Although 2017 did not prove to be a golden age for trail time or transitioning from my art business to finding a new path in the cycling industry, the year did close with me logging 25 miles rides on a near daily basis with Strava bests and often energy to spare for an extra 10 or 15 miles on top of a rather solid ride. After taking nearly 2 years + off to pursue life in front of a monitor, this past year marked the transition from obligatory riding to that compulsive urge that rips you from your chair regardless of the weather and becomes the voice in your head telling you it’s time to go for a pedal. In other words, I actually had fun being back in the saddle and managed to find that lost drive. For anyone planning a comeback after time off or should I say time away from really riding hard as I never truly stopped altogether, the magic feeling of being physically fit and in the groove takes about 6-9 months. Unfortunately, my luck at the gym was often soured by injuries, therefore my strength training goals went unrealized once again.
Now that I’ve managed to hit that 4000 mile mark, I feel ready to transition to base training including Mount Lemmon and Wrightston Mountain Climbs. Based on stories, I had expected turning 40 to mark the passage from youth to old age and not the passage from the energy of youth to the drive of middle age. In some ways, I’m actually stronger than my peak albeit still slower and well under my mileage goals.
Looking back at 2017, the absolutely best purchase of the year was 3 sets of SRAM Eagle 12 Speed Group Sets. The gaps between the cogs and shifting speed seemed to always leave me in the right gear instead of mashing in the large chain ring or spinning out in the small. I thought I would never leave 9 speed 2x, but that first ride on the Eagle with my Absolute Black 32T oval ring felt absolutely natural as opposed to forced or forced adaption.
While most of the “innovations” of 2017 like boost, the next BB size, even wider rims, or slack and long had absolutely no bearing on my overall cycling performance, the 12 Speed launched my riding to the next level immediately. My only complaints were the sensitivity of the B-Screw and not tightening the inner limit screw enough to prevent the chain from flying between the spokes and cassette on my first ride. Unlike the older cassettes, once the chain ends up stuck, you will be pulling and screaming on trail to get it out. The trick was backing out the thru-axle to slightly reduce hub pressure and then pull the chain free. Adjusting the 12x requires a bit more patience with tuning, but at least there’s no front derailleuer involved in the process. Unlike the 9 or 10 speed, the 12 speed has slightly less tolerance, so 1/2 or 1/4 turn to increase or decrease cable tension makes all the difference between smooth shifting or rubbing away. As I found out, the limit screws follow the same precise tuning requirements. The Sram Cranks just work without monkeying with spacers or shims stacks to reduce play and once dialed, the ride is buttery smooth on the Sram group. My take home advice is to use the B screw to fine tune chain tension in addition to the gap. The slightest bit increase or decrease in chain tension makes all the difference on full suspension bikes with chain growth issues.
Remarkably, the 12 speed reduced mashing which reduced my dreaded right knee chondromalacia pain and debilitating back aches on long climbs. Less time at the doctors office equals more trail time. I simply cannot emphasize enough the importance of maintaining a proper cadence vs mashing away especially on those looser climbs.