The end of the year is nigh. The winter solstice was marked by a lunar eclipse - with light refraction turning the moon red briefly....spooky, and it must have been great for all the Twilight fans....
So now we have the slow ascension of the sun into the northern hemisphere. Ha!...it always amazes me how long this takes....january truly is a razor blade season....dark, wet, cold and the light at the end of the tunnel seems very far away.
Still, it is a time to take stock, look back over the year and perhaps formulate some sort of a plan for the year ahead. My personal goals for this year were to do a couple of mid to long distance races and get results that i was happy with (a second at Bristol 12 was good. The DNF at Kirroughtree 10 not so much and the Kielder 100 was , well, interesting!).
I also wanted to do some new routes here and abroad - notably in Europe (where i have ridden surprisingly little compared to the USA) and explore the capabilities of a very special bike that, unusually for me, has both gears and suspension (my Vertigo Cycles B.A). I uncorked some amazing routes in Scotland, taking passes and paths through the Cairngorm that opened a new door far my riding and i also spent a good deal of time carrying my bike through some pretty gnarly peat-bog. I had my arse handed to me in Switzerland - riding in the Alps is a different beast altogether - but one that might need to be repeated soon.
Clearly, all this is small fry compared to the major life change that was embodied by the arrival of our daughter, Daisy. Last week she smiled in response to me smiling at her for the first time. Dont let anyone tell you otherwise - the first few weeks with a baby is HARD work (trina has worked particularly hard) but with just a small smile the world seems to melt around you....its pretty emotional...
So to next year.
Participating in Daisy's development is going to be the big thing. The last thing in the universe i want to do is have a calendar with expected developmental milestones ready to be ticked off. But i also recognise the type A (if there is such a thing), achievement orientated, aspects of my character. So we'll see how we go. Within minutes of holding her, it was perfectly clear that she is the very best part of me (and a bit of trina too - hopefully quite a lot!) and the part that i will work to nurture, grow, keep safe and happy and to make smile as much as i possibly can.
What else? I still feel that my best racing is ahead of me. Maybe that is just wishful thinking, but i feel that with the correct blend of experience, preparation and, yes, training, i can get results that i will be truly happy with. It dawned on me this year, as i was absolutely breaking myself riding the 12 hour race at Bristol on my jones (after finishing up at work, driving for 8 hours overnight to a race, then getting a few hours sleep before riding on a brutal, baked-hard course on a rigid forked singlespeed bike) that i wasnt exactly making life easy for myself. The same was true at Shenandoah in 2009.
I finished up a hard run at work, then did the driving/flying/driving boogie and within 48 hrs lined up for a technical, back country, 100 mile mtb race. i was woefully under prepared, physically, but I enjoyed it and there was never any question of not finishing, but my time was embarrassing and a huge blow to my self confidence.
Winning is mostly desire, but there is also an element of not ham-stringling yourself: physically, mentally or technically. You could argue that riding a singlespeed is a major part of this but i would disagree. Often times, geared riders end up working harder - simply because they can - there is no enforced rest on the downhills or flats.....
For this reason, i have asked Sean at Vertigo Cycles to make me a race bike. No compromises. The jones is best as a singlespeed (though it worked very well as a 5 speed at kielder 100) and is all about fun and enjoyment - not 10 or 12 hours in the pain cave. It is super responsive with fast handling and a tight wheelbase. It is also incredibly rigid at the front - wonderful for handling and steering precision - but after 10 hrs of racing (not riding, mind you, *racing* - as hard and as fast as you can go) you need the opposite. Slightly 'slower' handling (though slow and fast handling are really misnomers for the perception of variations in weight distribution and leverage ratios) with a more forgiving geometry that will not punish slowed reaction times.
It is also the case that gears and suspension can not only make you go faster, they can increase your enjoyment in certain situations. Yeah i know - Ding, ding! wake up jon! Please note, however, that i am NOT saying they make life easier!...with suspension and gears, i will be expecting to finish a LOT faster or go a lot further than without. B.A has taught me this...yes he is a big, strapping lad, and 120mm of soft travel with heavy duty components and a very relaxed attitude is also not ideal for racing ( and i really want to keep this bike ready for the rough stuff and big mountain routes), but as Kirroughtree 10 showed, on that kind of bike i could ride where others walked, and catch fellow racers on the descents and hold them on the flats and hills. This is very different to the yo-yo-ing i have previously experienced with a singlespeed.
Thus was born the concept for 'The Maul'.
A Vertigo Cycles ti framed 29er. It will utilise Sean's signature 44 headtube, allowing for a tapered steerer fork. Once you have used a tapered steerer on a 29er, you will not want to go back. In this case, it will primarily have a Niner carbon tapered steerer fork in place and i will swap on a yet-to-be-decided suspension fork for those occasions where i might need one. I've been enjoying the fox terralogic talas on B.A a lot, so a shorter travel version may be appropriate, but i may wait for the one piece tapered ti steerer/crown that fox showed and had stolen at interbike.
The frame will sport a slightly longer front centre than the jones and even B.A, in an effort to provide some respite at the tail end of a race. Nevertheless, it will have the same short stays to keep the ride and handling sweet. It will be lower and slightly steeper than B.A but retain the same crouched, ready for anything position over the bottom bracket for attacking technical terrain.
The rear end will be 150 wide, because i'm struggling to see any disadvantages, and have experienced a LOT of advantages with this format. The bb will be slightly narrower to use a lighter XC crank - in this case new XTR. At most i will run 9 (or perhaps in the future 10) speeds. The Saint mech on B.A can be clattered into rocks and still shifts with authority and coming off 10 years of singlespeed riding, 9 speeds with a 35 toother at the front will provide me with all the gear i have ever needed from Switzerland to Colorado via Australia, New Zealand and of course the UK. Eriksen will provide the seat post. Wheels are going to be light, stiff and strong (yes K.B's maxim will hold true) with DT swiss hubs, DT aerolite spokes, and Enve composite XC rims. The stem will also be Enve.
Pedals, shifters, cables, hose and brakes will be XTR. In the case of the brakes, i will be using the Trail xtr - My usual Selle San Marco Zoncolan and Jones Loop bars (in ti, despite the increased weight over the Aluminium versions) and i've been using aluminium and ti bolts as often a sensible recently with no disadvantage.
Tyres will be frequently changed, depending on the conditions and aim for the day. This year has seen me using 2.4 knobblies or 1.8 (marked as 2.0) semi slicks. Tubless doesnt help this pursuit, so i will be going back to light tubes with 20-30 mls of sealant with pvc shavings for clotting despite the fact that the new Enve rims will be tubeless ready.
I think that covers it. It would be fair to say i'm pretty excited about racing next season....