Monday, June 09, 2008

Still Learning

I'm not so arrogant to claim I've figured out this Mountain Biking stuff, but I do feel like I'm learning more and more every week. That's a big part of what's keeping it fun. Plus, I know there's a long way to go and my ability to improve is not limited by physiological constraints like it is on the road.

More differences I've learned between the dirt and the road:

Bike technology: Oh My God, so complicated and so many choices! I'm still discovering new knobs and dials on my bike's suspension devices, and like an idiot, I can't help but turn them or press them to see what happens. I let all the air out of my rear shock, and then discovered that a cheapo K-Mart schraeder-valve floor pump is not adequate to re-inflate it. Who knew they make special pumps for inflating shock absorbers? Sag, rebound, inertial valves, hydraulic brakes, tubeless tires,... Sheesh! On the road, you get a sub-17-lb bike, 39x53 and 12x25, put 110 psi in your high-thread-count tires, and you're good-to-go for most anything. Simplicity.

Tire pressure: For yesterday's Elings Park race, I figured that higher pressure would be good because I knew my only chance at winning would be to get a big lead on the climbs, one of which was paved. Tire sidewall says min. pressure 35 psi and max of 65 psi, so I went for 50 psi right in the middle. Standing on the start line, good ol' Steve Boelter feels my tires and then proceeds to let half the air out. What the...!!! Can you imagine somebody doing that at the start of a RR or crit!?! A brawl would ensue for sure. But Steve was right, and as I learned later, lower pressure even helps keep better traction on the climbs.

Steering: This most-basic of skills is proving really difficult for me. On the road, you turn by leaning and counter-steering. It's instinctual and natural, and the tires grip the road even when you're leaned way over. In the dirt, you turn by actually steering the front wheel in the direction you want to go! It feels wrong, but I know it's right. Yesterday, I tried to follow both Blinger and Dave L. when they passed me on some twisty single track and I simply couldn't steer the bike and stay on the trail at the speed they were going.

Stress: This really gets to the heart of the difference, at least to me. In the MTB races, my stress level sky-rockets on the twisty descents. Even with nobody around to interfere with my lines or speed. Terror might be a bit too strong a word, but it's close. The true mountain bikers, on the other hand, claim to find some zen-like peace with the descents, even while skittering around the corners on the edge of disaster. But pack those same guys into a 100-man crit field and send them at 30 mph around the final corner at Manhattan Beach, and they would freak out. Not saying I'm completely comfortable in that situation either, but the fluidity and predictability of the field is much less scary. In mountain biking, it's all you. On the road, it takes a village.

...but I digress.

Elings Park MTB, 45-49 Sport
The course was some configuration of the green squiggly lines in the map at the right, for three laps of six miles each. Forty years ago, this was Santa Barbara's garbage-dump landfill, and now it's the primary multi-sport park in town. Pretty cool, but don't drink the ground water.

Our group had about 15 guys, including teammates TnA and Boltero, and re-energized former-roadie Genghis Hahn. Our main competition was a couple strong guys from the Sho-Air Team, including their leader Scott Tedro. I was quite sure that he and the rest of the field could ride away from me on the technical stuff, so my plan was very simple: drill it as hard as possible up the climbs, and not crash on the downhills. I also wanted to pass as many people as possible from the earlier waves, converting them into obstacles for the chasers. Thank goodness the race started with a 200 foot fire-road climb which got me the initial separation my plan required and even allowed me to pass a few prior-wave stragglers. The downhill gave me a new appreciation for why it's bad to skid around the turns... in just the two days since I last rode at Elings, the corners had gotten really soft and sandy and I'm told it's because of all the riders skidding. Riding in the soft stuff was a new experience, and my front wheel didn't want to go where I wanted it to go. This caused me two low-speed (fortunately) crashes, and added even more caution to my already old-lady-like descending technique. Still, nobody ever caught me and I was able to hold on for a win. Richard Kim and Scott Tedro finished 2nd and 3rd, and TnA, Genghis, and Steve B. were all top-10.

Other races and stuff...

Seth Zaleski is a new rider in town. He, along with cohorts Chesta and Steve Weixel, are young and enthusiastic bike racers who bring down the absurdly-high average age of the Santa Barbara roadie population. They're good riders, each one of them, but Seth's power-to-weight on the slopes should have a few pro-team DS's salivating. He's brand new to road biking, yet he cranked out a 14:40 on OSM last week--ooops, maybe that was top-secret info--which must be 5.5 W/kg or more. I generally discount it when people suggest genetic gifts as the reason for this kind of aerobic power, believing instead that more often than not it's due to really hard work over many years. But Seth's only been riding a year! At his age (early 20's) with a few years of hard training... the sky is the limit.

So Seth won the Sport 19-24 race at Elings and Chester was 2nd (after winning the Beginner race that morning!!), showing that their road fitness translates to the dirt pretty effectively. I would also imagine, since these guys are so young and fearless, that they go downhill pretty fast, making it a tall order to beat them.

I was excited to watch the Expert races in the afternoon, both for the competitive drama as well as the instructional value of watching such skilled racers. None more so than Ron Takeda and Johnny O'Mara:

...but really, all these riders are good, which is why they're called Experts!

No more time for blogging this afternoon, so if you're interested in some more pictures of SB expert riders (mostly Platinum), the you can view the slideshow below. Go to Picasa if you want to see full-size and/or download pics.

Look here for results of all Team Big Bear races, including Elings.

See ya on the road or trails!


TnA said...

Hey! You cropped me out of the podium shot! Here I was thinking "Cool, I'm pretty sure I'll be in this pic on Mark's blog."...but noooooooo.....bastard. Sure, cut out your fellow Platinum teammate and keep the 2 Sho-Air dudes in there instead...

Seriously, good work yesterday. Obviously your minor flubs didn't slow you down much ;-)

Oh yeah...if you're all confused by the tech on your MTB, I have a solution for you. Just sell your Epic to me and I'll set you up with a nice fully rigid single-speed for your next race. Maybe I'll be able to stay in the same zip code then.

Marco Fanelli said...

TnA- Indeed you were on the podium, but you were not in the pic because when I gave the camera to Gina, it was on some high zoom-factor that she didn't know how to change. What you see is all that fit in the frame! I'm just glad it wasn't on 12X zoom so that only my ugly mug filled the picture! I saw Elisa taking pictures too, so maybe she got one.

UtRider said...

Yeah, mountain bike riding/racing is a totally different beast than riding/racing on the road. I've gotten better over the past 2 years, but those pesky downhills still cost me tons of time compared to the guys who have been riding dirt since they were kids.

You should find a team and race Tour of Utah, then stick around for another week and ride the high country on the mountain bike. I'll bet RB can hook you up.

TnA said...

I figured it was something like that...I'm just goofin' on ya :-)

anony-miss said...
This is where the results will be. Shouldn't take them too long.

Marco Fanelli said...


Tour of Utah would be great fun, although probably too hard for me. It also conflicts with a vacation.

Some day for sure I'll make a trip to Utah for riding, either MTB or road. Some friends in SB went to Moab recently, but the images of that place make me think of that poor hiker from CO who got his arm stuck in the rocks...

I never met RB as his time in CA didn't overlap when I was actively racing. I'm pretty sure we have mutual friends though, and I link to his blog because it's a good read, like yours is.

Miss anony-

Thanks for the tip. Lots of results to dig through there!

Greg Knowles said...

Congrats Marco, obviously your level of fitness overcomes any deficiancy you have with handling the technical stuff. It was a good time at Elings and I feel pretty lucky to have that place in our backyard.

anony-miss said...

Marco, it was an anonymous tip. Ha-ha.

Jim Githens said...

Marco - I agree with your comments about differences between mtn & road and stress being a big factor. I can ride all day on the road and be OK - but 20-25 miles of technical single track and my brain is cooked. A guy who knows stuff passed on a tip to me - always keep your visual focus moving. Look at the trail 10' in front and sweep your view up the trail as far as you can see and then sweep your focus back in close, repeat. Keep the focus moving all the time. Don't look too long at problem spots - you will inevitably hit that rock or tree you're staring at - but let your brain recognize the obstacle and process the info - "I've ridden stuff like that before" - and then let the auto pilot take you on through. Or if the feed back is "C#@p - I've never ridden anything like that" - hop off. Give it a re-try if it is not a race situation. Keep the focus moving to the next section of trail. After a while it becomes second nature and you will find yourself riding progressively more difficult sections & riding faster. Congratulations on your finish - not sure that you need any tips!

Marco Fanelli said...

Thank you Jim. I will try moving my sight around between far and near on the trail. I've learned the hard way not to look off to the side! As for the auto-pilot... I think I need to upgrade the CPU! My MTB brain seems to be running like an old intel 386...