Winter is here again
Winter is here again, so itís time to obsess over gear.
I turned 39 last week. This kind of got me into a - I donít want this to be my mid-life crisis mode and need to do more to improve my health and fitness. I am still a novice when it comes to technical riding, but I make up for my lack of skill with enthusiasm. Iíve lost almost 50 pounds since taking up riding again about 3.5 years ago, and I intend to lose another 50.
So here is my latest dilemma. I will be racing next season as a 40+ clydesdale, and as some of you may know, they are faster than the young guys. I usually finish last in the races Iíve entered before, but would like to change that. I will be working extensively on the engine this winter, but my skills are still lacking. Part of the reason my skills are lacking is confidence and bravery. I was making good progress last summer until I crashed. I ended up with a handful of stitches in my knee and bruising my liver and ribs. After that Iíve been riding much more timid when going downhill or in technical sections. Iím much faster on buff singletrack once my ribs healed. I walk a lot at some of my local trails because I am scared.
Also, last winter I rode my GT as a winter commuter. It sucked in snow and the salt was not kind to it, so it got cannibalized.
So here I sit with a GT Karakoram Iíve converted to a rigid single speed and a Canfield Brothers Yelli Screamy I built from the parts off the GT. The GT weighs 25.4# and the Yelli weighs 32# without the dropper post and a little over 33# with it. My other bikes are a 17.2# Specialized Roubaix and a 30# Soma Double Cross commuter/tourer.
Iíd like to maybe do some winter bike races and make my commuter a little safer and faster. So Iíve been thinking about a fat bike. On the other hand, Iím not getting any younger and wonder if maybe a full suspension bike might help take some of the beating and improve my confidence on the trail. Or will a few tweaks to the Yelli make it more capable?
Put the GT back to stock and sell it? Sell the Yelli frame? Improve the Yelli with better brakes, fork, wheels, and drivertrain? How big of a fat bike tire does a guy need to do winter bike races? Will full squish help? How big of a bike do I need? Almost any FS bike will need to be ordered since the shops in my town donít carry much inventory.
Iíve never ridden a fat bike or a full suspension bike or anything but a hardtail 29er on the trail, so I am going into this blind. Iíve done way too much research and it is making my wife mad at me for obsessing. Sheís not even sure she wants me spending any more money on bike stuff at this point.
I don't have any pertinent advice for you, but I feel for your situation. I have driven my gf nuts with researching bike stuff too. Thankfully i've recently resigned myself that it will be some time until I can spend any money on gear, so i've slowed down considerably on that.
Sounds like that crash was pretty significant. I've been building skills at a very nice pace but I have yet to take a spill that really hurt. I figure it's inevitable that it will happen, but i'm doing my best to land softly at this point. =) Your attitude is good, though, and it's cool that you are racing and pushing yourself. I'd like to do that too. I'll turn 39 next year, so i'm in a similar place in life, and this sport has become a very welcome part of my life for a number of reasons.
The weather has slowed my riding considerably around here already, which is depressing, but it will all come around. Thanks for sharing your conviction here. All that focus will definitely be great for your health and biking future.
First thing, regarding your lack of confidence.
The best way to build that confidence is to practice basic skills in a low consequence environment. Do wheel lifts till you're blue in the face. Practice your balance. Skinnies. Start with 2x12's lying on the ground, then 2x6's, then 2x4's, etc. Practice trackstands in a grassy field/lawn. Practice leaning the bike underneath your body while you remain balanced and upright. When you get confident with the basic skills, add a little bit of speed. Build up to practicing them on the trail. When you reach obstacles on the trail, session them. Do them over and over again. Ride with a group who can spot you to start with.
When I started getting serious about riding the mtb, I did this kind of stuff a LOT. Especially in the wet springtime when it was warm enough to be comfortable riding, but the trails were slop. Indoor bike parks are great for this kind of practice in the wintertime. Ray's in Cleveland and Milwaukee. Mega Caverns in Louisville (opening in January, last I heard).
As for winter riding, it depends where you are. Sounds like you're in salt country, if your winter commuter last year got trashed. Winter is hard on commute bikes. Studded tires are important if you're going to be out on pavement in the winter. Unless you feel like overhauling good bikes after every winter, a cheap beater bike to trash on the salty roads might be a wise choice. You'll still be replacing a lot of bearings, but you can just throw cheap ones at the beater every year.
As for whether to get a new bike or not, that's up to you. Considering that your confidence needs a lot of work, I'd hesitate to replace your Canfield right off. Use what you have to build your skills and confidence. At this point, all a full suspension bike will do for you is allow you to go faster in terrain that already freaks you out. It could get you into more trouble by letting you ride over your head. A different geometry might be good for you. It's hard to say, really, especially if you haven't ever ridden one. Keeping your eyes peeled for bike demo events might be good for you. If you watch several brands or find an event with lots of brands present, you might even find a few that have both fatbikes AND full suspension bikes so you could demo both in the same afternoon. With that said, if you live in snowy country, you're not likely to find many demo events until springtime.
In most cases, full suspension bikes and fatbikes fit different styles of riding. Unless you're talking about a full suspension fatbike, or one of the more modern fatbikes that has a more trail-friendly geometry (many have suspension forks, but many still offer rigid forks).
If you want to do winter races, I don't think you need maximum tire size necessarily. The Salsa Beargrease is billed as a snow race bike and it doesn't have the clearance for the biggest tires on the widest rims. Like any bike, the fat bikes on the market fill a variety of niches. Would you want it as a winter-only bike or for year round riding? If you've never tried one, that'll be a hard decision to make and your answer might suggest different bikes, or at least different builds.
I might go on to suggest de-emphasizing racing some, until you build your confidence again. A buddy of mine was in a really nasty road bike crash this fall where the first rider to crash eventually died. My friend had relatively minor injuries (bruised ribs, scrapes, and a dislocated finger or two), but after that, he called the race season over. He's a big cyclocross racer, and the season had just started. His head just wasn't in it. He even stopped doing competitive group road rides. He has really dialed back his ride intensity and is just riding for fun right now to get his head straightened out. He's talking about signing up for the last cross race of the season just so he can do it and have some fun, but he's not going to blow himself up doing it.
As for the wife, that one's for you to decipher. My wife loves to ride, also, so N+1 really means N+2. To keep the wife from complaining too much about buying high end stuff and accumulating too much clutter in the house, I do usually need to sell off some things to help finance new bike purchases.
Solid advice from NateHawk! I agree, I would recommend not focusing on racing for a while and just spend time riding your bikes. If your confidence isn't there, doing stuff you're not comfortable doing at a race pace is way more likely to end badly and leave you more shaken up in the long run.
I also think you're over thinking the need for different bikes and different setups. Once you keep spending time on your current stable you'll see what their shortcomings are, if any, and can fix those as you go along or replace the bikes altogether. I would subscribe to the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality until you build your confidence up some.
Believe me, racing in not a high priority. I race mainly to challenge myself and so my wife will let me ride on weekends.
My main concern is health and fitness, and not dying. I cannot keep up with my friends when riding on technical trails. I am OK when on nice singletrack. I can at least keep up with the other fat guys and the very young kids.
I was thinking of adding a full suspension 27.5 rig for the bigger, rougher, tighter places. Then a fat bike for winter rides and commuting. Then I would put the GT back to stock and sell it. The Yelli could be made a rigid SS until I found a suitable fork and drivetrain. The Yelli has too many compromises for my area as it is currently built. The bars are too wide for many trails, where I have to stop to get between trees. The fork is not up to handling big stuff. The build is heavy(the wheels and fork are boat anchors). So it's not good for XC or AM riding.
I hear you guys on practicing skills. I try to whenever I can, even just riding to work, or on a group ride with my son in the trailer. I had a couple of sessions with a professional coach before I crashed. He gave me a bunch of drills to practice. Lots of front and rear wheel lifts. Skinnies, treshold braking, track stands, etc...
I can't even ride the whole loop at my local trail because I am so scared of wooden features now. I am definitely going to Ray's a couple times this winter.
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