Thursday, April 29, 2010
Monday, April 26, 2010
So here it is, the long awaited review. I know Matt is probably stirring in his bed right now, unable to sleep because he wants to know how his bike sizes up with the competition. Well, Matt, rest assured because the FF-1 is blowing my socks off!
In 2008 I bought the Specialized Tarmac Expert pictured above, using part of my graduation money and a lot of hard work throughout that summer. I got it brand new, without the ZIPP wheel pictured, and won my first race just two days after getting it. Needless to say this bike has some memories, good and bad. I raced it for two seasons during my emergence into cycling. Like I said, it owned my first victory, my first superweek, first three hour day, along with countless other things. Nothing like reminiscing about something so important to your life. This bike got me through a lot.
Sadly though, after being sized for my new FF-1 I was surprised to find out that the bike was too large for me. As Matt said, "You're stretched out on this thing like a top level pro!". After a few adjustments to shorten the bike to a more comfortable, generally better riding position, I knew what he meant. Honestly the bike was huge for me. However, I've grown used to that stretched out position so we didn't want to take things too far. Matt sized me up for a 53.5 cm frame, 2.5 cm smaller than my Tarmac. What is a seemingly small number ended up making a world of difference.
I used to think my Tarmac was the stiffest thing on earth. Specialized was all I ever knew about bikes. I got my first mountain bike: a Specialized, first road bike: a specialized, and then this bike: yet another specialized. For some reason I thought they just "fit" me very well. I liked the brand and it seemed like they put a lot of effort into research with pros and just within their company. To be blunt, this bike was a noodle. The ZIPP 808 you see pictured above rubbed on the chain stays, not because of its own flex but because of the frame's. Literally, every time I pedaled, the bottom bracket swayed at least 5 mm side to side if not a whole cm. That was drastic and made me see how much power was being robbed from my legs. Like I said, Specialized was all I knew, it was what I was comfortable with. Little did I know that a SISU FF-1 would be in my future.
As I stated in my last entry, this bike is stiff! I've ridden four days on it so far, a total of 8.5 hours in the saddle on this beautiful machine. On that note, the paint job/decals are what really set this bike apart from any other. Everything else is available to any other consumer on the market, however the one-off paint job and wheel decals are so sick! If you ever get to see this bike up close and in person you will understand. It's so cool to see it all together and have my name on it. Every time I look down during a hard effort, I see "GUTS" along with my last name back by the integrated seat post. Nothing is cooler than having your name on your race machine, cheesily it makes me feel like a pro. That's motivation for the future.
In all honesty, every bit of this bike is custom. The sizing process was very personal and assessed all my riding habits including but not limited to all the measurements of body angles, bike part heights and lengths, what type of rider I considered myself to be (a surprisingly hard question to answer), as well as identifying any of my strengths. All this taken together built this awesome bike. A bike that is dialed in for me and only me, with the parts I wanted and my name on it. DOPE right? It gets better...
The bike rides like a dream. It soaks up so much road noise, the kind that only U.P. roads can offer no matter where you go. From the side roads in Marquette County to the cobbles of downtown Houghton, this bike is smooth. On top of that great comfort factor comes stiffness that I'm not sure can be beat. Wheel rub? GONE. Bottom bracket flex? Minimal at most, not even visible while riding anymore. Now for the riding disciplines: Flats - aerodynamic integrated seat post, aero zipp wheels, FAST, transfers all the power to the ground and just flies; Cornering - very light under the body, easy to point and shoot corners, it's as if the bike does the work for you throughout the corner; Climbing - very stiff and stable, comfortable seated or standing and seems to suit my climbing style very well; Sprinting - though I haven't gotten the chance to do much this bike is fast, power is transferred right to the wheels and off you go. I sprinted away from a car yesterday at a STOP sign without even thinking about it.
Needless to say, I'm blown away by everything. Yes, things have changed in the bike industry, people now have a desire for stiff frames but you can't beat the local experience of a custom build and fit dialed for YOUR body to perform at it's peak. For a truly custom experience, you can't go wrong with SISU. Below is the another image for you all, a closer if you will, of the saying that will get me through everything this season as well as next for sure. GUTS, if you ain't got 'em get a SISU and you'll know what it's all about.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
When I first got into cycling I read Lance Armstrong's book, It's not About the Bike, and learned a lot about life and what he meant by that title. At that same time I fell in love with biking, especially road biking. However I am here to tell you today that I have discovered a flaw in this claim by Mr. Armstrong, it's all about the bike!
You see, Lance Armstrong did not have access to SISU Cycles at the time of this claim, nor was it the dominating force of cycling that it is now. As we all know SISU Cycles has been a rising power in the bicycle industry since its start in the U.P. in August of 2006. If only Lance would've known about the expanding superpower of bicycles was happening right here in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. He stuck with his deal with Trek as any pro would for his comeback last year at the height of SISU's rise to power. Bad move Lance, you could have had some SISU in your life and won the tour last year. Such a shame... But third was good enough, right?
Unlike Mr. Lance Armstrong, I saw the hope in such a company and I wanted victory. After SISU offered to sponsor me for the 2010 and 2011 seasons I knew this was the right decision for me. Not only a great team, but a great bike. After an evening test ride with owner and team director, Matt Palomaki, I was sold. This bike, the SISU Cycles FF-1 (Flying Finn 1), was the bike for me.
What I found in the frame is a super stiff, very supple ride. The bike responded to every bit of input I gave it. I didn't get the chance to rail a corner, but that is first on my list once I take my new bike out for it's inaugural ride. I was so impressed that I started work right away that evening to pay for this new bike while also planning one of the sweetest custom builds in SISU Cycles history.
I met with Matt at 9am Thursday morning to work on my ZIPP decals for my 808 wheels what would add the aerodynamic edge to my new ride. That was my task while he built the bike up with SRAM Red components throughout as well as a ZIPP SLC2 handlebar, WCS stem, Selle Italia SLR saddle and white bar tape to top it all off! After a full day of building, peeling old decals off and replacing them with custom graphics from Signs Unlimited we ended up with a truly custom machine.
The initial test ride of the new bike immediately after the build felt very good. All the feelings I had on the very first test ride of Matt's bike were there. The difference was that it was mine, it had my name on it, my parts and I was ready to ride! The frame soaked up all the vibration that only roads like Greengarden road can provide and as stated before, was stiff as a board. I took it easy at first and built up to a moderate sprint followed by a short climbing test. I couldn't be any more pleased with the feel of the bike. I'm sure I'll have adjustments to make after my first real ride on Friday, but I'm very excited to have the bike and begin dialing it in.
So back to the fact that Lance was wrong; it is ALL about the bike. As you can see from the picture above, this thing just looks fast and ready for success. Friday will be the true testament to this but I feel that this bike will bring me to a whole new level of racing simply because of its design and the fact that I got to make just about every decision about the bike along the way.
It's been a while now since the day over Spring Break when I first was offered this sponsorship and we started work on this project but I couldn't be happier now. This bike is off the chain! Soon to come will be the comparison between my 2008 Specialized Tarmac Expert vs. my new SISU Cycles FF-1.
Monday, April 19, 2010
I came into Yankee hoping for a top ten finish and ended up just making the podium (Expert 30-39) by 4.2 seconds. Results: http://www.raceservices.com/10/yankee/041810_ee.txt This was my fourth year racing Yankee, my fourth year racing-if the 4-7 races I do a year qualifies as a racing year-and the first year I actually prerode the course. Here are other things I should know by now:
1. Bottles disappear. Last year I lost a bottle and barely avoided bonking. This year, I carried two of the Hammer gel bottles with mix, in my jersey. I picked up said disappearing bottle on lap two and barely avoided a miserable, depleted finish. Maybe a pack is in my future...hmmm.
2. Tire pressure matters. This was my first race on the rigid 29er and it was by far my best result yet. Subtract extreme bounce, a lame, low-speed spinout, and a bottle stop...and I still would have been third, who am I kidding? Anyway, I knew I wanted to run low pressure as I pin-balled around the roots and rocks on my first preride lap and then stuck to everything with five PSI less. I liked 28-9 on the preride, but lost my gauge and rode the TT with way too much air!
3. Eat too much breakfast. Banana, yoghurt, coffee, cereal, milk two hours before with a lot of water. I like a heavy egg, meat, and bread breakfast, too, like Iceman last year. This might be its own number on the list, but warming up helps a bit, some say. Enough of this. What matters?
4. Sisu steel makes me faster.
Pontiac Time Trial this Sunday. I haven't ridden the trail yet this year, but hope to get there this week. My legs were sore on a recovery ride tonight, but I'm feeling pretty rested in general.
Monday, April 12, 2010
For the last couple of years, they've been putting on the Brown County Breakdown, a group ride/event with distances up to 100 miles. I ran into some riders at Lumberjack last year who raved about the BCB, named for a Bluegrass song, (Brown County is home to the Bean Blossom BluegrassFestival, the oldest in the country) but maybe this Oct0ber. After riding here, it would be a shame to miss it.(http://www.browncountymountainbiking.com/breakdown/index.html)
So when I decided this year to make my annual Outdoor Club spring break trip a summer trip, I began fantasizing about either a Mohican/Loudonville, OH trip or, finally, a chance to sample the forested, clay hills of Southern Indiana. As opposed to fifteen, albeit great, teenagers, this was a solo trip-me, my hot rod mini-van, and this beautiful steel bike by the name of Hogsback, a Sisu it is.
Day 1: I rolled out Easter Sunday (sorry family, I had to do it) and did the long stretch through SW Michigan, to Fort Wayne, to a lucky find, a Trader Joe's stop in an Indy suburb. Properly fueled up, and starting to wonder if all the flatland would ever yield decent terrain for biking, I headed south toward Columbus, In. and started to see hills, big, beautiful ridges covered with mature Eastern forest. A scant fifteen miles from the highway, six hours home to trail, I pulled through the 9' covered bridge into the park. My non-electric campsite? $10.25. Nearly hyper-ventilating with excitement, I threw on the kit, grabbed the excellent map, and put in an exploratory ride, 10 miles of singletrack and six on the ultra-steep paved park roads. A road rider would have just as much fun as a moutain biker here.
After the ride, I drove the fifteen miles into Bloomington, a gem of a college town, for a locally-grown burger and refreshment. Could life get better? Well, maybe sleeping in a van could be improved upon...but with stars like that?
Day 2: As my friend Ray said while winter camping and dirtbagging around the UP one year, "I want a 'real breakfast.' Let's go the the Sweetwater Cafe!" I wanted a real breakfast and headed to the Muddy Boot in the artist colony, Nashville, Indiana. It's touristy, but has a tiny arthouse cinema, a brewery, restaurants-all the amenities. After powering down a huge plate of local sage sausage, potatoes, eggs, and a gallon of coffee, it was back to the bike. Tough life.
Tough miles more like it. In Michigan terms, the closest thing I can compare it to is the South Marquette Trail System. It's flowy, technical, rocky, fast, gnarly, and all fun. There are vistas that look on miles of forest and the trails take you from the Chestnut Oak ridgetops to the Maple/Beech to the creekside ecosystems deep in the valley. The hills run in the 300-400 foot range, not North Carolina, but bigger than my haunts back home in Holly.
These men and women can build some trail! The streams and drains are armored-big, burly rocks that won't be going anywhere, but ride nicely. One new trail, the Schooner Trace, had such nasty rock entrances, I was scared away on my rigid 29er. Maybe I'll be confident enough next time to hit that and some of the doubles that abound on the Lime Kiln Trail. One note: avoid these trails after multi-day rains or in the spring freeze-thaw; the clay must be a mess as there is signage everywhere.
After 26 miles of singletrack, I had ridden all the trail in the park, but only in one direction. I was hammered, quads pulsing, and took a hot shower in the campground. A bit bored with myself, I headed into Bloomington again to Bloomingfoods, a great co-op, and took my Reed's Extra Ginger beer and vittles on the road for a scenic drive. After two hours of scenic hills and farmland, and a discovery of just another 150 or so miles of trail, and a hailstorm of quarter-sized hail, I headed back to camp for a hot Oak fire and the national championship game on Butler radio! Great game but I'm genetically required to root for the underdog.
Day 3: I woke unsure if I had more riding in me, but after strong java and a hearty breakfast in the 70 degree morning, I found enough juice to ride the road to the North Entrance so that I could hit the North Tower and Aynes Loops (both clockwise this time) and finish with the Hesitation Point connector. The fatigue melted away and my heart was singing for the raw beauty of Brown County State Park and its heavenly singletrack.
This area has the potential to develop into a destination, if it's not already. I love the fact that I can ride my bike to five different trail systems from home, but sometimes it's nice to get away from everything to see yet another miraculous place in this fine country of ours.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
I woke up Saturday morning to bitter winds and a temperature somewhere in the mid 30s: it was going to be a cold couple of hours in the saddle. I slammed some yoghurt, banana, water, coffee, a bar or two, and warmed up my van to change into the kit.
My Hogsback was ready to go, and after a quick tire pressure check (35 psi in the Bulldogs), I got in some warming laps around the Gun Lake campground, although it was too cold to break the sweat satisfactorily. I knew the start would be cold, but I'm always willing to suffer a bit to avoid stripping layers later. Leg warmers, regular shorts, long-sleeve tech t-shirt, long-sleeve fleeced jersey, mid-weight gloves, cap,-no booties, no ear band, no shell-my setup felt perfect.
The (not so) neutral roll-out and start/finish area was just a half-mile from the campsite, so my buddy Jeff and I cruised over with a few minutes to spare. All classes, all racers, were rolling out together, over 700 riders! Rick Plite, race promoter, asked people from lower classes not to pass during the 3-4 mile roll-out, but clearly a lot of riders just started pushing to the front during the massive roll-out. I was foolish and conservative and should have moved up, but the accordioning pack had me a bit nervous and I figured things would stretch out before the sandy two-track.
As you can see, that didn't exactly work out. Observe the five-wide riders and the riders diving off the road in the background. People on twitchy 'cross bikes were going down left and right in the sand pits while I did my best to be patient. My Hogsback felt so stable in the sand and I just...wanted...to go... fast! The roll-out was cool, but didn't stretch out the pack as intended. I know Rick has been actively getting feedback from racers and he'll have a solution next year. I did see another Sisu rider, Justin, on this section, so that was a lift.
After leaving the sandy two-track, the race opens up on laser-fast dirt roads, with over 2200 feet of climbing on the 35 mile course. I caught on with a fast group and we settled into a nice groove for about forty minutes, 20 of us, mostly on 'cross bikes, with a few groups going forward or backward. On the last massive hill before the pavement ending, I attacked. Apparently that hill shattered the group as some caught me, and others I never saw again. I caught some fast riders and cruised in 15 of 51 in my 30-39 Expert group, 57 of 441 overall in the 35 mile race.
This race will only grow and I recommend it highly. It's hard to beat the beautiful countryside, the campground and Gun Lake, and the super-fast tactical racing. It's not often I'm in a group hitting 25 or 30 mph on gravel roads! Thanks, Kiss-Cross and all the volunteers, for such a great event.