The Outside Blog

Skiing and Snowboarding : Biking

Riding Away from a Broken Marriage

The white, handlebar-mounted LEDs blink in the distance—beacons on a dark and cool Texas winter morning. Perched on my road bike, layered in cycling clothes, I ride toward the lights, pedaling harder, even though I can barely see the pavement in front of me.

Running over a rock could send me flying into the traffic to my left, where, at 6:30, commuters are speeding to beat Austin’s rush-hour backups. But all I care about is covering a quarter-mile fast enough to catch the guys in my Wednesday-morning group ride. Its potential to ease my sadness with 30 miles of punishing pace outweighs the risks.

It’s February 2013, the bleak middle of the most miserable winter of my life. Just a year and a half ago, my wife, Madeleine, and I, along with our two children, were living in the Bay Area, with a big move ahead of us. We had committed to relocating from our home near San Francisco, where I grew up, to Texas, where she’s from. For me, the decision to leave everything I knew behind was hard, but the timing felt right. Madeleine had long wanted proximity to family and old friends, and over the previous two decades she’d moved around plenty for my sake. We needed to downsize, and our son and daughter were still young. So off we went.

Our relationship wasn’t seamless. During 18 years of marriage, we’d sometimes struggled, and more than once we’d discussed splitting up. But there were plenty of good things, too. I wrote from an office and came home to dinner on the stove. Madeleine bought the groceries; I paid the bills. She started a photography business. We traveled and had fun together, and of course we enjoyed our kids.

The Tilin family arrived in Austin in the summer of 2011, when central Texas was baking under record-breaking heat. Sweat pouring off me, I broke down moving boxes in the garage of a house we’d found in a quiet neighborhood. We’d moved to a part of town where school buses rolled through the streets and people hosted Texas Independence Day parties. Working in that garage, arranging the bikes I’d ridden for years as an amateur racer, I’d watch groups of cyclists coast by. A good omen!

Within weeks I’d started riding with a band of mostly middle-aged guys who also juggled kids and careers. They called themselves Gruppo VOP, and while the letters stood for Velo on Peloton, I preferred the nickname Very Old People. They wore matching red and yellow kit, made endless jokes, and tried to pedal each other into submission. Arriving as a stranger, I considered myself lucky to find them. What I didn’t know back then was just how lucky I was.

The kids adapted to their schools, Madeleine reconnected with family and friends, and, predictably, our relationship’s problems survived the move. For years she’d thought I lived more in my head—ruminating and worrying—than in my heart. She said I was too reactive. For my part, I sometimes felt like my wife’s dad. I’d ask her, nicely and otherwise, to be less impulsive about socializing and spending. Sometimes keeping up with Madeleine exhausted me.

The move to Austin intensified our friction. While I worked or hung with the kids, Madeleine stayed out late with her friends, and I’d fume. At other times, my condescension would prompt her to flee. When my indignation and her restlessness ran neck and neck, I’d find myself so low and confused that I’d start singing lines from Train’s "Drops of Jupiter," which gives voice to a partner who feels abandoned by a footloose mate:

But tell me, did the wind sweep you off your feet?
Did you finally get the chance to dance along the light of day
And head back toward the Milky Way?

Half a year after arriving in Austin, on Valentine’s Day 2012, we sat down at a bistro. I’d covered the table with rose petals, but Madeleine looked right through me, and our marriage felt like it was over. Months after that, she wondered aloud in couples therapy if I’d ever be the guy for her again.

That was it. My behavior could torment my wife. Her behavior caused me to lose all faith. One year after that dismal Valentine’s Day, I moved out.

The leap into the unknown in Texas became a plunge into darkness. Confused, furious, and depressed, I was suddenly just another man in his forties enduring a marriage breakup. Increasingly sad and seeing my kids only half-time, I looked for something to settle my anxieties. Alcohol wasn’t an option—I’m not a big drinker. I couldn’t swing a Porsche.

So I turned to the machine and sport that, for decades, had brought me joy. This time, though, there was a lot to work through on the bike. Some emotions were too deep and unprecedented to be easily anesthetized by speed and adrenaline.

I needed to train. I needed a goal. But I ultimately discovered that I needed something else, too.

On that early morning last February, I catch the VOP riders as the pack moves south on the shoulder of Austin’s Capital of Texas Highway. The ride starts only blocks from my home—what was home, that is. Like a flash of light, I suddenly inventory my existence and what I’ve lost, how the children and Madeleine are, right now, starting another day without me.

But my fellow VOPers slowly tease me out of my funk, and soon I’m chatting as well as building strength for a cycling adventure that’s ten weeks away.

"You chillin’, Tilin?" says Brad Houston, with a honeyed Texas accent. Brad and I are pedaling in the middle of an 18-person group, which moves as one through a subdivision called Travis Country. "Or did you come to make a guy like me suffer?"

We turn right onto the shoulder of Southwest Parkway, which marks the end of the warm-up. The Wednesday-morning VOP ride is notably cruel: no agreed-upon pace, no understanding that everyone takes a turn pulling the others. Anarchy can prevail. Speeds are often fast.

With a glance over my left shoulder, I briefly glide into Southwest Parkway’s right-hand lane to move to the front. In an instant, three guys zip past me.

Game on.

I shift into a harder gear, demand more power from my quads, and settle into the trio’s slipstream. They’re all huffing. I’m huffing, too, and loving every second of it. 

But making other riders miserable isn’t my objective. After all, it’s the self-deprecating, 55-year-old Houston—a personal-injury lawyer specializing in cycling cases and a descendant of Texas icon Sam Houston—who gets much of the credit for reviving my love of cycling. I’d arrived in Texas out of shape and uninvolved in the sport. Then I met Brad, a dedicated rider with a politician’s appetite for meeting people and building community. He launched VOP in 1999. 

"Join us," he told me over the phone. "It’s a bunch of old guys."

They didn’t ride like geezers. For months I watched the others pull away on Austin’s rolling, challenging terrain. Brad kept encouraging me to come back, and over time I managed to keep pace and get to know everybody. It’s a great group: Mike wisecracks; Rob and Greg obsess over winning the "primes," the races within the rides; the two long and lean Dans tend toward subtle sarcasm; Ken H. and the two Daves are polite and gracious; and Frank, a multi-time state cycling champion, always seems happy.

Off the bike, I’d told a few VOPers about my personal problems, and they’d taken me out for beers and pep talks. The guys knew I was unleashing my demons on the bike and helped me stick with it. By the time I’d decided to move out, in the fall of 2012, I could take turns leading the peloton.

But it wasn’t until late December of that year, when I got an e-mail from Frank—58-year-old Frank Kurzawa, a fixture of Texas racing for two decades—that I found the distraction I’d sought. Frank wrote to remind me and other VOPers that registration had opened for the Tour of the Gila, a springtime, multi-day stage race for pros and amateurs held in the steep mountains of southwestern New Mexico.

"May 1st to 5th," said the e-mail. "An amazing race in an amazing place."

I wanted in. The training would consume me, and the race was in a beautiful spot, far from central Texas. I filled out the online entry form and paid my $120. No sooner had I finished the transaction than I worried that I’d made an impulse buy.

A four-day stage race, covering nearly 180 miles? I hadn’t raced in five years. In the midst of an unraveling marriage and family, I had committed myself to something that required unbelievable fitness.

"Green light!" yells Greg, who is in front at the crest of another hill on Southwest Parkway. He’s the first to see a stoplight that’s about a quarter-mile down the hill. When the light is red, the VOP riders ease up in anticipation of making a stop. But green means it’s time to accelerate and try to make the signal.

There’s clanking all around—bike chains grabbing bigger gears. Unfortunately, I have little strength left. So much of road racing boils down to recovering from hard, repeated efforts. In many ways, success goes to the rider who can endure the most interval work from start to finish. I’m just a few miles into a tough but short training ride. The Gila will be a different beast altogether. I can only watch as a bunch of VOPers blow past me.

Soon after moving in, I conclude that my stark two-bedroom apartment has what I need. IKEA beds for the kids. A TV on the wall. My desk. A toaster. The pantry holds energy gels and bars. I think of the place as a modern-day Rocky Balboa bunker, where I’ll work, sleep, eat, and recover from training. 

My fellow building dwellers are mostly University of Texas students, and I largely ignore them. But one Friday evening in early April, I cross paths in the hallway with three college-age girls who are dressed up for a night out. I’m in my sweats, carrying a bag of trash to the garbage chute, and I notice how they scoot around me.

{%{"quote":"Confused, furious, and depressed, I was suddenly just another man in his forties enduring a marriage breakup. I turned to the machine and sport that, for decades, had brought me joy."}%}

I’m immediately overcome with sadness, and I start to cry. Apparently, I’m no Rocky; to these kids, I’m an ancient astronaut visiting their planet. I feel old and profoundly lonely. My tears plop onto the concrete floor. I hate that I ever agreed to move to Texas, and for the moment I hate my wife. 

A few days later, I work for three hours and then straighten up in my desk chair. Time for therapy: the cycling workouts are like shrink appointments. They can’t be missed.

My path to cycling leads through a small closet that I rent off a hallway inside my building. I open the door, pull out my bike, and put on my cycling shoes. Now I’m not a separated man semi-living out of a sports closet. I’m a rider.

To get ready for the Gila, I ride a few days a week with VOP and perform workouts taken from coach Chris Carmichael and Jim Rutberg’s training book The Time-Crunched Cyclist. The foundation of today’s routine is Steady Effort PowerIntervals, or repeats, performed at the highest maintainable pace.

I cruise neighborhood streets like Woodview and Shoal Creek. They’re smooth and quiet, and yet riding them makes me emotional. My routes here can’t compare with the scenic rides I enjoyed back in California.

"Hey, A.T. How many of these things do we have to do?" says my buddy Rob in his choppy Dutch accent.

Rob Janssen, who meets me 20 minutes into the ride, is a 46-year-old family man, freelance software engineer, and VOP stalwart. He’s related to Jan Janssen, who won the Tour de France in 1968, and Rob can definitely ride. He’s also funny, and seeing him immediately lifts my spirits.

"Half a dozen," I shout as we descend toward one end of Mesa Drive.

Rob and I arrive at the bottom and turn around. I tell him we’re doing three-minute intervals, with three minutes’ rest in between. I’ve been dutifully performing similar work for weeks, and I know it’ll hurt.

"Start slowly," I advise Rob while clicking into the pedals. But he’s impulsive and takes off, even though he’s feeling a little weak today. While the first repeat is a tough pump-primer for me, I still pass Rob about halfway up the grade. I watch the watt numbers on my power meter bounce: 286, 320, 264.

At the corner of Mesa and Firstview, with my legs and shoulders tingling from the completed effort, I ride in circles for a minute. Then I descend Mesa for another go, finding Rob not far from where I passed him. He’s stopped.

"I puked," he says after I pull up. Sweat is dripping off his dark hair.

"What?" I say without being able to suppress a small grin. "You nut! Start slower, or just go home. You’re not right."

"No, no," he says, turning his bike so that it faces downhill. "Let’s do it again."

Like me and other VOP man-children, Rob still finds pleasure in the pain of riding hard. As a kid, he biked through Holland’s powerful wind and rain, just like I spent my youth running and riding in Bay Area fog. Back then I migrated toward endurance sports to escape my family’s dysfunctions, and I found that I loved being alone with my own hard breathing. But now that I’m 47 and living through the demise of a marriage, I’m discovering that the pain involved in pushing myself isn’t the only medicine I require.

Still, about halfway through the second interval, my body finds a groove and the pain curve flattens. That’s not surprising: intense exercise has been proven to trigger anti-depressant effects, in part because it clouds the brain’s response to stress.

But by the end of my fifth interval, when I wheeze, shake, and burn with discomfort, I’m also giddy. I can’t wait to tell Rob that I’ve set a personal best by averaging 300 watts. He finishes after me, and he’s miserable. Still, when I give him my news, Rob gamely lifts his hand for a fist-bump.

"Hey," Rob says, now chuckling. "How many more of these do we get to do?"

I pile yoga classes onto my cycling regimen to give me strength and flexibility, along with the added sense that I’m doing good things for myself. Around the middle of April, my scale says that I weigh 132 pounds, 15 less than I weighed before moving to Texas. I should feel good about this: training is making me healthier and providing a sense of control in my otherwise haywire world. Honestly, though? Fitness doesn’t help at all when you’re missing your wife and kids.

Living alone is monkish and laborious. When I cook, I have to clean, too—which usually leaves me unmotivated to cook. I also discover, thanks to some painful dating experiences, that you can’t just whip up intimacy. When I’d last dated, about 25 years ago, adult life was new and unfolding. But in your late forties, dating is more like a visit to a bin of broken toys. You’ll find smiles and people who want good times. But life has made them wary.

April can’t end too fast, and I arrive in Silver City, New Mexico, with a small collection of teammates. (Some ride for VOP, and all of us ride with a local team called Violet Crown.) Frank is here, of course. The first-timers include me, 44-year-old Ken Greene, who’s an associate professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin, and Dan Perkins, a 43-year-old attorney. Ken is a fount of knowledge and also a bundle of nerves.

"That hill Frank calls a ‘pimple’ in the middle of the valley?" he says on a spring afternoon, as the four of us walk up Bullard Street to sign in ahead of tomorrow’s start. "Think of it more as a raging boil. It’s a two-and-a-half-minute climb!"

The guys’ company in general, and Ken’s anxiousness in particular, helps me relax. Compared with my other worries, our racing concerns seem microscopic. 

Dan is placid and a strong rider, and my strategy is to stick with him during the race. But the next day I’m all nerves. On a warm, sunny morning, I stand with about a hundred other athletes at the start of the Tour of the Gila’s four-stage men’s masters (35 and older) competition. We’ll ride for the next four days, sandwiching two hilly road races around a time trial and a short-course race called a criterium. The competitor with the lowest cumulative time for the four stages—176 total miles—wins. (Other athletes in other categories, including the pros, compete separately, sometimes on different courses.) Today my stage measures 75 miles, climbs 5,800 vertical feet, and takes us through national forest and twice over the Continental Divide.

We hear the starting signal and lurch forward, and soon the group is rolling west on U.S. highway 180. I stress out for several miles, but for good reason. One unexpected move inside this crowded cluster and dozens of us could go down. 

But after the peloton turns onto New Mexico highway 15, I feel better. On a climb to the village of Pinos Altos, the group slows and my legs power me toward Dan and the front. The air smells like pine, and by the time we descend and ride through the flat and lush Mimbres Valley, I feel nearly unstoppable. I complete the stage 21st overall, only 16 seconds behind the race leader.

But at the finish line, something is amiss. Where’s Dan? I didn’t see him during the entire second half of the race. Nearly half an hour goes by, and then there’s a tap on my shoulder.

With gauze wrapping his torso and his face crusted with dried sweat, Dan appears out of nowhere. An ice pack wedged into the bandaging sits against the small of his back. 

"Sucks getting old," he says. "It’s my back. I’m out of the race."

I feel horrible for Dan, and while I don’t confess it to anyone, his bad news disorients me. A bike race offers its own kind of intimacy: beyond the desire to win is the understanding that everyone shares the pain, and that we need each other to cut the wind and ride safely. I came to New Mexico counting on Dan to help me feel protected and somehow whole. Later, watching the poor guy stiffly pack up his belongings in our hotel room, I felt the same lonely pangs that I’d encountered when I first moved into my apartment.

"Suffer like a dog on that last hill tomorrow," Dan says stoically, referring to the 16-mile time trial, the race’s second stage. "Stagger into the finish."

The next day, over a barren and hilly New Mexico landscape, I take Dan’s advice. My time-trial result of 42:32 is surprisingly fast, good enough for 14th place. 

Something far subtler, however, lifts me higher. Hours after the TT, I find Ken sitting on his hotel-room bed, wearing a pair of bizarre inflatable leggings. They’re blown up around his lower extremities to create compression. He looks ridiculous, I laugh, and he smiles. Ken doesn’t even know what he’s doing for me. Belly laughs. Conversation. Sharing the adventure.

"Dude!" I say.

"What?" he asks.

"You look…"

"Hey man, they’re great," he says. "You want to try?"

Back when I lived in the Bay Area, I loved to launch my bike up the kinds of sustained climbs—mountains like Diablo and Tamalpais—that somewhat resemble the biggest challenge I’d face in the Tour of the Gila. The last quarter of the 69-mile fourth stage, a course called the Gila Monster, climbs more than 1,500 vertical feet to the race finish at Pinos Altos.

But those California climbing days were then and this is now, and in Austin I trained for climbs mainly by suffering alongside my VOP mates up short but tough grades with nicknames like Walgreens Hill and 360. The question now is: Can the bonds that elevated me then—friendships with VOPers like Brad, Rob, and many others—help me get up a New Mexico mountain? I held my own (and 13th place overall) in the 16-mile, third-stage criterium, and I reached Sapillo Creek, and the foot of the Gila Monster, in the top 20. With less than 20 miles to go, I’m not just riding to get past a crisis. I’m racing to finish in the money.

{%{"quote":"Today's stage measures 75 miles, climbs 5,800 vertical feet, and takes us through national forest and twice over the continental divide."}%}

As the road pitches upward, some riders shoot by. I let them go. In a bike race, a long ascent is like a 12-round boxing match, or, for that matter—yes—a marriage. You can’t completely hold back, hoping for some envisioned result, because the end can come unexpectedly fast. There’s always the possibility of a knockout punch—a fellow rider who just might maintain a suicide pace, or a spouse who becomes unhappy. On the other hand, you might have to endure a climb’s challenges for a good long while.

At the main climb’s summit, my legs are knotted with fatigue, and yet I sense that my surrounding competition, which is maybe 12 strong, may be hurting worse. So I stand up, pedal as hard as I can for a quarter-minute, and leave everyone behind. The four-day slog is almost over, and as the rider that VOP built, emotionally as well as physically, I’m in a position to take a top slot in the event’s most prestigious stage. There are maybe four guys left ahead of me.

I’d lie if I wrote that I spent the next two miles, during which I rode largely alone and exhausted, drawing deeper parallels between a bike race and a marriage. But, in retrospect, I do believe that those two miles served as a metaphor for so much of what I’d experienced with Madeleine since we’d met in 1990.

It had been a long relationship with a lot of beautiful moments: travel, homes, marriage, and the births of two healthy children. We endured many bruising times, too. But the one thing we’d consistently encountered was uncertainty. Who really knows what’s coming next? The move to Austin wasn’t a singular, unfortunate event in our relationship. In reality, it was another part of a long, arcing story, just like my breakaway on the Gila Monster was but one more unexplored stretch in an epic race. In competition as in life, you wonder: How will everything turn out?

With less than three miles to the finish, the group I left behind catches up to me. With under a mile to go, I deliver a final burst. Again I separate myself from the group, but this time the surge is short-lived. I finish eighth in the stage, just over a minute behind the winner. I’m drained, and ecstatic.

With our muscles stiffening, my teammates and I stand around long enough in the cool New Mexico afternoon to get the news that I finished tenth overall. At that point we loiter in the little village until we can snap a group picture while I hold up my prize: a check for $13.

But the Tour of the Gila, from entry to finish line, was an invaluable experience. I now continually remind myself that life is really a series of unpredictable episodes punctuated by the expected. Personally, I think that’s the only sane way to see things, wherever I live, if I’m married or not.

In the year since the race, I’ve traveled and hung out with my VOP buddies, heard fabulous music, enjoyed dates, and plowed through great food. Austin is a good place. Meanwhile, Madeleine and I are getting a divorce. I’m still processing the breakup, and I remain upset. I still love her. But ours is a different relationship now than it was, and I’m optimistic that we’ll be real friends as well as caring parents.

As for VOP, the boys and the rides still torment me in beautiful ways. While fitness alone won’t mend a broken heart, if you get fast on a bike and come to Austin, I know a great bunch of cyclists who can make you smile. I’m living proof: most mornings I rise knowing that the best thing I can do is point my bike toward the group ride, and then put one pedal in front of the other. O

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Fatback's Corvus Embraces Carbon

A lot has changed in the four years since we rode our first fat bike, the Surly Pugsley. Whereas just a few niche companies were offering fatties at the time, there are now dozens of purveyors, including big players such as Specialized, Trek, and Kona. And while Surly’s earliest iteration was an eye-opener for us given the terrain it opened—who knew biking in snow and sand could be so much fun!?—the profusion of entries to the market have spawned innovation and lots of refinement.

Frames have evolved from steel to aluminum and, in the last year, carbon fiber. Geometries have become more agile and less monster truck. Wheels have lightened up, thanks to weight-saving cutouts in the rim face and designs that accommodate tubeless setups, while rubber options have blossomed, with everything from Surly’s new 2.75-inch Dirt Wizard all the way up to its trio of tires approaching a colossal five inches.

None of the changes are revolutionary in the context of the greater mountain bike industry. But it’s been exciting—and perhaps a bit bewildering for consumers—to see so many dramatic adaptations so quickly. Fat bikes went from goofy, quirky teenagers to all grown up over the course of just a few years.

Amid this backdrop comes the Fatback Corvus, a full-carbon machine aimed at the growing fat bike race crowd. This is not the first carbon fatty we’ve tried. That honor went to Salsa’s Beargrease, which was followed last autumn by the Yampa from newcomer Borealis. Both are excellent bikes in their own ways. But given that the aluminum Fatback was our favorite (pre-carbon) fatty last year, I had great hopes for the Corvus. And since we climbed aboard in early January, it hasn’t disappointed.

{%{"image":"","caption":"The Corvus has enough clearance to fit five-inch tires."}%}

The Frame

While there are several carbon fat bike frames on the market (and more on the way, from the likes of 9:Zero:7 and others), none is as sexy as the Corvus. The squared-off edges of the tubes are offset by the beautiful arcing swoop of the top and down tubes. And the graceful back-sweep of the seat tube is a nice counterpoint to the chunky, almost industrial-feeling carbon fork. Our tester was one of the first production samples off the line, and as such it didn’t get the contrast blue paint, which should make this bike prettier still. But even as it is, the Corvus is difficult to resist.

It’s not just good looks either. This frame has all the modern fixins, including a tapered head tube, post-mount brakes, direct-mount for front derailleur, and thru axles both front and rear. The latter is an important upgrade from the Borealis Yampa, which uses a quick release in the rear, a design that I feel lacks the structure and rigidity necessary for such big wheels and one that we’ve also heard of having some slippage and failure issues. And while the Beargrease offers dual thru axles, the Corvus gets our vote again for versatility since it has clearance for five-inch tires while the Salsa only allows for four inches.

The Corvus retains most of the same measurements as the aluminum Fatback, meaning the stand-over is excellent, an important consideration if you’re constantly on and off the bike with heavy boots and lots of gear. Space in the main triangle is ample, too, with two mounts for bottles in the triangle and a third on the underside of the down tube.

Other smart little details on the Corvus include built-in cable guides, rack mounts, and a molded channel for cable routing on the fork. It’s true that the Corvus lacks the internal cable routings of both the Beargrease and the Yampa, which is a shame because having lines all over the frame does detract from the beautiful aesthetic. On the other hand, external routings don’t rattle like internal ones, and they also make for easier servicing, so it’s sort of a case of picking your poison.

{%{"image":"","caption":"This frame has all the modern fixin’s, including a tapered head tube."}%}

The Components

As expected for a race bike, our Corvus was hung with lots of bling. The drivetrain is a new SRAM XO1 setup, with a 32-tooth front ring and Grip Shift, which is definitely easier to handle when the fingers and thumbs get cold.

Though I have only one ring up front, attached to a pretty, light Race Face Next SL, the guys at Speedway say the bike can be run as a 2x10 instead, though not a triple. It’s worth noting that the tradeoff for going with the 190mm hub spacing to accommodate the five-inch tires is that the width of the crank is wider than, say, the Beargrease. That makes for a noticeably wide Q Factor, which is worth a bit of consideration if you have a narrow stance or finicky knees. Greg Matyas, the owner of Fatback, says he’s considering asking Race Face to produce a narrower spindle. But at the moment, if you want the option of running the fattest tires on the market, you’ll have to deal with a wide crank stance (no matter what bike you buy).

Perhaps the most alluring feature of our Corvus is its wheels, which are Fatback’s new 77mm carbon rim (70mm internal) laced to the company’s house branded Hadley hubs. I know that many people will roll their eyes and think, “Who in the world needs carbon fat bike wheels?” It’s true that these are excessive, though they’re significantly less expensive than most big brands’ carbon road and mountain bike wheels given that they’re included in the bike’s $5,500 price tag (and will be available for purchase separately for $550 per wheel). But anyway, if you are racing, you will want a pair of these. By virtue of their oversize tires, fat bikes carry a lot of weight in the wheels. Lightening up the rims with carbon makes the wheels spin up quicker and the overall ride much more lively. Fatback isn’t the only company with this bright idea: HED and Borealis are also launching carbon fat bike rims.

Last but not least are the tires, the 45 Nrth Hüsker Dü, which I feel are the best compromise between weight and traction out there. They are “only” four inches wide, so they don’t offer the grip and spread of Surly’s awesome Bud and Lou. But they do a pretty good job in the majority of conditions and are the ideal rubber for most races.

{%{"image":"","caption":"A look at the SRAM XO1 setup."}%}

The Ride

The first thing you notice when you begin to pedal the Corvus is its weight—or more accurately, the lack of it. Our size medium tipped the scale at a meager 24.3 pounds, which is down in the realm of many hard tail mountain bikes with standard size tires. To give you an idea of just how light that is, consider that that first Pugsley we rode four years ago, which was also running four-inch tires, weighed 36.8 pounds, e.g. a full 50 percent heavier than the Corvus.

And since much of the weight savings is in the wheels, the Fatback feels like a rocket. Step on the pedals and it lurches forward, which is a bit disconcerting at first if you’re used to a stouter fatty. It’s interesting just how quick the bike is given that its chain stays are almost a full inch longer than on the Beargrease (though just a touch shorter than the Borealis). As such, the Beargrease might feel a little more explosive, though the Corvus makes up for it with the extra light carbon wheels.

The Corvus feels surprisingly like a standard hard tail mountain bike. The steering is quick but not nervous. The position in the saddle is a bit longer than on other bikes we’ve tried and seems ideal for settling in and cruising. Yet I also had no problem with the mixed terrain we get in Santa Fe, a messy combo of powder, packed snow and ice, dirt, mud and even some rock features. The Corvus dispatched most of them just fine, and I was surprised how well it clambered up and over techy rock bits, even ones that were packed out with a bit of ice.

This will sound contrarian given all the hype about 1x11 in the market right now, but I’m not convinced—at least not for every scenario. And the Corvus underscored the point. Look, I love the simplicity of skipping the front derailleur, and the engineering it took to get SRAM’s beautiful 11-speed cluster with that 42-tooth ring on top is impressive. But here’s the thing: I’m a fairly fit racer and can produce solid power, and on 1x11 setups, I find myself riding the majority of the time in the granny gear. I know that’s partly because I live in a mountainous place with lots of steep hills. Still, I’d suggest either gearing this down to 30- or 28-tooth ring up front or simply going with a two-by.

{%{"image":"","caption":"The Corvus rides like a rocket."}%}

The Bottom Line

Other than niggling over gearing, a personal preference, and the consternation over the wide stance on the crank, which also harks to my personal knee issues, I can’t find fault with the Corvus. It is a gorgeous bike that’s beautifully equipped and rides like the winter wind. If I raced fat bikes, I’d probably buy one.

But that is the big “if” in the equation. Most people will look at a $5,500 carbon fat bike with carbon wheels and call it unnecessary. And just like a $10,000 road race bike or XC race bike, it is overkill for most people. In the end, this is a specialized tool that only a few people—guys racing the Arrowhead 135 and the Alaska Ultrasport, for instance—truly need. To wit: the three fastest guys at this year’s Alaska Ultrasport were aboard the Corvus.

Many people buy 11-pound carbon road racers and don’t actually really “need” it. They do, however, enjoy riding them. So, too, the Corvus is a great bike that will make fat biking even more fun because it’s light and fast. It’s not to say you won’t have a good time on a Pugsley, which is still absolutely an awesome bike and costs 70 percent less. The difference between the two bikes is like the difference between a BMW Dakar Rally Car and a stock Jeep Wrangler, and clearly there’s a place in the market for both.

The Corvus represents the cutting edge of fat bikes at the moment. And whether or not you need one or buy one, it’s easy to appreciate it for the craft and progress it represents. And it’s one hell of a fun ride to boot.

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The New Rules of Fitness

Decades ago, fitness consisted of two workouts: all-out, all the time; and “LSD”—long, slow distance training. Then fitness went high-tech. Personal-metrics devices from companies like Polar, Garmin, Nike, and others became a billion-dollar industry. Nutrition took wild turns, too. Rocky-style raw-egg shakes were replaced by beet juice smoothies as the (legal) performance-enhancing drug of choice. At last, science-based training had replaced superstition.

But along with the research came the meaningless buzzwords, pseudo-science peddlers, and gimmicks (Shake Weight, anyone?). What's more, every age-grouper suddenly seemed to be an expert in exercise physiology. We've been following this stuff for a long time (37 years, to be exact), and we know how challenging it is to ferret out rules that actually work. Here are the 12 you need to know—and apply—starting now. Welcome to the new rules of fitness.

#1: Stop Overdosing on Vitamins and Supplements

The multivitamin industry is widespread and lucrative—but it’s always been difficult to demonstrate that taking supplements offers a real benefit, says Thomas Sherman, an associate professor of pharmacology and physiology at Georgetown’s Medical Center. For years, multivitamins were considered a low-level insurance policy and performance upgrade. Pop one if you’re worried you’re not getting the right nutrients, and you’ll be healthier—perhaps even stronger and faster. The problem: “There is a lot of theory, but no real data,” Dr. Sherman says. To make matters worse, a string of recent studies suggests that antioxidants get in the way of training adaptations, making them detrimental to performance.

#2: Go the F*ck to Sleep

Somewhere along the way, Americans, with their Puritan work ethic, decided sleep was a bad thing. But if you're an athlete (or, hell, just a human), you need to take sleeping as seriously as you do training and eating. “In the past, many athletes would continue to train well past their body’s physical ability,” says Michael Breus, Ph.D., author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep. Less sleep theoretically means more time for PRs, but your body doesn’t see it that way. Performance rests on a good night’s sleep, when your body chemistry shifts, and all kinds of beneficial bodily repair gets underway.

Need proof? In a recent study, 11 Stanford varsity basketball players maintained their sleep schedules for 2 to 4 weeks then slept as much as possible at night for 5 to 7 weeks—aiming for about 10 hours. Researchers measured timed sprints, shooting accuracy, and reaction times after every practice, and levels of daytime sleepiness, and mood throughout. The results: Athletes sprinted faster, shot more accurately, and felt better

#3: Get Away from Your Chair

You probably go above and beyond the American Heart Association’s guidelines for 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week, but that may not be enough if you’re planted in a seat all day. That’s according to a new study that found an hour of sedentary behavior increased people’s risk of being unable to perform basic functions—like doing household chores—by 46 percent even if they still met the exercise requirements. “We don’t like to be idle,” says Allen Lim, Ph.D., founder of Skratch Labs.

There are ways to lessen the blow, though—without having to actually train more. Research by James Levine, Ph.D., M.D. of the Mayo Clinic found small movements throughout the day—fidgeting, walks, or getting up to go talk to someone instead of hitting send on an email—can work toward counteracting the effects of sitting.

#4: Train Specific to Your Sport

Ten thousand hours of practice may not make you an expert—if you’re training at the wrong intensity. A recent study in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance that studied Olympic medal-winning speed skaters and their fitness regimes reached an interesting conclusion: While performance increased throughout the years, there was no increase in training or skating hours. The shift, instead, was to polarize training—training at a very high intensity in this case.

“It’s important to ask yourself what you’re training for,” says Lim. “Speed skaters do short, high-intensity events, so it makes sense that they train specifically for that,” he adds. But if you’re training for a century—and need the fitness to survive six hours in the saddle—then you need to put in that time. After a disappointing showing at the 2010 Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins revamped his training to meet the exact demands of the 2012 Tour. Forgoing many of the early season races, Wiggins spent time on the island Tenerife, preparing for the races's high-altitude summits. And his approach paid off: In 2012, he became the first British cyclist to win the race.

#5: Quit Flexing in the Mirror

The media has driven home the same message for years: If you look good with your shirt off, you’re healthy. The truth? “You can be protected from disease if you exercise—even if you are over eating and gaining weight. Unfit and skinny may be worse than fit and fat,” says Lim.

The new mantra is simple: “Beat yourself up over whether or not you are getting enough daily physical activity not over how you look,” says Lim. “Thin man syndrome”—or being skinny, but lacking muscle and having a high percentage of body fat—can put you at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, says Stacy Sims, MSc, Ph,D., co-founder of Osmo Nutrition. Carrying a little extra weight—so long as you have the muscle—won’t negatively impact your hormone profile or appetite like being scrawny, she says. Fit versus fat is an ongoing debate—and the jury’s still out on how much fat you can have without being “unhealthy.” The bottom line: Lean muscle is critical for overall health—even if the mirror isn’t reflecting those results yet.

#6: Be a Little Salty 

“Sweat sodium is much more variable than we thought with a stronger genetic link than previously known,” says Lim. What he means: When you sweat and lose salt, there’s huge variability between you and the guy next to you. “Someone can lose 200 milligrams (mg) of sodium per liter of sweat an hour and someone else could lose 2,000 mg per liter of sweat per hour,” he says. That’s like having a shoe store and needing to stock size 2 to 200 to accommodate everyone.

The practical application of this is listening to your body—and not assuming that salt is always so bad for you. “Our own mechanism for taste can be affected by how much you salt you lose,” he says. So if you’re athletic, you sweat, and you crave salt, eat salt,” Lim says. The "salt is unhealthy" mantra probably doesn’t apply if you workout frequently.

#7: Stop Playing the Age Card

There’s a common misconception about aging that needs to be laid to rest—and it’s that you get old, and you lose your ability to move. Some research suggests that you lose 8 percent of your muscle mass each decade after age 40 and muscle loss increases significantly after age 75. But in a recent University of Pittsburgh study of 40 competitive athletes ages 40 to 81 who worked out four to five days a week, researchers found that athletes in their 70s and 80s had similar thigh muscle mass as those in their 40s. The 40-somethings were also just about as strong as the athletes in their 60s.

Those results make sense when you look at people like Kelly Slater—the 42-year-old pro surfer, the oldest to ever win the Surfing World Championship—or American cyclist Chris Horner, who last fall became the oldest champion of one of cycling's three-week grand tours. Though a calendar would tell you their time has passed, a lifestyle of movement has kept them in the game. 

“As you get older, you simply have to take training in a different approach,” says Sims. Plyometric work and pure strength workouts help maintain neuromuscular connections and muscle mass and help generate speed and power.” 

#8: Minimize the Junk Miles

Give those long, slow jogs a break. According to a 2008 study in the American Journal of Physiology, one and a half hours a week of high-intensity intervals will improve arterial structure and function just as much as five hours a week of lower-intensity workouts. Even more: When highly trained recreational cyclists reduced their distance from 200km per week, swapping it with 12 x 30s sprints a few times a week and four minute intervals, their performance improved.

With intensity, your body learns to recognize stress, and overcome it without taking hours out of your day. Being more responsive to immediate stress increases your aerobic capacity, decreases bad cholesterol, works to build lean mass—much more than a long, slow fat-burning workout can offer, says Sims.

#9: Experiment on Yourself

"There’s a tendency to say, 'This is the average result, so this is the result,’” says Lim. But at the end of the day, we are our own experiment, Lim adds. Take research that looks at how different athletes respond to variables like altitude. In a recent Australian study of 16 highly trained runners with maximal aerobic power who simulated “live high, train low," researchers found that there was incredible individual variation in both physiological changes and performance. Some people have no response at all—others have a massive response.

Another noteworthy study that discovered great variability in results was the A to Z study, which tested people on four different kinds of diets. While statistically, all diets yielded similar weight loss after a year, a closer look at the data reveals incredible variation. “People who were outliers in one group did better on a different kind of a diet,” Lim explains. When it comes to diet performance, it’s—again—so particular. What works for you may not work for everyone else—and vice versa. 

#10: Embrace a New Era of Hydration

In 1965, when Gatorade was introduced to the sidelines of a University of Florida football game, a craze was born. “The typical mindset is to replace carbs and electrolytes,” says Sims. “But the bottom line is that anything’s that over a 4 percent carbohydrate solution can dehydrate.” Why? Water goes from a low concentration to a higher concentration, she explains. So drinks that are too sugary can force your body to move water out of your blood and muscles instead of into them, she says.

Hydration should be about just that: Hydration. And as research continues, low-concentration approaches to hydration like Nuun, SOS, and Sims’ own OSMO, have become popular.

#11: Workout Before Breakfast

Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but if you’re waking up to a fast sweat, it can wait. In a recent study, two groups performed a high-intensity workout before or after eating the same morning meal. The results? The group that sweat before eating lost more weight, says Lim.

One reason: When you wake up, you have plenty of fuel stored from the night for a short workout—your blood glucose levels are stable and your body is in fasting mode. “Your workout stimulates muscle sensitivity to insulin, so when you eat, most of the food goes back into muscle rather than fat,” Lim says.

#12: Train Your Brain 

Ten years ago, hardly anyone trained their minds like they trained their bodies. Now, just about every serious athlete practices visualization or specific relaxation techniques—arousal control or pre-performance routines. “Everyone on the world class stage is closely linked when it comes to physical capabilities and technical proficiencies,” says Michael Gervais, one of the best sports psychologist’s in the business who coaches the likes of Olympian Kerri Walsh and professional daredevil Felix Baumgartner.

That’s why the U.S. Olympic Committee staffs five full-time sports psychologists: In order to win a gold, you must have a mind-body connection that’s strong enough to stop worrying about the crowd, failure—or arguably worse, brimming success. Take Team USA Swimmer Eric Shanteau: After receiving a cancer diagnosis weeks before the Beijing Olympics, he spent days at a facility near his home undergoing brain training simulations for focus. While Shanteau didn't medal at Beijing, he set a personal best in the 200-meter breaststroke and went on to earn a gold medal four years later at the 2012 London Olympics.

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Shave Your Way to Better Cycling

C.O. Bigelow Premium Razor for Mach 3, $80 

This steel and faux-ebony razor adds a touch of class to an otherwise routine task.

Leg Lube, $9

Spiked with aloe and tea tree oil, this silky gel goes on smooth without any foamy mess and stays slick for easy shaving. 

Mad Alchemy PreRide Oil, $23 

Cedar and eucalyptus oils in this warm-weather embrocation help prime your legs to ride.

Rapha Shaving Cream and Post Shave Lotion, $20 and $30

For a one-two combo, there’s nothing better than this cream and cooling aloe-based lotion.

Hibros Depil Sport Cream, $26 

Want a longer-term solution? This sport-specific depilatory lotion (think Nair) weakens hair follicles with alkali salts, so they fall out at the root.

Assos Skin Repair Gel, $30 

Use this refreshing rub post-shave to prevent skin irritation. 

Donkey Label Soap, $8 

Clean up before breaking out the razor with this natural soap. Available in five scents, including eucalyptus and mint.

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