Thursday, February 28, 2008

My cross budget currency and they aren't dollars

This past season was pretty enlightening. It gave me some clear ideas of what gear is actually important and influential in the outcome of my race. And also what is not at all important. It was further reinforced by my trip to cross worlds. Hey, I know they are paid to ride what they ride, but it speaks volumes to me when I see a pro be ultra-anal about anything. I have never seen pros be more nuts about anything more than how nuts the crossers were about tread selection and pressure. From talking with people (pros and mechanics alike) on the mountain and road sides of things, I get the sense that there are a lot of pros who simply ride whatever the mechanic puts in their hands. The crossers, on the other hand, paid strict attention to all details. It reminded me of a pilot doing final checks before taking to the air. This was true of both the men and the women. And the last thing that was always checked and checked again was pressure. We also got to see them on Friday when they were out testing different treads and widths out on the course. The mechanics had lots of wheels in the pits and around the course for testing. That drove home the point even further.

Okay, I'm getting to my point now. We all have budgets to spend on our bikes. But around the late fall, I started to think of every cycling dollar I spent in terms of "could I get a bigger return on that dollar if it went towards another wheel set/tubular combination rather than what I am thinking of spending it on?" They weren't dollars anymore, they were tubulars.

There has been a lot of "ultimate build this" and "perfect frame material that" talk lately. You obviously need a bike to race. A reliable one that makes it through a race is the second most important thing. Even better if the bike fits and handles the way you want it to. But when you are 30 minutes into a race, I don't think it matters if you have D/A or 105 on your bike (provided the parts are in good working order and maintained). Your tires are still working for you though. Maybe they are even saving you! If given the option, I would always choose three sets of wheels and different treads over one set of bling wheels. The only wild card in this whole budget conversation and what should take priority is whether your area requires two bikes (like Portland) or if it is a nice to have (like New England over the past couple of seasons).

Cross is hard. The engine and mind are first and foremost important. Then you need a bike that will get you through a race. But in your preparations, what is the next most important thing? I’m truly beginning to believe that it is your selection of wheels, tires and a good pump and not a top-tier group set or a ti bolt kit or some such other nonsense.

Happy off season to you. The pre-season is right around the corner.