RIDING THE FATBIKE - 27 March 2015
Fatbike Portrait - Edwards AFB, California
Strava Link Of This Ride: https://www.strava.com/activities/268909810
I'm on a bike making my way through a quiet part of the Mojave Desert. It's still winter so it's cool in the morning. Before too many weeks, it'll become impossibly hot as the spring turns on. I'm on a steady pace. The ride is easy though Im making a point to not push it up, push harder. I'm only 20 minutes into a three hour ride. For some, they might barely be warming up at this effort. Me, there's no warm-up, it's either ride within myself or suffer the consequences later. I have to think this way to have a hope of making my goal of three hours and as many miles as possible on my mountain bike.
I'm riding a new bike. Actually, I've had this bike for almost a year but this day it sure feels new. It's my fat bike that's normally set with large balloon like four inch wide tires. When I first brought the bike home a year ago the tires looked ridiculously overly endowed on such a small frame. Who's well endowed in relatively small framed? Dolly Parton. Today Dolly feels new because she's configured with a new wheel-set of slightly smaller rubber and super light carbon fiber rims. All told, she weighs about three or four pounds less than when running on her normal really fat tire setup.
I'm out there with an ultimate goal in mind. There's a large mountain bike ride up in Big Bear California I'm signed up to do. According to the ride website, it''s supposed to be 50km's of "breath taking scenery" and "challenging single-track." Reading the comments on last years ride, you'd get the impression anyone at any fitness level could do the ride;
"... barely prepared for this ride and finished it in three hours. Is that good?"
"...couldn't take my eyes of the mountain skyline. It was like riding in the sky!"
"the trails were so fun..."
Me, I'm reading between the lines and mentally imagine slogs up long hills and being passed by youngsters warning "... on your right." Despite all the seemingly effortless comments, I think 50k of mountain trails will be plenty challenging.
I've ridden plenty in my life including a lot of miles on mountain bikes. But, I've never done 50k at time. Certainly not at the oxygen deprived heights of Big Bear. Being a normally smart man, I recognized I'll need to put on some serious dirt miles to hope to make this anything better than a death march. For your information, pretty much any ride longer than four or five hours always results in me thinking "why am I doing this to myself." My goal is pretty simple; cross the finish line thinking, "man, that didn't suck that bad.
Part of the reason to sign up for this ride was the new wheel-set on Dolly. While the four inch fat tire setup was great and awesome, it was still pretty heavy for a long distance cross-country bike. Okay, a stronger rider would't notice the weight. Me, going up the steep hills with these wide tires made me wonder, "if I weighed a tiny bit less, would my heart feel a little bit less like it was going to jump out of my chest?" So began a search. Turns out there's a new bike wheel size affectionally called "29+". The 29 was for the size of the rim which was the same as what I used for my touring bike. The "+" was for the semi-fat sized tires on those rims. In this case it meant a 3 inch tire. On the internet, the case was made 29+ would have most of the benefits of a regular fat tire with good float over soft stuff like sand and still climb like a Billy Goat with its wide foot print. But, it would weigh half as much. Sounded like having your cake and eating it too to me.
Of course, me never being afraid of trying new things that seemed to make sense, I pulled out my credit card, ordered the tires from a custom wheel builder I never met before. "I sure hope is all works out" I thought to myself.
I'm there 20 minutes into this ride thinking "hold back, you have almost three hours left to go. Don't put the hammer down." I pedal on rolling over the rocks at a steady clip. The tires are excellent. They're rolling over rocks and features without much notice. Sand is a challenge but not nearly as bad as my normally shod mountain bike. The first steep hill 40 minutes into the ride has me huffing and puffing like normal. As I rest at its crest, I think to myself, "that wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be." Then I think again "...you still have more than two hours of riding, don't get overly excited." I can get a bit "realistic" i think
I take the down hill portion after the big hill much harder than I should. But, it's fun. There's something exhilarating about being at the edge of control on a bike. On a mountain bike over unpredictable terrain, going fast feels like a shooter video game where the monsters constantly come at you. You adjust for the terrain, rocks, boulders, and gullies. You make split second decisions to pick one track over another. And, you're pedaling for all your worth trying to get more out of the bike.
As the slope flattens out, I'm a bit hammered. I feel my heart pounding from the effort through there's a smile on my face. "That was fun... lots of fun" then another thought comes in, "I still have a long way to go."
The next hill is up a long straight hill. It's just slack enough to tease you into pushing harder. I do my best to avoid that. I constantly look at the bike computer showing off my heart rate; 150 is where I want to be. I'm slow compared to other times I've done this slope but it's on purpose.
I top that hill and pause at the beginning of the next portion of the trail, the technical single track, feeling pretty good at almost halfway into my goal for the ride. I dismount and stop to take a drink from my water bottle. The sun is high and the temperature is definitely rising. But, I feel great for getting where I am without totally overdoing it. I consider the next portion of the ride which will be all technical with lots of curves and hills that climb quickly and descend fast.
This part takes about 30 minutes. It's challenging. The large wheels are a disadvantage here. They don't turn as fast as the normally sized wheeled mountain bikes that usually ride these trails. Every twist takes a lot of my attention. A many corners, I brake to stay on the trail. This means I have to put in a few hard pedal strokes to keep the tempo up. It's taking energy. Then, the hills come. They're quick and fast. But, every short downhill takes a couple of hard pedal strokes to keep the momentum up. A couple of longer hills make me take a semi-squatting position on the bike to keep my weight back on the rear wheel to keep it from slipping, while still letting me use little of my own weight on the pedals. My thighs begin to burn. Before too long, I'm done back at where I stopped before this section.
Compared to the previous stop, I'm not smiling as much. It's almost two hours into the ride. My plan is to ride right by the car where I could turn left and end the ride at just over two hours. Or, I could make a right to press up the steepest hills of the ride to shoot for my 3 hour goal.
Back on the bike I constantly weigh the pros and cons of turning left or right. I'm thinking of taking the left which down deep seriously disappoints me. As I approach the turn I practically let the bike choose which direction to go, right down to the wire. At the last second, I make the turn to the right and continue on towards the rest of my ride. I don't feel relieved. There's no release. I think to myself, "I hope this goes well."
You see, this portion of the ride covers a few very steep and challenging slopes. On a good day, they take my best effort. After two hours of riding I think I might be over my head. Onward, I go.
The first hill--locally known as First Hill--is hard but I get it done. I'm get off the bike to catch my breath. The next won't be quite as hard, but the following one will be the hardest of the entire day.
After getting back on the bike, it's a fast downhill through some deep sand which my wheels seem to float over. Then, the next hill. It seems much harder than normal. Must be because I'm over two hours into today's hard ride when I normally tackle this with fresh legs. At the top I don't wait and go after the biggest challenge of the whole morning.
The trail up this slope starts small then get's steadily steeper. It starts with some sand that normally wouldn't be a problem except if you over do it fighting the sand, you're legs are spent before the real challenge. Then, there are a couple of level off's that feel like you're going down hill after the steep parts. They fool you into driving hard there like up the steeper sections instead of taking a moment to recoup. Then, comes the prize... It's steep and technical. The trail narrows with rocks on either side. The decomposed granite seems really tacky making you think you can just mash the pedals but you can't without slipping a tire. Momentum is your only friend here. Lose it, you have to dismount and walk up the hill. Keep it, you might be able to make it.
I haven't cleaned this section of the trail in years, not since I lived around here almost 20 years ago. Yes, I was much younger once upon a time. I remember then when I could clean it, I only was able to if I took the previous hills conservatively to save my legs, my thighs, for this section. I also remember being one of the few people I knew that could clean--i.e. not touch the ground with your feet--the whole thing.
I approached the steepest section at a conservative pace. I carefully mash on the pedals to keep moving forward without causing the rear wheel to slip. My route avoids the rocks that would stop my forward momentum. Up I go, heart pounding, legs burning Past a false peak, then another. Through a narrow sliver with rocks on the right and a steep drop to the left. Up a small crest... then, it's done. I'm on top.
I'm elated but I can barely suck in air. Off the bike, I squat near the ground hoping I don't puke. Then, looking back at where I came, a smile comes across my face. I did it.
I get back on the bike to finish out the ride. I still have 30 minutes to go but it's not difficult.
When I get back to the car, my time just crosses three hours, my goal. All told, I rode 33 miles and climbed about 3,000 feet according to my bike computer. Supposedly, it's similar to what the ride in Big Bear will be. But, I know better. I have to get in longer rides with as many hills and more miles. I have to ride with the temperature being higher. It's got to get tougher... Of course I'm wondering, "why am I doing this to myself?"