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Monday, May 30, 2005

How many pro downhillers does it take to change a tube?

How many pro downhillers does it take to change a tube?

That was a question I repeatedly asked myself this weekend at the US Open in Vernon, New Jersey.

The biggest pro purse in downhilling was up for grabs so a lot of pros found their way to the Diablo Mountain Bike Park. But, not all my tires found their way to the luggage carousel. Missing was a set of Maxxis double-ply 3.25 High Rollers.

Even as a pro, sometimes you have to ‘run what you brung’.

I qualified second on the rocky course, but I figured a few more practice runs afterwards couldn’t hurt. On the fourth practice run, my last of the day, I flatted. Just one of those things. No big deal.

My rear tire was a single ply and the tube was a lightweight XC. Even the Mavic wheel set had lightweight rims. A really fast set up, perfect for the trails around the Central Coast in California, but maybe not the best choice for the sharp shale on the east coast venue.

marla streb
Marla gets advice from Mike from Fox...

At the bottom of the trail, pulling out the snake bitten XC tube was a cinch. Slipping in a thicker DH tube was little tough. Trying to thumb roll the tires sidewall onto the rim bead was just beyond reach. So I resorted to the metal tire irons, and gritting my jaw, I got it in there. Only to realize I somehow popped the new tube.

This race was not on our Team schedule, so there was no Luna Chix Team truck, no Team mechanic, and no pile of Team Maxxix tires and tubes to rely on.

A friendly guy stopped by to lend me a hand with another fresh tube. He couldn’t do it with his fingers either. Reluctantly, he tried a tire iron to pop that last two inches of bead. And I was so happy to see him triumph.

But as we pumped the tire up, the subtle hiss of a pinch flat deflated my spirits. The DH tube was thicker and it had been pinched between the rim and the tire iron.
We tried to be more careful with a third DH tube, but still there was a third hiss.

marla streb
Mike's first attempt at changing the tire...

Finally, the morning of the final, Mike the FOX suspension guy, was able to slip in an XC tube without pinching it. But halfway down the trail during my first practice run, I flatted it.

At that point I borrowed a two ply tire, a High Roller 3.5 from Kathy, my team mate. A medium weight DH tube help up. I ended up fourth in the race, Kathy snuck in at second place, right behind French woman Sabrina Jonnier.

So it turns out it only takes 5 downhillers, two pit crews, the generosity of a teammate, and a midnight long distance phone call to my team mechanic to change a tube.

All the amateurs were laughing at us.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Out of Body Nose-Wheelies

Out of body experience convinces me that Johnny T is a god.

Ever see that old video, the one where John Tomac is racing a NORBA DH? Probably not.

Somewhere...maybe in Vermont or the famed Mammoth Kamikaze...and somehow a drop off or compression in the course forces his weight forward and like evil magic his rear wheel just rises up about three feet off the ground.

You can’t believe what you’re seeing. You squint, searching for hidden strings like in a bad Las Vegas lounge act. You hit replay and slow-mo and freeze frame. You play it backwards.

How does he manage to ride it out?

The video is scary. Johnny T is probably going forty miles an hour, riding a nose wheelie. For five seconds. An eternity. He rode it out, and then kept on racing and I think he even won that day.

The concept, even just the remote possibilty, of a 40 mph nose wheelie should scare the bejessus out of anyone. If you ever have been riding along and felt the flutter of a fetal nose wheelie your heart skips a beat, as if you were swimming in open water and you see the wink of a dorsal fin.

I now know what a mature, full-blown nose wheelie feels like.

marla streb
Marla jumping into a ravine...

This past weekend in preparation for the U.S. Open in New Jersey, I was downhilling with a few of my preferred training partners; some pre-adolescent boys, (mostly because they have absolutely no fear... except for getting kissed by a girl).

It works out well because they think I am too old to be a girl.

Anyway, there was the this little jump in the trail. I was going about twice as fast as needed to clear it, just for my own entertainment. My rear suspension fully loaded in freakish concert with the terrain and when I hit the takeoff, the rear shock sprang like a steel trap.

It’s like I had hours to prepare for a horrible consequence.

I felt my butt floating up...and up...and up. Certainly an undignified manner to ascend to heaven. Hmmm. It will be four weeks to heal a broken collarbone, five for a wrist. Kaiser HMO deductible...

How do I get out of this dillemma?

The same thing way when lightning strikes a foot away from you.

Relax. And don’t even THINK about that front brake.

I figured, after about three seconds of terrifying nose wheelie, which seemed like such a significant period of time that it should be awarded its own designation like week, year or decade, that my rear wheel had gently floated back to earth.

My training partners, their status elevated from “grommits” just a few hours earlier witnessed the whole suspension of disbelief.

marla streb
The grommits...

“That was looking bad, Marla,” grommit #1 said afterwards.

“Yeah,” agreed Grommit #2. “Pretty sketchy.”

When I first saw that video of Johnny T ten years ago I thought to myself, how does he “practice” doing mid-race nose wheelies? Is there some sort of drill for that? Do you build up to riding a nose wheelie on a stationary trainer or something? After watching that video of Tomac I naively wrote in my training journal...”Work on nose wheelies!”.

Now, I know what Tomac knows, that there is no way to prepare, practice or get ready for an out-of-body nose-wheelie. You just relax and wait for a miracle.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

24 Hours of Adrenalin

24 Hours of Adrenalin- Monterey, CA. Just for bragging rights. That’s why everybody has that goofy smile.

Roll back to the pit, and get off that saddle as fast as you can. Climb out of those sweaty, dusty, dirty, filthy chamois. Scrub your face a bit. Sit on something other than your saddle. Drink something other than what has been sloshing around in your water bottle.

Rest. For two-and-a-half glorious hours.

marla streb
Warming up the day before the race...

Then before you know it, much sooner before you’d like, you gotta start rooting around for your stuff again. Where are those gloves? Clean up the eyewear. Pull on another pair of chamois, slip into the sweaty shoes, hop onto the trainer for a few minutes.

Then voices start yelling that there’s not much time. Better put on the helmet. Not much time, now. Get over to the start/finish line. Get over there!

Grab the baton, from a smiling teammate.

Tuck the baton under the elastic band of your chamois, take a deep breath, and then start pedaling. How do the solo riders do it, lap after lap, hour after hour?

Then you just pedal as fast as you can.

The first couple of laps aren’t too bad even though you went all out. Each lap is about ten miles, or 50 minutes, around the hills above Laguna Seca. Even late at night in the fog, or later on after the sun has heated the trail into an open pit BBQ, the trails aren’t that technical. Sure there might not be any zip in the bags of concrete that are clipped into your pedals, but you can still get around the course.

marla streb
Running at the start...

It turns out that the “rest” was the real test. Trying to “Rest” six times for 24 hours straight is torture. At least you can shut your brain off when you’re riding your bike as fast as possible. But to maximize the short break after discussing your lap time, cleaning up, changing clothes, hydrating, fixing the bike, and then gathering all your stuff for the next lap… is the ultimate test.

All of this so you can tell people you raced for 24 hours.

Luna Notes:

-Overheard at the start/finish line: “Watch out for the Luna Chix with the pony tail…she’s really fast.”
“Dude, They all wear pony tails.”
-Two guys arguing, “I’m not going, it’s your turn.”
“Well, I ain’t going!”
“Ok. I’ll take your lap for you, but you gotta go over to the Luna tent and see who’s warming up on the trainer. If it’s Shonny, I ain’t going either.”

-The Luna Chix finished 2nd in the “open class.” We beat 27 teams of men.
-Shonny Vandlandingham had the fastest Luna Lap unofficially 43:00 minutes, and the fastest night lap as well, a 47:00, and the most laps ridden…eight laps!
-Alison Dunlap’s best was a searing 44:00, and this was her first time ever riding at night.
-Katerina Hanusova was the only Luna Chick who was not scheduled for a night time break for sleep and still averaged 48:00 per lap.
- I was able to hang with the rest of the team and only threw up 7 times.
- Paul Mckenzie, our Team Director, raced solo for 204 miles to place 5th !
- Dave Mac, our Luna Team Coordinator, had a note from his mom excusing him from the event.

Special thanks to Chris Mathis our team mechanic, to Wally our manager for the rubs and encouragement, and to Janet McKenzie for the hot meals!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Fruita Fat Tire

THE FRUITA FAT TIRE FESTIVAL: Never let a Viking on a chopper get on your wheel...

The clunker criterium is a bit like the Olympics and Critical Mass meet the junk yard Wars and the Doo Dah parade. With cocktails. On a blind date.

Katerina was perfectly balanced on the handlebars. As long as we were on the straight-away. I was keeping an eye on the guy in the orange jump suit riding the fixed gear. When that guy jumped we wanted to get in his draft. Katarina’s feather boa was making it difficult to see, but how hard could that first right hander be?

Katerina and I found that on a little girl’s pink bmx bike, dressed like that, the first turn could be pretty hard.

marla streb
Mark, Marla Streb's husband, riding the Fruita Clunker Criterium...

We had dropped the cowboy on the delivery cruiser back at the start. The fixed gear guy held his speed through the turn and was about to put down his cigarette and stomp on his pedals. Katerina and I counter-steered but we began to wobble off our line… must have been our high center of gravity.

That’s when the Viking sacked us.

The day before at our Luna Chix clinic, we had gone over stuff like cornering techniques, drop off tips, and speed wheelie instruction. I thought that Zak, our team mechanic, was paying attention to our clinic. Here we were, the Luna Chix, trying to keep 30 people interested in where their center of gravity is, and Zak went off on his own and landed a 20 foot jump with his weight too far forward. He said the wind crossed him up. Looking at the cracks on his Giro lid, and the separation in his shoulder I thought…

Okay, maybe sometimes, knowing what to do, even if you know how to do it, it can be pretty hard to actually do it.

marla streb
The Luna Chix women's clinic- learning the moves...

Back at the crit, sprinting off the start line, we knew we should brake before the turn, not IN the turn. Exit Speed is more important than Entrance Speed, I had preached the day before. So as we approached, I stuck my foot out and dragged it on the pavement to scrub just a little speed. Katerina kept her chin up and looked through the exit of the turn. She kept her arms relaxed. I did the same. As we entered the turn, Katerina shifted on the handlebars so that her right butt cheek squished down on the back of my right hand. As much as I could, I tried to put my weight on my left pedal, sliding up on the banana seat over the bottom bracket to gain tire traction. But we miscalculated our line choice and slid out.

The Viking on the chopper T-boned us.

While lying there on the ground in a tangle, Katerina and I in our matching white disco pant suits, my husband riding around in the same outfit, the sumo in drag on the beach cruiser, Pocahontas on the beater and cowboy on the delivery bike all ripped past us. And I thought, that was a real rookie mistake. Everybody knows that Viking fur lint is a bitch to get off polyester.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Cross TRAINing

Only ridden with him once before, but I knew Sterling is strong. Even though his hair is white, he set the quick pace for the climb up Shooters trail, such that I can only contribute to our conversation in single syllables.

And on the descent, I can stay near his wheel, but he is ‘juuust’ fast enough that I can’t quite slip past him.

marla streb
Sterling on the trail...

Usually on the downhills, I can find some way to nip past almost any skinny cross country rider. The lip of a blind jump. The inside line on an off-camber corner. A rock garden of baby heads. Places like that open things up for me. But Sterling’s ridden these trails countless times over the years. He can corner and he never drags his brakes. Sterling knows the lines and always shuts the door behind him.

The whole three hour ride he stayed at least a half wheel ahead of me. Even though it was just a “fun ride.”

Among friends, however, there are no “fun rides.”

There were five of us in the posse wheeling it back to town. On the fire road my legs were a little gooey from the morning’s exertions, but my head a little springy which was evidence of a great ride.

The shortest distance back to the coffee shop is where the ‘off the back’ rider will attack. This Sunday I was that rider. In my mind it was setting up like the finale of fire works, the last opportunity to be first, all else merely a prelude.

As the speed of the group increased, I found a couple grass lines to begin my breakaway. I was on the outside of Sterling on a critical bermed switchback, and took off like a banshee.

I pedaled as fast as I could, pulling away from the peloton. The group reacted poorly, and became disorganized in the loose gravel.

I had broken away!

One last corner, over the rail road tracks and I would be home free down the short paved stretch to the coffee shop.

Sprinting to the tracks, I stood on my pedal readying to dismount cyclocross style. The crossing wasn’t paved; just a bed of rocks. The rough hewn ties sat higher, and the rails themselves higher still like a cyclocross barrier.

I don’t know how I sensed the oncoming train, but there it was. Just chugging along. Speed moderate, but momentum massive. And very close, it seemed.

I stopped, the top tube of my bike still in my right hand, and stared. I wasn’t thinking. Just staring.

Sterling blurred by first. And then the other guys.

The numbers and lettering on the train were quite distinct as were now the other features like head lights, the engineer’s window, and various sharp edges of the caboose.

marla streb
Pretending to out-ride a fake train...

Afterwards, Sterling said, “That sure was close!"

I don’t know if he was talking about the ride or the train. Probably will have to do more rides with him to find out.