Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Live Free and Bike

In 1809, General John Stark, a Revolutionary War Soldier from New Hampshire, declined an invitaition to a Battle of Bennington reunion because he was ill. Since he could not make the event, he sent a letter with the quote "Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils."  to be read for the toast. New Hampshire later used part of this toast for their State motto: Live Free or Die. I like this State motto because of how it shows strength and doesn't try to hide behind a more politically correct use of words. I also like how the twelvth race of the NUE Series, The Hampshire 100 in Greenfield, NH decided to partly use this motto for their race logo.  Yes, freedom and bike riding go hand-in-hand for me, my friends.

Not only does the Hampshire 100 have a cool logo, but they also have one awesome 100 mile mtb race. The Hampshire 100 has a good mix of trails to make it a tough and interesting course.  Additionally, the race is organized very well and also does a great job at supporting all the riders before, during and after the race. And, for having one of the smallest field of riders, this race has one of the best/deepest payouts.  I think other NUE promoters should considering using this type of payout structure.

After getting my fifth NUE Series Race win at the Widerness 101 at the end of July, I almost thought about not doing the Hampshire 100.  I started to think that there was more to lose than there was to gain by going.  But, then I remembered the fun I had at the race last year and also decided that doing another 100 mile race before the Fool's Gold NUE Series Championship Race would be good "training."  As I have said before, there is no way to replicate racing and I knew that I needed to keep racing in order to be fast at Fool's Gold in September.

The Hampshire 100 is not a friendly singlespeeder course, at least at the start.  The race begins on fast dirt/paved roads and rail-to-trails before leading the riders to a few very steep and technical climbs. The course then becomes pretty friendly to singlespeed bike use when it goes into mostly double and single track trails during the second half of the course.  After looking at previous race times, I decided to use a gear that was way too low last year.  It was okay for the second part of the course, but caused me to lose a ton of time on the fast stuff.  Learning my lesson from last year, I decided to use a much stiffer gear this year and I've got to say that I liked the course a lot more with the harder gear.  I also added a suspension fork to my bike this year and I'm sure these two changes are what allowed me to ride a faster time this year.

Look at that Team CF contingency at the starting line!
With the use of a higher gear, I was able to hang with the lead pack until the first long, steep and technical climb, which was about 20-25 miles into the race.  I even helped take some pulls at the front of this group because I didn't see any other SS racers in the small pack of about ten riders and I wanted to gain as much time as possible on the others racing in my category.  After I was dropped from the lead group, I was caught by my teammate Jesse Kelly and a couple of other guys.  Unfortunately, this group did not stick together too long and I soon found myself riding alone.

I rode alone for a long while and towards the end of the last lap was starting to dread the the fast section of course at the start of lap number two.  But, as I entered the finishing area, I saw another rider ahead of me.  I was hoping to catch a draft from this rider after the transition area, so I made a fast pit stop at the start/finish line area to pick-up my waiting CarboRocket fluids.  My pace on the fast roads didn't slow down much because my bigger gear allowed me to keep moving faster than last year, but I still wasn't going as fast as I could with having the assistance of a geared rider with me.  I kept looking over my shoulder, but saw no one around to assist me.

On a section of course that runs along side of a railroad track, there was a bridge that required a mandatory dismount off the bike.  After I got across this section, I decided to stop and take a leak.  Not only did it feel good to do that, but I also saw another rider coming across the bridge just as I finished my business.  What a great time to stop, I thought to myself, as I prepared to give chase.  After he crossed the bridge, I jumped on his wheel and caught an awesome draft.  Even if I could not actually draft on a lot of the stuff we rode, I was certainly riding faster by having a geared rider with me.

Eventually, there was another one of those long, steep and technical climbs on the course that required me to push my SS bike.  It was at this climb, about 80 miles into the race, where I was left to ride alone once again.  This time, however, I at least had 100K riders in front of me to catch.  I always enjoy the hunt of chasing riders in front of me down, even if they are a lap behind and in a different race.

The next twenty miles went well and were a lot of fun.  I didn't see anyone chasing me, so I rode at a comfortably fast pace.  I didn't want to take any unnecessary risks, but at the same time, I set a personal goal before the race to beat an overall finishing time of eight hours.  Keeping this pace meant I had to go over 26 minutes faster than I did last year, but I knew it was possible with the bigger gear I was using and having this goal kept me motivated throughout the entire race.

Watch this 13 second video to get a feel of what this course is like.

By the end of the race, I was able to finish seven seconds ahead of my eight hour goal to take the singlespeed category win.  It was certainly a perfect way for me to keep my focus on winning a fifth straight NUE Series Championship.  I also had the chance to put a few new parts to the test during this race.  I switched over to Xpedo M-Force 8 CR Pedals a couple of weeks ago and have raced on them twice.  These pedals are great!  They have a positive engagement and release; spin super smoothly; and definitely held up to abuse of the New Hampshire rocks this weekend.  I also raced on a pair of mtb tubular wheels/tires at the Hampshire 100.  The only thing I can say about this experience is to give the comparison of the feeling I had switching from riding on tires with tubes to a tubeless set-up.  Yes, it's that noticeable!  After doing this race on tubulars, I can now understand why many of the World Cup racers are using them.

Team CF had a great showing at this race with four riders finishing in the top ten overall: Christian Tanguy in second, Rob Spreng in fourth, Jesse Kelly in tenth and me in seventh overall.  Way to go team! Also, I cannot end this post without saying thanks to race promoter Randi Whitney, her support team and all the volunteers that made this race so good! Remember to Live Free and Bike!

Happy Trails... Gerry


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  2. Thanks for joining us in Greenfield, Gerry, and congratulations on an impressive win. We love to share our trails with riders of all sorts- from beginners to the very best. As a singlespeed guy, I have been enjoying reading your blog and learning from your insights and experiences. A few of us were wondering why, when seeking higher gear inch number, you choose to increase the front ring size instead of decreasing the rear wheel cog. Live free and bike!

    1. Hi Tim,
      Thanks for your comments. In regards to your question about my use of larger front chainrings, I do this because there seems to be an increase in torgue by using the bigger rings, even though the gear ratio is about the same. Give it a try, I bet you'll like it.

  3. Gerry,

    Could you elaborate on the tubular wheels you are using? I have been curious about tubular MTB wheels for some time now, but I really have not heard much about them. Also curious on the tires you are using. Thanks . . .

  4. Hey Fort,

    Sorry for my late reply: I don't check my messages on here often enough. Anyway, I built-up a pair of the alloy Geax tubular rims and used a pair of the Schwalbe Racing Ralph HT tires. I love the ride of them and on certain courses I definitely think they can be the fastest choice, but I'm still a bit concerned about getting a flat with them. Overall, the tubular tires do seem to be more durable than a lightweight racing tire filled with sealant; however, most standard tires can be repaired in the woods without too much work. If a flat tubular can't be plugged, it might be a long walk to the car...