Now that the last official bike race of the season has passed us by, its time to open the curtains a little to the world of race planning. I don’t think anyone is taking for granted the work Mike Crawford has done over the years, putting on hundreds of events for this community, but it can be nice to peek behind the curtain and see the process. The Chainwreck Cyclocross Series grew out of a few conversations about turning Polar Vortex into a true cyclocross event. Mike and I knew that to embed cyclocross culture in the area it would have to be more than a once a year event. Thus began my foray into race organization.
It should be noted that I use the term race organization loosely. There are people in this world who organize races for tens of thousands of people. They pull in corporate sponsorship and get permits and allowances for use of public land. I’ve never been one for the mega events, and while there is a certain legitimacy that comes from having fancy barriers with dutch detergent companies names plastered across them, I prefer to think about the race itself. It begins like this.
At some point every race begins as a concept doodled onto a map of Tsalteshi. There may be more efficient ways to plan, but this is how my mind works. I sit down with a map of the trails, and look for interesting ways to connect them. Specifically for cyclocross races, I’m looking for routes that will be interesting, challenging, and compact. We may not have many spectators yet, but ‘cross is a very viewer friendly sport. The more times a course can cross back over itself the better. A compact course gives the spectators, photographers, and even the participants an opportunity to see racers multiple times per lap. I combine my knowledge of the trails and various features I have observed with the maps to draw out a rough plan.
The next step is to ride the course. Without fail variations are made at this stage as we discover a cool cut through or challenging corners we can add to the race with minor deviations. Some of the most popular course features have grown out of a misreading of the map. We ride the course several times, adding in any tweaks or changes we have made, and then settle on a final design. These first two steps generally happen several weeks before the race in the case of the Chainwreck series. After we’re sure we have the course we want, we do a couple hot laps to estimate race pace. These hot laps tend to pop up on Strava a couple days before the race, giving Strava users a preview of the race.
The night before the race I run through all the supplies needed for the next day. Barriers are checked for major damage and loaded into the truck. I make sure I have adequate tape, stakes and tools to lay the course out.
Day of the Race. I usually head out the trails in the early afternoon. If I’m lucky I get to drive onto the course to drop off barriers and other heavy supplies that can be an encumbrance to set up otherwise. I’ll leave my truck as a staging area and survey how I want to lay out the course. The course is rarely assembled in a linear fashion. These courses are usually comprised of several different facets, and they all require their own trip around the course.
Typically I lay in the taped sections first. I use surveyor stakes and tape at various points of the course to more directly control how riders approach specific obstacles, or to create a route where there is none. There can be several reasons to do this. In the case of a switchback series or a loop, using tape creates a more visible and less confusing set of controls than small pin flags set into the ground. In the same way, sometimes it is useful to control how riders approach a specific corner or obstacle. You may have the intention of forcing them to dismount, or to take a specific and more challenging line. In this regard stakes and tape control the riders much better than pin flags. Surely no riders would ever cross the pin flags, but the path created by the stakes an tape is a much more controlled line.
To set the stakes I first walk the course visualizing the line the racers should take. Then I lay stakes down with the tips where I want them. This method allows me to construct a smoother line as I adjust the stakes and create a pattern before hammering anything down. After the stakes are all set for a particular section I walk through setting the tape as efficiently as I can. Sometimes when the ground is frozen a foundation stake is used to drive in a pilot hole.
The next step is to flag out the rest of the course with the pin flags. This is the easiest part, and can be accomplished by bike. I load a backpack up with pin flags and a screwdriver and ride around. I take special care to note any confusing trail intersections or places where a path may diverge. These off shoots I flag, hoping to keep every rider on course. Any spot where the course uses the same section of trail, but doesn’t U-turn, I use pin flags to split the trail. Using pin flags also extends the life of the stakes we use, as they tend to split and shatter after a certain number of uses.
For any given flag the process is simple. Take the screwdriver and punch a pilot hole in the ground. Then insert pin flag. Take a couple steps and repeat the process. When I’m done flagging the course should be nearly finished. It may seem confusing to riders who arrive early to preview. But once they are on the course heading in the right direction it should flow seamlessly and without any moments of confusion. Sometimes this requires more flags, sometimes less.
The last thing I do before the race is install the barriers. Depending on what part of the trails we’re using and where on the trail the barriers sit, I may set them up earlier. My biggest fear is someone who is using the trails recreationally not seeing the barriers and having an incident. The easiest way to control this is to set up the barriers closer to the race, when the race in progress have been set up and it should be clear to all users that there is an event happening. The smaller barriers have built in stakes and the larger use metal stakes repurposed from construction work. Once they are hammered firmly into the ground and rider proof, the course is set and ready to go. All that is left is to start the race, time it and produce results. But those subjects are for another time.
Personal bike projects are an inevitability in the life of a bicycle mechanic. First you want to try one thing, and then another, and pretty soon you’ve got a stable of bikes and they’ve all been through various incarnations. You’ve had a porteur rack, that bikes been fixed, you ran single speed MTB for a while and there is a frankenbike hiding somewhere in the back. The inspiration never stops, and after a while you can look at your pile of parts and think, “I’m pretty sure I have everything I need to build this except tires.” Inevitably you don’t. Something you thought was going to cost you $50.00 ends up in the triple digits. But you’ve already thought you could do it, so you have to finish it.
That’s pretty much how it went turning the Cross Check into a Single Speed ‘Cross Machine. I had originally purchased the ‘check to be a winter bike to extend the life of my beloved Allegro. But I was greatly disappointed by the overbuilt nature of the tubes and the dead feel. I moved on to other projects, but I never managed to get rid of the ‘check. When I moved back up to Alaska, it was originally going to be left in Oregon but there was room in the trailer and soon I needed a wet weather bike again. Familiar trips down familiar roads you could say. Spring came around and the fenders on the ‘check were vastly under suited for the wet sand spray we get around these parts, and the ‘check went back into storage. Coming back out for the river festival and various town trips as my “replaceable” bike.
Then the idea of having a Cyclocross series came up. Cyclocross is such a wonderful discipline. Its gritty, wild and fun. I started collecting obstacles and dreaming courses and the ‘check popped back into my mind. Since I’m planning the courses and running the event, its unlikely I’ll get to participate much in the races. But a true course designer needs to ride the course to apply the correct amount of suffering to racers. And so the transformation began. First the rack and fenders came off, then the derailleurs and cranks. The bar end shifters were a pain to get off without removing the handlebar tape, but I succeeded. The cassette and chain came off and were replaced with a single speed cog and an American flag single speed chain. New tires went on and were converted to ghetto tubeless, the handlebars were lowered, and beer was consumed.
The bike was finished. The next day I took some old cedar planks and chopped and stacked them, turning them into barriers. They’re nearly regulation height. In fact they’re only about a centimeter taller than UCI regulations. I think that’s okay, considering the UCI has jack all to do with our cross races. These aren’t the only barriers riders will experience on the course, just the most normal. The cyclocross races are now only a week away. The courses have been planned, scouted, and scrutinized. A skills clinic has been scheduled before the first race. Hand-up strategies have been set, and the requisite supplies have been requisitioned. There isn’t anything left to do at the point but race, and I’m ready. Are you?
The race started off poorly. I was putting something in my seat pack when the starter said racers ready, and by the time I raised up to say no, the race was a go. Barreling down the hill behind the pack I tried to make up ground across the field and through Rabbit. An ominous clack sounded from the rear end of my Farley 5 fat bike as I passed a rider approaching Kill Bill. Sure enough, rising back up Collins Hill my derailleur jammed causing me to hop off the bike and manually shift the rear derailleur back into gear. I lost most of the ground I had made up on Kill Bill and as we cruised through the S turns on Wolf my rear gearing began to click and pop. Jammed up behind some walking riders on a singletrack section, I hopped back on my bike on the main trail prepared to put the power down only to snap my chain. I hastily threw my bike on the ground, pulled out my chain tool and set to work as most of the field passed me by. The chain re-assembled in a little over a minute I hopped back on the bike.
First crank and snap, the chain broke again. I must not have gotten the pin all the way back in. This time the repair took several minutes, as I had to remove multiple links. Pretty immediately after the second break, the rest of the field passed, and Brian, who was taking pictures at the site, moved on the capture those still in the hunt for glory.
By the time I got the chain fixed all the riders were long gone, and I knew my race was over. Valiantly hoping to sandbag my times for the controlled start race, I hopped back on the bike determined to finish by riding hard. Through Wolf and Fox I rode well and truly alone, catching the first back marker on the top of the Bear descent. I screamed down Bear trusting in the 5″ tires through the sandy patches topping out at 30.7 mph. Pretty fast for a fatbike. As I made the turn onto the M4 singletrack I saw the group of riders I usually stay in contact with beginning the climb back up Bear, easily ten minutes ahead of me.
I cooked it around Wolverine to the singletrack, where I passed a couple more riders. Pulling out of the singletrack I had to stop and stretch my back out, then it was a nice long drag up Bear (with a little walking on the steep bits). On top of Bear Brian was helping usual female victor Kara realign her derailleur.
From the top of Bear it was up and down hills and one more racer passed before I popped out on Eagle’s Perch above the school and headed back towards Wolf. A little hidden singletrack took me to the power line where I crouched down and squeezed my way through another hidden pathway back onto the pool parking lot. With no riders ahead of me it was a one man drag race back to the sprint hills and the finish, where the early racers were already packing up and leaving. According to my record, barring the time I spent stopped, I raced on par with my usual time, but according to the official clock, I was ten minutes slower than usual. What can you do? Sometimes you just catch the unlucky breaks. I was happy to have finished, but I’m not sure I’ll ever race that fat bike again.
Mark “broken link” Beeson
We had a busy weekend up here in the Bike Loft. As always, Tri-the-Kenai energizes the community and brings athletes in from all over the state and the world. In the days leading up to the event, a buzz starts to build in the shop. We’re busy prepping rentals and giving bikes pre-race tune ups. Nervous athletes flutter in and out of the shop grabbing gels and agonizing over last minute gear choices. Perhaps my favorite part of Tri-the-Kenai is the way it attracts all kinds of community members. There are some high level athletes that show up to compete, and it is great to watch them push themselves, but the Tri is also a place for beginners and intermediate athletes too. As Saturday draws to a close we end up giving more encouragement than mechanical work. Night before nerves just need a little soothing and there is little left to be done on the bikes that come in besides giving them the Beemuns seal of approval.
Sunday morning finds Brian and I outside the transition area at the Tri. We have brought tires, tubes, and tools for any last minute catastrophes. In the past we have spot repaired some major problems and made sure participants bikes were ready for the event. Once the race begins, we’re not allowed to assist with any mechanical problems, so the lead up to the start is a flurry of pressure checks and minor adjustments. This year the bikes we saw were in good shape and for the first time we didn’t have to replace any tires or fix any flats. With the top twelve beginning their swims there wasn’t much left to do but settle down and cheer for the racers. We support all the athletes, but the ones who train with us, ride with us, and are known persons around the shop get slightly louder cheers.
With the top 12 Men and Women finished and the real rhythm of the event taking off, it was time for Brian and I to pack up. With the weather so nice, we knew we had to get out and ride. So we dropped the event supplies back at the store, grabbed our bikes, and headed up the road for our first Resurrection ride of the year.
The Cooper Landing Parking lot was mostly full when we arrived around 1 o’clock. There was a couple loading up some packs for what looked like an overnighter and even some people having a picnic. Starting up the trail we immediately encountered a group coming down on fatbikes. They were loaded up with panniers and excited to be done with the ride so we didn’t get a chance to stop and chat. The climb went very smoothly for being the first ride of the year. I’ve been pounding the pavement and hitting the hills at Tsalteshi on the weekends, and all the miles helped the climb easier. The climb out of the parking lot up to the falls is steep, but we managed to make good time despite stopping for several bikers coming down.
Strava told me I was the fourth fastest to the bridge this year, despite the fact that we stopped at the falls for fifteen minutes to take photos and eat some early nutrition. This was when I first began to regret not applying bug dope. Despite the rocky and rooty trail, I managed to distance Brian a little bit on the climb sections. My bike, being fully rigid, is a bit of a mountain goat. However on any flatter or downhill sections his full suspension 29er outpaced me and he closed the gaps quickly.
It was about this time that I first began to crave Mexican food. I began to wish I hadn’t been lazy and packed a cooler with cold liquid refreshment for when we got back to the car. After peeling out from the falls the trail stops gaining elevation so quickly and is more of a rolling climb. Overall the trail was very firm but it was above the falls that we encountered the most puddles. Most could be ridden through, and I stayed mostly dry up to the lake. We made good time here, and I began to get towards the end of my first water bottle and I finished my first pack of Shot Bloks.
The ride from the Trout Lake junction to Juneau Lake was fast and easy. The heat really started to pick up, but the trail was mostly smooth and we only encountered a few hikers. My bug bites from the first stop started to itch, but at least when you’re cruising the skeeters leave you alone. Reaching the lake the temperature dropped a little and we rolled along the lakes edge. This doubletrack is some of the most beautiful riding on the whole trail as you skirt the waters edge on the eastern side of the lake. We made it a little past the cabin when we encountered a very muddy section of the trail and elected to turn around.
We stopped for a food break at the small beach underneath the cabin. The wind died down and the bugs really came out to feast on me. Brian appears to be invisible to the critters. The lake was very placid and I spent my time dipping a bandana in the water and using it to cool off. Brian ate a sandwich. We whiled away a half hour talking about the right of way hierarchy on trails and why folks yield when they have the right away. Then I took this selfie, grateful for the cooling bandana.
It had taken us an hour and a half to the Juneau Lake Cabin, and as we turned to head out we wondered how much faster the descent would be. After riding back along the glorious lake edge trail together, Brian began to pull away from me as the trail turned downwards and rocky. Any concentrated section of rocks or roots and his bike would just float away from me.
Around the Trout Lake junction we met a momma Spruce Hen who dutifully waddled down the trail ahead of us, leading us away from her children. Up the trail two hikers with three dogs that we had passed on our way up caught sight of the Hen and chased her into the trees for us. They were staying at the cabin for the night, and one of their dogs had an pack on carrying the food and bedding for the dogs. I thought that was a rather smart way to do it. We picked up speed as we cruised down toward the falls through all the mud puddles. What was previously traversed with caution was taken at speed, and our bikes and legs became muddy for it.
During this time I really had to chase Brian. I had stopped to walk a particularly tricky uphill section covered in rocks that he had ridden right over. When I reached the top I decided to eat a gel and deplenish my water a little more. By the time I got back on my bike he was far ahead and gaining ground. I caught back up to him right after the falls, when he had finally looked behind to see I was no longer there. After the falls the trail really drops down, and as it wound through the trees the fallen pine needles smoothed out the trail allowing me to pick up speed. Brian had to stop for a dropped chain and I caught up and passed him before speeding ahead to the parking lot.
Hot and tired we loaded our bikes and tried to stretch out in the parking lot. My nethers were tender and I knew sitting on a bike seat would be difficult for a couple days. A kind fellow traveler offered us a cold one before shuttling over to Bean Creek. I stopped my Strava, and we had ridden 19.4 miles in 2:29:21. We had made it down from the lake in an hour. Tired and soon to be sore we headed home, where I washed off my bike before filling the kiddie pool and soaking my legs, relaxing after a great day.
We meet at 6:00 pm, leave at 6:15 pm
We ride bikes.
Up here in the Bike Loft, we seem to get asked about group rides frequently. Perhaps its because group rides are a bike shop staple, or perhaps its because this area looks to us as a hub of the bicycling community, and that community is thirsty for things to do. Why doesn’t really matter. What matters is giving the people what they want. Unfortunately Beemuns isn’t able to sponsor a group ride at this time, BUT we don’t need no stinkin’ sponors, because one is happening anyways!
Starting a group ride has been on my mind for a while, and when I moved back to the area, I realized it would be a perfect time to gather all the different kinds of riders we see everyday at Beemuns, take them outside of Beemuns, and help them ride together. We already have a common interest, hint: its bikes, and I already know you love riding bikes, so why shouldn’t we ride bikes together?
Okay so everyone likes riding bikes, that’s great. Let’s ride bikes. Maybe its that simple. But we all ride bikes in different ways, how can we get along? If we solve that we’ll be sure to pass it up the food chain to the powers that be, because getting along seems to be a worldwide problem, but we’re going to try our best. I wanted to start a ride that appeals to a broad spectrum of people. A ride that rides in different places, and scoops up different kinds of riders, and a ride that holds its arms open in welcome to everyone.
We’re in the process of building that ride, and you can help. Last week was our first ride, a no drops get together and meet each other kind of ride. Everyone that came had a lot of fun, and we hope to see more of you this week. Last week we rode a 10.7 mile road loop that is relatively flat. This week we’re riding 12 road miles from the Beemuns parking lot to Beaver Loop and back, and there will be some hills. Last week was a no drops ride, this week we will split up into groups, and regroup at points. Don’t let the sound of that scare you, it should be a low intensity affair.
We post the details of the ride to the Bike Loft Facebook when they are confirmed, but if you don’t compulsively check our page and would like to be emailed instead, there is a group ride sign up at the bottom of this post. I hope to see you Tuesday.
Its very nearly May, and that can only mean one thing, our Bike Month Challenge is back and better than ever. Last year was the first year we threw down the gauntlet and challenged you to ride your bike to work every day. Every five days ridden entered you in a drawing for a Free Spirit Alaska Bike Jersey. We were so excited to see the level of participation and excitement around the Challenge that we’ve brought it back, bigger and better than ever.
Here is the skinny. May is National Bike Month, May 11-15th is National Bike to work week, And May 15th is National Bike to work day. That’s stacking layer upon layer of bike riding awesomeness on a Crunchwrap Supreme level. To celebrate this celebration of bikes, we’re offering layers of rewards to our Challenge participants. For every 5 days or fifty miles ridden and logged, you receive one entry into our grand prize drawing. If you commute every day of National Bike to Work Week, you will receive one ten dollar gift certificate to Beemuns Variety. If you commute on May 15th, National Bike to Work Day, you receive one entry into the Grand Prize Drawing. If you ride every day you will receive one $20.00 gift certificate.
What is the Grand Prize? Well its Bontrager’s new Flare R Taillight. Let me tell you this is a pretty sweet taillight. The Flare R is a USB Rechargeable Daylight Visibility Taillight that pumps out an intense 65 Lumens, which makes it Alaska summer appropriate.
If you’re still wondering how all this works, let me give you the bullet points.
- Print out the Ride Log at the top of the page or come in to the store and pick one up.
- Ride your bike a lot, and log your rides.
- Every five days or 50 miles gains one entry in the Grand Prize Drawing
- Commute every day from May 11th through the 15th and get a $10.00 gift certificate. Have your supervisor initial these days.
- Commute on May 15th and gain one entry to the Grand Prize Drawing.
- Ride everyday and upgrade your $10.00 gift certificate to a $20.00 one.
- Turn in your log between June 1-13th.
- Reap Rewards
The Grand Prize Drawing will be held June 20th. Your presence is not required to win, but your Challenge Log must be turned in by June 13th. If you have any other concerns or questions, feel free to give us a call or stop on by.
John says don’t forget to ride your bike. We’ll see you on the trails.
*$20.00 is the largest gift certificate you can earn, gift certificates do not stack.
**These are the most embarrassing bike photos I could find of us. Hopefully this will encourage you to get out and ride no matter what.
The bike industry is a great example of trickle down innovation. It’s a world where the high end technology funds the continued improvement of the mid-range components, and it’s also a world where media and advertisement focuses on that expensive technology. In ways it works much like the auto industry. Formula 1 racing drives a lot of technical innovation in the performance car world. The new hybrid supercars, the Mclaren P1 and Porsche 918, are running gas and electric engines that work similarly to the KERS system in F1 cars.
But there is a difference in how cars are advertised compared to bicycles. Most folks see car advertisements on television, where they advertise mid-range and some upper mid range models. Bikes however, are advertised differently. Bike magazines, how most people interact with bike advertisements, review bikes like Top Gear reviewed cars. A reviewer will argue the finer points of the Trek Emonda SLR 10 in terms that make many feel like to really enjoy road biking, you need that $15,000 bike
There is, in my humble opinion, a disproportionately vocal population of bicyclists who will tell you what kind of gear you need to do pretty much anything on a bike. To go bikepacking you need a rigid 29er with a frame bag your sleeping pad mounted under your seat, etc… There are numerous things you can do on a bike, and there is a subset of cyclists that will tell you what you HAVE TO HAVE, to do certain things. There is also a vocal group that is reactionary to the HAVE TO HAVE attitude. These are cyclists who will tell you you don’t need an expensive part, that the cheap one works just as well, and that you’re foolish for spending that much money on your bike, and so on and so forth.
We try to find the more reasonable center here at Beemuns, and I’m encouraging all you, in the words of Mcalisterium, to hike your own hike. There are people that like to spend a lot of money on their bikes and their bike components. I’m one of them. I enjoy the lighter, crisper shifting of an Ultegra groupset. I’ve been spoiled with higher end gear and believe it makes cycling more enjoyable, for me. But I’ll never tell you you need component x to enjoy cycling. Hike your own hike. If you want to go on a trans-continental tour with kitty litter panniers on a bike you pulled out of the dump, we’ll help you do that. If you’d like to ride the continental divide route on the nicest mountain bike money can buy, we’ll help you with that too. Hike your own hike. Your joy in cycling will come from traveling your own path. That’s the beauty of cycling. Its such a vast tent that includes all kinds of people doing all kinds of riding. People with different tastes, needs and budgets, and there is room for everyone. So next time someone tells you its just a bike, and a $20 derailleur works just as well as a $100 dollar one, or that you could have gotten the same performance from the cheaper model, remind them that you’re hiking your own hike, and that you’re happy they’re hiking their own.