April 15, 2005: A day at the races

Oh man, the Sea Otter is almost here, and I'm getting some serious butterflies. The bike is ready, the legs are ready, the course is ready, Romulus is ready, now I just need to get my head ready.

Testing out the downhill course
Coming off the ski jump
A festival atmosphere

We tried to alleviate some of the anxiety by heading down to the Laguna Seca racetrack in Monterey, site of the Sea Otter cycling festival. We checked out some road races, walked through the very large vendor village, and took the bikes out for a preview ride of Sunday's MTB cross-country race course.

Today was a beautifully sunny day, and we soaked up the festival atmosphere as we walked through the vendor village. Romulus needed to pick up some gear, and I wanted to see the folks at the Bike Magazine and talk to somebody at Gary Fisher about Blue's chainsuck.

The people at Gary Fisher told me that the guy I needed to talk to was Carl, the resident Sugar expert. Carl is a Trek mechanic, so Rom and I wandered over to the Trek tent. To date, no mechanic I have talked to about the chainsuck problem has validated my complaints, so I was not expecting much.

Carl was a godsend. Not only did he acknowledge that the chainsuck issue was caused by known design flaw, he also knew exactly what to do to fix it. Words cannot describe my incredulity at finding somebody, somewhere that knows something specific about anything. Halla-fucking-lleulah!

Seems that the overarching problem causing the chainsuck is misalignment of the rear end vis-a-vis the drive train. Apparently, in response to outcry from serious riders paying over three grand for a bike with a crippling design flaw, Fisher came out with Micro Adjust Bushings that go in the main lower pivot of the rear suspension. These retrofit bushings are made of some kind of "intelligent" elastomer that keeps the rear end in alignment by automatically adjusting to stresses on the rear triangle. Carl said I would need to have my local Fisher dealer get these bushings from the Fisher factory and install them correctly. As part of this installation, Carl said that they should make sure the rear end is correctly aligned by running two strings from the stem to the rear axle. This, he said, should solve the problem.

When I asked why my Fisher dealer had not installed these bushings and aligned the rear end properly when they installed my new rear triangle less than a year ago, Carl could only shrug. Rest assured, I will be asking this same question of my Fisher dealer when I take Blue in for the bushings. Rest assured.

Because I would not be able to get these bushings put on before race day, Carl suggested that I take off the crankset and file down the gouges around bottom bracket area of the frame caused by multiple previous chainsucks. He also suggested that I file down any burrs on the teeth of my chainrings. After finishing the filing, Carl said I should coat the filed area of the frame with a layer of silicon adhesive. Carl assured me that these measures would help prevent the chain from getting stuck on any rough patches of the frame or rings, and thereby prevent the chain from being sucked into the pivot.

Feeling relieved and excited about the possibility of finally solving this problem, we moved on to our next mission: finding valve stems for tubeless rims and tires.

Rom's wife Duke has tubeless rims but has never run tubeless tires on them. When she and Romulus test rode the course yesterday, it was obvious she needed new tires, and with literally every tire vendor imaginable at their fingertips, they picked up a new set of tubeless tires for Duke's race on Sunday. Problem: tubeless rims come with special valve stems that seal the tire to the rim. Somewhere along the line, Romulus and Duke had lost these pieces.

No sweat, right? As mentioned, every freakin' bicycle-related vendor in the world is at this event, so we figured this would take about five minutes.

Instead of the customer-satisfaction oriented approach of Carl, we were treated to typical corporate contempt. Every single wheel, bike, tire, and parts vendor we asked claimed that they didn't have any tubeless valve stems with them. Duke's rims are Mavics, so of course we went there. Mavic gave us some bullshit story about how they accidentally left all the stems on the truck heading out to the Tour de Georgia and they didn't have a single one on-site. Same with every other vendor we asked. I cannot even begin to do justice to the bullshit lies that were provided by the vendors as to why they didn't have any.

I mean, you're telling me that none of these wheel or tire manufacturers, who are selling tubeless wheels and tires right there in front of us, have any tubeless valve stems? This is the face of corporate America: they have such little regard for the consumer that they don't provide any support for their products and they barely make any pretense about their disdain for the very people that are supporting their bottom line.

Finally, one guy at a tire vendor's tent spent ten minutes putting on a big show looking through all his boxes and crates of gear for a valve stem. After ten minutes he came back and asked us if we were racing. We said yes, and he then went back to searching for another five minutes. Finally, he reluctantly produced one tubeless valve stem. Thanks for nothing, friend.

Along the way, I also stopped by the Bike Magazine tent to introduce myself to Dain, who is managing the Dream Team promotion for the 24 Hours of Temecula. I had sent Dain my pitch a couple of days ago, and he suggested that I stop by so that he could put a name to a face. Obviously, my face isn't my biggest selling point, but I made my case as best I could. We'll see what happens.

After soaking up the atmosphere of the festival, we donned our riding gear and headed out for the MTB race course. It was very similar to the course that Bonzai and I did for the 2003 24 Hours of Laguna Seca but about five miles longer. The course is very fast and has several sections of hard-packed, narrow, downhill singletrack, three major hills sections (Hurl Hill, the Three Sisters, and the Grind), sand, and even some pavement down at the very bottom of the course.

Romulus rode the course yesterday with Duke, and he was dialed in today. I held back a little bit, because I didn't want to burn out my legs on a practice lap, but even so, it was not a strong ride for me. I was skittish and nervous on the entire first section of the course up to Hurl Hill. Romulus says this part of the course is very congested and there's a lot of jostling. Jostling is not really what I want when I'm screaming down a narrow strip of singletrack at 35 MPH with only one true line.

Sand was also a problem. Often, the course would be 15 feet wide, but there would be only one line through the sand. This meant that if you didn't hit the right line, you'd end up spinning out in the sand and coming to a complete stop. That can't happen in a crowded race like this one or you're going to lose 10 spots in about 30 seconds.

Several times I was following very close on Rom's wheel -- to simulate the close quarters and split-second decision making of race day -- and I barely got off the right line and quickly found myself stuck in the sand or barreling off into the brush, losing precious momentum and time. I made a mental note not to do that on Sunday, but if I couldn't keep my line with only Romulus around me, how the hell am I going to avoid these fuck-ups when there's riders crawling all over me?

The racing jitters aside, it was a wonderful day out on the trail. The temp was perfect, it was sunny, birds were chirping, and the hills were alive with mountain bikers. Paradise. Near the beginning of the course, we passed a mountain biker who was riding the course with a huge, white Beretta-looking cockatoo sitting on his shoulder. Later we passed a tandem mountain bike successfully climbing one of the Three Sisters. I mean, I barely got up the thing and the tandem couple made it look easy. It takes all kinds.

After our ride, we went over and checked out the downhill course, and then headed back to the vendor village to pick up some stickers and other schwag. Manufacturers were ramming stickers and high-cost, glossy product brochures down our throats, but nobody had a single tubeless valve stem.

As we were about to leave for home, Romulus had a stroke of brilliance: ask Carl! We rushed over to Carl, and I started to lay out a whole sob story for him about how we were desperate for these stems, and we couldn't race without them, and-. Carl stopped me in mid-sentence, "is that all you need?" He rushed over to a box on his work bench, dug in to a fistful of tubeless valve stems and handed us the Holy Grail that we had been searching for all day. Hmm. No wheel or tire vendor has a single tubeless valve stem in all of Monterey County, but Carl has a whole box of them on his work bench?

This is what I'm talking about: when people lie to your face, and they can't even come up with lies that make sense, it just shows how much contempt they have for you. Manufacturers want you to just buy their stuff and go away. No support, no service, everything costs. Buy and go home. We're done with you until the next time you want to buy something.

Fuck 'em. It was still a great day at the races, and I can't wait to get home and get Blue ready for race day.

Mileage: 19.39 Time: 1:57:25 Avg: 9.8 Max: 37.5 Weight: 167.5

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