Sunday, September 6, 2015

Raising Hellga

Although last weekend was the first 'cross race of the season, it still doesn't feel like it's officially 'cross season yet. Most of the people in the region that skipped Cross of the Corn are kicking their season off today at Granogue, and next weekend will the be the definite, for sure, entry into the Pennsylvania cyclocross season at Nittany Lion Cross. For me, the last week has been an even greater fast forward of the seasons than racing 'cross in August; I've skipped right past the 'cross season into winter.

After my first terrible winter in Pennsylvania, from which I'm only now starting to finally starting to feel recovered, I knew that I would need a fat bike if I wanted to keep my sanity through another winter here. When my go-to brand of Giant/Liv somewhat unsurprisingly did not introduce a fat bike for 2016, I expected to buy a Specialized, since that was what was offered by the shop where Frank works. I was a bit surprised and happy when the rumor of their upcoming women's fat bike model was "leaked". For a short-legged girl like me, the option of a slopier top tube and prettier colors are always a good thing. Plus, I was determined to make #raisehellga a hashtag on par with #makeitreign for lovers of Giant's all-mountain offering.

Hellga arrives.

So while Frank was working at the shop a couple of weeks ago, he noticed that the teal Hellga Comp model was available to order and the smalls seemed to be going pretty quickly. Despite my earlier determination that I had to pay for my wedding dress before buying a fat bike, I decided to go ahead and order it so that I didn't miss out on the good color. The problem with wedding dresses versus bikes is knowing exactly what I want regarding the latter and not so much the former, and the fact that the bike will see a lot more long-term use.

At least I thought I knew what I wanted regarding the latter. I'm pretty much used to the smallest size of the bike that I want being borderline too big for me and being forced to make it work. In the event that there is an extra small size available in the model I want, it's always a debate as to whether I should order a small or extra small, so with the Hellga only going to size small, I didn't think too much about which size to order. The problem is that I have never ridden a Specialized before, and I didn't realize that their women's models are legitimately sized down from their men's, rather than just having the proportions tweaked. So essentially the small Hellga that I ordered was an extra small by most other bike size standards.

I have ridden a couple of extra small women's bikes in the past, and they were both a bit short in the reach. One of these was my long-serving 2011 TCX W that I raced for five seasons, so obviously it worked out okay for me. The proportions of the bike were weird, so I needed an extra small for the standover height and the short top tube worked out because it made the bike very "whipable" for 'cross corning. I struggled with the fit on my extra small 2007 Anthem W a bit more, and it required a setback seat post and a lot of tweaking to get me really comfortable. I did manage to ride it for 2.5 seasons and finish two Ouachita Challenges on it, though.

So far Hellga has given me more grief of any bike I've owned so far. We had to steal the seat post/saddle off my Lust to make it even tolerable, and also added a 15mm longer stem. After riding it on Tuesday and Wednesday nights while struggling to get comfortable, I took it back to the shop to get an actual fit on Thursday. He got me into a pretty good position by raising the saddle up quite a bit, and Frank has ordered a new seat post with more setback that will hopefully help further. However, I'm still feeling like an idiot for not checking the sizes more before ordering, and I keep wondering if I would be struggling so much if I'd ordered a medium.

Fat Bike BMX is invented.

Fit drama aside, I'd already decided when I ordered it that I would use this last, long, free weekend before 'cross as a chance to test my fat biking limits. After all, I can't really return the thing at this point, so I might as well ride it for a while and try to make it work. I've been doubting my ability to actually ride the long gravel climbs of Rothrock on a heavy bike when they're covered in snow, so I decided the best way to alleviate this fear was to prove that I could at least ride them without snow.

So yesterday Frank and I headed out on a 35-mile, 4400 feet of climbing ride over gravel and 4x4 road, him on his singlespeed and me on Hellga. Yes, it was uncomfortable as hell, as one would expect riding a fat bike that long would be when you're not used to it, as with just suddenly switching to flat bars for long-distance riding in general. The riding position after my fit felt good for when I was feeling good, but I still felt very cramped in the "sit back and mash" position that I adopt when my quads start to go on long climbs. I think a bit more tweaking will be required.

In which I #raisehellga for the final time of an extremely difficult ride.

The good news is that I managed to summit a good sampling of Rothrock's toughest climbing without even getting into my small ring, so I have plenty of gearing left for winter. I actually PR'd a 4x4 road climb that is pretty bumpy and was wet and soft when I rode it on my 'cross bike before. I guess smoothness counts more than weight savings sometimes. Even though my body feels like I've been beaten all over today, I'm feeling good about my ability to actually be able get real rides in during the nasty conditions of winter.

Now that we have winter squared away, it'll be time to re-focus on 'cross after the soreness lets up. I got some good news this week in the form of a PACX schedule change which fills in a previous gap weekend and takes away a race that I was going to have to miss anyway. The way that it's working out, it looks like I might be sneaking Iron Cross into my regular 'cross season so that I get a little reward for all of my gravel riding of late. I'm pretty excited for both fall and winter now.

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