Sunday, May 31, 2009

Race Report: Canada Cup/Ontario Cup #3, Hardwood Hills

Last weekend's clumsy attempt at riding after racing the Tremblant Ccup and then driving all the way back to Toronto was not enough for me to consider myself prepared for the Hardwood race. So, Saturday morning I got up early, collected some riders and headed up for a more focused preride. It was a perfect day at Hardwood. I turned 2.5 laps, had some help finding some more direct lines and confirmed for myself that yes, I can in fact ride the infamous "boneshaker"*. Last Sunday, I managed to go ass over tea kettle not once, but twice! And with an audience too so I felt like I had to give myself a littler refresher on how to properly ride the rocks. A photographer was in attendance, so here's a little number from yesterday's practice:

After a successful preride, we rushed back to Toronto so we could get a good start on relaxing. Pre-race Saturdays are my favourite: my only job is to eat as much as possible and lay around all day. Gerhard and I went out on the Danforth, got some snacks, did some shopping for the prerace meal, got some more snacks (ice cream!) and then went home to eat some more and watch movies until bedtime. When we went to sleep, the rain was coming down and the thunder was rumbling. But when I woke up, the sun was shining, and the temperature not-too-cool, not-too-hot. A perfect day for a race.

G decided to come along this time to see what racing is all about. He also volunteered to be my "water boy" so that was a big help. We left Toronto with lots of time to spare and arrived at the race course around 9. As soon as we stepped out of the van, we were rudely awakened to the fact that weather in Toronto is not the same as weather north of Barrie. It. Was. Freezing. And with a strong gusty wind to boot.

We both brought layers to accomodate a warm day in the sun -- not a wintry-weather relapse. I was wishing for a skullcap and extra gloves on the warm-up (so-called). G had to make do with my hoody and jacket. Not every day the boyfriend asks his girlfriend for her coat. At least the sun was shining.

At the line, I struggled with what to wear for the race. KK suggested that if you're cooler you'll go faster to keep warm, and then in the next breath decided to wear her arm warmers anyway. But her armwarmers were nice and thin, whereas mine were a bulkier, cooler-weather design. I decided to ditch it all and race shorts and jersey. Just as I threw my extra gear to G, it started to snow. Wtf. The brief snowfall actually broke the ice though; a little laugh at the weather went a long way for my nerves.

The race started a touch on the hairy side. There were thirty riders vying for position and twice I was almost in a crash. Wheels crossed wheels, elbows mashed and we hammered on. The beginning of the course was wide for a long spell before kicking up in the first of the ups and then bottlenecking into a short bit of single track. There was a little tussle to get in there as I arrived at the same time as two others, but a stumble from one blocked the other and I was through without incident. From start to finish, I just felt like I had the go I needed.

G wasn't the only fan that came today -- my parents also made the trip to show their support. Always great to have friends and family at the race and I think I definitely pushed a little harder just for them.

The course was only better for the moisture we've had this week and I was loving the fast, flowy singletrack. I attacked all the climbs (and there was a ton of them!), nailed the boneshaker every lap, and looked forward to every section of the course. I thoroughly enjoyed a couple bike races, backing and forthing with girls from all over Canada.

Making faces on the Boneshaker (photo: D'Amico)

But with two laps to go, my bike started to handle a little funny. Traction was getting skittish, and any time I went over braking bumps, roots or rocky sections, it felt like it was getting jangled more than usual. The suspension just didn't feel as plush as when I started. I couldn't figure out exactly was what going on while I was sitting on top of it, but I dared not stop, so every time I came up to a technical section I'd say a little prayer that things held together. Maybe it was all in my head because once I finished, I couldn't figure out what had come loose. It didn't affect my performance at all so no worries in the end. It was a great positive race, and just what I needed.

I ended up finishing 18th of 30 but since today was also an Ontario Cup, the Ontario Cycling Association awards points for the O-cup series as well. I was the 6th girl over the line from Ontario -- pretty stoked about that!

Cap off all that with a nice lunch with my parents, a nap and a sushi dinner with my boyfriend and I'm about ready to call it a day.

Just before the last corner (photo: D'Amico)

* Boneshaker footage taken by my dad in 2006 (?) ... so not from this weekend.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Most Terrifying Mountain Bike Trail On Earth


Dawn was breaking. The wheels of the bike crunched over the shale-covered surface of the path as the wind swirled beyond the overhanging ledge. Conditions were far from ideal: damp, misty and with more than the hangover of a storm in the air, they left little margin for error – an error that equated to a sheer 600 foot drop down to the waiting rocks and waves of the Atlantic. The riders had ventured out not knowing fully what to expect, but it was too late to turn back now.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

This just in!

Re: Race Report: Canada Cup #2, Tremblant

I made the results afterall! Now that I'm on the page, I'll have to work on moving up it.

So what happened?

The rules say that if you get lapped (Emily Batty passed me with 200m to go) you are supposed to be hooked. But if for some reason they do not stop you, you are entitled to a time and a result.

The thing is, you must state your case within 30 minutes of the race's conclusion. Not knowing this, I missed the boat on that. Turns out I was burned by the rules afterall!

But even so, the race organizers did have a time for me which you can see posted on the official Quebec Cup results.

Lesson learned! And I hope that if you find yourself in a similar situation, this information will prevent you from learning the hard way like I did.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Decompress: A day at Hardwood

Racing takes up so much time and energy that sometimes I forget how much fun just going out for a ride can be. Thanks to Jeff at and Giant Bicycles, I had a bike suitable for G to test out. No stranger to action sports, G picked up the way of the mountain bike in no time at all. I had some payback to dole out for the adventures he treated me to out west but try as I might, there were no trails at Hardwood Hills I could get him to shake his head at.

Typical male, he blamed the equipment. I have the Giant Trance X1 for a couple days in order to add my input for an upcoming review. And after the runs I put on it, I can safely agree that this bike will give even a first-timer like my boyfriend the confidence to point down into some pretty gnarly trails. It felt solid in the rough, and nimble in the tight with tons of adjustability in the controls to make sure that any rider can grab the perfect fit.

Our first lap was on the Trek-Toronto Canada Cup course set to be raced next weekend. Compared to the gnar of Tremblant, I was pleasantly surprised at how much more mellow Hardwood is technically. However, it's important not be fooled because although not as rough, Hardwood has a sneaky kind of technical quality in that your momentum is a very fragile thing. Touch the brakes for an instant, dab or screw up your gearing and you'll find you've lost your momentum and it's tough to get it back again. So it's a course designed for finesse and fitness with some decidely tricky bits thrown in for fun.

The start is wide open — a ton of room for a hammerfest of pedalling. The infamous "Boneshaker" was of course included but I was surprised (happy!) to discover that "the Grunt" seciton on "Radical" is not. The course is estimated at 9km so we'll do four of those come Sunday.

After that, I took G on "Serious" but since he'd done so well on the challenging Canada Cup Course, we quickly bored of "Serious" and moved onto "Gnarly". G greased all the bridges and skinnies, he fearlessly dropped into the roots and the rocks and even cleaned a section that I shied away from. Oh yeah, and then he offered me tips on how to bunny hop with flats — a skill he seemed to pull out of his sleeve in a matter of two seconds messing around in the parking lot. A natural! He's a devoted snowboarder/skateboarder so I doubt I'll ever win him over to the dark side entirely, but it was a great day spent together out of the city, in the fresh air and sunshine. He took to it so naturally hopefully he won't hesitate if I invite him for a ride again.
With the afternoon slipping away, we headed back to the city. It didn't take me long to crash right out. All in all, it was a pretty long weekend. But definitely well spent.
Happy Trails!

Race Report: Canada Cup #2, Tremblant

Race Day: Course runs right through the village on a "cobble stone" climb

If you have already seen the results for the Canada Cup at Tremblant, you may think that perhaps I didn't have a very good day. And that's just not true. It's also not true that I "Did Not Finish" because I sure remember churning out a very challenging 5 x 6.7km laps. So that's the short of it.

The long of it is that there is a "cut off" rule in Canada Cups. Meaning if you do not make it in for your last lap by a certain time, you are listed as DNF. Of course, you never know for sure until the results are posted, so off I went to race a final lap in vain. I don't think I missed the cut off by much and I know I won't let it happen again. That bit of administrivia aside, I actually had a pretty damn good day.
Course Map: 5 x 6.7km laps
When I woke up, I thought I could hear dripping outside my window. Panicked I jumped out of bed and threw back the curtains to see if it had rained on my Quebecois parade. It hadn't. The drip was just a red herring and the sun was shining in a clear blue sky. Perfect race conditions. But, that burst of energy confirmed that my knee was a-ok, so I was stoked.

I packed up and headed down for a scrumptious breakfast at Catherine's, where I ate every morning the last time I was at Tremblant (I was 18 on a ski vacation ... been awhile!) I think crepes should be the start of every race day. Actually, they should be the start of every day, period.

After a few last minute preparations, I crawled back into bed for 40 minutes to calm my thoughts and rest my legs. Before I knew it, it was time to warm up. I put in a good hour spinning before the race to help deal with the nerves. I went to check on the feed zone, the start area and double checked the rules before doing a couple hill repeats and lining up.

Quebec racing is all about rules. And the consequences for not abiding are dire. It seems the recourse for every violation is "Off with his head!" DH-ers have it especially bad. In Ontario, you throw on your shorts, jersey, armour, helmet and giv'er. In Quebec, no skin can show. Not even peeking through the gap between your armour and your shorts. Not even fingerless gloves are allowed. If you don't folllow this rule, you are DQ'd. If you don't check in, DQ'd. If you are caught riding your bike in the village, DQ'd. The best part is, you usually don't find out until the race is over. A guy on our XC team raced an expert race in Quebec back in the day. He raced really well, came second but found out he was DQ'd because he didn't answer "here" loud enough when the commissaire called out the racers' names at the start. So you can see, it's very important to mind the rules.

Anyway, I was well within the rules and all was well. The start was a very aggressive elbows-out affair and the course pitched up immediately and stayed up for a long, long time. The climbing was mainly gradual and then spiked into some steep loose sections to keep you honest. By the time I got into the first single track, my vision was getting shaky from the exertion. But then the flow starts and you get a bit of recovery before the next climb.

Here's a video of the start from ... see me?

The climbing was tough, it's true, but by the 3rd lap, I was treating the climbs almost as a break. My body was taking a real beating through the single track. It was very rough, with tons of rocks and roots to throw the bike around. Riding a good line was challenging but as things went on, I felt I was getting smoother and smoother. Arm pump was making it difficult to hold onto the handlebars and the rough course combined with oxygendebt-influenced-vision made it delightfully challenging. And I'm not being sarcastic here at all. The course was tough enough that it kept my focus right where it needed to be. My mind didn't have the lee-way to wander into negative territory so I just kept hunting and pushing.

Coming through the village

I admit I'm not the strongest technically, but I was pleased to see I was reeling girls back in on the flatter sections and the climbs. It was a really fun day out there and I finished feeling like I'd raced to the best of my abilities. I'd kept crashing to a minimum, and I felt like I'd emptied all the gas from the tank. As soon as I finished, I happily plunked myself down in the team tent where Carly handed me an apple and a Lara Bar and I smiled at what I felt was a great accomplishment. Just because the results don't agree is no skin off my back. Can't wait to try again.

Here's's race video: I'm in there somewhere. I think around 3:49. By way of explanation, this is right after the big climb at the start of the lap. Don't worry, as soon as my vision returned I passed that girl.

Tremblant, Day 1: Pre-ride!

I made a decision this season to stretch myself a little more in terms of race experience. I wanted to broaden my horizons so to speak, and take on greater challenges (not that racing so far hasn't been challenging enough ...)

I took the day off work on Friday and got a head start out east Thursday night. After a peaceful night passed on the shore of Charleston Lake, lulled to sleep by the frogs in the Bay, I set off to meet my grampa in Gananoque for breakfast before rolling out for the border. It was an early start so the light was lovely. I got some nice pics of the lake at its calmest, as well as some of the spring blooming going on. Click to enlarge!

The drive to Tremblant from Gananoque was exciting. Driving in Quebec is a much different experience than Ontario. The construction was one thing, but then there was also this nagging feeling that there just wasn't as much room to get around. I mean that in terms of the space other drivers give you and in the seemingly non-existant on merging lanes to get on and off all the different highways I tried out. But enough of that. The minivan and I made it just fine.

Once I got to Tremblant it was a whole other story. Finding the hotel proved one of the more challenging tests of the weekend. At last, I narrowed its location down to the parking garage but couldn't figure out where to check in. So I did a quick walk around the vicinity and discovered the reception. I also discovered a sign telling me the reception had been moved to another hotel and so the search resumed. All this messing around was cutting into my preride time so I was getting quite antsy. Finally, I got kitted up, and went out to see what I could see. Mostly, I saw the end of very long registration line-up.

At last, I was grinding my way up the first of many uphill kilometres. I was so happy to be out in the sun on a new course. It was my first time racing in Quebec, and my first time riding XC there so I was eagerly lapping it up (excuse the pun). The first section of singletrack was everything I hoped for and more. And each section afterwards seemed to get ever-the-more challenging so I was definitely getting the stretch I was after. That feeling of accomplishment after sessioning the tough spots and riding out successfully is what makes the sport so fulfilling.

Here are some shots from the course:

Of course, about then is when I let my elation get the better of me, stopped paying attention for a split second and slammed my front tire into a tall root. That set off a chain of events that left me choked-up trail side while I waited for the blinding pain to go away. The root jarred my progress so much that my foot came unclipped on a trajectory that landed my pre-damaged knee straight into the stem.

So much for preriding. Since I couldn't walk very well, and climbing was no longer on the menu, I went back to the Sweet Pete's/Primary-Trek tent to lick my wounds. And that's where my frown was turned upside down again!

I was lucky that Chris from Sweet Pete's was there with the Primary-Trek downhill team. The DH races were set to run on Sunday so Tremblant was full of riders of all kinds. Chris introduced me to a number of extremely helpful people over the weekend. First was Jean, a truly amazing mechanic. He was kind enough to "Make-Ready" my bike so at least it would be in racing shape come Saturday, even if I wasn't. Cables were greased, shifting fine-tuned and then we even reset the controls on my handlebars allowing me to brake one-fingered, and shift with just my thumb. This came in handy big time on the rough singletrack and descents. Arm pump crept right up into my fingernails at times so I was grateful I didn't have far to move my digits to scrub speed and change gears. Then he even polished it up for good measure.

Jean makes ready my trusty steed

The next person Chris introduced me to was his lovely wife Carly.
She cooked up an amazing pre-race pasta spread complete with cheese and cracker appetizer and served with a side of ice-pack for my wounded knee. I vote Carly the weekend's MVP because as if that weren't enough, she was a willing volunteer to bake in the feed zone on my behalf for the duration of the race. So thanks to Chris and Carly for all your help this weekend!

After a great dinner, it was off to the hotel room (not an easy feat ... still averaging about 30 minutes to find my room at this point) to mix my potions and get some rest. When I got there, I discovered I'd deactivated my room key, so I had to hike around to find the other hotel, get it remagnetized and then find my way back, but even with that little hiccup, it was a lovely night in Tremblant. If I didn't have a race the next day, you'd have found me at the Cafe D'Epoque swilling beers on the patio for sure.

I slept great, and woke up ready to rip. And thanks to religious icing and copious amounts of Advil, even my knee was on board.
To close, here is the pre-race coverage from

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Yup, Fits Like A Glove
See Original Post.

Besides shorts, gloves are probably one of the more personal articles of bike clothing on every cyclist's shopping list. Not only is fit important, but comfort, function, style and how much space there is to wipe your snot are all factors in choosing the right gloves for you. I chose the Dakine Covert (for girls) and I'd do it again, too.

I wore these gloves for the first time in an early season ride out in Squamish, BC. I felt I would really put them through the ringer before I offered the world my opinion on them. They held up great, and even with some discomfort due to thorns I added myself (not advisable) you can put these gloves on and then forget they're there.

The BC trip was three days of solid riding in all imaginable conditions. Each day, despite wet west-coast weather, the Coverts were dried out and as soft as ever. But it wasn't all fog and mist - one day was hot and sunny, and I found that not only did they hold up to the elements, but they breathed and ventilated nicely too when the temperature was turned up.

When I got home, I washed them in the laundry (cold-water settings to help conserve) and they came out good as new. No new sizing surprises, and still just as pretty as the day I got them. The feminine details embossed on the back held together and the black is still deep and dark. No threads came loose, and since there are no Velcro tabs (they've got a slick, slip-on design), the rest of my laundry load was kept safe from the annoying damage Velcro is known to cause.

Dakine lists the following features for their Covert gloves. Here's what I thought about each.

Performance articulation: What does this even mean? This sounds like some sort of "marketing lingo" but what I think they're trying to say is that the seams are sewn in a way that won't interfere with the fits-like-a-glove feeling. I would agree that they've met that objective, but points off for the mumbo jumbo. Sounds like I might be able to have a deep conversation with them, and that's just false advertising.

Neoprene knuckle flex panels: In the past, I've had major complaints with gloves sporting rubber padding on the knuckles. The rigid squares, while useful for run-ins with trees and branches, mostly just end up rubbing blisters into my fingers. The Neoprene flex panels solve this nicely. They're low-bulk, soft and padded, so the only damage to my hands I'm worried about will come from the trail.

Silicone gripper fingertips: Since I am having trouble sorting out the best position for my XT controls (the topic of a review for another day perhaps) this feature has come in handy more than once. Wildly reaching for my shifters, that tiny gripper is a big help. Plus, they're just pretty. A very delicate design with Dakine in script for a feminine touch add function to some very lovely form.

Palm padding: A must for any endurance athlete, the padding in the palms is a welcome - nay, necessary! - part of the design. As the gloves are broken in, the padding is finding its natural place under my grip but my one other complaint is some slight bunching at the base of my fingers and in the crook of my thumb. I am hoping that as I continue to ride with them this effect will be reduced, but it is definitely something to consider if you pick a pair up for yourself. Make sure you break in your equipment before you introduce it to a race situation. That's just a good rule of thumb.

It's been a few washes now, a few races, and lots of snot and saliva too since their first trial out west. They still look and feel new and I would recommend them to any female rider. You can get your Dakine gloves and apparel at Sweet Pete's Bike Shop

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Stop, Drop and Roll!

Photo cred: Monk. Don Ride, Fall 2007

The other day, I was rolling along with a friend for some tempo riding before heading into the office. It was a perfect morning. The trails were bathed in sunlight poking through the new lush green leaves that seemed to have arrived overnight. Work had been so busy I'd had precious few moments to get out on the bike so I was really reveling in these few stolen hours.

It's amazing how fast everything can change.

After riding The Ridge, we (or rather, I) decided we should go over to Training Loop. Randall was more interested in riding the Upper Don, hitting such favourites as Party Atmosphere and Catalyst, but some of those trails are just too technical to get the steady work in that I felt I needed. So I convinced him to follow me to Training Loop. Should have listened to Randall.

Training Loop was not dry. I ended up back in the mud, and back in the bad memories of Albion Pits. Maybe that's what had me distracted? Because the next thing I knew, I was falling off the top of an oft'-rode ladder bridge four feet off the ground.

It's funny how things go slow motion in times like these. I felt like time froze as I dangled off-balance somewhere between riding-out and falling-off. It seemed an eternity to reach the brick-strewn dirt below. All I was thinking over and over was "omigawd, collarbones!" I remember actually having time to think it through, and decide the best way to avoid breaking a clavical would be to tuck and roll.

In the end, my collarbones were intact, but I'd cleverly used my knee to break my fall. A busted clavical will put you out for 6 weeks. My knee is better today. So although it is still very brightly coloured, cost me a race, a day of work and a bit of spirit, I'm now back in the saddle. I'm hungry, haven't lost much fitness, and just registered for my very first race in Quebec.

So we'll see how it does this weekend at the Tremblant Canada Cup.

But before I close up this long overdue posting, I'd like to take a moment to thank the folks that keep me rolling.

First, there's Nancy Laythorpe, RMT. She offers her services via housecall as well as at a clinic in the Beaches and will do up a proper receipt for insurance claims (if you are covered through your work). My favourite is a massage with lavendar oils, then I float off to bed. You'll have the deepest, most rejuvenating sleep ever, then wake up energized with all the miles stripped off and good as new. Try it yourself! She's at 416.525.6827 or

And then there's Dr. Henry Candelaria who I first met at the Toronto Athletic Club. He has recently opened his own clinic on College Street in the heart of Little Italy. He is a chiropractor but also certified in accupuncture, ART and is just generally a pretty knowledgeable guy in my estimation. You can follow him on his blog as well for helpful everyday tips on good muscular/skeletal health.

So happy trails, and remember: rubber side down.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Race Report: Ontario Cup #2, Albion

The start: nice and clean, sunny skies and eager to get out on the course

The finish: Just happy to be done. Kisses from Tessa who liked the dried Clif Shot stuck to my chin.

Happy Mother's Day first of all. I was lucky enough to get to spend the weekend at my parents' house in Port Elgin. For the first time in a long time, I hand-delivered my mom's card. This was largely enabled by the minivan, as I have had a race on Mother's Day Sunday for years and years, so travelling has always sort of been at other people's mercy.
Anyway, back to the race, my mother always told me that if i didn't have anything nice to say, then I should not say anything at all. Which means this blog will be a short one. Yup, it was that kind of day.

* Saturday (the day before the race) the course was under water ... and Albion doesn't drain well. At all.
* The original course was thrown out, and a rain course adopted instead
* It was qualifier day for Juniors and Cadets hoping to make it to the Canada Summer Games, so our category was nice and full
* It took me a long time to finish the race. Sufferfest.

The first half of the course was tacky and beautiful. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and I started to wonder if the worst of it had been worn-in by the earlier start times. Then reality came crashing down with the first of the mud bogs on the second half of the course. Deep, soupy, poo-smelling mud sucked up our wheels right over the hubs. You come roaring into a “puddle” only to be stopped oh-so-suddenly and then you have to put your feet in it too. The bike weighed more than I could carry, and my feet made sucking sounds that reminded me of cow hooves in the feed pen with every laborious step. The mud collected to gears making shifting a luxury. It got stuck between the frame and the wheels, so they couldn't turn until you dug it out with your gloves. Just before the lap ended, there was one last lake to cross that washed off the mud, but left your feet cold and wet to start your next lap, and the whole muddy process over again.

So ... that's all I have to say about that. My only comment is that I've never wanted to quit a race more. But I didn’t, and that to me is a victory in itself.

Thanks to Liz for the photos above, and for taking care of me in the feed zone!

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Atherton Project

The Atherton's are making a reality TV show? Well it's about time if you ask me. Dan, Gee and Rachel are the 2008 men's DH, women's DH and men's 4X champs. Yeah. That's right, they swept the podium. They've got matching rainbow jerseys, and huge personalities. So I'll definitely be watching, and linking each episode from here. Stay tuned!

Here's the trailer:

More Mountain Biking >>

From Dirt Magazine:

Red Bull will launch a brand new reality online TV series: ‘The Atherton Project’, on Friday 15th May. The fly on the wall show will track the exploits of the most famous family in mountain bike history. Follow British riders Dan, Gee and Rachel Atherton as they compete in the 2009 UCI World Cup Series and the World Championships in Australia, where Rachel and Gee will defend their 2008 crowns. The series promises to delve deep into their lives, especially life away from the training routines and competitions. Viewers will get an unprecedented insight into what makes the amusing trio click as the series unfolds. All aspects of family life will be uncovered; nothing will be left to the imagination, even the areas usually reserved just for family and friends! The man behind the camera is legendary mountain bike film maker Clay Porter. Dan, Gee and Rachel have given him unlimited access to their lives as he follows them all over the planet in the one of the craziest adventures to hit the internet. In the first instalment viewers meet the family during their winter training in California. Tune in to find out which one of them is scared of spiders. Plus what wise words does Rachel have for US President Barack Obama? The entertaining episode tracks their progress all the way to South Africa as they compete in the first round of the UCI World Cup. Expect plenty of ups and downs as one of them has to face up to some harsh realities after being hit by a truck. The fast paced show has been created specifically for an online audience and new episodes will released every other week, and be available first on and, and then via all good websites and video platforms.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Obligatory Shimano vs Sram Post

I was excited when I got the Trek to be going back to a full Shimano drive train. Everything from shifters to derailleurs, brakes, cranks and even pedals have got those nice little XTs stamped all over them. But after what seems like a ton of riding and racing already, there's trouble in paradise.

Gearheads are notorious for vigorous debates between the merits of Shimano vs Sram. Each side boasts rabidly loyal customers that will fight ad nauseum over things I don't understand or care about like ratios, materials and on and on. I never really entered the fray because you know what they say about arguing on forums ...

Anyway, this isn't a forum, it's a blog so I can say whatever I want and moderate your comments after. Besides, until now I didn't realize how much I have to say on this topic. So here is my "user's review" with absolutely no nod to engineering or design whatsoever (unless colour counts!)

Last season I rode the Giant Anthem Zero (above) and it came spec'd with full Sram X0. It was a beautiful bike and I didn't know how good I had it when it came to shifting. I remember when I picked it up from the shop, I hated the Sram. The thumb-thumb shifting after getting used to Shimano's thumb-trigger really screwed me up and I felt like I had to relearn this most basic skill. But the brain is an amazing thing and after the second ride, it was second nature. I never gave my shifting a second thought. Oh, the things we take for granted!
This season, on the Trek (above) and its Shimano XT build, I'm spending more time than ever fussing with stuff I don't think I should have to be fussing over. As much as I love this bike (and I can't stress that enough) the shifting is really starting to grind my gears. Last night I raced it in the Superfly Tuesday night series and was reminded once more how annoying it is to not be able to shift under power (read, abuse my equipment as sometimes happens in race situations) and count on my drivetrain to work through the mud and hills of Albion.

So here is my Shimano vs Sram match up.

Sram X0
  • satisfying "chk" on every shift
  • even under too much pressure (like a climb) shifting remained reliable
  • highly adjustable controls which is great for women with smaller hands such as myself
  • sleek metal/carbon design on the shifters
  • set and forget -- tuning stayed in place for a whole season! (whereas my XT has trouble doing that for one whole ride.)

Shimano XT
  • notably light
  • unreliable shifting, sometimes taking two pedal strokes to get in gear
  • limited adjustability of controls means I can't find a position I can reach with thumb and finger that doesn't cause me to have to move my hand, twist my wrist or cramp my fingers
  • limit tuning required after almost every hard ride
  • plastic parts although light, feel cheap and make me worry I'm about to break it every time I shift into the big ring
Final score? Sram 4, Shimano -3.

It's a knockout.

And speaking of knockouts, look at these beauties!! Sram's new X0 groupo, in colour! Dear Santa ...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

More photos from Sunday

I'm lucky I've got talented friends! Sean got some great souvenir shots of me from Downhill Day (and some unintentionally hilarious ones, which I'll mostly keep to myself). He was kind enough to forward me the jpegs so here you go! Thanks Sean!

This one makes me laugh because you can see the effects of a borrowed bike up close: Chris likes a wider handlebar than I'm used to and I've got at least 2 inches on either end in extra space! Also, at some point, my elbow pads became wrist guards. I didn't notice until it was time to take them off. Newb.

This one was taken during practice (I can tell because my elbow pads are where they're supposed to be)
This one is on the landing of the log drop. It's huckable but that's not in my bag of tricks yet. Well, a little huck maybe.

The log drop -- and amazing blue skies -- in the background. I saw guys landing outside this frame so I've got a long way to go!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Race Report: Ontario Cup #1, DH, Kelso

I'm exhausted, sunburned and totally stoked. Today was my first time racing Downhill and I'll always remember it.

Yesterday, as I mentioned, I was a little bit unsure of myself. I hiked the hill once to take a look at the course, sessioned some sections I had trouble with (read: every one of them) and then drove home thinking I was in way over my head. I even had a little heart-to-heart with my boyfriend about it in which we decided that maybe if things didn't look better in the morning, I would skip the race and thereby eliminate the risk to my XC season. It seemed clear to me that the potential for serious injury was high.

I woke up early so I could get there with plenty of time to run the course. Things didn't feel better. In fact, I'd had nightmares about the damn thing. But the sun was shining and I had some friends to collect on the way so off I went.

Sean, Jeff and I made the trip in the minivan. I came to race, they came to work on their picture-taking skills. Once I had the loaner bike and all the armour paraphanalia sorted out, we went our seperate ways. I was on a mission to figure out downhill. And I only had two hours to do it.

Photo cred: Jeff Monk. This is me during the race run, trying not to run over Jeff.

I hiked up the ski hill about six times. The lift was taking way too long and I was wasting valuable practice time just standing around. Each run I'd figure out another little thing. But still, before the race I hadn't yet been able to string a clean lap together. My riding was full of dabs [putting a foot down], erroneous braking and expletives. The course looked something like this:

1. Start gate then a straight with lots of room for pedalling, but with a jump (I'm an XC rider and even the smallest possibility of my tires leaving the ground makes me squeamish)

2. Gnarly rock garden starting with a pump section (three undulating bumps that you have to use your whole body to work the bike through or else lose all your momentum)

3. Six foot drop ... which I went around via the "chicken line", which was still steep and covered in rocks and roots, with an off-camber out

4. Flatter pedalling section (yesssss!)

5. Two sets of jumps

6. Log drop to off-camber berms and more rhythm sections

7. Gnarly rock garden

8. Wide open track to the finish ("pedal, pedal, pedal," roar the crowds).

By the time the race rolled around I was exhausted from walking up the hill all those times with a 30 pound bike, fullface helmet and armour (and nowhere to put a water bottle). I did a couple warm up sprints while doing my best not to watch as the other racers took off in 30 second intervals. It would mess with my brain way too much if I saw someone eat it on those rocks. So I just sat in the sun and prayed to Jesus to keep me safe.

Then a miracle!

After spending the whole morning talking about how scared I was, how over-my-head I felt and resigning myself to last place (if I finished at all) I took my spot in the start gate. The numbers beeped down, and I swear, I literally felt a "click" up in my brain and the competitor in me took the wheel. I was focused, calm, relaxed and at last! That smooth run I'd been trying for all morning just happened. I finished happy, and all in one piece so I'd already accomplished all my goals for the day. But to my surprise, my smooth-at-last race run was the fastest of the day for the women's field. I'd won a gold medal! And not like yesterday's ... today there were three other very fast, experienced and respected ladies to compete with.

Downhill was a great adventure, and an exercise in the power of positive thinking. I had such a fun weekend, and only wish I could be in two (or three!) places at once so I could come out to some more, but for now, I think it's back to XC.

After the race, the boys took me to Swiss Chalet, where I was given a yellow balloon and yellow pie in honour of my yellow medal.

Check out the shop's coverage of the event -- a great weekend for Sweet Pete's!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Race Report: Ontario's First Ever Super-D

I was awarded a gold medal today, but I didn't win it. I got it just for showing up to Ontario's first ever Super-D race put on by Sir Bikealot Racing in conjunction with the first Ontario Cup DH race to be held tomorrow.

I watched the pre-registration list throughout the week but there was no sign of other females stoked to try a Super D. So I told myself they must be planning on pre-riding the course, then deciding and registering at the event. Since Super D is a new discipline in Ontario, I thought it made sense that people would like a taste before they dropped 39 bucks on their entry fee. But as it turned out, I knew I'd won the race before I even started. You'd think that'd be a good feeling, but really it just kind of took the wind out of my sails. To keep it interesting, I decided I'd push to see how far into the men's category I could get instead.

Before I tell you about my day in gravity sports, let me lay out some basic information.

What is Super D?
Super D is somewhere between downhill and cross country mountain biking. Although the course points down, you still need to pedal. There are a few uphills, but mostly your momentum carries you. Throw in a some flowy single track, the odd technical section (nothing scary, girls!!) and it's all over in just a few minutes. It's basically everything that's fun about XC (unless you think long technical climbs are fun in which case you're out of luck.)

What kind of bike do you need?
I rode my Trek today which is the same bike I ride for XC races. People also rode 4X bikes and burlier trail bikes (6-inch travel) but certainly you'd be fine with 4 inches of travel and a hardtail. For the record, both the women's and men's fields were won by XC racers ... so I'd say it's kind of our thing.

What do you wear?
I made a point of wearing lycra today because I was in DH-land and they can't stand it. I thought I'd better represent. Full face helmets are necessary on the DH course, but not on the Super D -- I just wore what I wear to XC races. Some people wear ski-style helmets with goggles though. I wasn't too sure about the steeze on that one ... I guess it's cool?

What can I expect?
This morning, rolling into the parking lot, I thought "This'll be easy! Rock n roll!" Turns out you shouldn't expect easy. I was pretty much redlined for the entire 4 minutes and 39 seconds I raced. It's downhill, but it's a sprint too. Plus, unless you're willing to wait in line for an hour to get up the slowest lift in the world, you've got to ride up the ski hill at least two times to the start. In Super D, you must do two practice runs and the commissaire has to see you do it, and mark it on your number plate. Otherwise you can't start the race. I'm not sure how it is in other places (I think some Super Ds run heats?) but at the Ontario Cup, we were started one at a time at 30 second intervals.

That pretty much sums it up. Next time, I really hope more girls and more XC racers go out to show those gravity dudes what's up. It was such a fun course, and it teaches you a ton about carrying speed and cornering. I'm glad I did it, even if it was lonely in the ladies' category.

My day started fairly early as I wanted to practice on the course before the racing started at 1pm. The weather was pretty fair, but once in a while it did rain a bit. It seemed to get colder as the day went on as well so I ended up racing in knee and arm warmers again. I made friends in the morning with the only other person in lycra. We rode the chair-lift together, one back from our bikes dangling precariously by their back wheels and decided we'd just skip the chair for the rest of the day. *shudders*. I chased him down the course a couple times. He races Elite as well in XC so we were both on a little field trip to the gravity side of things. He won his race too. We must have had a lucky chair that morning.

I prerode the course, and also whipped around on the single track gloriousness at Kelso. I ended up doing alot more riding today than I anticipated, and that's a good thing! I didn't really know anyone so I hung out in the minivan eating my lunch and reading a book until it was time to climb the hill to the start.

My race run was fantastic. I did everything the way I wanted to, hit my lines, got some great, positive comments from the spectators, nose-wheelied the finish (although that was an accident ... tee hee) and even gave a young girl a pep talk at her dad's request. I think she'll be ripping it up next Super D. And so should you!!

Once that was all over with, I went back to the car and put on my DH disguise. I grabbed the bike I'm borrowing ... thanks Chris! ... and hiked it up the mountain. The switch from being clipped in to flat pedals was scary. The rocks were scary. The jumps were scary. The drops were scary. Respek to downhillers who make that rough stuff look butter smooth.

Tomorrow is race day again, so I'm off to bed, hopefully to dream about how to string together a good DH race run.

My loaner bike -- Trek Remedy. Suuuch a nice ride.

ABP and X-0 Equipped!!

Obligatory down tube shot ... and custom sticker job

Spy cam captures his royal cuteness. Only 11 weeks old!