Wednesday, December 07, 2016

CX

Somehow I failed to report on my first cyclocross.

It was October 1, it was cold-ish, soaking wet from the prior day's rain, and the city had done very little mowing. My team was responsible for helping set up the course, so Alastair and I were there well before dawn to help get things going. I think by the time I actually started my race, we'd been there for about 4 hours already.

I had done a bit of practice: mostly just dismounting and remounting, and the 2016 Giant TCX SLR 2 was still functionally brand new to me. I'd spent some time chasing down a braking issue that turned out to be a grain of sand wedged into the rear caliper, but the bike was ready, and I was...not. Honestly I had very little idea of what to expect, other than exhaustion.

The race was both slower and faster than I expected. I had no problems on the straights, but little to no confidence cornering, especially since one of the first corners saw a massive wreck. So instead of racing smooth and smart, I was basically just b-lining from one corner to the next and trying to keep the bike upright. The top half of the course played to my strengths, with largely sweeping turns and space to just crank. The bottom half required something I do not possess on dirt: finesse. Darting switch-backs, tight hairpins, a couple of zig-zags into and off of long straights, a BRUTAL uphill climb that became very muddy and led to a stone staircase with a steep asphalt climb at the end. It was all I could do to hang on in that complex, and I ended up finishing just north of the top 50% mark...tasting blood and almost unable to breathe.

I've said before that I don't know how to do semi-competitive, and while 'cross didn't really suit me, I wasn't about to throw in the towel, especially because I LOVE that bike. But I felt I could love it more...

So, not knowing how to leave well-enough alone, I whipped out my trusty gear-ration chart and did some calculating. The bike came with 36/46 chainrings and an 11x28 cassette. There was a lot of overlap in that range--maybe one or two gears of independent range on each chainring. I'd managed to keep the bike off the bottom gear, but I hadn't gotten anywhere NEAR the top.

Since pulling the front derailleur had netted a 1.1 lb savings on the old mountain bike, I ordered a 40T single chainring and pulled a spare 11x32 cassette. The extra depth made up for any losses from the slightly larger ring, and in fact the bottom two gears are nearly identical to what they were before. And with a 1x drivetrain, Shimano's 5800 short cage derailleurs do not have clearance issues.

But the weight savings were nowhere near what I'd seen on the MTB. The bike was clocking in just under 23 lbs.

So I went with the only logical upgrade: wheels. I just got a set of Easton EA90XD wheels and mounted them...tubed. Right now the bike is sitting at 21.6 lbs, and I know that going tubeless will get it closer to 21, but I'z askairt of tubeless, and technically my tires aren't rated for it, so that can wait.

Since making the changes, I've taken the bike out and put it through its paces. 25mph @ 90rpm in the top gear is perfect, and there wasn't an obstacle I couldn't clear at the bottom of the range on a bit of single-track (this bike is majestic on flowy single-track). Now I just have to learn how to ride smart, trust the traction in turns, and get over my fear of exotic low tubeless pressures.

Next race is Saturday. Forecast calls for HOLYSHITTATSCOLD. I think the person who finishes with the most toes and fingers wins.

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