Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Double Crossed

I’m a little late on this post, but the weekend before last I was indoctrinated into the cult of cyclocross with a double header. Saturday morning my buddy Brock and I took Cycle University's very worthwhile Cyclocross 101 course at Magnuson Park. We covered the mount and step-through dismount, shouldering, running, and barrier jumping. I also got reassurance from instructor Kristi Berg that starting cross with a mountain bike is perfectly sane and that during the first couple of seasons the bike is not going to be a limiting factor.

Quick digression about the bike:

  • Frame: TST (Kennewick, WA) titanium hardtail 20”
  • Fork: Salsa steel fork (added just for cross, crown race installed by Ted)
  • Tires: Panaracer Mack SK (front and rear)
  • Front wheel: Mavic x221 with Specialized Paralax hub
  • Rear wheel: Mavic x517 with XTR hub
  • Brakes: Avid V-brakes
  • Pedals: Time ATAC carbon
  • Crankset: Race Face Turbine
  • Shifters: XT 8-speed
  • Front Derailleur: XT top-pull triple
  • Rear Derailleur: XTR 8-speed
  • Cable Housing: Nokon
  • Headset: Cane Creek S2
  • Stem: Thomson Elite 110mm
  • Handlebars: Ritchey ForceLite
  • Grips: Race Face Good ‘n Evil
  • Seatpost: Race Face XY (400mm length and a full 1” of setback, the only reason I can get away with a 20” frame)
  • Seat: Selle Italia Prolink Trans AM

It’s everything that would have made you salivate about a mountain bike circa 1998, and still makes me salivate because I’m behind the times like that. Note that the water bottle cage bolts have been removed and taped over. I quickly learned that shouldering the bike is much easier without these nuisances there to snag elbows.

On to the double header... at Cross 101 we found out about the Copper Cross race happening the next day at South Sea-Tac and gave it a shot. We each bought one day USCF licenses and entered the men’s cat-4 race. I placed 16th and Brock placed25th in a starting field of 35. We were both happy to have finished all three laps. It was a lot of fun and the 35 minutes flew by in what seemed like 20. I was surprised by the number of non-finishers… due mostly to mechanical problems from what I saw. Bikes took a beating and I was again glad to be on the trusty MTB.

Lessons learned:
  • Don’t be over eager riding someone’s wheel or trying to pass in the tight and twisty bits. Better to lay off and stay clear of pileups. Save energy for sprinting when there’s a clear opening.
  • On encountering a pileup, ride around when it's clear. If there's not a clear opening, good chance you'll get caught in the pile and lose more time than you would if you'd waited a sec.
  • Practice handling! Poor handling killed me. I was coming into corners too fast and out of control. My one serious wipeout that led to a bloody shin was simply due to losing it in a corner.
  • Bring a first aid kit

The mountain bike definitely was not a liability. If anything it allowed me to take some of the uphills and downhills faster perhaps more recklessly than my cross bike counterparts. I easily had all the speed I needed. My limiting factor was handling skills, or lack thereof. I even saw saw a few mountain bikers doing quite well in the cat-3 race.

So what’s next? I’m hoping to ride in the first race of the Seattle Cyclocross series this Sunday at Evergreen High in Burien.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Am A Weasel

Carol was hit by a car a couple of weeks ago. She's OK aside from some scrapes & bruises. I, ever determined to turn adversity into opportunity, decided we needed to check whether her frame was damaged (her rear wheel was knocked pretty far out of true -- took a bit of effort to get it back -- it's a Rolf Vector Comp). So I bought a Park frame alignment guide and Park dropout alignment guide.

That's what weasels do -- turn adversity into opportunity.

Anyway, no reason why you guys can't similarly benefit from Carol's pain and suffering. If you need need your frame checked, come on over to Weasel-land!

Monday, September 8, 2008

12th Ave

As I rode in to work this morning I passed a bike accident on 12th Ave just south of Jefferson. Bike, blood, and Ortlieb bag were on the pavement. My prayers are with the rider, and I hope that he or she is not seriously injured. I don't know any of the circumstances of the accident, but I'm motivated to post because I've had a sick feeling about this intersection for a long time. I recall saying to Vaughn and Andrew that if I die on a bike in Seattle, it will be at 12th and Jefferson. Here's why this intersection is so dangerous:

  1. ARCO - The southbound bike lane on 12th Ave passes directly in front of an ARCO station (that incidentally has some of the cheapest gas in the city). I have been cut-off within inches of my life as I've passed this staion, both by southbound cars turning right 6 feet in front of me, and northbound cars turning left 6 feet in front of me.
  2. Parallel parking on 12th Ave - This is related to the ARCO. There is parallel parking along southbound 12th Ave between the bike lane and the curb. It's such a highly trafficked gas station that there are ALWAYS people getting in and out of parks cars, and pulling in out of the parallel spots. The parallel parking also inhibits visibility of drivers entering and leaving the station driveways. The parallel parking situation renders the bike lane useless, forcing cyclists into the car lane to pass this area safely.
  3. Cab Drivers - I don't know why, but this area has an inordinately high number of taxi cabs. The cabs hang out in the area (I don't think they do much business in the area, but it's where the drivers go to park, eat, buy gas, etc), and generally drive as though they rule the roads. I would say this is true of 12th Ave from Jackson up to Union. In my experience, cab drivers are good drivers. They are professionals, they know the roads and they know what's going on. A good lot of them also regularly disregard other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians, and demonstrate some dangerous and anti-social tendencies. If a cab driver cuts you off and nearly kills you, it's not because they were not paying attention, they just didn't care.
  4. High Traffic - During morning and evening rush hour, bike speeds along 12th Ave can be greater or equal to car speeds. The means that bikes are keeping up or passing traffic. This is ALWAYS a dangerous situation, as cyclists must be aware that drivers in the car lane do not notice cyclists behind or along side them in the bike lane. Even if some do, you must assume they do not. Even if drivers do see you, they notoriously misjudge bike speeds and are prone to turning into or in front of you.

What can be done to make the area more safe for cyclists and everyone else?

  1. The parallel parking in front of the ARCO needs to be removed.
  2. Add a curbed lane divider that prevents left turns into ARCO by northbound drivers (probably wishful thinking).

Even if you don't bike along 12th Ave, it pays to remember that bike lanes around the city are never inherently safe for cyclists. In many locations they may be terribly unsafe; remember your right to take the lane.