Sunday, February 23, 2014

2014 Vassago TKO First Ride

I learned that Vassago Cycles was planning to build a cyclocross/gravel grinder machine early last year and that it would be based on the wildly successful Optimus Ti platform. It took some time to get things in place but finally mine came a couple of weeks ago. After building it and waiting for the winter to stop throwing freezing crap all over, I got to get it out and put some miles on it. 

 I wanted to do a ride and pretty much throw everything at my TKO that I could. I hit roads, gravel, dirt, singketrack, rocky, rooty singletrack and grass. I have it set up for the classics season so it has some supa-fat and durable roadie tires and a compact crank. Other than that, component highlights are blue collar cyclocross goodies: Easton EC90 SL3 bars, Easton stem and seat post, SRAM Rival group, Easton EA90 XC wheelset, Whiskey carbon TA fork and Shimano CX70 Disc Brakes (more on those later).

On the road, it felt nimble and quick with a stiff bottom bracket and precise handling. Compared to my benchmark BMC Road Machine, there was a little more road feel transmitted to me on the TKO and the steering wasn't as quick but that's a good thing for a cross bike. It needs to be stable not twitchy and my TKO gets a gold star there. I wouldn't hesitate to hop on it for a century or long Gran Fondo if needed.

On the dirt/gravel/rocky singletrack. I realize that I asked this bike to do a few things that it wasn't necessarily designed for and I further shot myself in the foot by trying this stunt on road tires. If I had proper cross tires inflated to something less than 80lbs it would have performed much better on trails. That being said, it really shined in the grassy (typical cyclocross course) stuff and despite the tires, the gravel felt good. On the singletrack I survived (and turned a few mountain biker heads in the process) and it rode and handled much like my Optimus (with really hard tires). Overall, I felt like my TKO, like all the other Vassagos I have is a solid bike and does what it it made for very well.

Two component highlights that really make me happy are the Whiskey TA fork and the disc brakes. If I could, I'd go back and have thru-axles on both ends of every bike I have. The added stability and rigidity make a huge difference in the way the bike feels and handles. Second is the brakes. I think every bike needs disc brakes. They are amazing and better at stopping you when you want to stop anytime, any place in any conditions... period! I have Shimano CX 70 mechanical brakes for now due to the current production issues industry wide on hydro road discs. I have faith that the industry as a whole will catch up and make a reliable hydro disc set up for road levers but until then, the brakes I have work fine. Haters gonna hate, I say give me discs. I don't care about the: weight, wheel mounting hassel, maintenance (never understood that one. Once set up, hydro brakes are pretty much maintenance free) and any other cons I've heard going around about disc brakes on road/cross bikes.

The Vassago TKO is going to make an amazing cyclocross race bike. I can't wait until cross season begins!

 Set-up with Continental Gatorskin tires and compact gearing, it's ready for the classics.

 The EA90 XC wheels are too flexy for mtb use but they fill the ticket for cross/gravel grinding.

 Thru axle forks are the bees knees for bikes. So are disc brakes!

Perhaps my favorite touch is the top tube cable routing. Every mountain bike and 
cross bike should have this.
Vassago's welds and craftsmanship are top notch.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

It's Over... Time to Begin Again..

The fat lady has sang on my 2013/2014 racing season and by all accounts, it was a successful experiment for me. I say experiment because it was just that. I have a job that I love - a lot. The thing is, I am good at it and because of that, I get a lot more of it. It is a huge blessing. Combining that with bike racing and the requirements of training and thinks get a little.............. challenging.
In 2012 I had the same job and I rode my bike when I could, all outdoors and generally pretty hard since my rides were limited. I stressed over training and schedules and crap. It was stressful. Not why I race bikes!
I went into the Cyclocross season and had my arse presented to me, not on a platter.. nope I wasn't good enough for that even. It was given to me in a Glad bag. Out of the 11 or so races I did, I never even cracked the top 5.

I needed a new plan.

What I came up with was nothing new, not at all. It was bad medicine though and something that would take a lot of determination to pull it off.

I moved it indoors. I rode my bike like I normally would if I had all the time in the world. Sometimes that "time" was 4 am and other times that time was 9 pm (after working 10 or 11 hours) but I did it. I still rode outside too when I could, on average once a week. It took me about a month to get past that feeling of being stuck in a Turkish prison with a bike trainer and a minion with a stick to keep me honest 
and to be honest, some days I was scheduled to train I just couldn't make myself do it. I'd rather stab that minion in the throat with an ice pick instead of getting on that bike. I learned a lot though and the experiment showed me that an indoor trainer can get you into pretty amazing shape if you just do it. 

So.... how did I do this cross season? 

In 12 races, I got 5 podiums (2 -1sts, 2 -2nds and a 3rd), second OA in the MSG Cross Series SS cat, second OA in the TBRA Tri-Cities Regional Series SS cat and 9th in the MSG Series Masters cat. Last year I couldn't break into the top 10, this year, I never finished outside of it. I missed a lot of the races too because of my work so my series results reflect that. 

Now it's January 2014 and time to take what I learned and expand on it. I start racing again in March with the "classics" Tom Dula's RevengeBoone Roubiax, and the Love Valley Roubiax. Those will get me some outdoor miles to take to my first race ever in the west - The Whiskey 50 in Prescott AZ. I get to go race and hang out with my friends from Vassago Cycles for a few days in April. The second part of my year is a little foggy because of races not having dates set just yet but (in no particular order) I am looking at the Iron Mtn 100K, Tennessee State Championship MTB race, the Sugar Rush 6 Hour Race, the Fall Fear MTB race,  and a couple of road races - the Roan Groan and Benge's Revenge. I like those just because they have a buttload of climbing. Before cross rolls around again, I am also going to do a couple Gran Fondo type events - the Beech Mtn Metric and the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo. These both are special because of the EPICNESS of them. 

All this gives me something to get on my trainer for and a reason to stay fit. Life is about living and your body is about moving. Move it or lose it....

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Base Miles......

First let me say Happy New Year to everyone that happens to see this. How was your 2013? Was it everything you hoped for (and committed to do on Jan 1 2013)? Can you make 2014 even better?

I think you can..

We are all creatures of habit and many of those habits are no bueno for sure. You just have to decide what you want, when you want it, and  

I noticed several people on Facebook posting their yearly miles ridden and I wondered what mine looked like. I never keep track of miles but thanks to modern technology, I don't have to. This year was dramatically different than years past because I spent a lot more time on my bike inside. Just because I work a lot is no excuse for a weak engine. With a quick look at Strava, Ridewithgps and Trainer Road I found that I rode a little over 1500 miles outside....ugh. Kinda weak from my pre-responsibility days of 8 and 9K years. What surprised me though was the fact that I rode nearly 2K miles in my basement. It took some determination and there were some days that what was planned and what was done were worlds apart but it was all blue-collar engine building...

I started 2014 out with an actual ride on actual roads in the cold (but sunny) clear blue world and it was nice! Three hours of shammy time reminded me that while being a hermit holed up in my basement busting out 2x20 intervals will give me a big engine, it's the outside and roads and trails that stoke my fire. 

I need that engine though. I have a few biggish events that I am doing this year like the Whiskey 50 in April and the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo in September and a few other things (mostly in dirt) that I am waiting on dates to be announced for. In the meantime, I am doing a 9 day, mid-winter stage race Jan 25 - Feb 2'  The Tour of Sufferlandria. Nine stages, several mountains, a lot of pain and I won't move an inch. It's all indoors...

If you can't find a way, make one..

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Time to re-light this candle. It's Christmas eve.. The gifts are wrapped and the stage is set for the magic to happen on Christmas day. Much has changed in the past few years and the adult Christmas is way different than the kid Christmas. The older I get, the more I am faced with the reality of things in this world and although much is not good around us, there is so much still to marvel at and the mystique of the Christmas season still holds a lot for all of us. I find myself more thankful these days for everything in my life. Simple things like walking, talking, hot coffee on a cold morning, the voice of my son calling out my name, the people God has placed in my life - some to help me, others to challenge me, all to make me a better, stronger and more resilient person. All made possible by the first Christmas.

Another candle is my racing. What once was a raging fire died down to embers.. I still race and ride my bike but it has become much more challenging due to work and the life of a single parent. I love my job and I love my life and the joy of raising my son. Racing for me is what it is, an outlet, a vehicle to keep moving. I thought that there nay be others out there who share the same struggles as me, the same challenges, same hopes and same dreams. I have decided to write about my experience again and in doing so, maybe someone will find something useful, funny, happy, sad, inspiring or encouraging.. Who knows.

I am teaming with Vassago Cycles again for this coming year and I am excited and happy to have the relationship that I do with them. It's been 7 years now since I started with the brand and it is a company that has mountain biking in its soul, it's run by people with a passion for big-wheel bikes that are fun to ride.

I am near the end of my cyclocross season now and I am looking at a few off road events for 2014 and of course a load of cyclocross again next fall on my new TKO cross bike from Vassago (review coming soon).

Until then, guess I'd better put down the Christmas cookies.

Merry Christmas

Sunday, March 10, 2013

2013 Vassago Optimus Ti - First Ride

Anticipating the arrival of my 2013 Vassago Optimus Ti for several weeks, I was really excited when Fed-Ex dumped off some very conspicuous boxes earlier in the week. I unboxed and drooled over each piece and set them aside for a few days until I had time to build it up. I got it done and could not wait to get on the trail to see how it would ride.
I have owned every iteration of the Optimus since its inception so I have a wealth of experience to compare this one to all its cousins. Tom @Vassago had been telling me how different these frames were going to be from the others and I noticed some big (literally) changes right off the bat.
Changes like the fat 44mm head tube and the beefy bottom bracket that went from 68mm to 73mm on the new frame.

All the tubes are slightly bigger yet the frame is still just over 3lbs which makes me curious about the butting in the tubes. The welds are pure art.
Another piece of art is the one off vertical drops they made for me. Production frames are all going to have Paragon Sliding drops like earlier versions. Nothing wrong with sliders and Paragon ones are the best. I got vertical ones on this frame because I am special (plus I have a Optimus SS already and this bike is forever going to be geared)
Enough bike geek love. How does all this stuff feel on dirt? Glad you asked. Immediately after my first ride (and I mean immediately, I was still in parking lot and had bike gear on) I shot Tom @Vassago an email with the subject line: Holy S**t Tom! and that was pretty much the first thing that entered my mind within the first mile of singletrack I rode. This thing feels amazing. It feels strangely like a carbon frame in the way small bumps just aren't there. I never knew how flexy the older Opti frames felt until having something else to compare them to. The new Optimus handles amazing. Having not seen the geometry yet (Hey I trust my peeps! I just said build me a bike and make it ride sweet) I can't say where the difference is but I am guessing it's in the tubing and it looks to me like the head and seat tube may be kicked back a half a degree, I am not dure about that though. I do know the "Wet Cat" geometry should be called Wet Cat on Crack geometry now. I pushed this bike in the twisty stuff just to see if I could get it to fail in some way and I did over cook some turns and drifted a bit but the effort it took to get there surprised me. This bike is stable and turns are unbelieveble. Onto faster, forest service type roads, the bike kept on delivering the goods with great handling and stability. There is one rocky descent that normally makes me a little nervous because most of the  baseball sized rocks aren't attached to anything and I felt much more stable and descended quicker than normal.
A couple of component highlights worth gushing over are the SRAM XO 2x10 group, specifically the type 2 rear derailleur and the brakes. The T2 derailleur has a tiny clutch inside that prevent it from moving forward freely and that all but eliminates chain slap. It is freaky to ride a geared bike through a rock garden and it be as quiet as my singlespeed.
I have ridden Formula brakes for the last decade and Hayes before that. I had heard some horror stories about Avid discs and was a little concerned but after today, no more. Set up was simple and since my brakes had about 3 miles of extra hose once I got them in place, my set up included bleeding both brakes. Bleeding is probably the most complicated thing you can do with hydro discs and these weren't bad at all. Stopping, modulation and lever feel are super.
I really can't say enough good stuff about this bike. They are legit and have stepped up their game in the 29er market. But don't take my word for it, find out for yourself. You will be glad you did.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


If the Mayans were right, the world will end in 2 weeks and none of this will matter. Two things about that bother me though, didn't the Mayans world end a loooong time ago? The second one is the bible says nobody knows, not the Mayans, not the crazy guy Texas and keeps coming  up with the "real day", nobody.. That's good enough for me. 

Where was I? Oh, yeah. I am looking back over 2012 and gearing up to race my bike again in 2013. I haven't done much racing in the last couple of years and having just re-signed with Vassago Cycles for 2013, I am looking at races and actual training n stuff. I just ended my cyclocross season (actually, due to being sick and work, the season ended for me in Oct but now it's done, done) and a quick glance at the stats shows that I ended up in 47th place in the series overall for Cat3; 23rd in Masters 45+ and 1st in the Mountain Bike category. In the state of TN, USAC shows me 15th in Cat3 and 1304 in the whole US.

Hmmm......  I'm not sure what to think about that. One thing I do know is that I'll bet I could have done a whole lot better if I had actually made a little effort to train. I went into this season with whatever fitness I had on hand from riding and racing my bike for the last 30 years. I didn't train. Heck I barely rode my bike 1 or 2 days a week. I haven't ridden as little as I did this year in a really long time. Some of the kids I raced against (and that whipped my arse) were half as old as the number of years I've been racing! Maybe I'm getting too old for this.....


I have a plan for training and for racing that includes time for family and time to excel at my 50+ hour per week job. I just have to nut up and get started. I do have some disciplinary adjustments to make and maybe throw out the old training model that says do a buttload of base miles in the winter and slowly build...blah, blah, rest, blah, blah....... I need some hammer time and better eating habits and yes, I will need rest but I get plenty of that. I need to just do it.

Some of the events I am planning to do include The 6 Hours Of Warrior Creek, Three Peaks, Pisgah 111K, Boone Roubaix, ORAMM, Pisgah Monster Cross, and of course a buttload of cyclocross in the fall/winter. I am not planning on killing myself with events like I have in the past and I want to stay fairly close to home. Fortunately, we have a plethora of races and cool events all within a 2 hour drive.

Vassago Cycles is working on my new racing tools, an Optimus Ti for the dirt and a ti framed Fisticuff (with disc brakes! Joy!) for cross and the ultra-cross stuff. I am excited to get them and put some miles on them both. There is plenty of good stuff coming down the pike from Vassago Cycles and more than worth a look if you are in the market for a new mountain or cross bike next year.

First I gotta work on the motor.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Getting the Band Back Together

In 2009 as I rolled across the finish line of the Black Bear Rampage in Chattanooga, little did I know then, my world was about to be rocked. In the course of a few months time, I lost my job, my mom, nearly my life and needless to say, racing became a back burner sort of affair. I hardly noticed when my longtime sponsor Vassago Cycles quietly closed the doors for good. Misty and Kris are good friends of mine and I applauded their efforts but understood their motivation to move on to something else. Picking up the pieces, I found a great job that I love to do, I never stopped riding my bike (it really IS about the bike regardless of what you may read in the media nowadays) and I still race. Racing however whet from 24 hours to 12 to 6 and now 45 minutes of WFO, choke on your heart kind of events - Cyclocross. I love racing but more than that, I love riding my bike. Road, mountain or cross, it makes no difference. I love bicycles.

A few weeks ago I was contacted by former teammate Tom Ament about Vassago Cycles. It seems Tom got together with some investors and a few shop monkey types and they are going to relaunch Vassago Cycles in 2013 and I am going to be a part of it again. I am excited to be hooked up in the bike industry again and to ride and race some really cool bikes with some great folks. As I sit here on the 46th anniversary of my entry onto this planet, I have my training plan pretty much in place and I know where I need to focus my energy and effort vis a vis training to be where I need to be next Spring. My program will be a bit smaller than the past - insteand of 15-20 races a year, I am looking at a more realistic schedule that works with my rather busy work schedule. I am planning on some short XC type events, a few 6+ hour events, maybe a hundie or two, possibly another 24 and the Pièce de résistance - The Pisgah Stage Race. I will finish out the year of course with a buttload of Cyclocross.

Should be fun. 


Monday, October 1, 2012

Some People are Cutters, I Race Cyclocross..

This past weekend was the opening two rounds of the Mud, Sweat, and Gears Cyclocross Series and every year since its inception in 2004, I have vowed to reach September fit and ready to race. This year was no different than the others - I came, I saw, I was ready to suck.

Here's how it unfolded:

After a spring and summer of working 50+ hour weeks, I found myself riding my bike once, maybe twice a week. Sure there is the trainer I could have ridden. I could have also stuck toothpicks under my fingernails and learned to play the Harp too. Where's the fun in that? After working the first half opening day, I arrived at the venue armed with my mountain bike instead of my cross bike and planned to lay waste to the mtb class. No, really, for the first time ever, I planned to win a race and I did. It rained and the course was a total slopfest and there is one thing I can do and that is ride in slop.
We lined up and in 3, 2, 1 we were off. I dug deep and got a sweet holeshot, led the first lap and pissed it away the first trip through the barriers... So much for great plans.  No losing my cool, I got on the new leader's wheel and just followed him to see where he was strong and where he may be vunerable. About a lap later, I passed him and that was the end of it. Game, set and match to Duckman. It was a small field and I probably had more slop riding experience on fat tires than all the others combined but hey, I still had to pedal the dang bike and stay off the ground. I'll take it.

Sunday was a different story however. I lined up first in Masters 45+(1234) and initially there was some confusion as to how we were starting. They had us (all 50 35+ and 45+ combined) headed straight into this really narrow and slick off camber section that was sure to produce great loads of carnage. After and appeal from pretty much everyone, the start was moved to a straight and boom! We were off. I came through the first turn in 6th and made it through the barriers and first part of lap one pretty good. My demise came when we got to a log laying in the middle of a turn. I had ridden it several times during my hot laps so I knew it wasn't a problem. The guy in front of me didn't know that though. Nuts, meet stem. Stem, meet nuts. You are going to be good friends. For the next 45 seconds, until the urge to vomit subsided, I was passed by I dunno... 4, 5? Meh.... Just turn the pedals and go.
The next place to give me a fit was a steep, muddy little run-up that had no traction anywhere. I got great scores in creativity for my unique grouping of cuss words. It was frustrating but it is what it is. I tried to ride as clean and fast as I could for the remainder of the race and my lack of race fitness was more than evident as I bled positions until I bottomed out at 14. Dead mid-pack. Hey, not bad for not training all summer.
I rolled right around and right to the line for the start of the Cat 3 race. When I burn out, I want to scorch the earth.... I had no illusions whatsoever of doing well in this race my goals were simple: Not finish last, not crash and not get passed by the entire women's Pro field that was starting behind us.
I actually got a decent start, somewhere mid-pack but the fade to the back came much quicker than in the previous race. Fifteen minutes into the 45 minute race, I was in 20something place and suffering like a Yak giving birth to twins. I was so tired, I mis-timed one of my dismounts and raked my shin across one of the barriers and then tripped over my bike trying to remount it. I was filled with joy from this. Some people are cutters, I race cross.
I didn't sandbag though and I rode with whatever I had left for the remainder of the race and when I finished, I was finished.
I looked around and saw women still on course, I didn't crash (although I was bleeding from 2 of 4 limbs) and later check of the results would show I missed DFL by 2.

Thus begins my Cross season. Maybe I will train for next year. 

Yeah, riiiiight.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Nuttin' Up

This time a week ago, the 2012 Monster Cross wasn't even on my radar as something to do on my Saturday. I originally had to work but that was changed and since my sister was going to attempt it I figured what the heck. Doesn't matter that I haven't trained much and that I haven't ridden my cross bike since January. I'm Duckman and I (used to) live for this stuff. Uh..... riiight.
Put the names Eric Weaver, bike event and Pisgah National Forest together and you will have something evil. Eric comes up with some pretty wicked events and the Monster Cross, although probably the easiest of Pisgah Productions events, filled the bill. 70 miles, 10K feet of elevation gain, gravel roads, a long section of the Blue Ridge Parkway... Yummy.
I lined up with Megan, Anet Lamberson (sans Bob) and Michael Ritter (a good friend and former Dr Skip's Medicine Show teammate) and a hundred or two other assorted crazies and soon enough we were off.

After a short section of road we turned into the first section of FS road and I immediately jam my chain into my spokes. Crap! Maybe in addition to training, I should have also looked at the bike closer. Once I got that fixed, I found myself in DFL and chasing the main group down. Uh.... what am I doing that for? Didn't I just mention that I haven't trained much lately? I need to back off and just ride. Unfortunately it took me until I caught a good portion of the pack before coming to that conclusion...
The race becomes a ride now.
That would soon change. I was riding a climb about 4 miles from CP1 with Michael and when I stood up, my seat just felt funny. Well it should have felt funny because a bolt in the seatpost broke and it flopped around like a dead fish. I failed to see anything philosophical or funny about that. I was beyond screwed. I managed to get it set to where it was at least somewhat stable as long as I sat on it and I rode onto the CP. Descending on gravel roads while staying firmly seated is kind like trying to walk while holding a roll of quarters in your buttcheeks.. It ain't easy. I got passed by tons of people: little old ladies with walkers, a pack of Girl Scouts on bikes, a herd of turtles and two kids on strider bikes (would have been three but I shoved the third one into the weeds - don't judge). I made it to the check and a guy from Liberty Cycles zip-tied my seat and got it at least rideable.
I decided to try it, what did I have to lose?
The ride now becomes about survival.
I had 26 miles on the BRP and then mostly down to the finish. Sweet right? Yes, but I (along with others) missed a crucial turn that was poorly marked and after climbing about an hour after the turn I missed, I found myself atop a ridge looking dead ahead at the Smokies..... I was pretty sure I was waaay beyond screwed now. Turning back, I wanted to quit. I had no idea really where the turn was and I was sick of climbing and out of food and almost no water. Time to "nut up" and finish this thing. I found the turn and was greeted with several glorious miles of paved DOWWWWN. Yes!" The best thing was there were still people on the "70 mile route coming to the turn and I was now assured of not finishing LAST! Yay me!
The final 16 miles were part gravel, partly paved and had a couple of short, steep climbs and was pure joy -not. I got to the final 5 mile section of pavement and put my bike in the big ring and pushed as hard as I could. My suitcase of courage was empty so I tore the bottom out of it.
I finished. I don't know how  long, I don't care. I finished and that's enough. Megan finished the 70 mile ride (hahahahaha, I'm gonna call it that now) a little ahead of me and that made me happy. Michael and Anet did well too. None of us crashed and it was a good day!
Thank God for zip ties.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

No Really, I am a Bike Racer.

I am midway through my taper for the upcoming Pisgah Monster Cross this weekend and I am slowly remembering what it is like to race a bike. Unfortunately my legs won't remember until about 3:00 pm Saturday. Similar to PTSD patients in the third or fourth month of therapy. I've ridden in Pisgah before, I've climbed 10K plus feet in Pisgah before. No big deal right? Um... yeah. For the last 7 months I've been riding my bike roughly 200 miles a month. What used to be a decent week of riding has been displaced by life stuff and well........

It is what it is.

I will line up Saturday and I will have my raceface on and I will be ready for battle, even if

the battle is in my mind. Who knows, maybe I will be inspired to actually do actual training and get into actual, you know... like shape. Who knows..
In three days time, I'll crack open my suitcase of courage and we'll see what's in there.