Sunday, April 15, 2007

Ripper 1: Up and Down Fromme

Well it was the first NSMBA Ripper of the season today and in true Ripper form "it was an experience." The theme today was "what is up is down, what is forwards is backwards" according to Race Director James Wilson of Obsession Bikes. The race had two categories, the team and the solo. In the team category a good downhiller tries to find a "hired gun" cross country rider to climb up and he/she then rips down. Since I am neither a a skinny cross country rider (although some may disagree) or an expert downhiller , my skills are mediocre in both so I am perfectly suited to the second category, Solo. Also in true Ripper fashion I learned a lot today. I learned two main things 1) never follow the race director's wife and 2) never borrow a bike for a race.

Let's start with #1. At the start line I wondered where Amber (the race director's wife) was. James had said that there was to be a backwards theme, and usually Amber is at the front of the pack at the start (she's fast). But not today. The "gun" went off and we were told to turn around and go backwards down the trail -- and then I realised -- Amber was at the back (front) of the pack. I made an important "note to self" here -- always watch for Amber. So by the time I caught up to Amber on the climb we were approaching the 4th switchback up Mt. Fromme. We were making good time, I was ahead of some of the guys I was behind last year, so I was feeling good. And then it happened, Amber turned down Warden's trail and I (and a handful of other Rippers) believed that must be the way. It was a nice downhill, there was one of the "hired gun" cross country riders in front of me so I thought we must be on the right track. Well by the time we got back to the road, near the second switch back (and after a bit of bushwacking) it quickly became clear that something was wrong. After about 10 more minutes of climbing (back to the 4th switchback) it became evident that the race went UP Warden's trail and not down and I/we were now at least 10 minutes behind. Note to self -- the race director's wife can get lost too.

The second thing I learned was don't borrow a bike for a race -- especially one you have never ridden before. My own bike was experiencing some rear shock problems, so I was forced to send it in for warranty replacement. I was assured that this would be a "week turn around." That was a month ago now, and still there is no end in sight. So I had to send the word out that I needed a bike for the Ripper. My friend Terry offered up his new Salsa Cassaroll, but I felt this might be a bit fragile and the single speed fixed gear may not have been appropriate for the downhill section of the course. Jeff at Different Bikes came through with a Rocky Mountain Slayer 50. This is probably the perfect bike for this type of event, it has adjustable travel, rear lock out and it's pretty light (I noticed Wade Simmons was riding his Slayer 70 as a downhill bike, he and his hired gun uphill rider won the event). The only problem is that I haven't ridden one before. Not a big deal for the ride up -- it was light and fast, but on the way down the trouble began. On the first three tight turns I augured each of them. I also made the mistake of clipless pedals -- new bike AND clipless pedals -- what was I thinking? After some adjustment I got fairly comfortable and I didn't crash again. The main thing I noticed is that 9mm front axles are not meant for the Shore. The front wheel's line (the line the wheel choses) may not always be the line that you chose. With a 9mm front axle (and with extensive fork travel) this difference can become quite large at times. This offset between handle bar and wheel then induces the famed "tank slap" and then the inevitable auger. I suppose you could get used to this type of relationship with your front end but why?

In the end, although there was no chance of placing, I had a great time. The addition of Pipeline to the race was great-- it meant more uphill AND more down hill. I almost placed in the top 10, even with the extra lap -- which really just helped add miles in my non existent training regime.

Thanks to all the sponsors, volunteers and everyone else that make the Rippers such an experience.

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