Doing it all the hard way...

Monday, August 28, 2017

My fun is probably not your fun

Our team has demonstrated some tendencies that the casual observer would find bizarre.   As an example when the summer is in full swing the number of participants in our Sunday Coffee and Lies ride predictably increases.  Yet when the menu offers up a mid-winter celebratory slog-fest we get more riders than a warm Sunday in July.   We get more participation when the forecast calls for pain.
McWoodie pretending to be patient....
This was proven again as fourteen souls assembled before seven in the morning and departed for a gravel adventure that promised to leave everyone tired, sore and filthy.
Are you ready to rumble?
We had done this ride fifty short weeks ago and we came back with more riders and wider tires. The sky was smoky from fires to the north and the mercury was aiming for ninety degrees by mid-afternoon. Without shame I broke the rules and carried a hydration pack.  I was not the only one.  As we age, logic does make limited inroads.
We rolled out and my legs protested immediately. Nearly three hours of mountain biking with El Chefe the day before had left a mark.  This would be a long day.  Sore legs would only make it longer.  I am a fool.  It was a Morgan Blue Solid kind of day.

This is the time of year when most of us are wondering what to do with the fitness we built up all spring and summer.  I am usually in this camp and it is a great place to be. Hills are easy and power is there when you need it.  Long days in the saddle are a pleasure.

My personal agenda this year had many events and distractions that were not conducive to cycling fitness.  I find myself torn between trying to cram in some late season fitness only to lose it between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day, or to just limp into winter and build up fresh come spring.  At this point I must simply confess I am not in good cycling shape.

Rich man was sporting his new Litespeed and his shiny rear cassette looked like it was made of diamonds glistening in the sunlight as he rode. The shiny metal bits were anxious for an introduction to the dirt and gravel they were designed for. Rich man did not disappoint.
Let the climbing begin!
The dusty road soon turned uphill and my legs went from being sore from the prior days ride to working hard on the climb.  One form of hurt gave way to another.  As we gained elevation the views opened up and we found our varied climbing rhythms.  I had recently added a wolf tooth extender and an 11-40 rear cassette to the B2 Bomber. The low gear would be my best friend on some of the climbs later in the ride.

After the ride last year I did some research on the Stampede pass area and this year I kept my eyes open.  The history of the railroad, train tunnels, and mining from a bygone era in this forgotten land is fascinating.

We climbed and climbed and the grade let up now and then allowing us to catch our breath.  After topping out the first sustained downhill was a chance for us to fly.  Our single flat tire forced a stop for the group while they worked on a leaky valve stem.
If I don't make eye contact with the flat then my tires will be unaffected.....
At this point someone asked Rich man how he was liking his new ride.  Fat tires and hydraulic discs make all the difference and his reply was less than enthusiastic. He finished his comments by saying he was not a good descender. 

This was unacceptable for Evo and I went to his bike and checked his tire pressure.  It may not have been sixty psi, but it felt like it. 

I unscrewed his valve stem and began to let some air out and Rich man quickly thanked me.  I kept letting air out and his gratitude turned to panic.  The sound he made was a combination of the word “no” a quacking sound and a scream.  Undaunted, I kept my finger pressed on the valve letting those unnecessary pounds per square inch go free.  I took his 40mm wide Nanorapter down to about 30 psi.  I went to the back and despite his repeated protest I brought that down to about 32psi. 

After the next downhill he would comment on how well the tires were now working.  Welcome to the wonderful world of wide tire tubeless!  Rich man, we’ve been waiting for you!  You’re never going back!
Deeper and deeper into the forest we went.....
Like some strange black, orange and white accordion we strung out and came back together.  We reassembled at critical corners and stretched out on long climbs.  We linked up when we hit the Greenwater draining and we flew down the road in a literal cloud of dust.  At one point I looked at my once-white arm coolers and they either had a patina of light colored dust or had a pearlized surface finish.  My teeth were likewise coated with dust.

After a long false flat the final climb starts off steep and loose and the heat of the day seemed to increase the effects of gravity. My legs hurt but I just kept going. Even in my Horst gear my cadence was slow.  I could only imagine some poor soul on a cross bike climbing this with a 36-25. 

The grade let up and I was able to get a much better pedal stroke going.  With my hip flexors working my pace picked up considerably.  I felt a fleeting moment of strength and revisited the question of trying to increase my fitness so late in the summer.  I kept pushing and tried to stay ahead of the man with the hammer as I could sense he was getting close.

After an unexpectedly steep though short, loose section after a bridge I saw Ryan stopped in the shade at an intersection.   That little kicker in combination with the heat brought me back to reality.  A couple minutes later the rest of our breakaway came up, one at a time wrestling their bikes.  Their faces revealing the aftereffects of that short steep section.

The climbing continued and I recalled the section ahead from last year.  At that time I had attacked and chased Big John all the way to the top.  This year my focus was to drain my hydration pack and metabolize some calories to prevent bonking.   My shoes suddenly felt hot and I noted the full wrath of August was upon me.  No shade for the wicked on this exposed dusty road.  Oddly, this is my idea of fun.
Near the top I realized that shortly we would be going downhill and the implications of cramping or blowing up were lessening quickly.  I got out of the saddle and pushed myself. With a spring and summer full of limited efforts it felt good to push hard on tired legs. I smiled at the ache in my quads. This is how we get strong.  “I remember this feeling,” I thought to myself.

After reaching the top I circled back to collect KB who was also feeling the heat.   Amazing how after a minute of coasting downhill my legs recovered and the final kick of the climb felt easier the second time around. 

After cresting the top the road hugged the ridge and offered a slight, though sustained, downhill. Without a word we let the grade give us free speed.  With big tires and low pressure we were safe as we ripped along high above the I-90 corridor. 
There is a freeway down there somewhere
We sailed along with broad smiles and soon everything increased.  The turns got bigger, the downward incline got steeper, the gravel got looser and we just went faster as we could sense the ride was nearing a happy ending.

By now we had become accustomed to flying over washboard and bunny hopping ditches. When the crunch of gravel ceased as we hit the pave’ for the first time in hours, the silence seemed sacred.  We looked at each other and did not need to speak.  The quiet was deafening and our expressions told the story.

Back at the cars we peeled off our crusty kids.  El Jefe’ handed me a bottle of water fresh out of his ice chest.  We munched on chips and drank the cold water as we changed and loaded the bikes up.
A stop at Lake Kachess provided a chance to cool off in the lake and partake of various other beverages that El Jefe’ had hidden his cooler.
This is the "after" photo

Fourteen middle aged men stood by the lake each grateful for friendship, wide tires, cold water and supportive families. As KB said, he was sore and tired, but it was the best kind of sore and tired. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Chamois Cream Comparison Review The best and the rest Shootout results

This is a real shootout. One of the problems when I read reviews is the reluctance to compare the product being reviewed with other, similar products.  Brand A is nice and then you read that Brand B is also nice.  Well, which one is best?  No idea based on the stand alone reviews.  I’m all about the best. 

The most important aspect of chamois happiness is having a saddle that you get along with.  While that is a topic for another day, it is by far the biggest factor.  Number two on the list is the quality of the chamois in your bibs. Even the most magical chamois cream cannot make up for cheap bibs or a saddle that disagrees with your undercarriage.  However, the best chamois cream can allow you to ride four to nine hours day after day without any problems.

Let’s get this party started with laying out some criteria to measure when judging the performance of chamois cream.

In no particular order:
1.     It needs to not smell bad
2.     It needs to stay where you put it
3.     It needs to last for the duration of the ride
4.     It needs to feel good before, during and after the ride
5.     It can’t ruin your bibs or your saddle

Now let’s look at each contender individually.
Mad Alchemy Chamois Cream
I use and recommend Mad Alchemy’s Embrocation products and had high hopes here.  The cream feels slippery, kind of like whipped cream.  A scoop on your fingers barely stay there and when you apply it the cream does wander a bit.  There is a scentless, slight cooling which lets you know where you put it.

On the bike it seems to disappear quickly.  At first this is a good thing but as the ride goes longer than an hour the protection fades fast.  In the end, this isn’t a product I would recommend. 
Doc’s Chamois Cream
This is another semi-boutique product that has a bit of a following.  It smells of vanilla and feels thin and slippery on your fingers.  It is a bit harder to keep on your fingers for application and predictably takes more effort to get it in place without wandering before your ride.  On the bike it wants to wander away from where you put it. The goo lasts longer than the Mad Alchemy product but fades after about two hours.   Not a bad product, but not the best.  Kind of like me, middle of the pack.
Assos Chamois Cream
This is no longer the Assos chamois cream from the era of wool jerseys and leather chamois.  I received this as a gift, otherwise I would have dismissed it having used multiple tubs several years ago back when it was the only option. 

First off, the product isn’t pure white like most of the others. It has a hint of celeste green in the tub.  This is awesome and only adds to the mystique. A fresh scent is welcome and the menthol sensation when applied is better in summer than winter but it is so steeped in tradition that you have to smile.  The product is noticeably thicker than it used to be.  It is thick bordering on being waxy. It stays on your fingers and it stays exactly where your fingers put it.  It also stays in place on the bike and lasts long enough for multi hour rides.  It is Euro so that is working in its favor.  This is a podium quality chamois cream with the only downside being cost.  With that said the cost of a saddle sore (time off the bike and discomfort) makes any incremental price difference irrelevant.   
Paceline Eurostyle Chamois Cream
This was one of the sleepers in the shootout.  First off, the packaging screams “Walmart.”  This and Chamois Butt’r (not reviewed here) are battling for the bottom in the packaging rankings.  It just looks cheap.  This turned out to be thicker than versions I had used in prior years.  It stayed in place on my fingers and where I applied it.  It lasted well, ranking just a bit behind the Assos and Buttonhole.   The consistency and performance exceeded my expectations.  This is a solid product.  Change the packaging and I won’t feel so schlocky using this.  It doesn’t need to be in a crystal goblet or anything, just package it so it doesn’t look like it came from Larry the Cable guy.
Morgan Blue Soft Chamois Cream
This was a late entrant to the competition.  Having used the Morgan Blue Solid Chamois Cream I was ready for another miracle.  Instead the soft cream was too soft.  It was like warm mayonnaise and it took some quick reactions to keep it on my fingers long enough to apply it.  A quick heft of the bibs after application kept it from wandering.  It seemed to last though not as long as some others in the competition and just like Paris Roubaix if you aren’t in the front group, it doesn’t really matter where you finish.
QM4 Chamois Cream
This cream has some loyal followers and by my take is the company seems to split the product line a little too fine.  They have a nearly identical product that is said to be identical but uses “all natural” ingredients and costs a couple bucks more.  Such parsing in already crowded field seems like a recipe for marketing failure.  When it comes to chamois happiness I’d like all natural but if you have to make it out of puppies and kittens I am okay with that.

This product is greasy and opaque and feels like something between honey and Vaseline.  It goops on where you put it and does not wander.  It isn’t as thick as Vaseline but it is somehow greasier.  So much so that I wasn’t excited to put it on the second or third time. It was like changing a diaper or picking up dog poop.  You sort of winced when you touched it.  It seemed like my body heat reduced its viscosity and it soaked in once on the bike.  It provided average protection.  In the end because it fell into the middle of most of the critical criteria and scored so low on the touchy-feely scale that it was dropped like a fat rider on a climb.
Morgan Blue Solid Chamois Cream
I came upon this product by accident.  As Coz and I were trying to out-Belgian each other I happened upon some of this on close out.  This product is thick and does not have the appearance of creamy white mayo that most of the others do.  It is almost the consistency of automotive axle grease.  You could smear it on the ceiling and it would be there a year later. It goes exactly where you put it and it remains there until you wash it off.  It doesn’t ruin your chamois like Keith Bontrager’s homemade chamois cream formula does.  

If you have four or more hours in the saddle this is your best friend.  In Italy this product earned a tagline from our team.  Morgan Blue…Like a Flak Jacket for your Ass.  This is the nuclear option.  When you can’t afford to take a chance this is the one and only.  The question isn’t if the chamois cream worthy of the ride; the question is If the ride is worthy of the Morgan Blue Solid.  I’m afraid to use this every day but for epics it is the go to.  Nine hours of Fondo with this on and your nether regions are fresh and ready to ride the next day.  Not a figure of speech.  A fact proven in 2016.

This isn’t a category winner because it created its own category.    You should own a jar but use it only when you know all else would fall short.

Enzos Buttonhole Chamois Cream
This was my tried and true companion until BTD stopped carrying it causing me to embark on this journey of discovery.  My introduction to this was also the result of a gift and it has continued to give years later.  Thanks to the judge for the introduction.  I’ll take it from here.

A mild scent greets you as you dab a couple fingers from the tub of happiness.  There is a hint of cooling when applied that confirms you put it where it matters.  This is the thickest of the mortal chamois products.  It stay in place and is good for four or five hours.  For me it strikes the perfect balance of staying in place and working but not making you feel like you saddle is slippery.   The scent and antibacterial properties as well as the brief ingredients list round out this top performer.

After my shoot out was well underway BTD resumed carrying Buttonhole and I have since stocked up.  This product claims the top spot on the podium.
In case my rambling rant left you confused here is a summary.
For Rides where you simply should know better Morgan Blue Solid is the one and only.  It is the HC of chamois creams.

Top All Around Chamois Cream is Enzos Button Hole.  Rounding out the Podium are Assos in second and a respectable, though distant, Paceline Euro Style in third place.  Buttonhole and Assos are clearly the class of the field.

The Pack of mediocrity includes Docs, Mad Allchemy, DZNuts, Chamois Butt’R, with Morgan Blue soft barely hanging on at the back.

The Lantern Rouge goes to Q4.  I would make my own before I would use that stuff again.