For the first time in several years, I signed up for Iceman. Truthfully, I’ve never been a huge fan of the race — I never perform as well as I’d like, it wrecks me physically, the sign-up is a disaster, etc. — but I signed up for something to do with my then kinda-new mountain bike.
Sign-up was once again a complete fiasco. I spent a loooong time on the bleeping internet trying got get myself into the race. Turns out that I actually signed up seven times. Fun! I watched the Iceman Facebook page to amuse myself with everyone else’s hostility, and Boy! were some folks angry. I know that the organizers do not wish for a screaming disaster every year, but it seems that there are many strategies that one might employ to smooth out the registration path. Then again, perhaps all publicity is good. Regardless, I got in with only minor indigestion.
Since the days of yore, or when I last participated in the race, they’ve gone to a new format. If you’re new to the race, you go with your age group. If you’ve done it before, you can be seeded in an earlier (and one assumes less-congested) wave based on your previous times. “They” say that they look back five years for your times. In my case they did not. However, the organizer did respond promptly and nicely to my email and had everything fixed up when I picked up my packet. Very nice.
As far as execution goes, I’d say the whole race went up two or three pegs on my ratings scale. Packet pickup was better than I recall, as were the expo and the typically very confusing finish area. Things were better explained. Signage was better. Everything seemed smoother. I salute race promotion and direction for kicking it up a notch.
About the Products
My bike was perfect and I think this race completely forged our bond. Though I know of at least two others at the race, mine was the only 650B/27.5″ bike that I saw. I kinda felt like it was my secret weapon. And what I’m talking about here is feeling good and confident on the bike. An example: there are a couple of descents in which I previously feared for my life (not really, but you get the idea). This year, the only thing making me touch the brakes was the dude in front of me.
I was very pleased with my drivetrain, 3×10 Shimano SLX. The 32-tooth middle ring combined with an 11-34 cassette gives mortals like me an incredibly broad range of gearing with no front shifting required. Yes, it got a little sandy/icy/crunchy at the end, but it continued to work without fail. I’m of the opinion that the Dumonde Tech chain lube I’ve been using had a positive effect on the situation.
Nearly funny story. I HATE cold hands, and took two pair of gloves to the race start. A pair of uninsulated, windproof gloves and a pair of lobster claws with an inner liner. I went with the latter and quickly discovered that I’d never ridden my bike in gloves like this and that I typically brake with only one finger. At first I was totally freaked out about changing my hand position for the entire race. Turns out that it wasn’t as bad as I initially feared, but it does reinforce the fact that one should be familiar with one’s gear.
Other things that performed well include the Velocity Blunt SL wheels and Schwalbe tires. I ran ’em tubeless and was very pleased with the package. I don’t think tubeless is for the faint of heart, but it does help make a low-weight, low-pressure, puncture resistant setup.
Holy crap have a lot of people purchased 29ers in the last three years. They were coming on strong three years ago when I last raced this thing, but they were *everywhere* last Saturday, many with rigid front suspensions. My very informal looking around poll says that a hard tail 29er is the most popular bike by a good margin, followed by dual-suspension bikes in both 29 and 26. Hardtail 26″ bikes are on the decline, but I doubt that this is much of a surprise to anyone. Fat bikes? A few. More power to the hardy souls who raced them.
What’s it all mean? As much as some would have you believe otherwise, it’s more than marketing dollars that have made 29ers so popular. They’re fun to ride. Very fun. I think 27.5/650B will provide a similar “fun-ness” upgrade to those folks who feel like a 29er is just too big in some way — wheelbase, perceived size, wheel/tire weight, geometry. Scott does a good job of organizing things here. Are Scott, Jamis and I trying to convince you that you should buy a 27.5″ bike? No. Instead, we suggest that it is an innovation worthy of consideration. There is fun to be had, and more than one way to find it.