I was invited to attend a think-tank group at Specialized headquarters last week. It was a half-day session focused on women’s products in the triathlon and road cycling market.
There were three other women in the same session as I, and two more women were to come to an afternoon session. Each of us had different backgrounds and athletic experiences which added to the richness of the session.
We met with the designers involved in all things cycling and triathlon – bike, shoes, gloves, saddles, graphics, etc… I was really impressed with the passion of the design team. They are driven to design the best (fastest, most functional, most aesthetically pleasing, etc.) products on the market. It’s fun to meet the brains behind the products that end up on the shelves.
Opinions and ideas filled the room. It was exciting to be involved with the group.
They did bring out a recently released triathlon shoe – a rear-entry shoe. It’s a great example of thinking outside the box – or – perhaps following the phrase on the wall in front of the tandem time trial bike “innovate or die.”
I decided at the end of last season that I wanted to do more early season racing in 2012. To meet that goal, I signed up for the Voodoo Fire race in Pueblo, Colorado, the marathon (66 miles) distance. It is a three-lap course, with each lap (you guessed it) being around 22 miles. My Garmin shows the first lap at 23.3 miles, but lap 1 includes a mile or so of start that isn’t included in the other laps.
Colorado has been unseasonably hot. Athletes that did the race last year said it was a full 25 degrees hotter this year. The start temperatures were around 47 degrees and by 2:00 pm, my car thermometer read 83 degrees.
The course is nearly all single track, which is both a joy and a curse. Though the race had a wave start, it wasn’t long before the various categories were battling for positions on the single track. Passing people meant selecting one of three options including burning up the legs by powering through the powdery talc-like soil and dodging cactus and low brush; waiting for a loose shale section; or really biding your time and waiting for the very, very limited double track. Though some places were much better for passing than others, some impatient riders made risky moves that cost them a fall, or worse yet took out another rider.
There isn’t a lot of climbing in the course, compared to some of the high mountain courses in Colorado. The limited climbing makes the race a great way to start the mountain bike season, because most riders have limited fitness in the spring.
For me, shale attacked my rear tire on a benign section of nearly flat trail about two thirds of the way through lap one. The shale put an inch-long slit in my tire as if it were sliced by a knife. I booted the tire and limped my way back to the finish line where I ended my day.
Riders with flats were all along the course and collecting at the finish line. It’s hard to say how many riders scored a dnf due to flats because not all of them are shown on the finish list – but suffice it to say a lot.
Other riders, like Bill Frielingsdorf, didn’t have any tire problems and went on to score a podium finish. Congratulations to Bill for a strong ride and finish.
Left to right, BillFrielingsdorf (Peloton-Specialized Fort Collins), Nathan Collier (Pedal Pushers Cyclery), Taylor Thomas (E2 Cycling Team Fort Collins)
I’d definitely consider doing this race again because there is plenty about it to like. Though people that ran beefier tires than I did still had tires slit by the shale, I think a heavier tire reduces the likelihood of problems. In addition to a heavier tire, I’ll consider running three to five pounds more pressure in both tires.
Congratulations on your race Gale! Saw you mentioned a 29er. I have friends who won't even consider riding one - they all recite the same claptrap from 5 or 6 years ago. Too heavy, harder to climb - we've all heard all that stuff. Care to tell us why you did the 29er and give us a little more on your experience - maybe some folks will listen to you...(-; - Steve Kent
Hey Steve ~ Glad to give some feedback on the 29er. The big reason I went with the 29er is that my local shop, Peloton Cycles, staff knows me and my riding style. They also know that I love the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race. They were the ones that recommended, and hooked me up with, the Specialized S-Works 29er.
Last fall, I did ride a demo 29er and you can read that review here.
The S-Works version is a step up from the demo 29er I rode last fall and it definitely delivered on weight. (This resolves one of the issues I wasn’t crazy about.) The S-Works is close to 3 pounds lighter than my LOOK. This bike climbs. I don’t know how familiar you are with the Leadville 100 course; but, I can climb every section of the Columbine Mine that I climbed on the LOOK. Coming inbound, I walked the steepest sections of Powerline and climbed everything else on the 29er while others pushed. This is a testimony to the 2 x 10. I know some people criticize 2 x 10 and want a triple – but I like the 2 x 10 just fine.
Yes, some of the previous paragraph depends on fitness; but you have to know that my fitness this year was flagging. Starting in January to race day, I lost six weeks off the bike due to work travel. I was sick three times this year – the first time I’ve been really sick in five years. So those that look at my time this year (10:56) compared to my best time two years ago (10:08) need to know that I simply didn’t put the time into training that is necessary to go sub-10. I know what it takes to go fast and I didn’t do the work.
I would add that all of my comments (what I liked and what surprised me) from the previous demo 29er review still stand with this bike. To add further comment:
It rolls over rocky technical sections with greater ease. Specifically for Leadville, this was a huge advantage for me (as I mentioned on Facebook). I took some less-than-desirable lines down loose rocky sections to get past other people that are more timid on the descents. In fact, I took lines I would not have taken on the LOOK 26er due to comfort and control issues.
The cranks on this bike are the same length as my LOOK (not longer like the demo cranks) and I liked that better. (This resolves one of the issues I wasn’t crazy about.)
I still stand by the comment that I’m able to ride all corners on a 29er that I do with 26-inch wheels. Perhaps someone with a higher skill level than I would see a marked difference – I do not.
Before I head into the suspension, know that I am a technology geek and I am absolutely insistent on a quality ride from my mountain bike. No matter the terrain that a dirt rider prefers, today’s fork and shock technology is capable of delivering a ride quality that has not existed in previous years.
Because the S-Works uses the Specialized Brain technology and that is combined with the technology of other systems (the combination of air pressures in all chambers, compression and rebound settings), it does take some time to get the system set up to your personal preferences. Don’t view this as a negative – rather a plus in that you can make changes to suit your rider weight and riding style. I am convinced that if you are unwilling to make adjustments to your system, you have not optimized your ride quality.
Using the online charts, feedback from my local shop and one of the Specialized corporate mechanics, Jeff Donaldson (Yes, you do recognize his name from Olympic stories – he was the Olympic triathlon mechanic in 2004 and 2008), I was able to fine-tune the suspension system perfectly for the Leadville course, my weight and my riding style.
I will say the Brain kept me from making doofus mistakes I’ve made in the past – specifically locking out my shock and fork at some point during the race and then later wondering why the ride quality stunk and I was flying all over the place (forcing me to take even more conservative lines). It’s because I forgot to unlock the shock. Doh! For this course, it locked when I wanted it to and unlocked when I wanted it to – without me needing the wherewithal to remember to make manual adjustments.
One significant change I made to this bike that I didn’t make to the demo bike is tire pressure. On my 26er tires I would run 28psi rear and 23 front. I weigh 122-125 pounds during the race season. On the 29-inch tires I ran 18 psi front and 20 in the rear. This worked for me and it may not work for someone else that weighs the same as I do. Obviously, I’m running pressures outside the recommended values – but this contributes to the quality of my ride and I have not had any problems with these pressures. (Skull and crossbones – just because I run my tire pressures low does not mean I’m recommending you do the same thing. Make these changes at your own risk.)
It did take me some time to adjust to riding the 29er because I felt like I was sitting higher and I felt more vulnerable. That feeling has gone away. It rides different that a 26er. Yes. As it's intended to do.
That’s all I can think of for now. Drop me a note if you have further questions and I’m happy to answer them.
PS...I stand 5'4" and people that say a 29er doesn't work well for those under 5'6" are wrong.