Sunday, June 20, 2010

Oh yeah... Mountain bikes... I ride those too.

I have spent so much time on the road recently that I almost forgot that I ride mountain bikes too. In fact I ride them quite well and have fun doing so. I loaded up my 2010 Vassago Optimus today along with the first Chupacabra in existence that the really cool people at Vassago sent me to build, ride and give my opinion on.
So here goes.

The first thing I noticed when I unboxed the Chupa was the beefy chainstay bridge and chainstays. The welds are all clean and rather industrial looking - I like that. It is definitely an aluminum bike, no questions about that. A couple of additional frame notes are it has a built in chain guide mount at the bottom bracket and replaceable horizontal drops. Not having been briefed on the target market for this bike, I am thinking it may be more for the all-mountain crowd. there seems to be decent clearance for biggish tires and a rather beefy headtube/downtube junction for a long travel fork (I have no specs on it so I don't know yet what Vassago recommends).

After building with a fairly high-end set of components: Thomson seatpost and stem, Easton Monkeylite bars, White Bros Rock Solid carbon fork, Formula Oro Puro Brakes, Middleburn crank, DT Swiss/Stans wheelset, Chris King headset and of course WTB tires and saddle and Ergon Grips, I loaded up and headed to the trails at Warriors Path State Park. II have ridden hundreds of miles there and knew it would be a good place to see what the Chupa would do. I also took my Optimus along to compare the two.

I hopped on the Chupa first and rode around the parking lot some to make sure I tightened everything (you never know) and then headed into the bush. The first thing I noticed was that this was definitely an aluminum frame. It felt solid, not that harsh but a different feel than my Optimus or the steel framed Jabberwocky, both of which I have plenty of saddle time on. The Chupa climbs like a monkey with it's tail on fire. The beefy chainstays allow all of your energy to go to the dirt where it belongs. I felt like every pedal stroke was moving me somewhere and the bike had a nice quiet (gosh I love singlespeeds) and solid feel.
I got into some fast, twisty turns and the handling seemed to be typical Vassago. Forget the myth that 29er's can't turn well. Poorly designed 29er's can't turn well. Vassago's turn superb. I was railing corners like normal and had all confidence in stuffing a bike that I have only ridden a mile into a corner at speed.
Bumpy, root infested corners pushed the Chupa's handling to the limit. It didn't perform badly, just different than my Optimus. It's not a fair comparison really - apples to oranges. Still I had a lot of confidence based on my experience with Vassago bikes added to the secure, stable ride the Chupa was feeding me.

Rock gardens were no problem as were the many short and steep climbs at Warriors. The Chupa handled them equally well (unlike my legs that had 73 miles of mountains from the previous day and my gearing of 34X17 really caused me to grunt especially going up to the top of Ridgetop). The final trail at Warriors is Magic Carpet Ride. It goes down and has fast and twisty corners. The Chupa really shined here. It turns probably a little better than any of the other Vassagos I have ridden.

I didn't have time for serious, all-day miles so I can't comment on long ride comfort but my initial impression is that this is a fun bike and would be great built up with a 100mm or better fork and maybe a 1X9 drivetrain for some mo-betta serious trail riding and maybe even some dual slalom.


Chupa vs Optimus

Chain guide mount and chainstay bridge - beefy.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

If some pain is good, more is better....

Ok so I literally decide just a scant few hours before the start of the 2010 Tennessee State Criterium Championships held today in Johnson City, TN to pin on a number and have a go. Nevermind the fact that I haven't raced a crit in a year, nevermind the fact that I haven't raced a bicycle period since January at the TN State Cyclocross Championships. I am not known for good decision making.
I got interested when I went with my little sis to a 5k race she was running in yesterday and then we drove to Carver's Gap on Roan Mtn to see the finish of the Roan Groan. I have been not that interested in racing at all this year and have been riding my bike just to be riding my bike. The fitness I have comes from a pile of fairly easy endurance miles with some tempo along the way but very little intensity. So I do the smart thing: I register for Cat 4 and Masters 30/40+ thus guaranteeing myself 80 minutes of redline, on the rivet effort. That is provided I could hang with the group and not get pulled (by being lapped).

Cat 4 was first so I rode around downtown JC for about 40 minutes before the start to warm up. I lined up with somewhat decent expectations of finishing in the group. Sitting on the line I looked around and saw about 60 Cat 4's and got a little nervous. I hate crashing and I hate crashing more because somebody causes me to crash. With a field that big, a crash was almost assured. We started and I tried to go to the front but the pace was kind of slow and everyone bunched up there. Ther was bumping and pushing in the corners for the first few laps and I wasn't interested in doing what it would have took to stay up there and out of trouble. I drifted to the back of the pack and stayed there for the most of the race. A nasty headwind on the front stretch really slowed me down when I lost touch with the pack and with 9 laps to go, I got pulled.. Crap!

The Master's race was an hour away and I barely had enough time to re-pin my numbers and eat a Cliff bar. I lined up after taking a look at the revised course (a section was removed from the earlier races because of cars parked on the course). I really liked the new section. It had a few left turns and was narrow and technical and very spectator friendly. On the starting line, I noticed I was waaaay out of my league with quite a few Cat 1 and 2 racers there but I didn't care. To ride faster you have to ride with people faster than you. The start came and the first lap was brutal, about 30mph. I was worried that I wouldn't be around for 2 laps if that kept up but the pace slowed to about 25-26mph and I was able to hang on for a little while anyway.
I lost touch with the pack and hooked up with a smaller group of about 5 and we tried our best but the end was swift and inevitable. We got pulled after 15 minutes into the race....meh.

My goals for the race(s) were to A: have fun, B: not crash, C: finish in the top 20. I made good on A and B and even C in the Masters but missed it in Cat 4. I was 16th out of 20 in the Masters and 39th out of 54 in Cat 4. Not bad for not training any for a race like this...