My training is falling off a cliff these days due to diminishing sunlight and increasing workload in the office. Thus swings the pendulum of life. Trying to stay in shape for CX is getting tricky and takes some creativity. On top of the time challenges, the fatigue challenge complicates the picture. How do you stay motivated on the bike when the local roads are getting long in the tooth and the interesting roads are too far away to get to?
I asked myself this question a couple of days ago as the sun shone brightly into my office and the outdoors beckoned strongly. I knew I wanted to get out on the CX bike but I didn’t want to head out to the reservoir because that venue didn’t do the weather justice.
The solution was to mix things up a bit and look for some new trails to explore. I decided to head east on the streets towards the trails of Green Mountain. I’d previously scouted the trails and found that while the upper trails are pretty rocky on a CX bike, the lower trails are much more smooth, flowing, and ideal for skinny tires.
Riding on the streets of Denver on a cyclocross bike is a buzz. Everything is softer, you feel the additional volume of the tires as you float over bumps. Curbs beckon, potholes are for hopping, and drainage grates are no longer intimidating. Average speeds go down but the fun factor is high.
Upon arriving at Green mountain I peeled off onto the lower trails. The sun was in the latter 3/4 of it’s trajectory for the day so the light was starting to get beautiful. Temperatures were in the 60s. All was well. Green mountain, nestled right in the neighborhoods of Lakewood, can transport you surprisingly far from civilization in no time at all. The real world falls away quickly. Semi urban open spaces are so valuable for this reason. They give us a chance to detox from life and recharge even if we are on a time budget.
Upon exiting Green Mountain I set about my second goal for the day, and the true purpose of the ride: I wanted to see if I could ride my cyclocross bike up Mount Falcon. Mount Falcon is a classic Front Range MTB ride and pretty much defines mountain biking around here: You get out of your car, you immediately climb a couple thousand feet, you dodge a lot of rocks, you descend back to your car. There are exceptions to the formula, but it’s pretty accurate and a lot of trails fit the definition. Mt. Falcon has an average gradient of about 12% and rises about 1500 feet (450 meters) in about 2.5 miles. I guess by the numbers that doesn’t sound very tough but I’ve ridden the climb a number of times and it’s all but given me PTSD. What makes it tougher than the numbers are the rocks. The trail is extremely bumpy and absolutely abounds with both rocks and water bars that conspire to destroy your rhythm. Or… if they don’t destroy your rhythm they might destroy your derailleur hanger, like they did mine the last time I attempted this route on the CX bike.
If you happen to suffer such a fate yourself and need a new hanger quickly, try derailleurhanger.com. They sent me a better than new replacement in time for the midweek race.
Back to Falcon…
My first disastrous attempt at the climb was done with an 11-26 cassette and I can unequivocally say that THIS IS NOT ENOUGH gearing to get up this climb. You may be able to do it, but it’ll be miserable. On the second attempt I installed a 12-32. Combined with the compact crank up front, things went much better.
Riding a cyclocross bike up and down Falcon is a little bit crazy, which explains the stares I got from the MTB riders I saw along the way. I had this thought though: Before our insanely advanced modern MTB bikes were invented, fully rigid mountain bikes were the only way to go. We rode them and we had fun doing it. Even better, riding with no shocks to soften the trail, we became better at chosing lines and piloting our rigs. This will make me an old man even just by saying it, but those were the good old days of mountain biking. It was just stripped down simple machines against whatever nature could throw at us. Some of my fondest memories of learning to mountain bike in the Pacific Northwest were riding Powell Butte or Jones Creek with my buddies and trying to ride the insanely rooted and rocky sections without dabbing. We would re-ride the tricky bits over and over again trying to ace them and best each other’s efforts. Riding rigid isn’t about speed, it’s about solving puzzle. Do you go over the rock or around it? Do you have to shift your weight just so at just the right time to get your wheel to keep rolling? Do you need to bank speed on the approach in order to have any hope of clearing the sections that you can’t possibly pedal over? All of those are fun challenges, and many of those are lost arts in the era of bikes that do the work for you. I don’t want to sound like a total hater: Modern bikes are awesome, but in the same way that driving a ’70s Porsche can be more fun than driving a 2013 Porsche, a fully rigid bike on a challenging trail can be just what is needed to fight off boredom and fatigue.