Archive for michael o’kelley

final review – Specialized Crux Elite

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 27, 2015 by 41flyersracing - o'kelley

My time aboard the 2013 Specialized Crux Elite came to an end this past Fall when I sold it in order to buy a road bike.  While I certainly enjoyed the heck out of that bike, it had begun to be relegated to almost nothing but pavement and therefore it was time for a change.

Being the only cyclocross bike I have ever owned, I don’t really have much to compare it with.  However, I did find it to be a blast and a good bike for whenever I wanted to venture off smooth pavement and into the woods or on really bad paved surfaces.  I put around 1200 total miles on the bike, riding everything from a road century to singletrack trails to a road duathlon.  If I was able to have a third bike in addition to my mountain bike and road bike, a cyclocross bike would likely be it.  However, I would do a couple of things differently.

First off, I would go ahead and opt for disc brakes.  The disc brake technology was just starting to take off when I bought this bike in early 2013 and after spending so much time on rim brakes I can say without a doubt I would go for discs next time.  The stock Tektra cantilever brakes that came with the Crux were crap and had basically no stopping power once the pads starting to get a little worn.  I swapped those out for some FSA SL-K brakes that were better, but still not ideal, even with the upgraded pads that I put on.  After having enough of those, I ended up buying some TRP EuroX brakes but never installed them before my bike sold.  I would have liked to see how the TRP brakes fared, but I’m not convinced it would have been enough for me to want to forego disc brakes again.

The other thing I would do differently is to buy a carbon frame.  Specialized makes some of the most comfortable aluminum frames I have ever ridden, but on some of the gravel roads I was riding it would have been nice to be on carbon.  And then once I started using it more and more for road riding, carbon definitely would have helped out.  But purchasing a carbon version of the bike, not on clearance like the one I bought, would have set me back probably at least another $500 to $700 and that wasn’t really an option when I made the purchase.

So I have since replaced the Crux with a Scott CR1 road bike, which I will eventually get around to reviewing on here.  But even though I wasn’t a fan of the brakes and would have preferred a carbon frame, I still am a big fan of my old Crux.  I never actually used it for cyclocross racing like I had intended when buying (thanks to a separated shoulder during cx season) but I did get some valuable use and plenty of fun from the Crux.

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2014 ride stats

Posted in ride reports, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on January 8, 2015 by 41flyersracing - o'kelley

For the past two Januarys I have posted the cumulative ride stats from the previous calendar year…..here is what the 2014 tally looked like (according to Training Peaks):

2790 total miles

1615 mountain bike miles

337 road/cyclocross miles

838 indoor trainer miles

157,665 total feet of elevation gain

 

This ended up being around 250 more miles than I what I posted in 2013, as well as over 37,000 feet more in climbing.  My trainer miles were down slightly, even though we had a rough winter in 2013.  My road/cx miles were way down, whereas my mountain bike miles were likewise way up.  Since the ratio of mountain bike miles to road/cx miles was higher, this meant I spent more time in the saddle riding my bike in 2014 than I did in 2013 (due to slower average speed).

I think after looking at the above stats what I am most pleased with is the increase in elevation gain.  This is also after I switched from a Cateye Stealth 50 GPS to a Garmin 510 GPS late in the summer, with the Garmin being more accurate.  The Cateye tended to err on the high side, usually showing more elevation gain than what I actually accomplished.  So, in reality my increase in elevation gain is more than the math shows (probably somewhere around 39,000 to 40,000 feet in lieu of 37,000 feet).

Another thing that happened in 2014 was that me, Brian, and Scott started going on regular morning rides before work from early Spring through late Fall.  Three mornings per week with average mountain bike rides of 14 miles and 1300 feet of climbing helped get in the miles without sacrificing the rest of my daily schedule or family life.  Throw in a longer weekend ride and everything worked out well.

I purchased a new road bike in December 2014 to replace the cx bike that I sold a couple months earlier.  With some additional focus on logging longer road rides in 2015, I should be able to hit a higher total mark in mileage for this year if no injuries or schedule setbacks arise.

Ride Report – Russell Lands at Lake Martin trails

Posted in ride reports with tags , , , , on June 27, 2014 by 41flyersracing - o'kelley

About a year ago I had my mountain bike with me while in Alex City for a meeting and decided to hit the trail system owned by Russell Lands…..ride report from that day can be found here.  A few days ago I was on my way back from some meetings in Montgomery and just so happened to have my bike with me again (I had planned to ride Swayback in Wetumpka on my way home) so I made a beeline for Alex City again so that I could see how the trails were shaping up.

Like my first trip to this trail system, I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun they could be.  I was also surprised by how much elevation gain there is considering the entire system is just a stone’s throw from Lake Martin.  There are just a number of punchy little climbs that add up over the course of a ride.  All told, I did around 1300 feet of climbing during the course of a 16-mile ride, which is not that far off of what I would climb on a typical 16-mile ride at Oak Mountain State Park.

I started at the Willow Point Cutoff Road trailhead, first getting on the E.W. Rail trail heading back towards Willow Point.  Aside from a fallen oak tree blocking the trail early on, this was a really fun doubletrack trail.  I eventually made my way back to the trailhead parking lot, where I would get on the Big Way trail and take it to its terminus point.  It was really hot and humid and I was needing to head home sooner rather than later, so I elected to ride pavement along Hwy 63 from Russell Crossroads back to the trailhead.  Probably not the best move considering the crazy amount of 3pm traffic on that highway, forcing me to ride in the knee-high grass on multiple occasions, not to mention the headwinds out in the open areas.  Nonetheless it was a fun little ride, and it was a nice change of scenery from my normal riding routine.

Random snap shots below.

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Stumpjumper HT 29er mid-term review

Posted in gear review with tags , , , on June 27, 2014 by 41flyersracing - o'kelley

A while back I did an “initial impressions” type of review for what was at the time my new 2014 Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Carbon hardtail 29er.  I now have put around 900 miles on the bike, including racing at Southern Cross and Skyway Epic, and can offer up some additional thoughts regarding the bike.

FRAME – First off, as to be expected, the carbon frame is stiff yet comfortable.  The bottom bracket area is massive, giving it stiffness where it counts (at the cranks).  The downtube in general is fairly massive as well, but the other tubes are scaled back a bit.  I seriously feel much more comfortable on this bike than any other mountain bike I have put miles on, including my steel Vassago Bandersnatch.

WHEELS/TIRES – The bike came with Specialized “Roval” rims laced to Specialized hubs and DT Swiss spokes.  The tires are Specialized “Fast Trak”, with the rear tire being the Control version for extra durability.  I was skeptical about the tires at first because of a previous bad experience with Fast Traks, but I’ve got to admit I have really liked them.  With close to 900 miles on them, much of it being on pavement, it’s time for me to get new tires and I will strongly consider replacing them with the exact same tires.  The wheels are super stiff and ride much better than my last Stan’s Arch wheels.  The front thru-axle undoubtedly has something to do with that.

COCKPIT – Standard Specialized componetry here, though after going over the bars back in November I have since replaced the stem with a longer version (110mm in lieu of 100mm).  It’s got a 700mm wide Specialized alloy bar, Specialized grips, Specialized alloy seatpost, Specialized “Phenom Comp” saddle, and the Specialized stem.  As mentioned above, everything is plenty comfy, especially the saddle which has been a favorite of mine for years.  If I ever get the itch to upgrade anything, which is really not necessary, I might opt for a carbon bar and carbon seatpost.

DRIVETRAIN – Good, sturdy components here.  Highlights include a Shimano XT rear derailleur, SLX shifters, and SRAM cranks.  With routine care and regular lubing after muddy rides, the bike shifts great and the cranks feel nice and stiff.  The gearing is set up with an 11-36 cassette in the back and 38/24 chainrings up front, which provide as much gear range as I’ll ever need.

BRAKES – I was skeptical about the brakes at first, which are Formula C1 with 180mm and 160mm rotors, because I really wanted Shimano brakes instead.  In the past I’ve had trouble with brakes from Magura, Formula, and Avid, and just had my heart set on Shimano.  But so far I have been pleasantly surprised.  I had one minor issue with brake line pressure, but it turned out to be a quick warranty fix by performing a bleed to remove some tainted fluid in the hose from sitting at the manufacturer’s warehouse for too long.  But, I still plan to reserve final judgement until I’ve put a couple thousand miles on this bike.

FORK – The fork is a Rock Shox Reba SL.  So far so good, as it performs like I have come to expect most mid-level forks from Rock Shox to perform.  I’m sure there will come a day when I need to rebuild it to keep it smooth, but for now I am enjoying it.  The fork comes with a lockout dial on the top of the fork leg, rather than a remote lockout, but that’s fine with me as it keeps the cockpit clean.

RIDE EXPERIENCE – For a hardtail, this is a very comfy ride.  Tubeless tires combined with the carbon frame makes it about as good as it can get for a hardtail bike.  I’ve done several long endurance races on it and never felt like comfort was an issue.  It is also very fast on the straights due to its relatively low weight and stiff frame, which I really appreciate.

Overall, this has been a great bike for me and for once I am completely content to not feel like I need to tinker with my bike or constantly upgrade its parts….something that has plagued me with my previous bikes.

Some random pics below….

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Chief Ladiga Trail ride report

Posted in ride reports with tags , , , on June 3, 2014 by 41flyersracing - o'kelley

On Sunday May 25th, David and I rode a portion of the Chief Ladiga Trail.  Since David was training for the Leadville 100, and because we weren’t sure if the pavement was going to be a little rough for skinny road tires, we opted to take our 29er mountain bikes.  This allowed us a more comfortable ride, along with a little extra time pedaling since our pace would drop a little bit from a typical road bike pace.

We parked in Jacksonville AL around maybe 9:30 or 10:00 and it was already apparent it was going to be a hot day.  The first stretch, to Piedmont AL, went by relatively quickly as we chatted and rode at a casual pace.  After a quick stop in Piedmont to use the restroom, we hit the pavement again.  This next section would be far be the longest stretch of the trail for us, as it took as past the state line by 12 or so miles until we hit Cedartown GA.

Once in Cedartown, our plan was to grab a bit to eat somewhere like Subway.  However, the town was smaller than we bargained for and ended up eating peanuts, bars, and beef jerky at a gas station.  By that time I was pretty well starving and just needed to get some food in my system, along with anything ice cold to drink.  After downing a Diet Coke with some ice in it, I poured the ice into my water bottle and topped it off with a fresh bottle of Gatorade….big time hit the spot.

Knowing that we have a long way back during the return stretch, we mentally tried to break it up into smaller chunks of mileage…..to the state line, then to Piedmont, then back to Jacksonville.  While not too tired physically, and certainly not on the verge of cramping or anything, I’ve got to admit that by the end of the return leg I was quite ready to be off of my bike and on the way home.  I’m pretty sure David was feeling the same way.  Hitting a Quizno’s Subs on the way out of Jacksonville was like hitting paradise for a few minutes….good sandwich and some ice cold Coke.

All told, it was a good day on the bike.  Next time I ride this trail, I’d like to park in Piedmont and ride to the next town in Georgia, Rockmart, which I have heard has more provisions and is also a really cool little town.  Perhaps even ride closer to Atlanta and stay overnight somewhere before riding the return leg back the following day.  The problem with the Chief Ladiga Trail is that it is an out-and-back and many miles are rather monotonous.  It’s bearable just going one direction, but when you do it on the same day it just gets a little boring.  Also, we noticed that the Pinhoti Trail crosses Ladiga between Piedmont and the state line.  We didn’t venture off onto the Pinhoti, but another good ride option might be to bank some easy miles on Ladiga, hop on the Pinhoti for some tougher trail mileage, and then recover back on the Ladiga while heading for the car.  Lastly, David and I were joking that it felt like it was uphill for a long portion of the “out” leg, and sure enough it was based on the Strava profile.  We basically went continuously uphill from mile 13 to mile 25, ending up with 1300 feet of total climbing for the day.  My guess post-ride would have been around 400 feet, because there just weren’t any real hills so it tricks you into thinking it is flatter than it apparently really is.

No pics for this ride, but strava data can be found here.

ladiga strava map

2014 Skyway Epic race report

Posted in ride reports with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2014 by 41flyersracing - o'kelley

As any of my riding friends or anyone who has read this blog probably knows, my last two races at Skyway Epic have more or less been disasters.  At the 2012 race I managed to get sick to my stomach and eventually bonked bad, coupled with loads of leg cramps.  At the 2013 race, I crashed more than once and also got off course twice.  Both years I had subpar finish times and it has always bothered me.  For 2014, my main goals were to finish with a better time than the previous years and do so safely with no crashes and no going off course.  Luckily for me, things worked out OK.

I got up early on Sunday and headed down to Lake Howard in Sylacauga for the 8am start.  None of my usual riding mates could make it, so it was just me for this one.  I didn’t get there until almost 7:30, so I had just enough time to check in, add some Stan’s sealant to my tires, lube the chain, and kit up.  Then it was time to start.

Like the first two years, we had a very short ride on pavement and grass until we hit the usual mass bottleneck at the trailhead.  I wanted to play it safe this year, and I had no real motivation for going out hard, so I just tucked in near the back third of the group behind one of the female riders (would later find out it was Maaike Everts) and we rode at a fast-yet-casual pace.  I was glad to have her set the speed so that I could watch her lines, as it had been a year since I was last on these trails and had basically forgotten everything about them.  Lee Neal ended up right behind me and we rode together until the trail turned to dirt road and then eventually to the first aid station.

Lee was on a singlespeed, so eventually I had pulled away on the flats and low-sloped downhills since he was spinning out his one gear to its limit while I enjoyed all 20 of mine.  The long, gradual uphill began at around the 16-mile mark with a few rollers, turning steeper at around mile 20.  Not sure where exactly the official KOM point was, but the high point came at around mile 22 or 23.  Then it was a constant up-down-up-down along some really ragged jeep roads until the turnaround point.  After a quick bottle refill and some gels, it was time to turn around.

By now Lee had bridged back up to me and we rode more or less together after the final aid station.  I say more or less because he would drift away on the hills thanks to his one gearing option being taller than my low gears, and then I would bridge back to him on the flats and descents thanks to my high gears.  He was a super nice dude to be riding with though, and it helped to be able to watch his line on a few of the treacherous sections of jeep road.  By the time we turned off of Wiregrass and back onto the last trails, I was beginning to get some crampy tightness in my quads and had to scale it back to some really low gears, which caused me to lose touch with the group we were in at that time….especially at the creek crossing, where I hit a rock wrong and got stopped in the water and had to walk out rather than maintain riding momentum.

Having nobody in sight behind, and just one other rider (from Bike Link Racing) in front of me I just took it easy until my legs felt strong enough to push the pace without cramping.  By the time I hit the last few miles of singletrack I was feeling really good, especially knowing that the race was almost over.  I pulled through the finish line with plenty of strength left, albeit with a sore neck and a headache (likely from dehydration), and was glad to see that I beat my previous year’s time by 50 minutes.

Knowing that I had some leftover energy and felt good, I shoulda/coulda picked up the speed a bit on a few of the long climbs and on the return leg of Wiregrass.  But really I’m happy with how I finished considering my sole objectives were to have fun, stay safe, and beat my previous times…..all of which were accomplished.  I got to ride and chat with some good folks along the way, and the Succeed S-caps tablets that I took (2 per hour, on the hour) did all I needed them to do in terms of fighting off my usual leg cramps.  Plus, with the weather being partly cloudy and ranging from probably upper 50s to lower 70s, it absolutely could not have been any nicer outside.  In addition to my trusty S-caps, I think what might have made the most positive difference for me this year was the fact that I decided just a few hours earlier to put my cadence sensor on my mountain bike (normally it’s on my cross/road bike).  This allowed me to drop into a lower gear to save muscle fatigue, while at the same time forcing me to be cognizant of my cadence so that I could keep it up around 85 to 95.  Normally I’m a heavy gear masher, utilizing higher gears at a cadence of around 65 to 70, which just wears my legs down over the course of a long race like this one.  But at a cadence of 90 on the hills, I was able to hit the flats feeling much fresher without the need for long recovery time.

Once again Brent Marshall and his crew pulled off a really fun event.  It was just as hard, and just as body-beating as I remember from the previous years, but it was still a lot of fun.  And the guys/gals from COGS really did a great job of keeping the trails maintained and in race-ready shape.

No pics are posted yet to the Skyway Epic facebook page, but if/when they are I will link them up.  My strava data can be found here.

Race Map - notice the major elevation change throughout the center of the race

Race Map – notice the major elevation change throughout the center of the race

2013 BBC Century ride

Posted in ride reports with tags , , , , , , on September 11, 2013 by 41flyersracing - o'kelley

I got my first chance to complete a road century this past weekend with the roughly 100-mile course that was part of this year’s BBC (Birmingham Bicycle Club) Century.  Before I get into the report, I need to say that the BBC folks did a great job of marking the course, which isn’t exactly easy considering the vast distance covered on a bunch of back roads.  They also had some darn good food on hand for us riders to enjoy.

As part of my riding crew, I hooked up with Alan Dobbins, Brad Gowing, Chad Etheridge, Josh Reidinger, Johnny Garlington, and Jonathan LeDuc.  All but Jonathan rode with me on a training ride a few weeks prior.  Once again we had a great time, even with hot (upper 80’s and low 90’s) weather with little cloud cover.  The ride started at 8am on Saturday at the Ashville High School.  There appeared to be perhaps 200 to 250 people riding this day, though many opted for the shorter 27-mile and 62-mile routes.  As a good side note, Josh had a total brain fart and put his foot down while still clipped in upon rolling up to the start….made for a comical fall for the rest of us, but actually a fairly painful knee gash/rash for Josh.

Upon leaving the school, which is on Alabama Hwy 25, we took a quick left on county Hwy 26, and then another left onto Hwy 33.  By the time we hit 33, the herd had been split enough to allow our group to form a casual paceline.  I took to the front for the first few miles, followed by Jonathan, who pulled us for a ridiculous 5 or 6 miles.  Turns out that Jonathan would spend quite a lot of time in the front of our paceline this day, which seemed to be completely fine with the rest of us.  Before we knew it, we were at the turn-off for the first aid station, which we decided to bypass considering we still had plenty of water in our bottles.  It was around this time though that a few of us noticed that the paceline we had been pulling for 12 miles had probably another 8 to 10 moochers sitting in our draft not wanting to do any work.

Pretty soon we found ourselves riding along the Coosa River (where it becomes the Neely Henry Lake) near some boathouses and boat slips.  It was actually quite a nice little view in some places and a pleasant reprieve from the endless pavement scenery.  After a short distance we hit the first real climb of the day, the Lister Ferry climb.  It really was not bad at all compared to the Cat 3 and Cat 4 climbs I am used to riding near my house at Mt Laurel.  But it nonetheless required some effort to grind it out, and it reminded me that I was on a CX bike and not a road bike and hence was paying a weight penalty of several pounds.  Pavement quality up to this point had been great, but quickly deteriorated once we turned onto Township Road halfway down the backside descent of Lister Ferry Road….I started to wish I would have kept my knobby tires on rather than the road slicks I installed.  Luckily the poor pavement would once again revert to the good stuff after a few miles.

Before we could hardly blink we arrived at Steele United Methodist Church, which was the next rest stop.  We took a break to refill our bottles and down some PB&J sandwiches.  I could smell some bacon cooking in the kitchen, which was making me way too hungry.  But, we still had 67 more miles to ride so we had to get going.

The next part of the ride had some great scenery, but this 27-mile stretch definitely seemed to take much longer than the previous 32 miles.  We got to ride near such great destinations as Sumatanga Lake and Horse Pens 40, which provided a wonderful backdrop.  It’s easy to forget how pretty so many parts of our state can be when you take the time to actually look around and enjoy it.  It was also on this stretch that we got to climb Chandler Mountain, which would take us to the highest point of the day (near Horse Pens 40).  The climb turned out to be more long than steep and really wasn’t a problem for anybody.  However, Chad and Josh ended up getting split from the group at the bottom of the descent and decided to be good samaritans and help out an older guy who was cramping really badly with no water left.  They stayed with him for a good while before meeting the rest of us back at Steele UMC for the next scheduled rest stop.  Johnny and I also got split off together on the twisty hills of Rocky Hollow Road and would end up riding back to the church with a very well-built lady that must have been a triathlete based on her physique.  I don’t recall Johnny complaining any about riding with her.

Back at the church, the volunteers had some BLTs flowing.  My stomach was feeling a little upset so I reluctantly passed on a BLT.  That might be my biggest regret for all of 2013.  Man, they smelled so good and looked so good.  Once we started riding again my stomach was fine, so I was mentally kicking my own butt for not partaking in the goodness that is fresh cooked bacon.  Alan, meanwhile, was looking like he was about to explode from gut rot so I think he probably made a wise choice to not enjoy a BLT of his own.

The next +/- 23 miles was relatively flat and posed no worries as we made our way to the final rest stop at St. Clair Baptist Church.  The only thing we had going against us at this point was that we were all running low on drinks and the sun had begun to pound away at us.  As with the previous rest stop, I drank an entire bottle of Gatorade while at the stop, in addition to making sure my bottles were filled up prior to hitting the road again.  I was also making sure to take at least one Succeed S-cap with every bottle that I drank in order to ward off my usual signature cramps.  They worked like a charm, as I never once felt crampy.  This is a big deal for me considering how many long races I’ve had ruined by severe cramping.

We were warned by another rider that the last 17 or so miles would suck and would feature a couple of killer climbs…one long sustained climb and one shorter but steep climb.  I can’t say that there was much to complain about though.  We had what I would almost call a long false flat that I supposed qualified as the long sustained climb.  Then we had two descent climbs.  The first was up St. Clair County Hwy 22, beginning at Pop’s convenience store.  As we ascended into the tree-covered roadway, the air got suddenly cooler…as in probably 10 degrees cooler.  It was a little odd, but felt great.  As we crested the hill, Josh started cramping up.  Johnny, Brad, and Jonathan didn’t realize that Josh was cramping and kept forging ahead.  Meanwhile, me, Alan, and Chad hung back to make sure the cramps would subside before riding again in earnest.  At one point Josh told me that his back was cramping…WTH, I didn’t know backs could cramp.  But it was, and then his calf started locking up.  I pulled out my trusty S-caps and gave 3 or 4 to Josh and within no time he was back to riding strong.  Our next hill would be our last, which came at around mile 95.  Like the other climbs, it came and went pretty quickly and we were left with a good downhill and then a smooth flat ride back to the school.

Overall it was a great ride, and certainly a good route to use for someone’s first century.  I only wish there was a little more climbing involved, considering Strava only has me down for around 3200 feet of climbing on the day.  I think in actuality it was closer to what the BBC reported as a little more than 4000 feet, but compared to some of my favorite mountain bike races like Big Frog 65 (more than 7500′) or Skyway Epic (6000′ feet) it didn’t feel like we climbed that much.  But the route itself was great, as were the volunteers.  There are three more century rides this year as part of the Alabama Backroads Century Series and I would love to be able to find some time to do one more this year.

foggy morning driving in.

foggy morning driving in.

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johnny and brad

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johnny, brad, alan, josh

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chad and jonathan

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chandler mountain in the distance

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johnny hamming it up

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