Monday, March 24, 2008

29ers and the 2008 Gary Fisher Paragon

On Sunday, I rode my wife's new Gary Fisher Paragon 29er a few laps around Bluff Creek Ranch. She picked up the bike a few days ago and she was gracious enough to let me swing a leg over it. We're lucky enough to be within 3/4" of each other in height, so all my loan took was a peddle and seat swap. I can't believe she finds her saddle comfortable. The Paragon is an all aluminum 29er hardtail with a Fox RL. The components are a mix of SRAM X.9 and Bontrager (Trek) Race Lite. It's even tubeless ready. I should mention the powder blue paint as well. Pretty. Fisher has been building 29ers for a while and the geometry of this one was pretty dialed in, including a 51mm offset on the front fork crown to quicken steering. Bluff Creek was a great spot for a test ride to see how the whole package worked.

I'll try to compare my Yeti with the Fisher. Remember, however, that the test is unscientific and I have no experience reviewing bikes (just wine and sushi).

Let's start with a geometry comparison between my Yeti A.R.C. and the Paragon - both 19" frames when measured from the center of the BB to the top of the seat collar. I've tried to convert the Yeti measurements to metric, but you should consult the Yeti website for more accurate geometry.
MeasurementYeti A.R.C.Gary Fisher Paragon
Seat Tube19"19"
Wheelbase1,072 mm1,121 mm
Head tube114.3 mm102.5 mm
Top Tube Horizontal594.4 mm622 mm
Standover767.1 mm772.5 mm

Aside from the identical 19" seat tubes, the standover is also similar. This is significant, as the axles and ergo the frame sits 1.5 inches higher on the Paragon than the A.R.C.. In theory, this should raise the standover 1.5 inches as well. However, that's not the case because as you can see the head tube on the Fisher is over a centimeter shorter than the Yeti. Plus the headset on the Fisher is a ZeroStack 2 which shaves the distance between the fork crown and the bottom of the head tube. The lower, shorter head tube and also a lower intersection of the top tube with the seat tube combine to make the standover almost equivalent. Now take a look at the top tube and the wheelbase. Whoa - big difference! The Paragon is certainly longer. Now that's partly standard Fisher geometry - longer top tube and a shorter stem. It's worth mentioning though that Yetis are also traditionally long bikes.

What does this mean on the trail? I think it means the following:
  • Better stability when pointed downhill from the longer wheelbase and the ability of the larger wheels to make all obstacles seem smaller.
  • Better traction going uphill and through the turns from the larger tire patch.
  • Faster climbing. I can't explain this one. Sorry.
  • The bike is harder to lean over than the Yeti in the turns. But so far the bars are still super wide and cutting them down might fix this.
  • A difference in acceleration probably exists, but I'm not sure I noticed it.
  • Overall I think the Paragon is faster for me in rough singletrack, climbs, and descents. It seems to offer no speed advantage on flat, straight, and smooth trails.
I worry what affect the advantages of 29er bikes might have on MTB racing. Will the sport now favor taller riders? Shorter riders might have a hard time getting the geometry to work for them without significant tradeoffs.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Forchini Beausierra 2004

Another bottle from a Whole Foods wine run earlier this month. This is a bit of a stealth wine in that the label kinda says "I'm an Italian wine", when in fact this wine if from California. Jeez, just look at the name of thing for goodness sakes. When the father of that guy in Breaking Away was sick of eating Italian food, he said, "I know I-tey food when I hear it! It's all them "eenie" foods... zucchini... and linguini... and fettuccine." Or in this case - Forchini.

Of course, it's not only from California, it's also a blend - mostly Cabernet.

The Beausierra smelled a little flowery in the glass. Or maybe all the wildflowers coming up around Texas have seeped into my consciousness. Time to drink!

Fruity start, a little viney in the middle, a really nice sweet smoky finish that feels good in the mouth. Sounds a lot like my pre-ride for the Warda race today. Not my favorite wine, but pretty good, so I give it two chainrings. Drink well.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Managing Our Perspective

Recently a friend of mine requested a post about the 'gaze' of upper management that falls on us when we or the teams we lead experience a failure, mistake, or setback. Management rarely feels easy and this aspect of it brings a large share of emotional pressure to our work. This pressure usually increases in proportion to the size of the group we manage. The bigger the group, the likelier the odds of a failure and the greater the chance of that failure being spectacular. Hey, management isn't for everybody.

During a race this spring I crashed twice and I felt pretty shaken up after the second fall. I quickly went from pushing myself too hard to not pushing hard enough. Getting my head back in the race and off of those falls required that I re-focus on my larger goal - winning the race. I had to place everything in the right perspective. The crashes were behind me, the finish line was still a long way off in front of me.

Dealing with the emotional pressure of personal or team failures becomes easier by keeping these setbacks in the right perspective. If we make the job about ourselves, then the failure will be about us. But the job isn't about us, it's mainly about two other things: our customers and the vision guiding the long-term goals of our teams.

Focusing on our customers. There are failures that affect them and failures that don't - we need to tell the difference. My failure to get HR documents delivered on time (while certainly a bad thing) has little bearing on the network uptime of my customers. Our intra-departmental failures generally have a shorter term impact than mistakes affecting our customers and the former should have much smaller emotional impact on us than the latter. Often, it's a disconnect from our customers and a focus on ourselves that erroneously flips the impact around.

Focusing on our vision. Our political mistakes and losses that we experience in management can be rough, but the day to day wins or losses of various battles should only matter in as much as they impact our goals that are two, five or ten years out. I've lost my fair share of arguments, but no matter how personal the disagreements feel or how personal the other person makes them, it's the impact on my team's vision that matters. Again, focusing on the long term takes ourselves (and our bruised egos) out of the equation by putting the failure in the right perspective.

Sometimes our failures directly affect our customers and sometimes they can be quite damaging to our long term goals. I'll save thoughts on that for another post.

Until then, manage well.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Blue Fin Sushi

The half-full glass: Best pepper tuna in Houston. Very good miso.
The half-empty glass: The maki tasted good, but not great. Long drive from the center of Houston.

Blue Fin Sushi exists as the slightly less see-and-be-seen version of Uptown Sushi. I've heard that getting a weekend table at Uptown Sushi required more patience than a trip to the DMV. I loathe the DMV - the TVs they installed do little to ease the pain. Blue Fin, anyway, shares the same culinary DNA as Uptown. Good times.

The crew was six tonight, so after pulling into the strip Blue Fin calls home, we grabbed our table (reserved - not that we needed it). Once again, as much as I hoped, the green tea was not as good as Ra's. (Shatner moment: Raaaaaaa!) But the sake menu displayed good variety and offered surprisingly good prices. We went with a bottle of Sushi Crew standard - the Hakushika Junmai Ginjo. The scenery, while lovely, reminded me too much of my grandmother's taste in fancy white dining room decor. I fear the Crew falls short of Blue Fin's age target.

We went with a mix of sashimi and maki because the special roll selections looked quite intriguing and ya know... sashimi. Great fish! Outstanding pepper tuna. I'm the one who voted for the fresh belly salmon - oddly average tasting and the only downer. On the other hand, the yellowtail, flounder, and sea bass all delivered excellent flavor and freshness. Our second round of sashimi? All pepper tuna. Shocking, I know - but I haven't been to Zake in a while for their pepper tuna and Blue Fin's was in high demand among the crew. Saba guy lived up to his namesake and ordered saba. I guessed he liked it. Gross - I'd rather eat raw quail egg. And I do, thank-you very much. But not that night.

No worries, there was more to Blue Fin than a good selection of affordable sake and awesome pepper tuna. We finished with a round of miso: traditional, orzo, and avodaco. All sweet, full flavored and wonderfully textured. Highly recommended.

Oh yeah, the rolls. Presented beautifully but... sigh. Well, not everyone shared my lack of enthusiasm for Blue Fin's maki. Here's the rundown:
  • 7 & 1/2 roll: Tuna, salmon, yellowtail, masago, and avocado rolled and tempura fried. Served with spicy pepper paste, eel sauce, and japanese mayo. The most popular among the crew (a second was ordered). I don't get all gooey over tempura fried rolls - I think it dampens the taste. Oh wait - it does. But I'll admit, this was one of the best tempura fried rolls I've eaten.
  • Red Roll: Avocado, cucumber, fresh jalepeno, sprouts, and shrimp on the inside with thin slices of tuna and our spicy pepper paste on the outside. Oddly lacking in any sort of distinctive flavor. I wanted this to be so much better than it was - just vague mild rice-fish-pepper flavor.
  • Millennium Roll: Spicy tuna toped with peppercorn seared tuna and avocado. Drizzled with ponzu and sesame oil. Pretty good - it has pepper tuna. So, duh. Very similar to a Zake roll for those of you who know what I'm talking about. And I think that you do. Or not.
  • Scuba Diver Roll: Soft Shell crab topped with salmon, tuna, and avocado. Not as good as a simple spider roll from let's say... Nippon!
  • Shrimp Tempura Roll. The lady ordered this one - apparently a bit bland. I'm sensing a "bit bland" theme with the maki.
And I felt the edamame was somewhat overcooked. Nobu spoiled me on this one.

The drive might be worth the pepper tuna and the miso. If you live out on the west side of Houston, I recommend making Blue Fin a regular stop.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Outback Blowout 2008 - Haiku Edition

Great weather to race
Well organized and well marked
An amazing course

Roller coaster trails
Climbs, twists, fast descents, and rocks
Thank goodness no sand

No mechanicals
A great start for me
Went too hard too soon

Started in third place
But I finished in twelfth place
Best that I could do

Good to see the guys
Clint, Seth, and Lonn showed up too
Metcalf took the win

Gorgeous day to drive
Wildflowers and blue bonnets
Good race everyone

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Finding the 'Out'

"Never write when you can talk. Never talk when you can nod. And never put anything in an e-mail."

Elliot Spitzer spoke those words. Words I've often considered and words spoken by a man I once admired. My heart goes out to him and his family as they work through their crisis.

In training for cycling, as in most athletic training, coaches, trainers, and athletes universally apply the theory of alternating periods of intensity and rest. The human condition both mentally and physically improves when it's pushed to the limit and then rested to let the body and mind adapt to the new limits. It's often best to enter periods of rest on our own, before our bodies or other external factors force rest upon us - usually the case. Rest, however, isn't as easy as it sounds.

People as focused and unrelenting as Elliot Spitzer never cease being energized by their internal drive. Their desire to create change, solve problems, and enjoy the mental and emotional highs of success continue even during periods of rest. A balanced life provides us with an 'out' for each of the shifting aspects of our lives - the periods of intensity and rest within our jobs, family, and training. Perhaps political realities forced Governor Spitzer's work life into a period a rest and he had no out for the drive and fire within him. Does this sound familiar? It should if you were reading the news during Bill Clinton's second term in office.

By the fall of 2007, the two year deployment of my organization's new data network and my own new management position left me in a near state of burnout. My period of rest had arrived, whether I wanted it or not. But just because the locomotive has slowed doesn't mean the engine's stopped. Think of the 'out' as a place steam needs to go when a valve is turned off - another valve must then open or the pressure builds up (surely I've hit my quota for metaphors on this post). Anyone reading my blog knows I'm no stranger to wine (or sake) and anyone familiar with Houston knows well both its club scene and its score of gentleman's clubs. But as you the reader have no doubt already figured out, I found my 'out' by getting back into mountain bike racing. True, like Governor Spitzer, I do suffer from an addiction, but it's an addiction to coffee and not infidelity. Mmmm... coffee.

Find your out! Parent? Try coaching. Dating? Try gourmet cooking. Single? Pick a sport and stick with it. Not the athletic type? Become an niche expert in a larger body of knowledge and start a blog about it (I suggest Australian blended red wine - California is taken).

You will need rest. You will need an out. And remember, World of Warcraft requires an monthly fee. On the other hand, a good mtb racing bike these days is about $3000.

Manage well.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Encore Red Medley 2003

My latest trip to Spec's brought this one back for $11.79 at the end of February of this year. Let's get started.

The nose in the glass offers a soft approachable fruity aroma.

The Encore gives a rich start then the middle is a bit astringent, but it moves into a buttery tone that goes all the way to the end of the finish.

This is a decent red table wine, not outstanding, but also maybe not worth paying over $10. I've had better wines for a couple of dollars less. I expected more maturity from a 2003.

I don't get any wierd flavors from it, but nothing really interesting either. Basically a mild red without being weak or limp tasting.

This wine comes from the mega vineyard of the Delicato Family. They are growing a lot of varietals on their 9,400 acres of vine. The fact that they don't list the blend percentages causes me to wonder whether the Red Medley was maybe a bit a of broom wine and not a goal in and of itself. Well, it's not listed as a meritage. Two chainrings - I'm not buying any more, but maybe you can find it on sale. Drink well.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Nobu Dallas Sushi Review

One finds Nobu Dallas beyond a heavy nondescript wooden door tucked to the side of the main entrance of the Rosewood Crescent Hotel. Picture Gandalf arriving at Bilbo's small home, except in this case the Shire is $10,000 per square foot real-estate. Even writing this review is intimidating.

The old wizard wouldn't have banged his head on this ceiling. A soaring room of warm wood and stone surfaces greets visitors. The sushi bar met all of my criteria: high comfortable stools with someplace to put my feet and an excellent view of the chef's work surface. All the stress produced by navigating downtown Dallas to get there melted away instantly. The bar also kept our backs to the regular parade of local elite coming to be seen.

Frankly, I would have enjoyed smaller, less extravagant surroundings in which to enjoy this food, but not if it meant giving up the service. I can't recall ever having been served better in my life. The staff seems to have telepathic powers that bring them by whenever the smallest need arises, but never otherwise. I'm also willing to accept an explanation of consisting of hidden cameras and microphones.

Prior to our meal my wife and I planned on this visit being a once in a lifetime event. We've since begun strategizing a way to become regulars. In accordance with the former plan, I ordered the omakase. This comes in two versions, one $95 and another $125. Our server described the difference to us as the $125 omakase using more exotic ingredients and more items not available on the menu. Nobu describes their omakase as a meal 'from the heart' of the chef - custom created based on a dialog between him and me. That became true to a degree. When asked about my favorite fish, I replied yellowtail. This produced a somewhat yellowtail theme. However, certain dished were clearly standard among everyone ordering omakase that night - an off-the-menu menu sampler of sorts. I know this because the person sitting two stools to my right ordered the same omakase. We'll get to him later. Here's the meal - by course, in order.

We started with Edamame. Our server asked, so why not. Well, I'll tell you why - even though we're talking top notch edamame here (yes, something as simple as steaming can be done better at Nobu), the stomach only has so much room to expand.

The usual little treat for sitting at the sushi bar came next - a small round of minced salmon wrapped in a thin radish strip topped with cilantro pesto. The fish looked a little white to be salmon, but a very nice way to get the brain switched to eating.

Course one consisted of a small round cake of minced toro topped with black caviar sitting in a brown wasabi sauce. All presented in a glass cup nested in a bowl of crushed ice. Our server presented a small spoon used to scoop all three ingredients into each bite. The flavor blew me away and this course stands out as the best of the night.

A raw seafood quartet cam next- eaten in order per instructions clockwise from the top left:
* Yellowtail w/ thin jalepeno pepper slices.
* Raw oyster half shell drizzled with ponzu.
* White tuna with miso flakes.
* Seared Japanese golden wall eye in chili oil.
Here the white tuna stood out with a sweetness enhanced by the miso flakes. The oyster was good, but the yellowtail and the wall eye were better.

Course three arrived as yellow tail sashimi set in a plate of hot mustard miso sauce. The excellent sauce overpowered the delicate nuances of the very fresh fish. My least memorable course of the night - but still excellent.

A salmon trio then arrived not from the sushi bar, but form the kitchen. Three large pieces of almost completely raw salmon seared across the top, each served with a different style. Cajun spices dusted salmon one, a Hawaiian chutney crowned salmon two, and salmon three sat with a small dollop of guac and another of finely minced pico de gallo.

Course five turned a bit heavier with wagyu beef seared rare w/ mushrooms and bok choy. Perfectly tender and flavorful. I'm really running out of room at this point. The chef sensed this and told me he would only prepare sashimi for the next course instead of sushi.

Ah, the sashimi: toro, yellowtail, aji, octopus w/ roe, and giant clam. I requested the aji and yellowtail, but he didn't let me miss out on some really excellent toro. I can't really distinguish between good and bad giant clam.

Course seven, a bowl of enokitake mushrooms in a clear hot broth arrived quickly after the sashimi to help settle things down (and make me drowsy). To be honest, I liked the soup, but I don't remember much more about it.

Our server decided we should share the desert so my wife and I split some sort of chocolate cone filled with a sort of chocolate mouse accompanied by a small cup of fruit-infused sparkling saki with a tiny floated sherbet ball inside. The chocolate cone was good, but the sake was truly original and interesting.

Go. Worth every penny no matter how many times you do it. I hope.

End Notes:

I was expecting hot green tea as good as the nutty green tea at Ra. Nope. Just the standard hot green tea served everywhere but Ra.

Our neighbors at the sushi bar came dressed in vans, jeans, and leather jackets - apparently guests at the Crescent. The snippets of overheard conversation convinced me they worked for the Val Halen tour recently arrived in Dallas. Cool reserved guys that worked hard at steering conversation away from their reason for being in town. I got a lot of questions about mtb racing.

If your trying to follow the order of events, here's the weekend's time line:
* Friday evening drive to Dallas
* Saturday morning pre-ride at Bar-H
* Saturday night dinner at Nobu
* Sunday afternoon race
* Sunday night drive back to Houston

This will sound like bragging, but a night at Nobu can only be enhanced exponentially by the accompaniment of a hot, young, slim, 5' 11" former model turned fantasy fiction writer. Fortunately for me, I've taken her off the market (for you gearheads out there: the ring is 6/4 titanium).

Our Lexus usually seems out of place at the mtb races for obvious reasons - even if the gigantic trunk does swallow the Yeti. Watching the valet pull it up at Crescent Court made it look out of place for a whole different set of reasons. Maybe it was the mud splatters on the sides and the bike tools in the back seat. Or maybe it was the sea of Bentleys and Lambos surrounding it.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Bar-H Bash 2008

The Texas Championship Series continued after Mas o Menos with the Yeti/Mad Duck Bar-H Bash. Let's go down the list of ominous signs, ill-portents, and bad juju that surrounded this race:
  • The weather consisted of high winds, light rain, and dark skies. A general doom-is-approaching-get-your-butt-indoors kinda vibe. My heart goes out to the beginners women racers who stuck it out to the end for their trophies. The wife and I didn't make it past the junior riders. Sorry - we tried.
  • The plenitude of tire pressure sucking foliage. I pulled my bike out of the car to find a flat rear tire and a little black thorn picked up in the pre-ride from the day before. I'm sorry, were you hoping to pass using the side of the trail? You'll have to pass through the tire-doom-thorn-vines to do that!
  • How often do you accidentally bend your rear derailleur tab enough to cause shifting problems? How often does it happen ten minutes before the start of the race? I owe the Mad Duck mechanic an iced bucket of longnecks for that save.
  • I'll spare you the port-a-potty descriptions. They made tenting in Terlingua look like a night at the Four Seasons.
The Bar-H folks put on a good race. A big race. Yeti was there with Seth looking scruffier than I pictured him over the phone. They brought a fleet of sweet Yeti demo bikes. A Spot Bikes trailer and the Mad Duck RV (of course) arrived as well. Dallas gave a huge turnout of riders of all types. The race came with cool chainring trophies and a pretty well organized start. The gals running the result sheets were getting times and ranks up lightning fast.

The Bar-H Bash Course
The course started flat for about two miles running over exposed jeep road and wooded singletrack before hitting the main climb. The ascent got a little tricky in parts, but it transitioned pretty fast to a short rocky rolling ridge line trail. Then a couple of quick bombing descents led into a series of twisty rolling hills with a lot of fun woop-dee-doos and tight corners. Then the flats arrived with a short ravine half-pipe and a loose gravelly run along the bottom of the same to break up time in the strong wind. It all ended with a trip back into the previously mentioned wooded singletrack before landing a short uphill finish. Personally I found it too sandy in parts. You'll see why in my rundown...

My Bar-H Bash Rundown
A lot of local Dallas boys sprinted off the line, blew up their lungs, and then sat up after 5 minutes. Due to a poor performance on the start line by yours truly, I had to pass them all. Joy. Then I somehow tangled my bar ends with a rider I tried to pass. That ended poorly as I was then passed by half a dozen riders I had just worked to get around not 30 seconds before. Ugh. Fortunately I blazed the climb, cleaning the whole thing. This included a short steep sandy left turn that I couldn't clean in the pre-ride. By the time I hit the top of the main descent after rocking the ridge line, I had picked off about another ten riders. But the course and my ride so far did start to go downhill. I figured my place to be somewhere in the top five at this point, so I tried to hammer the twisty rolling hills after the descent as fast as possible. Naturally this led to me crashing. Deep enough sand at the bottom of hills planted my front wheel and threw me over the bars. Twice. Between both faceplants, I had three riders pass me. Plus, the stem on the Yeti was twisted, but not enough for me to loss time trying to tweak it straight again. Working my butt off in the strong winds on the flats let me catch one of them before heading into the last section of wooded singletrack. I tried like heck to catch the next rider after that, but he turned out to be in a different category and I hammered through the finish line in seventh place out of 41 riders.

End notes:
  • My first try with a Cliff Shot. Yech - but worth the carbo kick.
  • I recommend Sarah's on the Square in Gainesville. It used to be a saloon/brothel, but now serves excellent cuisine instead of frontier entertainment.
  • Time to switch to tubeless. I don't want to make excuses for the two crashes but...
  • Clint Fontenot, the 30-39 beginner points series leader, rode a great race coming in first again. I plan to be glued to the rear wheel of his Cannondale in Waco. Unless of course Seth is there instead.
  • Hello to Nick, Lynne and the Martinez(?) family!