Friday, August 16, 2019

My Bike Flew Down to Puerto Rico- Racing Las 100 de La Parguera Mountain Bike race

At the start line of "Las 100 De La Parguera"

If you are a passionate cyclist, be it road biker or mountain biker, you may have wondered what it is like to travel with your bike and ride in a distant land. To go out of one's comfort zone and do something that you've never done before is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have as a person. While I have ridden bikes abroad I have never done an event outside of where I live in Texas. 

The first time I heard of Las 100 de La Parguera mountain bike race was eight years ago, to be exact. I just so happened to be visiting family in Puerto Rico and was spending the day in the quiet little coastal town known as La Parguera. I stumble across the official starting line with a guy in a registration booth next to it. I ask what all of the commotion is about and he tells me it is a mountain bike race, the first of it's kind in Puerto Rico. I get really excited and ask if there was any way that I could rent a mountain bike, but neither him nor I knew how to get a hold of one. The race was only a few days away and a couple of days before I had to go back home, so I concluded that I was not prepared to undertake the race on such short notice.  The winner of the race won a new bike and that year 300 people participated in the event. 

Fast forward eight years later. This event is now one of the premiere races of the Caribbean with over 2,000 participants and racing teams coming from as far as Dominican Republic. The kinds of bikes that I saw were almost all top of the line racing bikes, some which I had not seen even stateside . It seemed like everybody was riding some kind of carbon fiber wonder. I saw Treks and Specialized S-Works all over the field, many of these bikes costing up to 10 grand. Needless to say, the participants took their riding very seriously.

I wanted to do this ride before I got any older, before any kind of life change or health change prevented me from ever doing it. It may sound like I worry too much about that in my blog posts, but let me explain. I'm currently dealing with some kind of knee tendinitis on both knees, injuries brought about from getting back into skateboarding for the last two years. Also, as time goes by, it gets harder to find the time to train for events like this. Knowing both of these things, I did not want to keep putting it off any longer. I wasn't in it to win it, as I knew I neither had the fitness level, correct bike for the race or home field advantage like the locals that knew the route well.

I opted for the 50 kilometer route, which ended up being 57 kilometers or 35 miles when it was all said and done. I finished in a time of 3 hours and 10 minutes, with a moving pace of 2 hours and 54 minutes. I was 155th out of 313 in my age category (30-39) and 758 overall out of the 2017 participants, so not first, not last.  

I believe in being a life time athlete, as long as health and physical limitations allow it. I also believe you don't have to be a professional to have lifetime achievements in the sport you practice. Making memories such as these will last longer than any win I could ever have. Hopefully my kids will grow up knowing that their dad wasn't just some couch potato. Its important to have all kinds of goals in life. My goal is to stay active for as long as I can.

The last hill of the race, just before the finish line

Marin Pine Mountain 1, Long term Review

"A bike you can throw anything at, but it's heavy"

The Marin Pine Mountain 1 in the mountains of Puerto Rico

I'm a big fan of this bike. In fact, I'm such a fan of the Marin Pine Mountain rigid plus bike that I own two of the exact model. This bike was sold at Performance Bike stores before they went out of business and liquidated their assets. I was able to purchase both bikes for well under store MSRP. 

Every once in a while, in an industry that is becoming ever more proprietary in their design, more prone to all sorts of recalls and bikes that break within a couple of years usage, manufacturers make something admirable and truly bulletproof. Case and point the 2018 Marin Pine Mountain 1 rigid mountain bike. This bike is the Jeep Commanche, the Suzuki Samurai, the Toyota 4runner of mountain bikes. It just keeps on going. Low geared, with a strong frame, wheelset and crankset, this bike is capable of anything that any other bike is capable of. Flat roads, mountain climbs, singletrack, jumps are no obstacle for this beast. Is this a race bike? By all means, no it isn't. This bike will have you finishing in the middle of the pack on XC endurance events. There are much better choices of mountain bikes for cross country racing. However, this is a bike you can stick in your travel case resting assured that nothing will break on it during travel and is foolproof enough to handle any TSA inspections. The bike is very stable on descents and eats up fireroads with ease. A front suspension might be desired on really technical rock gardens, however the bike performs well even though the ride might be jarring. 

The beauty of this bike is in it's simplicity. No suspension on the bike means less moving parts and less maintenance overall. The 1x10 drivetrain means that the user will only have to adjust a single rear derailleur. The clutch system on the Shimano Deore derailleur allows for less missed shifts or skipping gears. The low gear ratio on the bike compensates for the heft of the frame and rotational weight of the wheels, which weigh in at about 8-9 pounds each.

I recently took my Marin Pine Mountain 1 to Puerto Rico for a mountain bike race that I've had my eye on for years, Las 100 de la Parguera. I'll post another article detailing how I did on the race. While the bike performed well on sand pits, rocky pitches and descents both on pavement and dirt, it was slow going on long, sustained climbs. I was 3 minutes and 19 seconds slower a sustained climb I had done on a road bike a few years before. Manhandling the bike around in a racing situation was more tiring that if I had been on a lighter carbon or aluminum mountain bike. While I finished the race around the time I had anticipated, I felt I was punished more for my effort and speed. 

The thing is, I can't personally fault this bike for being heavy. It's weight plays a big role in this durability. Over time, I could get used to the heaviness of this bike, even in extreme mountain environments such as is the case riding in Puerto Rico. At 33 pounds for a size medium frame, this bike is in the same weight class as some entry level full suspension bikes. Tubeless tires, carbon wheels and a carbon or air suspension fork will make this bike a quiver killer. However, I'm of the belief that if it isn't broken you shouldn't fix it and if you don't need it then you shouldn't buy it. In the case of the Marin Pine Mountain, it might be a really long time before anything on this bike breaks. 

This is a great bike for rolling terrain, but it pays to pace yourself on it up those long climbs.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

How Mountain Biking has changed in the last 20 years

Dropper Posts, Attitudes and Full Face Helmets...
Is This A New Sport?

The truth is, mountain biking is barely recognizable from what it was in 1998. Back then, bikes had 3 chainrings up front, bar ends, grip shifters, 26 inch wheels with the widest tire width being 1.95. Most people still did not ride with suspension, elbow or knee pads or any mountain bike specific clothing. People did thankfully wear helmets back then but these were poorly designed and made the wearer look like a bobble head doll. 

It was an easier sport to get into 20 years ago. Sure, there were still premium bicycles back then too, as there have always been since people started riding bikes. However. there were more bikes priced for the masses. $400 was a serious chunk of change that could buy a decent and durable bicycle from an LBS. Most people did not even splurge that much on a bike. The average person had a $75 to $100 bike that they bought at Sears. The limiting factor back then was technology. Bicycles today are far more capable of handling rough terrain without the same set of skills needed to ride the same terrain 20 years ago. In fact, trails are being designed with more jumps, drop offs and other technical features that most people had to walk around back in the old days. So the trade off is that now bikes are more capable, but they are no longer as affordable as they were back then .

The image of the stereotypical mountain biker has also changed. 20 years ago mountain bikers were daredevils or unconventional hippie types left over from the seventies. Make no mistake, these guys could still shred on their old bikes and they were sending their bikes off of big obstacles before "sending it" was even a thing. Since technology was so primitive back then they knew there were no shortcuts to being a good mountain biker. Popping a wheelie and being able to lift up a front wheel, as well as using your body as the suspension where essential skills that had to be learned before taking any serious risks on the trail. As a result, people in general weren't going as fast on the trails or "sending it" off  big jumps like they are now, at least not without extensive amounts of practice and skill building. 

People that are getting into mountain biking today have a big expectation on their bikes and equipment to bail them out of sketchy situations or error-correct a lot of their skill deficiencies. That's because many people are coughing up some big bucks to get into the sport. Some mountain bikes can cost as much as $5000 and even upwards of that. A lot more people are buying bikes at this price than they were in the 90's (as a point of reference, a new car in the early 90's cost the same as a new bike does today). The ensuing carnage due to lack of skills on the trail has opened a new opportunity for the bike industry to make more mountain bike specific apparel. However mountain bike specific apparel today looks like a typical motocross outfit; full face helmet, pads and sometimes body armor, full fingered gloves and goggles.  In addition to that, a lot of riders strap at least 3 GoPro cameras on their bike so that they can record themselves "sending it" whenever they can. While I can appreciate that the fun factor hasn't left mountain biking, there is an underlying corporate culture and emphasis on branding that has been creeping into the sport in order to make it more exclusive, premium pastime. 

Recently it dawned on me how clueless some new mountain bikers were when riding a section of my favorite trail, Northshore. Experienced riders know the safest line of passage when weaving through rock gardens or going down drops and rock beds. I had approached a rider planted dead center of the trail, with a full face helmet, pads and a full suspension bike, contemplating whether is was going to roll of a giant boulder to land on the other side. "Take the drop to the left, that's the best line" I said, trying to alert his attention as a was getting closer to the drop myself. "Says who?" the guy retorted. "Says the guy not wearing a full face" I snapped back. We were on the notorious "West side" of the trail, known for it's rock gardens and technical terrain. I grew up riding this trail and there are still sections of it that I am not ashamed to walk. Sometimes there can be a problem when someone overly relies on their bike or their gear to cover for their lack of experience. Case in point the guy at Northshore.

In another instance I heard a guy referring to a mountain bike ride as "A no drop group ride". I nearly fell of my chair. Group rides are roadie (road biker) events where everybody rides together in a paceline (also known as a pelotón) and people get dropped when they can no longer hold the pace of the group. Not only would riding in a paceline on a mountain bike trail be impossible, no one would or should be getting dropped. If some riders are faster than others, they are simply faster. Discuss this in your group and determine where on the trail the group needs to stop and wait for the others to catch up. Mountain biking is awesome fun to do with a group of your friends, but keep in mind that there is more individual effort involved and speed and skills come eventually. Don't get mad if you're the slowest in the group. Be humble enough to admit it and ask the group to re-group at certain junctions along the trail. 

These are my observations (and my latest beef) on how mountain biking has changed in the last 20 years.