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Finding the Lines with Russel Stevenson

Russie Wins

Russie on his way to winning Seattle CX at Enumclaw

As the regular CX season ended in Seattle, I said to Russ, “If you’re judging how fast you are by the time it takes you to lap me, then that was the fastest!” I had a lap one mechanical, but still that was impressive. “Well,” Russ said…

It starts with good fitness. If you’re feeling good, fit and fresh you’ll usually have a good race on any course. Enumclaw for me was just one of those days where the pain wasn’t registering. When that’s out of the way you’re just out there riding having fun. And when that’s going on you’re fully aware, making fast lines happen and 100% checked into the task on hand, the perfect marriage!

Finding speed is simply not riding in the muck. That course wasn’t muddy by my standards but I saw a lot of covered bikes. It’s easy to get out of rhythm and tossed into bad slow lines. I think that’s the case with many of us. When your not suffering you can usually put more into where and how you’re putting your power down. A lot of this line selection happens in pre-ride. If you can see it there you can usually see it racing, but not always. In these sort of courses I prefer to go out on my own controlling my own destiny and no, I don’t always have this luxury. Often the course, your fitness level or your competitors force you places you don’t want to be.

I’ll also point to the course design itself. That really was an excellent layout. It reminded me of old school SCX courses at Sea Tac where you’re legs hurt after the runs and you had to focus 100% of the time on your lines. No spacing out or drifting! The course was hard and that to me is what CX should be. It demanded of course good fitness but also bike skills, agility and creativity. The on-off punchy style suited me and my strengths. I’m not surprised I did so well, I usually do when I’m enjoying myself.

And he’s right, form and fitness are so elusive as you get older, celebrate those times you’re in it, as Russie did. For me, this season had no measurable results, except for being out there, finishing every race, and at the end I fit into some fine Italian kit from Nalini. Props to Matt Hill, cause without his encouragement, I’d have ended the season after CrossVegas. He insisted I start AND finish the races.

You bigger guys like me, know what I’m saying about Italian Kitarexia. It was a long season too, with Worlds in January, where I think I had one of my best rides from the back of the starting grid.

Russ is a racer to watch next month in Colorado at CX Natz. He’ll have on his World Championship jersey and Hugga cap.

Up next, big miles in Maui and then more dirt in 14.

Photo: DBC Photography who is shooting in Belgium next with the EuroCrossCamp.

Brown M&Ms

DBC Photo

That’s four barriers in a row and not the usual two

Before the start of the race, Matthew Hill says to Richard McClung, “It’s like Brown M&Ms, man.” 40 seconds later, we were off. Matt told me the rest of the story, about reading the freaking rider at a race, and I’m sharing it here. I clipped the 3rd and 4th barrier a few times, until I got the rhythm right…

Way back when, in a previous life before bike racing, I made my bones in the music business. One of the things I did to pay the bills was work with touring rock bands, at the tail end of the Heavy Metal Hair Band days.

You see a lot of s**t working that side of the scene, and – as you would expect - I’ve got stories to tell. You can fill in the blanks on most of them, of course. Groupies, drugs, debauchery… you’ve heard it all before.

That’s all just daily distraction type stuff, though.
The stories you don’t hear are the ones that aren’t nearly as flashy, or vile, or… well, they’re the actual nuts & bolts, down-low of what is, ultimately, a business.

Stuff like the legend of the Van Halen M&Ms.

When a band goes on tour, they send out a list of promoter & venue requirements in advance of their arrival. It’s called “The Rider”, and it’s purpose is to make sure that everyone is on the same page, and that the infrastructure is in place to support the band & their production staff at the gig.

Most of the stuff on The Rider is pretty straight forward; “There will be x number of 15 amp electrical sockets placed at y foot intervals evenly surrounding the stage area”.

Some Rider requirements can seem pretty bizarre, unless you know the band in question: “Promoter shall provide 6 new pairs of athletic sweat socks in sealed, plastic packaging” (cough – RHCP)

And then there’s brilliant.

Van Halen toured with a Rider that looked like a novel written for electrical engineers. When you’re hauling 9 trucks worth of production gear to every gig, there’s a long list of shit that can go wrong, and if you don’t want to see things blow up, trusses fall down, and people get electrocuted, you need to make sure that the “I’s” are dotted & the “T’s” are crossed.

Which ain’t easy.

‘Cause lots of the time, people flat-out just don’t care. Or pay attention.
Or something.

People will figure out a way to miss something that really matters, even though you spelled it out in exquisite detail, and it’s going to make the evening a nightmare for someone on the crew.

So, what do you do?
If you’re Van Halen, in the middle of your book-length Rider, you insert a line requiring that the promoter provide – along with a deli tray, and enough booze to intoxicate a fairly large fraternity – a bowl of M&Ms. With all the brown M&Ms removed.
Brown M&Ms in the bowl?
No show.
Van Halen still gets full payment.

There’s one word for this, and it’s brilliant. If you’ve heard this story before, odds are it was in the context of “…and then they trashed the green room in a petulant rock star frenzy after finding their obscene demands weren’t adhered to.”
That completely misses the point.
Brown M&Ms in the bowl?

It’s the perfect “Don’t give a shit” litmus test.

If they’re gonna’ miss something this simple - and this obvious – what the hell else are they ‘gonna miss, and what are the odds it’ll be something important?
Brown M&Ms in the bowl?
Get out the microscope & check everything ‘cause you know they either weren’t paying attention, or they just don’t care.

So, OK… great.
What the hell does all this have to do with bike racing?

It’s pretty simple.
When I show up for a USCF/UCI Cyclocross race, and the first thing I see is a neat group of four barriers proudly taking center stage, it’s like a big-ass bowl of g-damned brown M&Ms.

Read the freaking Rider.

Photo: DBC Photography who is shooting in Belgium next with the EuroCrossCamp.

Redline to the Rescue with a Conquest Pro Disc

On a barrier Conquest

Barrier Conquest

With the Crux on a recall, stop-use immediately lockdown, it was Redline Bicycles to the rescue with a Conquest Pro Disc for the last race of the Seattle CX Season. The Pro is a favorite CX bike of mine and when Mark V saw me with it he said

The Redline Conquest is like that one knife in your kitchen that you end up using the most, because it’s just so well balanced. It seems like it’s a simple design because it doesn’t have any flashy gimmicks, but a lot of thought went into making it such a clean design.

Absolutely and with an MSRP of $2799 it’s a great value too. The roulette wheel of a CX race threw me a zero with a mechanical on lap one. Stopping in brambles on the edge of mud pit, I pulled grass and a vine out of the derailer, and limped into the pit. There I took a deep breath, banged more mud off the bike, and got into a rhythm back on the course. I didn’t shift much after that, worried the derailer would tear off

So happy that I was on a Redline, Mark V’s praise continued to cheers from the beer garden like, “go you mutha ucka Hugga ucka, GOOOOO!”

And I did until the finish. Before the race, Tim Rutledge made sure the Conquest was dialed, setting the fit up for me as he’s done for more than a decade. The predictable handling of the bike, performed just like it did at Worlds, flawlessly. Mark placed 9th on his 2012 Conquest that he named, Ming Tran.

You can find Redlines at a LBS near you and ask for a year end deal. In Seattle, that’s Elliott Bay Bicycles downtown. You probably don’t need one in a hurry like I did, but if you want a reliable bike that won’t let you down, Redline is always a go-to bike brand.

Photo: DBC Photography who always takes the most flattering photos and is shooting in Belgium next with the EuroCrossCamp.

SRAM HydroR Recall: Luckily No One Got Hurt

HydroR Shifter

Nothing leaking here

Six months before SRAM HydroR hit the market, an insider told us it was coming. That bike maker suggested that you could race a CX bike with a rear brake only for maximum mud clearance and weight savings. The power from hydraulics was more than enough in a CX race, he thought, because you usually only scrub speed into turns with a tap or two before barriers, and no long descents.

Flash forward to this month when I find myself testing out his great idea on a SRAM HydroR Disc-equipped Crux. Except the functional brake is on the front because the rear hydraulic brake failed without warning. Not once, but twice.

I swung my leg over the Crux, landed on the seat, and rolled out of the driveway, as I do on weekdays for a training ride. Banked right, then left, pulled the rear lever descending near an intersection and (dramatic pause)… nothing. Nosewheeling with the front brake down to level ground, I got rad, and I don’t get rad, because I’m not f’ing Adam Craig. I was shaken up and mad.

No Leaks here

No leaks here either

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Living in a hilly, coastal city, there was more descending and climbing to do before I arrived back home, so I rode towards the nearest shop, Cycle-U, where their number one mechanic Jeff inspected the brakes. With no visible leak and pads intact, we concluded this failure was a maintenance issue. I’d ridden the Crux about a thousand miles, including a handful of races. The air bubble in the rear line got bled out and I was back on my way.

Bled the line

Bled the line

Meanwhile SRAM sent me a replacement caliper with shifter and I corroborated similar failures happening to other Seattle-area cyclists.

About four hours of ride time later and before Jeff installed the replacement caliper, the rear failed again in traffic when a dump truck turned towards me, and I skidded to a stop. After pulling the rear lever that hard, it gave way the next time to no brakes. WTF is going I wondered and so did everyone else I was talking to about the sudden loss of braking power. Again there was no leaks when Jeff replaced the caliper and the olive and barb (where the hose intersects with the brake mechanism) were intact. He did find the rear caliper compression nut was loose. It was tightened to 3.5 Nms instead of 5.

How did that happen? SRAM Tech Support, who built the bike up for me, said this…

When installing SRAM HydroR brakes, proper torque on the compression nut is critical to optimal performance. If the nut is not torqued to 5 Nm, the olive will not crush properly. This can allow air into the system, and can allow fluid to bypass into the hose liner, potentially leading to brake failure. Because the system is designed to function with a certain amount of air, this may not happen immediately; it can take some time for enough air to build up to be noticeable. Be sure to use a torque wrench and perform a proper bleed whenever installing a new barb and olive on a HydroR brake.

SRAM, who were also very responsive and helpful, hadn’t seen this issue happening with OEM-built bikes. Then at Deschutes CX in Bend Oregon, HydroR systems failed and a recall was issued for 19,000 units yesterday, including a stop-use immediately notice.

It has recently come to our attention that during last weekend’s Cyclocross racing in the US, in sub freezing temperatures, several failures were reported. In these conditions the master cylinder seals failed to hold pressure resulting in abrupt loss of brake power, and an inability to stop the bike. These failures are related to product that is outside the originally stated date code range and unrelated to the original failure mode. No injuries have been reported to date.

At Hugga HQ, we’re waiting for next steps like everyone else racing and riding HydroR equipped bikes, but I know that SRAM is diligently working on the issue. I’m confidant in their abilities. Just like Sinyard and Cafe Roubaix, this a defining moment for SRAM.

How they handle it will play out and they’re known for the highest QA standards in the business, including using SAP at their factories, pulling samples and testing them frequently.

Reacting to the recall, on Twitter I said this…

And the rest of the story is that I’ve been riding Hydro since the summer, both rim and disc with no issues until recently when it got cold. The demo Crux is hanging in the garage now on lockdown and I’m rattled by these failures and recalls too. I had no issues after a week of riding with the replacement caliper installed and the compression nut tightened properly. I did lament quality control in the industry on Medium, in a season where I’ve had an unusual number of mechanicals while riding.

Luckily, none of us experiencing these failures got hurt. As that insider thought, there’s enough power in just one brake. To get you home at least.

High-rez photos from this post are on G+

It Was So Cold In Bend


King of the Snotcicle has a Suffer Face

The conditions in Bend this weekend are best described by this photo Matt sent us of a Suffer Face Snotcicle. How cold is it at the Deschutes CX? Too cold for clever catchphrases describing how cold it is.

Pro podium finishers literally crying in tents after the finish cold. A few years ago, it was almost as cold and I was hypothermic, emotional too. That’s when

Mahan, who’s comforting Russie in the photo, pulled me off my bike. He then dragged me to the Redline tent to get warm and a few minutes later handed me a cup of Espresso. In the tent, Tim Rutledge checked on me, made sure I wasn’t hypothermic, and handed me a plastic rain cape. The propane heater steamed the cold and wet perspiration off of my kit and I felt at home.

Back to racing next weekend for us and today it’s riding in the cold with embro’d legs. When Matt gets back to Seattle and warms up, he’ll have a report; including how well Di2 worked, staying upright, and hydraulic fluid clotting.

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