Monday, July 4, 2011

In the Woods, Old-School

I should be getting some work done right about now, but I'll get back to it -- promise. Right now, I'd rather talk about mountain biking.

This weekend, I got back out into the woods on a bike -- something I haven't done to any significant degree in many years. Actually, I got out two of the three days this long weekend -- one day as a sort of practice run for the other.

In both cases, I was riding my Paramount PDG Series 20 mountain bike, pictured at top. As are all of my bikes, this one is getting seriously old, though it's been well maintained and is in pretty nice shape. I think it's a '91, though I didn't buy it until '93 or so, if memory serves. I bought it in Connecticut when visiting a friend of mine one weekend. He ended up getting the same bike in black withing a year or so -- same size and everything. It's been a good bike, and I've used it in multiple configurations and roles, over the years, including a drop-bar'd commuter with racks and road tires. But it's really been at its best in the configuration you see here -- as an old-school mountain bike.

I had plans to meet with my friend Ellen (who you can sort of see crouched behind the stone marker -- she's holding her bike up for the photo) on Sunday, and Ellen has been mountain biking pretty regularly for years. Not wanting to look like a total newbie, I headed out to Hopkinton State Park on Saturday, to reacquaint myself with mountain biking. The road ride over there was easy enough (though the Q on that bike is wrong enough that I shouldn't be logging road miles on it -- makes my knees ache), but riding definitely took some getting used to, once the road ended and the trail started.

On a mountain bike, you spend as much time out of the saddle as you do in, using your arms and legs as suspension, and a lot of body language to thread the bike over and around roots, rocks and logs. In the woods, you need strength to yank the front wheel up onto or over a barrier, and then to grunt the rear tire up on or over a moment later. The saddle is artificially low, so that it's out of the way when you need to scoot way back for a descent, or way off to the side to place the bike where you need it, but that makes your spin much less efficient.

But that works out OK, because in the woods, cycling is less about maintaining a steady pedaling cadence, and much more about maintaining momentum that's appropriate for the terrain you happen to be on that moment. At any moment, you might be grunting up a steep gravelly hill, pouring on a burst to carry you over a rise, maintaining a slow, steady pace (including back-pedaling to put your feet in the right places to squeeze between rocks), or not pedaling at all during fast descents. It's a vastly different form of the sport, at least at the level I ride, and it definitely takes some getting used to, even though I've done it many times before.

I will admit to spending a fair amount of time walking and carrying the bike on Saturday. Some of this is because of the hills at the state park, but mostly it was me getting used to riding over stuff again. But even so, I had a good time. The bike was great, too, with the exception of the seatpost. I wore out the original seatpost several years ago, and replaced it with a Tioga Prestige. This is a light chromoly seatpost with a 2-bolt steel and aluminum clamp. The problem is that the aluminum bits always seem ready to spin inside the steel clamp, no matter how tightly the bolts are snugged down. I've tried shimming the clamp, but the saddle angle still ended up changing on me several times over bumps on my ride. I tried shimming it with thicker shims this morning -- see if that holds. If not, maybe I'll try emory cloth as a shim, to put some friction into the mix.

Anyway, Saturday was fun, and it was a good warm-up for Sunday. I met Ellen at 10:00 or so at Russell Mill in Chelmsford, which is part of that town's open space. They partnered with the New England Mountain Biking Association to develop a network of trails on the property, and though it's a relatively small area, the trails are a lot of fun.

I tried not to get in Ellen's way too much, and as we put on the miles (4.25 total), I got better at getting over stuff, keeping my feet in the pedals and worrying less about holding her up. I didn't have any significant falls, though during one really fun descent, my traction seemed really poor, with my tires skittering around much more than I was comfortable with. I'm riding an old set of Panaracer Smoke and Dart Comp's, and they probably need to be replaced. They don't really seat well on my rims anyway.  Maybe they were just overinflated.  Or maybe it's that the bike is unsuspended.  Either way, that descent, coupled with several instances of my front tire stopping dead at some relatively small obstacle that I didn't quite pull up for, got me thinking about whether a twenty-niner with front or full suspension would be more fun and more capable out there. Ellen swears by her dual-suspension Specialized, and Dan (the guy with the black Paramount) does as well. And the added momentum and greater radius of 29-er wheels help carry them over stuff that can stymie a 26, all else equal. So I guess I know what the answer is, there -- of course it would. Maybe next year. Maybe an Ellsworth Evolve? That'd be fitting, wouldn't it?

The highlight of the ride was the pump track on the site. I had no idea what a pump track was until I saw it, but it's essentially dirt roller coaster of a track, with banked corners, steep dips and hills that are an absolute blast to ride on. If you're a skateboarder, think skate park. I felt like I was 12 again. Or rather like I would have felt when I was 12 if I was a BMX biker at the time. I wasn't -- I rode 10-speeds -- but man, was this thing fun! Can't wait to do that again.

Today I've got a road ride planned, on my (starting to creak) Motobecane, but I think the net is that I'm going to spend some more time in the woods this summer. The Paramount doesn't really need anything, other than maybe new tires and maybe a new seatpost. But next summer I may need to give some thought to all these old bikes that I have, and maybe retire a dinosaur or two to make room for some new blood.

All for now,


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