Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Belting Up Mt Washington

Yes, this post is about an event that happened a couple of weeks ago. Yes, I'm behind on the blog. What's new? At least I'm not as far behind as my friend Rob!

The 6 weeks between July's Newton's Revenge race up Mt Washington and the traditional August Mt Washington Hillclimb race was a very busy time for me. But with the motivation to do proper justice to my new Seven belt-drive fixie with extra special Mt Washington gearing, I decided to kick it up a notch and do some actual hill training.

I made a nuisance of myself on the various roads leading up to the Arlington Water Tower. I am either now considered part of the neighborhood watch program, or I've been reported by the neighborhood watch program. However, not being one for repeatedly going up the same road, I've found over a dozen different routes  up and a few different ways down, some of which had no Strava QOMs prior to my taking them! Of course, I don't expect them to last. Seems some of my fast female friends take great pleasure in finding and annihilating all my QOM times.

In another concession to training, one weekend, just for fun, Fear Rothar and I headed out to western Massachusetts to take in some of the steepest climbs in the state, including riding up Kingsley, Whitcomb and Monroe Hills in one day. John actually did them all twice! I even managed to fit in a nice climb up Pack Monadnock in the midst of a nice hilly ride in southern NH. It's the type of training I had hoped to get in before Newton's, but couldn't, due to the busted wing.

Speaking of which, when I went in for my 6 week x-rays, I was disappointed to see that I had not fully healed yet. According to the surgeon, even with the plate and screws, it still takes a couple of months for the bone parts to fuse. While the plate and screws fully support the arm, what the lack of healing means for me is that I still need to exercise extra caution riding to avoid falling! Fortunately for uphill only races, it's not much of a concern. Descending is another story, and I'll go into great detail about my lanterne-rouge type descents when I post about D2R2 next week. But that's me getting way ahead of myself.

Anyway, the days leading up to this race were less angst-filled than the days before Newton's this year. I still wasn't expecting a PR time, but I had a bit more confidence that it wouldn't be as bad as my last hillclimb. Hopefully it would be more like Newton's the previous year...

And that's pretty much exactly what happened. In fact, when I compared the two races - Newton's 2012 with Washington 2013, my times were within a few seconds at each mile marker.

The 30mph winds were stronger than last year's pristine conditions, but compared to Newton's this year with the 60mph sustained winds and hurricane force gusts, it almost felt still. The temps in August were much more to my liking as well, lovely and mild for the warmup, and a nice cool finish, so I did not overheat like I did in July.

I had not touched the race bike in between races. Initially I had planned to switch it back to normal gearing, but had a pretty hectic schedule in the six weeks, so I just left it as it was. If you've never ridden a wee-tiny-geared fixie, you might not appreciate how difficult it is to ride it on anything other than up a very steep mountain. With the 42X39 gearing, I can ride at about 5 mph. Anything faster than 5 mph gets into seriously high rpms. In fact one of the biggest challenges of Mt. Washington is the downhill start. Other riders may not think the start is downhill, but try it sometime on a fixie and you'll realize that it is! Because of this, I have to bring another bike for warmup. With plans to explore some dirt roads after the race and on Sunday, I had brought my Honey All Roads, complete with fenders and bar bag and big balloon tires. I got a few strange looks as I warmed up. Folks must have thought I was either stupid or a real animal!

After a short warmup, I packed away the Honey and pulled out the Cafe Loiterer, and walked down to the start line - walking because it is impossible to ride it down a hill! Then I rolled off with half of the old folks. The 45+ wave is the largest and they split this big old folks group alphabetically for some reason, so you may be racing against someone in your age group who starts 5 minutes ahead or behind. My one complaint is this. I wish they'd just further divide the group by age, but so be it.

I did notice that a lot of the usual suspect fast chicks in my age group weren't actually there, and for a brief second thought there might be a chance to bring home a big Mt Washington medal of my own - finally - after lots of fourth place finishes.

But I needed to take that pressure away so I could enjoy my spin up the rockpile. And that's precisely what I did. Yes, I really enjoyed it. I've been saying that eleven times racing up the rockpile is enough and I'm done, but I've found myself talking about next time recently!

Fixie Pixie, Fear Rothar, Henry, Jutta and Mary
I found the rest of the gang from Ride Studio Cafe at the top, with everyone else also quite happy to be on top and done with this insanity for the year!

After changing into warm clothes and grabbing a drink, I posed for the obligatory picture showing off how light the bike is.

Then we found Margaret and Phil for our ride down. As Phil drove us down, Margaret entertained us with tales from her Leadville race the weekend before.

John had a much better race than last year's duathlon, and took 2nd in his age group.

And thanks to so many of my contemporaries for staying home and letting me collect a bronze medal in the women's 50-54 age group. Finally my own Mt. Washington medal!

The Ride Studio Cafe crowd came home with a lot of hardware. Mary won her age group and Rich took the Clydesdale division. And John and I also got second family to add to our collection of family medals!

The bike is on display at Ride Studio Cafe for a few more days. But soon, I'll collect her, and convert her back to a normal road fixie, and I'll be beltin' all over eastern Massachusetts again... well beltin' and loitering!

And now the sun has set on hill-climb season for me. Bring on the dirt!


  1. What's your gearing for a "normal" road fixie? Do you use the same tires? Nice post! Jim Duncan

  2. The *normal* gearing is 50X21. Gates only make one size (21) threadon/fixed sprocket. This combination works well for me on the nearby rolling to hilly terrain. I had the bike built to take 700X30's with fenders. For the hillclimb, I used some high performance 700X23 tires, and left the fenders and a few other extra parts at home. But for normal riding, I mostly use either 700X28s or 30's. Our roads are pretty rough here, and the extra volume comes in quite handy, especially on the fixie.