Spencer Paxson

Solstice Season

Paris Gore

Endurance and Adventure Team rider Spencer Paxson prompts us to scheme up and get the most out of big days on the bike during the longest day(s) of the year.

Since I’ve begun to keep the racing shoes in the closet more regularly over the last two years, the several-week period around the northern summer solstice (typically around June 21-22) has become my new favorite season. I call it “Solstice Season” for the span of time it affords in terms of daylight and open terrain in the high country – a chance to scamper out beyond the edge of the Shire and put to action some of the harebrained ideas that crop up during the dark winter months.

Three years is hardly a tradition, but for so many solstice seasons I have made a game out of doing something “big” (and yes, in many ways pointless) on the longest day of the year, or checking off a bucket list of long days during the three-or-so weeks on either end of the summer equinox. Each of these experiences has been wildly difficult yet hugely rewarding for me, and have helped re-calibrate and boost my attitude on riding, life, appreciation of snacks, etc. Based on these results, I would wish for anyone to achieve their own version of a big day fulfillment. So with that, a few prompts and ideas for coming up with your own outing this Solstice Season:

  1. Something fun (fun to you…okay, “Type 2” fun) that you haven’t done before – Whether it’s a new place, a new route on familiar trails, or some feat that hitherto you have not achieved.
  2. The right amount of challenge and uncertainty for your experience – If you are new to pushing your physical and mental limits, I recommend a very non-scientific prediction that falls within at least 60% (but less than 80%) confidence that you can pull it off. If you are experienced at pushing your limits, then it’s okay to play around with ~50% likelihood of success.
  3. Get weird, go long – Whatever the objective, at least make it a goal of being out all day. It doesn’t all have to be on the bike, either. If possible, start at sun up and finish at sundown (with as many breaks as you need!). Enjoy the entire day! Get the day off if you can, or wait for the next closest weekend day (after all, “Solstice Season is a season). Plan for child care. Make an extra sandwich.
  4. Have a clear concept – It can be pointless (those are usually the most fun), but should still have some kind of theme or essential mission. Numbers can help to start, but ultimately it’s not about the numbers… It doesn’t hurt to get a little philosophical, either. You’ll be going deep into the mental tank, so some forethought might help. Make a Venn diagram of reasons why you are doing it…that way it forces you to find a common center to come back to when it gets hard, and you can lean in one of several directions as you navigate the day.
  5. Plan your logistics and break the day into units – If it’s going to be a very long day (let’s say “very long” = >10hrs), think in terms of what you can accomplish per hour, and break the day into phases. This is key so that you can imagine the entire effort in advance, but in the moment, take it one chunk at a time and that’s it.
  6. Invite friends – Happiness in this sort of hubris is most real when shared. That said, solo vision quests are pretty good, too, but it does add to the experience to include some company for at least a portion of the experience.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG Get weird.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG A few other ideas/tips on what to carry on the bike for a long day…

The Last NIMBY

Patrick Means

There’s something to be said for leaving the party while it’s still thumping – that way you are left with all the positive vibes without the letdown of the last call and the lights coming on. But sometimes the party is so good that it’s worth jumping to the final beat of the last song, and when it’s done, you’re not sad that it’s over, you’re happy because it happened. In the case of the NIMBY 50 marathon cross country race in Pemberton, British Columbia, the party was that good, and it carried on for ten solid years until its final round on May 26, 2019.

Team Kona landed itself across the podium and five of the top-10 spots. Spencer fought a tight battle with eventual winner Ricky Federeau (2004 Canadian XC National Champ), Michael Van den Ham (3x Canadian cyclocross National Champ), and past Nimby winner Quinn Moburg, with the win coming down to a handful of seconds in a dogged sprint across the fields to North Arm Farm. Cory put together an amazing ride for being the fastest rider on a hardtail (on a decidedly NON-hardtail course) with the Cinderalla story Mark “Donny” Allison nipping at his heels in a sprint across the line for 5th. Barry rocked in aboard his Process 153 Carbon in 6th as the fastest person on a 6″ trail bike, while Rhys spun out his enduro skills and XC roots for 9th.

Some six hundred racers plus their families and friends showed up for the last call and the most rowdy and rad rendition of the Nimby so far. Rain had soaked the already technical course for the prior two days, which may have even amplified peoples’ spirits, for it meant an even greater challenge lay ahead. That’s what the “BC-XC” vibe is all about. Dedicated community, awesome terrain, and superb trails. In all it added up to as good a “valedictory” edition of the Nimby 50 as possible. And to fit the occasion, the spectrum of Kona team and alumni in attendance made it even more special: Barry Wicks and Kris Sneddon, the original “BC Bike Racers”; Cory Wallace, ultra-endurance and 2x 24hr World Champ; Spencer Paxson, ex-World Cup XCer and recent dad-strength convert; Rhys Verner, XC-to-enduro sensation; Sean Babcock, ex-Kona Factory Cyclocross and Team S&M tough guy; and perhaps most remarkable of all, Mark “Donny” Allison, a Kona Bikes staff Product Manager and unofficially latest inductee to the “working class” elite roster of hairy-legged Kona hammer smiths.

Lacy Kemp | KONA COG Spencer Sprinting to third place!

Lacy Kemp | KONA COG Donny and Cory Wallace
Lacy Kemp | KONA COG

Photos by Patrick Means

Reality Bike Check – Blending Bike Race & Family at the Oregon Gravel Grinder

There’s a first time for everything, even amidst an activity that you have done for over two decades. For the last weekend in April 2019, my wife and I packed up the car for our first family trip centered around bike racing, the inaugural 3-day Cascade Gravel Grinder in Bend, OR. Our 21-month-old Director Spotif sat patiently in the back seat as we finished loading the last of the gear – the familiar bikes and spare wheels stacked up against the ceiling, with the less familiar Pack-n-Play, stroller, story books, extra diapers and cargo bike piled underneath.

Spencer Paxson | KONA COG The new family quiver: Super Jake for racing, Dew for cargo bike and ground logistics.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG Destination: Bend, OR Mission: 3-day Oregon Gravel Grinder Omnium Bonus: central Oregon sunshine
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG

As regular road racing seems to be going the way of the Rock ‘n Play (sorry, parent joke), the new road racing, that is, gravel racing, seems to be realizing its own manifest destiny. In any case, it’s still road racing in my book because it happens on drop-bar bikes with skinny-ish tires. The roads are rougher but the bikes are smooth. The Cascade Gravel Grinder was touted as the first gravel omnium event in the country. An omnium is a multi-day event similar to a stage race, but instead of tracking overall time, riders score points based on their result each day. The rider with the most points wins. I just hoped the points I might win in the bike race would balance out with the points I needed to spend to get the family to come along.

Spencer Paxson | KONA COG My new mechanic and team manager helping to decide final tire pressure and gearing.

The plan and outcome went as follows:

Day 1: 7-hr drive to Bend, set up shop at guest house, jump in 5-mile prologue time trial. The dry washboard was a wake up call compared to the damp dirt of Bellingham, and the car legs were good enough for 5th.

Day 2: 70-mile loop through the dusty sage and pine near the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, clean up for a cargo bike ride an afternoon picnic at Drake Park. An early morning gave way to a blistering pace across the sage land, zipping around in the lead group and 3rd on the day.

Day 3: 67-mile loop outside of Sisters, OR at the foothills of the Twin Sisters and Mt. Jefferson, load up for a visit to great grandmother’s house. A good start was thwarted by drawing the short straw in the rocky road pace line and popping my tire. After fixing, and despite a few KOMs during the chase, I was unable to make it back to the lead group, and rolled in for 10th.

Day 4: travel home, admire faint tan lines, tally our lessons learned

Spencer Paxson | KONA COG Team Manager and I cooling down after a vigorous 3 days of bicycle racing. The second portion of each day involved our favorite ground transport and exploration vehicle: Dew mounted to an Argo Cargo Bike attachment.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG Reunited with teammate and Kona veteran Barry Wicks, dazzling all of the super-hip gravel riders in our new 7mesh kits.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG Queue sheet. Circles are aid stations and slashes indicate high-points along the route.

Lessons Learned:

Family + bike racing works as long as everyone can accept that only about 80% of their needs can be met. For those too young to accept, the others must work an extra 20% harder to keep the wheels on the wagon 😉

To whomever is racing, the fitness required isn’t just about the racing, but also about the post-race activities. You’ve got to have fuel left in the tank to be useful!

Again, to whomever is racing, make the effort count! Any time wasted on course is time lost with family!

On to the bike check already!

Spencer Paxson | KONA COG Race Machine: Super Jake, 54cm rolling on WTB Resolute 700x42c, powered by a Shimano Ultegra R8000 drivetrain with 53/39 front and 11-40 rear – all in all an excellent setup for the rolling roads, rocks and sand of central Oregon.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG An R8000 long cage derailleur with the B-tension set to ~90% works just fine with an XTR 11-40 11spd cassette. Paired with the standard 53/39 gearing up front, I felt comfortable everywhere from 45mph+ downhill stretches to steep, rough grades. Bend’s gentle terrain relative to the Pacific Coast region had me sitting in the big ring around 80% of the time.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG Blackburn Clutch bottle cages were key – holding bottles on 30mph+ washboard. I noticed lots of bottles jettisoned across fast, bumpy parts of the course.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG More Blackburn gear – the Local (medium) saddle bag full of: 2x tubes, derailleur hanger, mini tool, tire lever, bandages. I keep plugs, CO2 and pump at quicker access either on the frame or in my jersey pocket.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG Thick wrap, wide bars. Blackburn Cinch bar tape has great grip. I wrap it extra thick at the top edge of the bars. Bars are 46cm for extra control when things get rough.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG WTB Resolute 700x42c have done me well in several other gravel, training and cyclocross events over the last 8-months. I ran 29psi front and 31psi rear. I did suffer a flat on Day 3 when I impacted a very sharp, embedded chunk of basalt in a blindy, dusty paceline. Pretty sure it would have flatted any tire. Given all of the sharp rock and sand we crossed over 3 days, these tires and their round profile felt like an excellent match.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG Soon enough, things are likely to come full circle, when I am the one being carted around to someone else’s bicycle races (or hockey or soccer games!)

Kona Dream Builds: Spencer Paxson’s Single Speed CX World Champs Private Jake Gets a New Life

I think it’s fair to say that we mountain bikers here in Bellingham are spoiled. By the time August rolls around our trails are, by our standards, dried out, skitter, blown up and a chundered mess. Add to that the seasonal forest fire smoke plume that settles thick in these hills between August and September. It’s all relative (I’ve ridden in places that never ever get rain all year and places where the AQI is >200 as a standard day), but it was enough for me to build up a different kind of bike to get me through the late summer months this year. Enter the modified Private Jake. This is a reinvention of my 2016 Private Jake which I first rode back at the 2015 Singlespeed Cyclocross Worlds in Victoria, BC, a weekend I can barely remember. Three quick years later and the bike is still here, modified into a mix of fun, good for linking together logging road over-landers while the rest of the trails sizzle until Fall.

The Bike: Part cyclocross, part trail bike, part XC bike, part commuter, this bike is a little mix of everything. It’s taken me on everything from 70-mile mixed surface adventure rides and lots of vert through the North Cascades, opportunistic #dadlife power-hour rides on the bunny trails behind my house, and lately, really wet commutes back and for to my new business office in downtown Bellingham.

Drivetrain: First off, I needed a gear range that could get me over steep grades but still keep up with decent speeds on flatter grades. My solution was to install a Wolftooth TanPan adapter midline so that I could run a mountain bike rear derailleur and cassette. I originally installed the TanPan at my rear derailleur, but it made removal of the rear wheel a hassle, so I swapped the location to midline just under the handlebar. The rear derailleur is an XTR M9000 shifting across an XT 11-42. That said, I have also fit an XT 11-46, which came in handy on the even longer, steeper rides this fall. Up front is a 42-t Wickwerks chainring which fits well on the Ultregra R8000 crankset. The proprietary Shimano crank bolts aren’t precisely flush on the crank spider, but they’re tight to spec, which is what counts! For longer, faster rides I would opt for a 44t up front with an 11-46t cassette in back.

Wheels & Tires: Cushy WTB Horizon 650x47c tires have been reliable and smooth with plenty of Stans sealant inside. Now that it’s wet, a set of Byways would likely be the ideal choice, but for now, I’m sticking with the full slicks because that’s what I’ve got! The clearance on the chainstays is close but works. Tires roll on board a set of (arguably overkill but rad) XTR M9020 trail wheels. These are very strong wheels, but being non-boost and with a 24mm inner rim width, they’re essentially obsolete for anything other than “creative use”, so this was a good way to recycle and keep them going. Let’s just say the tires and body position are the limiting factors in terms of ground control. Once the rain set in, I found an old beat-up pair of SKS fenders which somehow survived the move from my Seattle days 10 years ago, and still hold the old Sellwood Cycles bottle flaps on the front and back. Team S&M heritage is what that is. And YES, I need an extra flap on the rear fender…the fender struts weren’t quite long enough for a full wrap.

Other Highlights: Things get weird out there, so to take the edge off, I’ve got a KS Zeta dropper post (35mm) set up thanks to some precision drill-work to accommodate the stealth routing, and some hardware store small parts (hose clamp) to connect a modified KS lever to the handlebar. And I’ll point this out on Kona’s behalf: if you drill holes in your frame, you void your warranty… Don’t do this at home, kids!

Blackburn frame bag and lights keep the picnic and visibility factor on point.

Kona Dream Builds: Spencer’s “In With The New” Carbon SSWC Honzo CR DL

Why ditch all but one gear on your sweet modern carbon hardtail? So that you can go play bikes at Singlespeed Worlds is why! This year #sswc is one state south from me, and whereas I had originally thought I would have to miss it due to other commitments, that became a clearly unacceptable excuse. Add to that a fairly pristine 2019 Honzo CR begging to have its chain stretched and the prospect of a full day of riding on new singletrack with a bunch of friends in the mountains of central Oregon, and it just had to happen.

I’m not sure this bike has anywhere near the panache of other steeds showing up for this weekend’s shenanigans, but it’s my first singlespeed MTB and I think it’s plenty good.

The build is the Factory Endurance Team-Issue spec with MRP suspension, WTB wheels, tires and saddles, Shimano drivetrain, Pro Components and FSA cockpit, and Blackburn accessories.

Frame Size Large, MRP Ribbon 120mm fork, Shimano XTR M9020 drivetrain (w/ Chris King rear cog), XTR M9000 brakes and pedals, WTB Ci24 wheels laced to XT hubs, WTB 2.4 Trailboss/Riddler front/rear tires, WTB Silverado saddle, Pro Components cockpit, and accessories from Blackburn.

Weight? I don’t own a scale. But who cares, it’s a speedy-feeling little bike with absolutely ZERO rattles or clanks! And most importantly, it has only 1 gear, 53 teeth total. I’m looking forward to a sufferfest at 30-140rpm!!

For more on this setup and this weekend’s singlespeed shenanigans, follow @slaxsonmtb

Local Pride and a Star-Studded Soirée, Spencer Reports from a Top-10 at Trans Cascadia

Trans-Cascadia is a blind-format, backcountry enduro race held in the wilder corners of the Pacific Northwest’s Cascade Mountain Range. Previously held in Oregon, the fourth-edition of the event made its way north to the deep corners of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in south-central Washington State. This year’s edition included a heavy-hitting cast of gravity heroes, including international stars Greg Minaar, Steve Peat, Loris Vergier and more. Factory rider Spencer Paxson was on site to represent not only for Kona, but for his local heritage, having grown up just over the hill from where the race took place. For Spencer, Trans Cascadia was a full-spectrum experience of modern mountain biking, from exploration to advocacy to participation. From helping vet the quality of the routes to volunteering in pre-race work parties to finally racing the event, Spencer shares with us his special account from this piece of MTB goodness. 

I credit the terrain around Trout Lake, WA and the greater Gifford Pinchot National Forest for inspiring my deep connection with sport and the outdoors. When I was informed that Trans Cascadia would be venturing to this area for 2018, I leapt at the opportunity to help out. From writing letters of support to the local USFS districts to participating in trail work days, my connection to the region gave me the sense that I owed a concerted effort to support the Trans Cascadia crew and their terrific event. My family’s history goes deep with these forests, including four generations of a family-owned timber and sawmill business and many years of my grandfather and father flying surveillance patrols for the US Forest Service. Not to mention my own experience growing up in these hills. Now, as the economic landscape continues to evolve, it is inspiring to think of mountain biking becoming a more important part of the recreational activities in the area. What better way than to usher it in with revamped trail systems and a world-class event!

I never dreamed I would share these trails alongside 100 other like-minded mountain bikers, let alone legends of the sport whom I’ve looked up to throughout my cycling career. To be clear, this was the zone where I would often go to be solo, or perhaps accompanied by a stalwart family member or friend. I even performed my marriage proposal on one of these trails! This was the zone where I fostered my “benign masochism” on long rides and bushed-out loops with heinous amounts of vertical ascent and frequent hike-a-bikes. But the reward of alpine vistas and remote singletrack was always worth the effort. Fast-forward a decade-and-change later and there I was sharing the same routes with a dozen good friends, trading high fives and trail snacks with the likes of Steve Peat and Greg Minaar, and being able to reassure others with local knowledge of: “don’t worry, it’s almost the top”.

Speaking of more meet-and-greet, the video above captures perhaps the best “nice to meet you” moment I’ve ever experienced. If you follow the big mountain ski world, you’ll get a kick out of it. If not, the running commentary is entertainment enough.

For all the fun that was had, the week was not without a healthy reminder of the fragility of pleasure and the sheer remoteness of the place we were riding. On Day 1, a long time fellow pro racer and friend dropped in ahead of me on Stage 2 and ended up losing control and impacting a tree. I had given enough of a gap on the high-speed stage that I didn’t notice that he had sailed off into the woods until after waiting at the bottom when he was nowhere to be found. After a few riders passed without seeing him, I notified the stage timers and medic and ran back up the trail. Sure enough, my friend was a few minutes run up the hill and laid out on a gentle slope below the trail. The thought that I had ridden past him without seeing gave me a pit in my stomach. A medic and I arrived on scene at nearly the same time and began to administer care (I have my WFR precisely because of these backcountry activities…it’s not much, but it’s far better than nothing). As difficult as it was to see a friend in so much distress, and as scary as the uncertainty of injuries was in the first hour, it was amazing to witness the clockwork of the Trans Cascadia medical crew and staff as they switched-on to expert care for my friend while keeping the rest of the event running smoothly and out of the fray. I can’t speak highly enough of the medical crew and organizers for rallying the way they did to ensure safety and care. After three tough hours, my friend was able to get up and move out on the back of a motorcycle. As for me, I coasted out the last two stages of the day, race brain totally fried.

Mike Thomas

Thanks to Day 1’s strong reminder of two-wheeled hubris, I had the mind to savor and respect Days 2-4. We were still deep in the woods, and any serious incident meant a long wait and (likely) helicopter ride at best. That said, topic for a future piece is the phenomenon of continued risk-taking in the wake of incident. There are so many angles to open up on that topic that I’ll save it for later, but suffice it to say, I didn’t feel like I slowed down despite the experience of my friend’s crash. And I wouldn’t have gone any faster, either. F#@(%…it felt fast!! And on average I was still 3% off pace. I’m happy leaving that remaining sliver to the forest gods. That said, over the next three days I managed to eke out a top-3 and a few top-5 stage placings, which seemed remarkable to me (and scary/exciting?). Maybe everyone else slowed down? Whatever the case, the local pride probably had something to do with it. Witnessing everyone’s enjoyment of the trails and terrain gave me that special form of joy that comes from sharing with others. In that way, I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to have my ass handed to me on fairly familiar trails than by the likes of the international gravity stars in attendance.

Chris Hornbecker

In the end, we grimy bunch of mountain biking adults spent 4-days feeling like 19-year-olds with no curfew, no homework, and European drinking privileges. Our cups runneth’d over. I bathed in cold streams and lakes each evening, ate delicious food, and shared lifetime good laughs and high-speed trail sensations with old friends and new ones. As for the racing part, I got myself to 9th place (FULL RESULTS HERE). The morning after the race, a bunch of us loaded into a truck and started the long drive back home. On the way we stopped in sleepy little Trout Lake. There was the gas station and cafe as it always had been each morning before school started, the mountain looming over the valley. I was a visitor in my own home this time, but there was a new twist that felt good. It had been put on everyone else’s map, and in this capacity, it felt really good to share it. I hope people come back. I certainly will!

Thanks for reading.

Photo credits: Mike Thomas and Chris Hornbecker

New Kona Talent Headed to 2018 MTB World Championships

This week, Gideon Bender and Scott Funston of the Kona Junior Factory Team were named to the US Team to represent their country at the 2018 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships! That’s 50% of the Kona Junior Factory team who has qualified for Worlds! Add the other members Calder Wood who (along with Scott) represented at last year’s cyclocross world champs, and Layton Meyers who was the reigning 2017 Enduro National Champ and is headed to this year’s EWS Enduro in Whistler, it’s impressive company they hold.

Gideon will compete in the Junior Downhill event, while Scott will compete in the Junior Cross Country event. Worlds will take place in Lenzerheide, Switzerland September 5-9. Both riders are graduates from the celebrated RAD Racing development program founded by Pacific Northwest legend and Kona friend Jim Brown. And for an even deeper Kona connection, for 2018, Gideon has been coached and mentored by Kona veteran Spencer Paxson.

Join us in congratulating these boys on their realization of this tremendous accomplishment, making it to their first mountain bike world championships. It is an opportunity of opening even more doors for the future, and given their talent displayed so far, we hope this is the first of several! Have fun and race hard, Scott and Gideon!

Jim Brown

Scott Funston

Gideon Bender

Gideon Bender

 

Spencer Paxson Wins Inaugural XC-Enduro Combined at the Vedder MTB Festival

 

‘Enduro! It has what XC racers crave!’ my buddies and I joked as we rolled in to Day 2 of our “Vedder Doubleheader” weekend up in the Fraser Valley. The Idiocracy reference was a double entendre of sorts; the easy, no-pressure climbing and ripping downhill in enduro, along with questioning our own sensibility for racing two hard days in a row.

Why two days in a row? The true prize of the weekend, for me at least, was the newly minted King/Queen of the Mountain Trophy devised by the organizers of the Vedder Mountain Classic. It would go to the man and woman with the fastest combined time in the XC and enduro. Day 1 was the Vedder Mountain Classic, a 30km marathon-format cross country race. Day 2 was the opening round of the Canadian National Enduro Series. Combined, the days would tally around 11,000 feet of vert up and down. Imagine some of the best dirt conditions you’ve ever had (and that is not hyperbole!), and any sensible MTB-er would have taken up the challenge.

 

Well…I’m not sure if sensible is the correct word, but how about eager? You could say that Saturday’s XC was an aggressive practice day. The course was challenging, but the immaculate conditions took the edge off of the effort. Teammate Cory Wallace and I battled out on the start loop and up the first huge climb to the top of The Den with Canadian cyclocross National Champ Micheal Van Den Ham in the mix. My Hei Hei (size Large) equipped with MRP Ribbon fork and WTB Trail Boss tires was feeling spry, and I sneaked around Mr. Wallace on the long descent back down to the lake, beginning lap two with a comfortable gap, and pressing on up the second half of the race to take the win. Cory rolled in 2nd, we traded some high fives, went to the beer garden, jumped in the lake, and even collected some Canadian cash. Day 1 done!

Phillip Jones

Sunday’s enduro is captured well-enough in the images. It was a ripping good time! I raced three out of five stages blind (good prep for TransCascadia coming up later this summer) and executed a quick-but-conservative day to get through cleanly. My result on Sunday was lackluster compared to Saturday’s XC, but it was good enough to claim the first-ever Vedder KOM Trophy! Truth be told, there weren’t many who went for the double header, so it had a bit of a tree-fell-in-the-woods level of accomplishment, but given the caliber of this event, I’m hopeful to see this “omnium” format more hotly contested in the future. It has to start somewhere! So with that, the weekend was wrapped up, and it was time to get back home to finish celebrating Mother’s Day.

James Lissimore

As I said of last year’s experience racing the Vedder Mountain Classic, there is no pretense to riding or racing mountain bikes in this part of the world, no matter your skill level, because in BC, mountain biking and racing just is. It’s a f*@#% good time!

Imaginary Domination Under the Eye of Stravaman

After suffering a mishap 15-miles in to a 54-mile day, Adventure Team rider Spencer Paxson shares his experience of what possessed him to keep riding real hard through the forests of the Black Hills.  

On the penultimate day of March, spring seemed preterm in the Black Hills (Capitol Forest) outside of Bordeaux, WA. Just shy of 200 bike riders gathered in the chilly, misty fields of the Evergreen Sportmen’s Club, set at the edge of the forest. Named for its border with the Black River, which is named for the “dark water” of Black Lake, the woods of the Black Hills did not hide their sinister nature. Indeed, the Eye of Stravaman loomed over all who pedaled through.

Spooky woods

Bordeaux, WA circa March 1903. Not much has changed except that there are bicycle races here on the weekends.

This was the sophomore year of the Cascadia Super G, put on by the Race Cascadia crew, which is best known for its regionally popular Cascadia Dirt Cup Series. This event was intended as a blend of enduro-meets-road-racing, or what these days we popularize as “gravel racing”.  At 9:30am we set out on a 54-mile course (shortened by 1 mile due to logging activity) to see just how we would fare. Unfortunately, the enduro timing system (which was supposed to record special downhill segments along the way) had been stuck in customs, so aside from the clock ticking at the finish line, we were all left with the Eye of Stravaman to decide the (unofficial) champion of the “race within the race”.

They say few can endure its terrible gaze, but for better or worse, with the Eye staring down, it didn’t matter so much when I suffered a nasty gash in my sidewall just 15 miles in, which I proceeded to have trouble fixing. After a few false starts of plugs, CO2s, boots, pumps, and even a nice helping hand who pulled over to see that I was alright (thank you, kind Sir!) I had lost around 18min. The race was rightly over, so it was time to go in to TT mode and let the Eye see what I was made of.

Blazing through moody clearcut vistas and spooky woods, I got to say hello again to most of my fellow bike racers who had passed me while I dealt with my mishap. For the next two hours I carried on with the Computer of Power weighing ever heavier on my handlebar. Lured by the Eye, I saw just how fast I could sustain.

With cracks beginning to show at the seams, I crossed the finish line a bit over 3 hours since I’d left it. According to the the clock I was 5th, but according to the Eye, I’d logged the fastest times on the major climb and descent segments. Be that as it may, the Eye grants no real dominion, only imaginary domination. And thus the ride was done and we left the Black Hills behind for another go some other day.

Chris Mcfarland

Racing against myself after getting rolling again…flat-out from mile 15 to 54.

Relive ‘Morning Ride’

 

Spring petals and pastels. Super Jake dressed pre-race like it was ready for an Easter egg hunt (it was Easter Weekend).

Super Jake with CX/MTB gearing combo (46/36 front, 11-40 rear) was the ride of choice for the 2018 Cascadia Super G

Super Jake, super gravel style. It was just an unlucky matter of physics and statistics (okay, and probably rider error!) that got the better of an otherwise burly tire setup.

The Computer of Power, displaying some heavy numbers from the day. It was “flat out” despite “flatting out”.

Crown Town

Spring Ahead(set)

Praise be the longer evening light and lifting of the dark, dank veil of the northern winter. Not only do we northern-hemisphereans have an extra hour (and building) of daylight at the end of the day, we also (hopefully) have several minutes less of bike washing to do after our rides. That is assuming that conditions where you live will dry up a bit… Regardless, if you live anywhere north of the 39th N. parallel, chances are you are thinking about more ride time, dry or wet, and therefore a much needed ‘spring cleaning’ for your trusty two-wheeled friend who ushered you through the last four or five months of muck.

The best option for a spring clean is your favorite bike shop. Second to that, some of us have the time, interest and ability to do the full deep clean of every single moving part. If neither of those apply to you, then it’s likely that your simpler D.I.Y. checklist will include: a little polish (mmmm), fresh set of cables and housing (for sure), drivetrain parts (that fit the budget), and brake pads (if you haven’t changed them a few times already). Here’s one more, especially for you mountain bikers (and anyone else who doesn’t ride with full wrap fenders): Replace your headset, too!

Headset, new & used

If you are riding the same headset that you rode in all of last summer, give it a test to see if it is worn out. To test, remove your front wheel and place your bike in a work stand, or balance vertically on the rear wheel. Rotate the fork by gently holding one hand on one end of the handlebar. Do you feel any crunchy-crunchy? How about a “notch” when your handlebars are facing straight forward? If you feel any of these things, then your steering and bike handling are being affected. This is likely coming from the lower bearing, which gets blasted with gallons of filth all winter (not to mention higher loads). Some servicing is certainly possible (clean out with solvent, re-pack w/ new grease, etc.), but if it’s been as long as most people go without servicing their headsets (12+months), then $40-ish+ will be well-spent on a new one, and it will have your bike feeling extra nimble and precise for spring. Think of how good a “new” bike feels. Much of this comes from all of the bearings/pivots being at the lowest friction state of their lifespan.

Extra nimble you say? Consider this: the headset is what actually allows a bicycle to be balanced. Take away a bike’s ability to steer and it becomes unrideable. All of the micro-steering (rotation) in the headset is what enables controlled riding at any speed. Therefore, any crunchiness in a headset, or worse, pitting or notching, takes away from a bike’s innate stability, agility and precision. A bicycle is balanced by steering in a left-right direction while rolling forward (even with no conscious steering input from the rider). This steering accelerates the support of the bicycle laterally, enabling the gyroscopic force of the rotating wheels to change heading and stay upright, thus assisting a rider to balance.

So, there you have it. Add a fresh headset to your “spring cleaning” repertoire, a small cost for a (likely) big improvement in that “fresh” bike feeling. Happy spring riding!

 

 

Smile Because It Happened – Helen Wyman Moves On

After nine memorable seasons representing Kona Bicycles at the highest level of the cyclocross discipline, Helen Wyman, World Cup star, multi-time European Champion and British Champion, is moving on to a different program beginning in January 2018. The Dr. Seussian phrase, “don’t be sad that it’s over; be happy that it happened” comes to mind, as Helen moves on while still performing and leading the sport at the height of her career. As of this article, she is ranked 9th in the world. And though Helen’s exit makes room for Kona’s commitment to developing future stars, her successful tenure here will leave a hole worth paying homage to – perhaps a hole the likes of which may not be filled again by a Kona racer.

Helen en route to a bronze medal finish at the 2014 World Championships in Hoogerheide, Netherlands (PC: T. Van Bracht)

Within the last two decades, Kona’s women’s elite cyclocross program, with multiple World Cup podiums and wins, has been its most successful international race program. Dating back to American Anne Knapp in the early 2000s, building with Canadian Wendy Simms in the mid-2000s, Kona’s international cyclocross success was cemented by Helen and her dominant performances from 2009 to present day. We’ll boast for her here: 67 UCI Pro wins in the last 12 years, 9 British National Championships, 3 European Championships, and a bronze medal from the World Championships! But that’s not all.

A cobble to be proud of – holding the coveted trophy of Koppenberg Cross, which Helen first won in 2010.

Helen departs Kona with more than race results. In addition to committing her young adult life to the athletic craft of cyclocross, Helen has leveraged her success to directly influence the future of the sport at a global level. Since 2013 she has served on the UCI Cyclocross Commission where she has been a prodigious voice for equality in sport, including equal pay for women. Helen’s work has led to the development of a U23 women’s category for the World Championships, increases in prize money for women, and has significantly increased the overall World Cup ranking prize purse for both women and men.

Battling reigning World Champion Sanne Cant this November at the Zeven World Cup, where Helen took second place (PC: TFOTO.BE).

“My goals were to equalize the prize money for elite men and women, develop a U23 women’s category and filter through all those rules to make essential changes for the good of the sport. I also wanted to ensure that all professional ‘cross racers have clear, set pathways to ensure they can carry out their sport at the World Cup level,” said Helen in an interview with Cyclocross Magazine.

Helen taking an early-season win at EKZ Cross this October, opening up a streak of top-performances which position her well for a strong showing at the upcoming World Championships in Valkenburg, Netherlands in February. (PC: EKZ Cross Tour)

Whether it is persisting through the haze of federation policies or the mire of bike racing in winter, Helen is known for her tireless style. The more gnarly the conditions, the more she thrives. Her strengths are in the mud, technical terrain, and the cold. “If I had it my way, ‘cross would start in October and finish in March,” she wrote in her column for Cyclocross Magazine. This is saying something for someone who spends most of the race season in the sunless swards of Belgium. “The queen of mud”, as she has been called, has piloted four iterations of the Major Jake to international fame, from her first win at the prestigious Koppenberg Cross in 2010 (she claimed her fourth win there in 2017), to a bronze medal at the frozen Hoogerheide World Championships in 2014, and many other wins and podium finishes in between.

Be it a wall of stairs, pits of mud, frozen ruts, uphill battles – Helen has taken them on in stride – swiftly, and with a smile. (PC: Bart Raemaekers)

Thus, far short of the novel that might begin to do justice to her time at Kona, we wish the best to Helen and her future pursuits in the sport. We hope she stays true to her word that she will “continue racing until her legs scream no more,” and that she makes others’ legs scream at the front of the World Cup field. We will be there along with her other fans cheering her on and finding inspiration in her successes in sport and beyond.

Helen, we thank you for your commitment to Kona and your world class representation of the sport for the past decade, and wish you the best.

Keeping it Real – Spencer Wins at Woodland

In the not-so-quiet corner of the world that is the Seattle cyclocross scene, the Woodland Park Grand Prix is regarded by many as the prestige cyclocross event. It’s the race to hit, and the party to be in. As such, 948 racers and many more fans made their way to the popular venue in the heart of town this past Sunday afternoon to experience a day at the races.  As the perennial finale to the MFG Cyclocross Series since 2008, Woodland Park buzzes with an extra level of energy, extra cowbell, extra Nutella on the waffles, and extra bubbles in the foam party. In the Elite Men’s division, this year saw the series overall title on the line with a tight battle between Kona team rider Spencer Paxson and curly-bar sensation Steve Fisher.  The “Woodland Park Bout” was fast and tight, but not so much that there wasn’t time for a little revelry on the SSCXWC-esque “Slip-n-Slide” bonus line mid-race. Spencer went on to win the day aboard his Super Jake. Read on for a few of the highlight moments. 

Dennis Crane

A little bit prestige cyclocross, a little bit SSCXWC shenanigans, the infamous Seattle Hodala Crew put on a serious party on the back end of the course with a Slip-n-Slide A-Line, where riders had the choice of vaulting over a pile of wood palettes and sliding down the hill through a wave of foam. “This is sort of a metaphor for my career as a cyclist”, said Spencer, speaking of the foam party line mid-race. “Fast and fun…we may look all serious in our coordinated spandex suits, but it doesn’t mean we don’t look forward to getting loose and having a good time in the process. Top racing moment right here.  Thanks, Hodala Crew!

Dennis Crane

What’s a race without a bit of fun hype before the race to highlight the tight duel between the two Bellingham riders Fisher and Paxson? The Series Overall was on the line going into the 6th and final round of the MFG Series, with Spencer trailing in second by a scant four points.  Fisher, a graduate of Kona’s prestigious Rad Racing Northwest program, is an accomplished North American professional road racer and ‘cross racer, known for a sharp sprint, serious power, and savvy tactics. He and Spencer had dueled all season, with “The Fish” taking several sprint finishes by a hair. As for Spencer, he says, “my edge is actually on the runs, or when it gets really gnarly and cold.” With mild conditions slated for Sunday, the stage was set for an exciting race.  With a tight points bracket, Spencer would have to win, with “The Fish” in 4th place or worse, in order to take the series.  While a win for Spencer was in the cards, a low finish for Fisher was unlikely. Regardless, it was gentlemanly, high-class, gloves off racing from the gun!

Dennis Crane

Grabbing the holeshot off the start line, Spencer sports the new pink-on-black-on-blue and the new Super Jake. Conditions were tacky and fast on Sunday. “With high speeds, the margin for getting out ahead is tighter, so the start was pretty hot,” noted Spencer.

Dennis Crane

A tight and exciting duel all day between Spencer and rival Steve Fisher, along with 2013 Masters World Champ and Seattle legend Russel Stevenson. Spencer would emerge victorious with a decisive last-lap attack on a steep run-up around 600-meters before the finish.

Dennis Crane

Tech notes from Spencer: “I’m running a 54cm Super Jake frame with a 90mm, -17deg stem and 44cm bars, 2×11 Shimano Ultegra Drivetrain, 172.5mm cranks and XTR 11-40 cassette in the back (40t limited out). For tires today I ran the WTB Riddler 37c at 24psi and 25psi front and rear, respectively. For reference, my system weight is approximately 170lbs/77kg (rider and bike combined). Conditions were fast and tacky with only a bit of need for some bite in the high-speed corners, which made this tread profile and supple tubeless feel a good option.”

Spencer took the win on the day, and Fisher would retain the series lead by a couple points.

With the traditional North American cyclocross season winding down in most parts of the US (for Europeans, it’s just getting rolling, and will go until February!), riders are either preparing to give the bikes a rest, or keep up with their local series, and maybe even thinking about plans for the next season already. In Washington, there is still a State Championship on the line, as well as other series to wrap up, including the Seattle Cyclocross Revolution and Northwest Cyclocross Cup, and Bellingham’s Cascade Cross Series which will go into December and January. The cyclocross scene, while already hot in the Northwest, is sure to heat up even more as the 2019 Cyclocross National Championships approach – taking place in Tacoma, Washington. When asked about future plans for a deeper pursuit of ‘cross, Spencer alludes to considering a “long game” for ‘Cross Nat’s, but for now, time for a beer.

Dennis Crane