Yup, trading up… or is that over? My old Seek 0 is one of the very few bikes I can honestly say I regret having sold. I ran across a pretty good deal on this 2015 Giant Seek 1 and couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Now that I’ve been able to put in some serious time on the bike, I’ll have a full review posted here and probably on MTBVT very soon.
Oh, in case anyone was wondering, I haven’t given up this blog, I’ve just been busy and decided to take a minor break.
This time of year, many of us who race start putting together a tentative schedule of races we anticipating participating in. I sat down and put my list together this afternoon. Here it is:
That’s it. It didn’t take long. The reality is that I’m pretty much out of the racing business. The main issue behind this is the condition of my knees. Apparently, my genetics caught up with me before I was prepared and I have the beginnings of osteoarthritis. At my last appointment trying to get the to bottom of why my left knee was feeling weird, I was told to “do what you enjoy, while you still can.” While I still can?? Thanks. At least I have the comfort of knowing that I’m not alone with these types of issues. Apparently, the high load that I put my legs under when racing hasn’t exactly been great for my knee joints. Who knew? Thankfully, the damage was discovered before I really got into a situation where things are actually painful.
Through no conscious decision on my part, I’ve always favored low rpm mashing on the pedals rather than achieving the high cadence spinning efficiency of a roadie. Sadly, there really isn’t any way to climb the hills around Vermont on a single-speed bike without putting a lot of torque on the knees. I always enjoyed overcoming the steep grades by virtue of sheer force and suffering. So in my efforts to extend the life of my knees, I need to change my focus to spinning and that means one thing: gears.
Even though I’m giving up competition, I can’t really complain too much. Racing has taken up most of my summers since I started back in 1990. I got started thanks to a guy who worked on base with me while stationed in Maryland. From road racing, I went to mountain biking back when NORBA was the only game in town (and prior to USA Cycling attempts at ruining the sport in general). I was hooked from that point on. Over the years, I’ve had quite a few good race results as an expert and many podium finishes in more recent years since taking up the single-speed.
I’m not giving up riding, not by a long shot. If anything, I’ll likely be putting on more mileage since I don’t have to worry about being rested for races. Last winter I started just exploring the woods on my fat bike and I discovered something: I still like riding just for the fun of it. So, I’m going to focus on just riding and not worry about all the various training factors that I had to consider when racing. My collection of Strava KOMs will likely dwindle as I let others steal them away one by one. I’m not saying I’ll never do a race again, but it will be the exception and I’m not going to be taking it seriously.
In case anyone is wondering, this blog will go on, and I’m not going to bother changing the name.
The Vermont 50 is one of those races I look forward to each year, whenever I am able to enter it. Actually registering can sometimes be as challenging as completing the race itself. On-line registration opens on May 25 in the evening and the mountain bike field often fills up in a matter of minutes. One year it was around 12 minutes, others it has been closer to an hour. I’ve missed the registration a couple of times in the past but managed to get in by the skin of my teeth this time around. It’s always a gamble, too, because you have no idea what race day will be like. Some years it can be clear and frosty, others cold and raining. This year, things worked out extremely well and the weather turned out to be as close to perfect as anyone could imagine.
2013 was the 20th running of the Vermont 50 and would be the 5th time I’ve raced it. It is run as a fundraiser for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports – a non-profit organization that provides equipment and support to help people with disabilities participate in many different sports.
Whether biking or running (yes there are people who run the 50 miles), the Vermont 50 becomes a weekend affair. On Saturday, we needed to get our registration packs at the Ascutney base area. I also left off a drop bag with some stuff I might need at mile 30 of the race. This year, they had quite a few vendors set up with tents. They even had free ice cream. Those extra calories would get burned off the next morning anyway.
My alarm went off at 4:15am. What was I thinking? This was way too early. I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed and tried to overcome the mental fog. Everything in my being wanted nothing more than to crawl back into bed and sleep for a few more hours. I am not a morning person. After eating a bowl of oatmeal, I finished getting my gear together and loaded up the car. It was dark out. There’s something amusing about witnessing 1300 cars converging on the same spot in the wee hours of the morning. My wife dropped me off and I had just enough time to sign in, get my final details organized and line up for the start.
The singlespeed riders went off with the experts at 6am sharp. It was amazingly dark when we hit the road. This was not your typical pre-dawn low-light conditions but “blanket over the head” dark. Overnight, a thick layer of fog had settled in the valleys and was blocking what little ambient light might otherwise be available from penetrating down to ground level. It actually made me a bit nervous on the start since the pack didn’t seem to be slowing down any. We followed a gradual descent for less than half a mile before the climbing kicked in with gusto. At least the race organizers had put some glow sticks out along the edge of the trail on some of the non-traveled road sections. Since I was flying with limited visibility, I shadowed one of my fellow singlespeed riders who had a headlight. This worked well for the first few miles.
Just as we were getting enough daylight to actually see with, the course turned to the first real trail section. This always ends up being a long hike-a-bike section and my legs were screaming. By the top of that climb, we were mostly above the valley fog and could get down to some real riding. For some reason I was having trouble settling into a groove.
The early part of the race generally consists of gravel roads and a lot of Vermont class-4 roads. These are technically demanding enough that it keeps things interesting while not creating the insane traffic jams that would be inevitable if single-track were introduced this early into the race course.
My plan was to get in a reasonable position early on and hold my own for the first third of the race, saving my energy to attack later in the race. Somewhere around 12 to 15 miles in I realized that I was having difficulty maintaining my typical race pace. I just had no energy or drive. I actually stopped on one of the long gravel road climbs to take a break and mentally regroup. I seemed to be losing ground in the field but I couldn’t figure out why. I decided to press on and work out the remainder of the race as best as I could. I would not let myself DNF without good reason.
As I mentioned before, the weather for the race this year was exceptional. I normally don’t look around much while I’m racing but found myself taking in the scenery this year at several points. Foliage was near peak and the sky was a perfect blue. With the early morning sun lighting things up, it really was spectacular. It was the kind of scenery you see printed on postcards. If I weren’t racing, I would have stopped to get some photos. I was tempted on numerous occasions even though I was racing.
For me, Garvin Hill is the turning point of the race. It is the highest point on the course and it is after this point that the course turns more technical. Every year they place an aid station right at the top of the long climb. I stopped at the top of this big grassy climb for a few minutes to rest and refuel. Again, the view was amazing. Reluctantly, I returned to the race at hand.
The middle miles of the race are always a bit unclear to me. More single-track is introduced and we spend less time on gravel. I was now getting into things a bit more. I found myself catching up to riders in the tighter terrain and passing a few here and there. I took one more final rest and refuel at one of the aid stations somewhere after mile 30. I was hungry and ate quite a bit here. The specifics are all a bit of a blur now.
The final leg of the race was a blast. Much of the remaining course was single-track and I was starting to feel good. I caught and passed many riders in the final 10-12 miles. I don’t know if it was the food or if riding single-track is just more motivating but I was having fun. In previous races, I’ve pretty much hated the final climb up the mountain, but I was almost into it this time around. That’s not to say that I was wishing for more climbing by the time I was well up the mountain.
It felt glorious as I rolled out of the woods and began my descent of the final switchbacks toward the finish. I was able to keep the power on to the end and finished just under 5 hours. That put me in 9th place among the singlespeed riders and 84th in the overall field. Not my best performance by a long shot but nothing to whine about either.
With the good weather and dry conditions, course records were set in pretty much every category. The winning bike rider came in at 3:55. Three hours and fifty-five minutes to cover 50 miles of mountain biking. I’m still having trouble getting my head around that pace. Equally mind-boggling was the winning run time of 6:09 – ON FOOT!
Once I had recovered a little, I changed into some dry clothes to enjoy the post-race meal in the sun. Pretty much everyone seemed to be in good spirits as they finished this year. A little later, my wife, myself and our daughter helped out with the finish line work of recording racers as they came in. It was actually quite fun to take part in this way.
As always, the Vermont 50 was a well run event. There were many, many volunteers who worked all weekend and were up well before we had to get moving on Sunday morning. Mike Silverman, the organizer, seemed to be everywhere all the time making sure things were running according to plan. A huge thank you goes out to him, all the volunteers and to the numerous landowners who let us invade their property for one day a year for this lunacy. Given the scale of the event this is no small feat. I’m hoping to be back again next year.
Vassago started making frames back in 2005 with a nearly exclusive focus on 29 inch wheels. The company has gone through a bit of a rough time in recent years, but it has had some new life breathed into it with a change in ownership last fall. Throughout their past difficulties, they’ve managed to develop quite a following, particularly with their Jabberwocky frame. It’s great to see the company bounce back and start offering improvements to what may be their best known model.
I acquired their new Jabberwocky frame through Onion River Sports in Montpelier. They are the only Vassago dealer in Vermont at this time and were extremely helpful with working out the details of a warranty issue with my previous frame. Likewise, Vassago was excellent to deal with. There were rumors going around about the prior management being difficult to work with but, based on my experience, this is no longer even remotely the case now.
Now that I’ve had the bike in hand, so to speak, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on it, giving it a thorough working over. I’ve climbed, descended, slogged through mud, jumped and generally man-handled it through most of my favorite trails up here in Northeastern Vermont. Now that my legs are pretty sore, let’s dig into the details.
Vassago 29er proprietary Rtech butted tubing
Cast horizontal dropouts
Internal, forward facing Jabbernutz tensioners (included) allow the use of a quick release hub
Hydro-style cable guides
44mm Headtube to allow the use of tapered forks
ISO standard disc brake mounts allow rear tire changes without messing with brake caliper
Available Vassago Gear Plug to run a rear deraileur with perfect wheel alignment
Vassago Original Wet Cat Geometry
MSRP frame $519.99
This is the first update of the Jabberwocky since the new owners have taken the reins at Vassago. The bike continues the same basic qualities of the original Jabberwocky, only with some refinements. For those familiar with the Jabberwocky, here’s what’s new with this updated version:
The down tube is now curved, instead of the old raised attachment on the head tube.
The head tube is made with a 44mm diameter, accommodating forks with either tapered steerer tubes or traditional 1-1/8″ steerers.
The bottom bracket shell is now 73mm wide instead of 68mm.
The frame tubes are now made using size-specific butted tubing with minor improvements to the butting profile.
If you’ve spent many hours on a Jabberwocky in the past, you know what you’re in for here. None of the great things that made a Jabber a Jabber have changed. If you haven’t been so fortunate, then read on.
Starting with the basics, the frame is made of steel using their own “Rtech” tubing. With everyone looking at using carbon fiber for just about everything and the nearly ubiquitous use of aluminum for bike frames, steel is often not given the serious consideration it still deserves. I’m not going use this space to attempt to convince anyone that “steel is real” or any such nonsense, but I will say that it can be used to create a great riding bike. The frame is very solid and the welds appear to be clean and very consistent.
The rear of the bike uses horizontal dropouts or, more accurately, track ends, with tensioners to take care of wheel holding duties. I’ve been using a bolt-on White Industries ENO hub and it has performed flawlessly with the frame – no sliders or other tensioning mechanisms to slip or mess with while out on the trail. It even works well with a quick release hub and a good skewer. The simplicity of the system, if you want to call it that, is a major plus in my book. According to Vassago, the rear triangle has space to accommodate a “muddy 2.3″ inch tire. It would be nice if it could be just a little bit wider as I really like to run fat tires. I’ve found that I can comfortably get away with a 2.4” Maxxis Ardent as long as the axle isn’t jammed all the way forward in the stays.
Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the Jabberwocky is the frame’s geometry. It is also the main reason I managed to discover the Jabber to begin with. Having short legs and a long torso for my height, I was on a quest to get an 18 inch frame with the longest top tube I could find. At 24.2 inches, the Jabber’s roomy cockpit delivered pretty well in this department. What I didn’t bargain for was how awesome this bike would handle due to their unique combination of angles. Vassago calls this their WetCat geometry: a long wheel base, relaxed head tube angle (71 degrees), steep seat tube angle (73.5), and a relatively low bottom bracket. When I first rode one, it really did feel long, low and fast. You truly do get the sensation that your weight is lower, like you’re sitting between the wheels. What’s more surprising is that when maneuvering the bike in tight single-track it feels very nimble – much more than you’d expect considering the longer wheel base. When the trail turns up, this bike turns into a monkey. I almost never lose traction before running out of power and the front end is glued to the ground even when climbing seated. It is the best climbing bike I’ve owned – geared or single-speed.
There are only a couple of minor, negative things that I’ve found resulting from the Jabberwocky’s geometry. The first is that it is a little more difficult to get the front wheel off the ground just by leaning back and pulling on the bars (the “manual”). With some bikes, I’m able to just pull up and loft the front end forever. With the Jabber, it can still be pulled up easily enough to deal with logs or mud holes, but getting it back to the balancing point is more of a chore. The front end is still very maneuverable and can be flicked around pretty easily in tight or technical terrain so it’s not proven to be unbearable. The second issue is that the lower bottom bracket took a while for me to adjust to. At first, I was frequently hitting my pedals on rocks when powering through corners but I eventually adapted to the difference.
If you love riding a single-speed, this bike makes few compromises. It makes for an excellent racing machine, even if it isn’t in the fly weight category – the extra few ounces of steel over other materials are hardly noticeable. For some reason, this frame seems just slightly quicker or more lively than the earlier Jabberwocky frames I’ve ridden. This may be due to the changes in the tubing or it might just be the “dehydration yellow” paint job playing Jedi mind tricks on me. Regardless, it’s a bike with phenomenal handling – especially when paired with Vassago’s Odis fork.
Overall Rating: 10/10
Amazing traction, climbs like a monkey
Single-speed specific design. There are no cable guides for anything other than a rear brake.
Great handling geometry.
Awesome when paired with a rigid fork
Long top tube gives plenty of room to stretch out. Great on long rides
Horizontal dropouts – no messing with bolts and sliders
Price. There are few frames out there of this quality at this price point.
The rear triangle has limited space for really fat tires.
Difficult to “manual”
Low bottom bracket height can mean more pedal strikes, at least initially.
The frame is designed around an 80mm fork, if you must have squishiness. A fork with 100mm travel or greater does slow the steering down ever so slightly.
Does not convert easily to a geared setup (Why would you want to do that?!?)
Doesn’t come in white. Colors are limited to Black and Gold.
Frame Material: Vassago Rtech tubing
Headset: 44mm inset
Bottom Braket: 73mm shell, standard BSA
Disc Brakes: Standard ISO
Dropouts: Cast horizontal with internal forward facing Jabbernutz tensioners
Rear Spacing: 135mm
Front Derailleur: Not on a Jabber!!
Rear Derailleur: Standard (with optional Gear Plug2)
Rigid Fork: Vassago Odis
Squishy Fork: 80mm recommended for best handling, 100mm do-able
Some mountain bike races races are little more than a road race with nicer scenery. The kind of races you’d expect to be dominated by guys with team kits that match the paint job on their bike, who have the upper body strength of your average 2nd grader, who talk about things like anaerobic thresholds, and who check their heart rate monitors like a teenage girl monitors her cell phone for Facebook updates. Treasure Valley Rally is not one of those races. This is the kind of racing where you look forward to the climbs in hopes to give your arms a break and you look forward to the descents to relieve your screaming quads. The course is made up of a relentless barrage of rock gardens that twist up and down through the woods in central MA. Every year, I swear, they must have Scouts out walking the woods all summer gathering up more rocks to add to the single-track for a merit badge, or something. It’s a tough all around course that favors bike handling skills and climbing power… and I love it.
This year they added two new sections to the course. The first was found early into the race and was obviously freshly cut. The surface was a bit soft and loamy. In spite of it being new and soft, it also managed to be quite rocky as well. Only at TVR. The second section started half way up the double-track climb and wound it’s way up to “the pebble” following a series of switchbacks and some really interesting ledge and rock features. This will be even more fun once the trail is thoroughly worked in. They are both great additions to the course.
Before the race, I learned that Shawn Mottram wouldn’t be racing in with the geared Experts instead of my class. That certainly opened up some possibilities for this race, at least in my mind. I’m a masher, not a spinner by any measure, but he was pushing a gear that even I wouldn’t attempt. I’ve gone the other direction by moving to a 32:19 which seems to be better for seated climbing than my 18t cog. That, paired with running 2.4″ tires, seemed to be a great combination for the day.
So, with a different lineup of riders than usual, our small single-speed class was unleashed between the Elites and the Expert classes. I managed to quickly work my way up into second place within the first mile or so. I hung on to this place for a while but gave up a few spots by the time we reached the pebble – a massive house-sized boulder at the high point of the course. I gave up a few more in the technical loop beyond the pebble, figuring that I could gain in the long run by pacing myself instead of blowing up early and merely surviving the second lap. Once the lead Expert class riders started catching me, I lost all sense of where I was in my class. By my calculations, I was in approximately sixth place but knew that I was just guessing. I rode the remainder of the lap pretty well, only walking a few of the climbs.
As I passed through the start/finish area to start my second lap, my wife informed me that I was in second place. That didn’t seem possible to me at the time. I rode much of the second lap entirely alone. That’s usually a good sign, further confirming that I might be in a good position. I was also able to ride at my own pace which often works in my favor. The pace had been hard and I was starting to feel the effects of fatigue on my biking handling. In the nasty rock gardens, I couldn’t find a good line if someone painted it on the rocks for me. It was like my front wheel was magnetically drawn the the largest, most awful rocks on the trail. The final climb back up to the pebble from the lake was painful; blinding, leg-burning, “why am I doing this to myself” pain. In spite of that, I somehow managed to ride more of the climbs on my second lap than I did the first time around.
With that final pebble climb behind me, I felt considerably more motivated to rip my way to the finish. I was still wrestling with some sloppiness but tried to focus on taking the smoother lines (where available) and keeping my momentum going. I actually started feeling better and seemed to be riding faster over the latter half of my final lap. On the last couple of miles, I was shadowed by an Expert rider who had an unusually loud freewheel. I could hear him behind me which gave me an extra push to keep the power on right up to the end. I fully expected him to blow by me once the course opened up leading to the finish, but he didn’t. I wheeled in at 2:16 for second place in the men’s single-speed category.
My daughter came in to win her race just a little while after I finished. She had decided to ride her fat bike on this course and it seems to have been a good choice. The fat tires just floated over the loamy stuff as well as taking the edge off the endless rocks and roots. She was having fun.
Team Bums puts on a great race. They even had a table full of watermelon waiting for us at the finish. Awesome. We had our choice of T-shirts or a BBQ meal with our registration, the winners in each category got prizes and they raffled off a couple of really nice frames from Carver Bikes. Attendance was down a little this year which was too bad because it was an excellent event. I swam in the lake, ate and just lazed around for a while before finally heading back home. Offical results are up on EFTA’s web site. This race puts me in second place in the overall points standings, at least until Moody Park. My Strava data for the race can be found here.
Yes, in spite of all appearances this summer, I still do bike races. The last race I was in was the Vermont Summer Epic at Trapps all the way back in June. Now that my knee is completely healed, I was ready to go back out for some more abuse at the Millstone Grind. We had another dry, sunny day, just like we did for the race last summer. I opted to enter the single-speed “marathon” class again this year. I did this partially because I actually like the longer distance (30 miles), but also because USA Cycling won’t let me race in Cat. 1 without getting an annual license. I’ll reserve that rant as an option for a future post. Being part of the Root 66 series, the race pulls a decent size crowd; the single-speed marathon group was the biggest I’ve ever seen it, with over a dozen of us on the line.
I like riding at Millstone, and not just because it’s close to home. The trails are technical enough that you really have to be a good bike handler to do well, not just have good aerobic capacity. The course was largely the same as it has been in previous years. They did break up one of the longer climbing sections with an extended set of switchbacks in the woods. It was a nice change. Overall, there aren’t really any big climbs on the course but the many short efforts will wear you down over time. That, paired with the lack of any extended downhills, doesn’t allow enough time for recovery. It’s pretty much 100% on the gas for the duration of the race. It definitely makes for a more challenging race that way.
We got off to an early start at 10 am immediately following the geared marathon riders. I decided that I was going to slow my pace down a little early in the race with the hopes of having more reserves to draw on toward the end. Initially, I tried to shadow Marc Stannard riding his single-speed MukLuk, figuring he’d be a little slower on that fat tired machine. When that proved not to be the case, I decided to let him go and stick to my own pace.
In the first couple of miles, I managed to bottom out my rear tire at least three times, so I stopped to add some air. Considering how rocky Millstone is, I figured it would be better to take the time to pump it up than to be forced to take the time to repair a flat later on. I got to watch everyone ride by while fumbling with my pump . It took me about half way through the first lap to start catching up with the back of my single-speed group. My tire was now a little too hard but at least I could be confident that I wouldn’t flat, even if I would end up a little battered as a result.
I rode mostly alone for the second lap but started picking off a few more single-speed riders in my third lap. Unfortunately, toward the end of the third lap, I started feeling an occasional “twinge” in my quads. That’s never a good sign. As I got further into the 4th lap, this grew from twinges to outright leg cramps. I started drinking lots of water (with electrolytes) to try to mitigate the impact, but I knew that would ultimately be a losing proposition. I caught up with Marc several times over the final laps and he commented that he was having leg cramps as well. I think he was managing it better than I was. After the race, I heard quite a few other racers complaining about having problems with muscle cramps so at least I wasn’t alone in my misery.
The Pro/Cat. 1 riders started their race at noon. About two thirds of the way through my final lap, a pair of them caught up with me. They passed me on a particularly rocky climb like I was standing still. It was utterly demoralizing, especially considering that I was struggling up that short slope on foot. On the final steep switchback climb of the lap, I was barely able to walk at all thanks to the involuntary spasms in my legs. I seriously contemplated crawling on all fours while dragging my bike. Thankfully, I could still pedal, relying on my hamstrings for most of what little power I still had. The final lap was nothing but pure suffering. Still, I managed to not lose any ground and even picked up another rider or two from my category. I’m often puzzled by the fact that I like bike racing.
I managed to come in a few minutes behind Marc who followed George Lapierre – exactly the same order we had last year. That would have been great, but this time around there were two other riders ahead of us so there was no podium for me this year. Once I recovered a little, it was time to eat. They had some burgers, pasta and some decent beers available after the race which, thankfully, was included in the registration. Good stuff. Food always tastes much, much better after a race. Race results are up on the Root66 web site. My Strava data for the race can be found here.