebec countryside

We're coming up on a week into our trip to Baie St Paul and St-Félicien for a Canada Cup and National Championships and I've been to a lot of cool places and done cool things! I'd love to be publishing some sort of hero post about how I was magically fit again, back problems didn't slow me down for long, and how I'm going to crush it at Nationals because I'm back to my regular season fitness. But things don't work out that way for me usually, so I just keep pushing through and enjoying the places that I get to be!

Baie St. Paul was a very tough course; it wasn't so technical that I was worried about any particular section, but the entire course was either uphill or downhill (nothing flat), and it was all very gnarly rooty, rocky. A super fun course that keeps you on your toes, but if you falter and lose focus - it was very hard to regain your momentum. The day was above 30 degrees and we were racing at 3:15, which is almost 2 hours later than my usual races.

The following is a video of basically the same course a few years ago, flip through it to see some of what we ride!

I honestly fell off the pace right from the start, unable to keep the pace going even in the uphill single track, I tried to push the negative thoughts out of my head, thinking that surely nobody could keep this pace in this weather on this course; unfortunately I don't think that I could either. It became a game of attrition, just trying to keep grinding at it until other riders wore down to the point that I could catch them. I was confused about where I was on course, messing up my lines through the technical sections, and even so weak that I couldn't shift my gears at points! But I finished. There was only 1 finisher behind me, but 5 guys didn't finish (that's a pretty large amount for the pro field in a Canada Cup that we all traveled a long way to get to), so I'm proud of just finishing given my health and recent setbacks!

Trying to maintain composure in this race was tough (thanks Scott Lynch for the photo)
The days following the race were spent watching other spectacular races like the Mountain Bike Criterium, which is mayhem! It's a lap that takes about 2 minutes to do, raced for 20 minutes or so with big groups. My favourite was watching the small kids ripping the course.

My buddy Dylan and I were making bets on these guys - I could totally be a bookie
We headed off to Mt. St. Anne that day, and I got some great riding alone in the forest, not worrying about race courses, or stopping for other riders, or where I was in the world. Turns out you can find some pretty neat places.

Not my usual worn out race face :)
I also love camping, which is how we got by from Thursday till Monday.
Our site at Mt. St. Anne was right by the trails (thanks Scott for the photo again)

Road tripping through the Quebec countryside has been fun, I'm bilingual so it's nice to have a chance to practice my french, and now we're in St-Félicien, Nationals is in two days, and I'm hoping to have my fitness back to how it was before my back disk/nerve issues. I'm loving the courses in Quebec, and the break from university, so good results would just be a bonus I guess!

Road tripping through Quebec and watching out for the bears that we saw
Some of the coldest water I've swam in in the summer (Scott Lynch photo)

On hot days, I don't discriminate where I get my water (Scott Lynch photo)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Coming back at the provincial circuit

All things considered, this past weekend was pretty much the perfect weekend - I mean what more can a guy ask for? Good health, great support, camping, and fantastic weather. Oh, and giant inflatable pretzels, they're important too. As my last blog post says, I was off the bike for 2 weeks, stuck in bed due to a disk problem in my back pinching on my sciatic nerve. Luckily I bounced back so quickly that it alarmed the physiotherapist that I was seeing, who didn't look like he believed me when I told him that I had got back on my bike. This means that in the 3 weeks leading up to the race, I rode my bike 4 or 5 times. I wasn't really going for a good result; I would just be happy to finish the race, to support my friends, and to have a good time camping!

The race was at Albion Hills Conservation Area near Bolton, Ontario - which is a sweet course that hasn't been in the Ontario Cup circuit for 3 or 4 years. Another perk of racing at Albion is that the trails area awesome, and it is attached to a campground. I camped out with the Wolfpak crew, Sarah from Two Wheel Racing, as well as Davis and Hannah from AWI racing - couldn't have asked for a better crew!

I'm the lucky guy on the left, getting my legs stretched out
If we weren't joking by the fire or eating, we had the luxury of swimming to cool off (it was so hot this weekend that I was melting, but maybe that's because I'm used to days like these.

Alex and I are sharing the most buoyant pretzel in the world (thanks Mary Lynch for the photo)
The race course for the elite race was tough! There were two outstandingly unforgiving hills (the Green Monster and the Wall of Pain), as well as a bunch more hills, and insane sun that I just couldn't get away from - but at least there were gnarly features to huck off of in front of the crowds!

On the race start I was thinking mostly of how badly I just wanted to finish such a tough race, especially after being in bed for 3 out of the last 4 weeks or so. Once the gun went off, I was't too aggressive, and filed in near the back of the pack - waiting to see how the long, hot race would unfold.

I had a couple of pretty good laps, with a big collision with a tree, and fell into "no man's land"after that. "No man's land" is that part in the race where the guys behind you aren't fast enough to catch you, but you have lost enough ground on the guys ahead. It's a tough place to be, especially when you're not feeling good and you know that these guys have trained 30+more hours than you over the last 4 weeks.

I kept confident however, and really enjoyed having a cheering section at most places in the course! The tech features were a positive as well, and though there are no photos of me, this is what doing them looked like.

Big shout out to Andrew, who trusted me with his super expensive wheels not to do exactly what Sarah does in this video. It wasn't completely misplaced trust, I landed smoothly and a little closer to the rocks - his wheels are fine.

Currently I'm on the course for the Baie St. Paul Canada Cup bike race, staying at a campground with wifi...weird right? So I'm sitting in the shade by my tent, waiting for the race to start in like 4 hours - hoping to have my legs back to how I was feeling before this back problem!

Big shout out to CLIF bar for fueling this 2 week trip, and Thule for making me able to pack so well!