By Michael Wissell
So you decided to do a week- long bike race.
I can’t tell you what you have to do to win the race. I imagine that it involves a lot of “training” and “hard work”. I can, however, tell you about a couple of things that can make your week at the Trans-Sylvania Epic even more awesome (and perhaps take away a bit of the sting of losing 30 minutes a day to Jeremiah Bishop).
First things first: bring a fan. Preferably two fans. It gets hot at night in the bunks, and the last thing you want after a four hour hoof across the soggy wilderness is your thighs sticking together when you are trying to sleep. The second fan is for your gear. The race is hard enough. You can at least start every day with a dry helmet and shoes.
It is important to note that you should not use one fan for both purposes. Wafting the smell of your swampwater-filled foot-terrariums around the cabin will make you significantly less popular.
Your cabin-mates will let you know.
Treats. Last year, my wife secretly packed homemade cookies for me. I also brought some Trader Joes peanut butter cups. You will find that the provided food is no substitute for the morale-repairing experience of sharing candy with other constantly-hungry bike racers. It also works wonders as an icebreaker in a room full of people from different backgrounds and countries. If love is the universal language, cookies are its Rosetta Stone. Bring something good, and good stuff will happen to you all week.
They also make you train harder.
Bring two of everything. You may not need it, but in the back of your mind, you will be thankful that you have it. Crashes, fatigue-induced absent-mindedness, and old-fashioned bad luck can conspire to pull the rug out from under all that hard training and careful planning. I am not suggesting you go out and buy a second bike, but maybe ask a friend or teammate if they can loan you theirs for the week.
Bring that goofy commuter helmet you use for riding around town. That old pair of shoes, those ratty gloves, maybe even those kinda-worn tires from last season. You will likely not need any of it, but I promise—just swapping out a part or replacing a lost item is infinitely easier than running frantically around camp looking for someone that happens to have the same size shoes as you.
Especially if these are your shoes.
Books. Make sure you have something to read that isn’t bike related. You may not believe it, but your brain might actually want a few minutes off from BIKES BIKES BIKES sometime during the week. I don’t suggest any particularly heavy reading (maybe leave Being and Time at home) but a few magazines, an easy-ish novel, or that fancy new e-reader you got last Christmas should do the trick.
Related: Fishing gear.
Because I need something else to feel bad about.
Rope. I cannot overstate the importance of a nice coil of rope. It can be a laundry line, a bike stand, a shelf—pretty much whatever you need. Every year, I have brought some rope down, and every year Rimmey Cabin used almost all of it.
Like sailing flags on the HMS Bedraggled.
A headlamp. Your feet will be sad enough without slamming them into every obstacle between your bed and the toilet. You will also accumulate a fair amount of goodwill by not being the guy who wakes everyone up by turning on the bathroom light (which is wired to a fan that sounds like a small-engine plane trying to take off into the wind). Keep the light on a hook above your head when you sleep.
Also useful if, say, the bottom of your car falls off on Christmas Eve.
See you all in a few weeks!
Check out more dispatches as racers and regular riders alike prepare for the 2013 Trans-Sylvania Epic stage race in central Pennsylvania.
By Stephan "Geronimo" Kincaid.
Over two recent weekends I rode in two different events, the Hell of Hunterdon and the Monkey Knife Fight.
Neither of these are "races", but there are some people that will "race." It’s no bother to me. What matters most is we all are safe and have a great ride. Both of these rides accomplish this handily.
Hell of Hunterdon
The HoH traverses the beautiful roads of Hunterdon County New Jersey. The HoH is a good ride to prepare for the Tour of Battenkill and touted as such. The ride covers 79 miles with 18 sections of gravel/dirt and 5,900 feet of climbing. Here is the Strava map/info.
Photo Credit: Pat Engleman
I traveled to the ride Saturday morning with someone beautiful and whom I recently serendipitously met. She simply wanted to do the ride because she heard it was fun. Her name is Sandie. Sandie is smart.
During HoH I encountered multiple mechanical issues, which cost me approximately 40 minutes of stopped time. I was initially frustrated and these mechanicals brought me down for a bit. It’s tough to have so many people ride by and know I’m not in the "lead" group but the real question was: Why does it bother me at all?
+ Monkey Knife Fight
The Monkey Knife Fight (MKF) is a fundraising ride for the Pennsylvania Perimeter Ride Against Cancer.
The MKF is a tough ride. Riddled with punch climbs at 20 percent, gravel and dirt roads, and it always seems to be windy. I decided to ride up with my good friend Shane Kline. We both know the roads well and knew that this would be a long day. I was worried. My fitness is well below what it usually is AND I’m riding with Shane. He’s uber strong and talented. Here’s the Strava ride data.
Photo Cred: Jimmy Cavalieri
All day I struggled. I struggled to the start. I struggled on the ride. I struggled on the way home. It was like being hollow. Nothing inside. I even skipped a beer stop. Too tired to stay too long.
So two weekends, two less-than-ideal rides and I’m really worried. How am I going to be ready for Trans-Sylvania Epic? How does this equate to fun?
1. I got to see way more of my friends when I slowed down.
2. I thought about my TSE team. Joel, David, their lost Army brother Chris, Chris’s young son Benjamin and the real reason why I’m riding with them. They were a smiling motivation to keep my pedals turning.
3. I’m in a transition. Moving away from bike racer Geronimo to bike rider Geronimo. Cycling is much more about where and who I’m riding with than just being fit. I’m getting older, life is evolving and I am evolving. Cycling has always been important to me but I’m finding new meaning and new purpose with many things. I’m now living with a renewed vitality.
This is bliss.Tweet
By Joel Kostelac.
A few weeks ago I celebrated my birthday. It was a great week and day and probably fairly typical as birthdays go. I worked, enjoyed time with my family, and even managed to squeak in a ride at Allegrippis. I am thankful everyday that I can do so.
Ten years ago I celebrated my 28th birthday a bit differently in a small southern Iraqi city named As Samawah. It is a small city straddled over a key supply line to Baghdad and home to an important bridge over the Euphrates River.
Only a week earlier we had fought our way into that city and were systematically clearing it of Iraqi forces, suicide bombers and the like. Only about a week before that, I was sitting in the Kuwait City Airport, with the rest of the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, waiting for "shock and awe" to begin and to cross the border into Iraq.
In that time, in the desert to my west, my friend and college roommate, a husband and father to a four-month-old son, was killed. He, like myself, was preparing with his unit, the 101st Airborne Division, to move into Iraq, when a disturbed, disenchanted American soldier, but enemy nonetheless, threw a grenade into the tent where he was sleeping.
Chris Seifert believed in his profession, he believed in his unit, and was proud to serve our country. In my year there, I lost other friends and members of my unit. Many others were wounded. Many more brave Americans were killed or wounded in the years of combat that followed. Many suffer still with the memory of the events they have faced. What Chris and all these others have in common is they all volunteered to serve our nation and took the fight to those that would seek to destroy our way of life.
I have been riding mountain bikes and participating in other endurance sports since I was in high school. I’m not the fastest guy around. In fact, I’ve never, ever, stood on the podium of a race. I am solidly average or "middle of the pack" as they say. I participate, though for many of the same reasons the elite riders do: for fitness, for fun, for competition. But in the last 10 years it has meant more than that to me. It has given me an opportunity to reflect on my time serving in two wars and with the loss of Chris and several other close friends and fellow paratroopers.
This year, in the 10th year, my goal is to ask others to reflect as well, by reminding us of just what their sacrifice means, and I can think of no better way than by competing in one of the toughest, most challenging events around. With the help of Mike Kuhn and the team at Trans-Sylvania Epic, I will be competing as part of an Epic Team in this year’s event in honor of my friend Chris and in support of his son Benjamin’s scholarship fund and to remind us all of the sacrifice young men and women make every day when they put on the uniform.
It is only fitting that this event kicks off on Memorial Day weekend. I am humbled and honored by the men that have stood up to join me in this effort: David Nolletti, a mentor to both Chris and I, veteran, and accomplished cyclist, Stehpan Kincaid, a seasoned racer, pro, and TSE vet; Gunner Bergey, a TSE vet racer and former staffer and member of the Lees-McRae cycling team; and Mike Cushionberry, pro rider, Dirt Rag editor and current Stan’s NoTubes Transylvania Epic Team member.
I look forward to sharing my training and efforts leading up to TSE right here, and meeting everyone at the Seven Mountains Scout Camp May!Tweet
The author, lugging the ever-present load of camera gear, with Adam Craig looking on.
By Adam Newman. Photos by Adam Newman A. E. Landes Photography.
Being able to ride a bike is certainly a prerequisite to working at Dirt Rag, but not everyone here is on the same level, and let’s just say that on the staff rides, I’m not the one setting the pace. After a handful of years on the dirt, I’m pretty comfortable with the local trails, but I’ve been searching for something to take my riding to the next level.
Well, son, if you want to get smart, you better go to school. So off I went to the Michaux Mountain Bike School, held each spring in Michaux State Forest in central Pennsylvania. Fast Forward Racing Productions, specifically head honcho Zach Adams, invites some of the best talent on the East Coast and beyond for both beginner and experienced riders to get the season started right with fundamentals and some new skills. Among the big names showing us a thing or two this year were Adam Craig, Harlan Price and Matt Miller, and leading the ladies, Sue Haywood and Cheryl Sorenson.
Adams took a risk this year, revamping what was originally a camp aimed at juniors that covered everything from bike mechanics to physiology.
“The opportunity came up this year to change it up,” Adams said. “I rebranded it, totally stripped down the curriculum, and brought in the current group of all-star coaches. It was a big risk, but everything lined up and it was successful.”
Zach Adams, at right, welcomes campers and introduces some of the instructors.
Now in its sixth year, the camp begins Friday evening as riders arrive at the Camp Thompson YMCA site, settle in to their bunkhouse cabins and get the campfire started. Bring a warm sleeping bag, because late March is still not quite spring in the mountains of Pennsylvania!
The YMCA camp has bunkhouse cabins and hot showers in the bath house.
Saturday morning breakfast is provided and riders had time to stash some of their extra clothes back in their cabins as a surprisingly beautiful day warmed quickly. The 75 assembled riders divided into four groups: three groups of men and a group of about a dozen ladies.
Riders break up into groups of about a dozen.
I joined my cabin-mates with Matt Miller’s group and we got started. I was surprised by the number of riders who had been to the camp multiple times before and return year after year to dust off the cobwebs of winter and ride some of the best trails around.
Central PA—Michaux especially—is known for its unforgiving, boulder-strewn trails. Seriously, it’s like someone took a truckload of washing machines and just dumped them in the woods. In many spots there is no “trail,” just a preferred line through metavolcanic and quartzite rocks at the northern tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Luckily the day starts in an open field with some simple, man-made obstacles to gauge your skill level and practice the basics. A handful of skinnies, teeter-totters, and a two-foot drop were constructed for newer riders to practice keeping their mass centered, their elbows out, and their eyes up.
Like all skills, the fundamentals are what’s most important. It’s much easier to practice here than on the trail.
After an hour of basics we hit the trail, stopping occasionally to session a particular feature or corner that Miller felt aptly utilized the skills we had focused on that morning. In particular I concentrated on leaning my bike further in corners while keeping my mass centered over the bottom bracket.
Instructor Matt Miller coaches a rider over a log…
…and demonstratesthe preferred line through a rocky section.
After about two and half hours, we stopped for a much-needed lunch out on the trail, then each group of about 20 men rotated to a new instructor. Next up was Adam Craig, who is best known for contributing stories to Dirt Rag, but I guess races his bike a lot or something, too? (I kid, I kid.)
Whenever an interesting obstacle presented itself, the group would stop and discuss the best line.
Craig took a similar approach, though I couldn’t help but feel like no amount of practice could get me even close to his skill at riding certain sections so effortlessly. To see the gap between us normal people and the pros, up close and in person, was worth the price of admission.
Adam Craig showed us how to be light on the bike over rough terrain and heavy during cornering and braking.
In the afternoon we rolled back into camp a little behind schedule and missed the yoga session, but we still had plenty of time to grab dinner (salmon!) and enjoy a presentation by Miller on his sports physiology research and a Q&A session with the instructors. After a few libations around the campfire, I had no trouble falling straight to sleep.
All the instructors were friendly and approachable, and even sat down for a Q&A session after dinner.
Sunday greeted us with cloudy skies but we gathered again, this time to select from optional rides ranging from the 5-hour “pro” ride to an additional round of skills practice with Harlan Price. I chose the latter. While getting out on the trail certainly seemed more fun, I knew this was an opportunity to learn that I didn’t want to pass up. We practiced clearing obstacles, first by lifting our front wheel, then the rear, then putting the two together in one (sort of) seamless motion. Once our group felt like we had it down, we hit the trail again for one more blast up and down the ridge before the rain set in.
By the end of the weekend I was exhausted and sore—surely the sign of a good time.
“We all know what it’s like to get back into the technical terrain after being away from it for awhile,” Adams said. “It takes a little bit for the skills and muscle memory to kick back in again. It’s a great way to build a foundation for a strong season of racing or hard riding.”
Haywood echoed the sentiment that a skills camp isn’t just for beginner riders. “Drop the attitude that you are an expert because there is always an opportunity to improve,” she said. “Don’t be stubborn and say that because you are a racer you don’t need to know how to do a drop. And especially don’t settle for where your skills are—imagine where they could be.”
Attendee Brian Ruane is one rider who keeps coming back. This was his fifth visit to the camp and he has learned something new every year, he said. He uses the experience to fine-tune his skills for the summer mountain bike race season, and the highlight from this year was working with Adam Craig.
“Adam was talking to us about what he thinks about when he is coming up on this on his bike, and how he positions his body and center of gravity, what line he is thinking about taking, etc. He also talked about the physics (force, weight, gravity, speed) behind extra braking power you can experience right when your tires hit the ground after floating over these small rocks and your shock is still compressed.”
While it’s tempting to spend your tax refund each spring on another shiny piece of bike bling, there’s really no better investment than improving your own skills on the bike you already have. For $250 you get a great weekend with incredible riding, some new friends, and some skills to last you a lifetime.
Hurry to register for the 2014 camp before 5 p.m. Wednesday to get the early-bird rate!Tweet
By Stephan Kincaid
I don’t like to let people down. It’s a weakness disguised as a strength that sometimes wears lycra. For those of you that don’t know me, that would be 99% of you reading this, my name is Stephan Kincaid. Most people call me Geronimo.
For a few weeks I’ll be guest blogging my adventures (a.k.a. daily life as a working stiff trying to ride bikes trying to achieve life balance) leading up to the Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic.
A quick background: I’m a school counselor. I currently ride for Stan’s NoTubes p/b Proferrin. Raced "Pro" for a number of years with a primary focus on road racing. I’m 40 years old. I really like dogs. Post ride beers are tasty. My friends mean much to me. I am thankful for my life.
For years I’ve been racing my bike to score results, in an effort to be on a "good" team, to be a "pro", and to see how far I could go. I’ve been blessed and had some memorable results (to me at least).
Those days have passed and these days I sometimes moan and groan about how fit I used to be. How the weather sucks. How I wish I didn’t have to work so much. Man, I can’t get motivated!
Last year I raced TSE as a solo rider, had a good base of training and had a blast. However, due to other upcoming commitments I had to re-focus my plan for TSE this year and was really bummed. (Insert negative self-talk and boo hoo-ness here.) I emailed the promoter Mike Kuhn and asked to keep me in mind for an "Epic Team." Within a few weeks I hear back and voila, I have a team.
The backbone of the team will be two Iraq War Veterans, Joel Kostelac and David Noletti, that lost a dear friend in the war, Chris Seifert. David and Joel are riding TSE to raise money for Chris’s young son to use toward college.
When I learned about my teammates, read their emails telling of their goals and brotherhood with their lost friend Chris I was emotionally moved.
If it wasn’t for the men and women that fight for our country’s freedoms I may not be able to ride my bike when I like and where I like with nary a care in the world. To think, I was moaning about my fitness level or daily job. These men have given me a whole new reason to ride: Chris’s son Benjamin.
All they ask is that I ride my bike. I will do my best. I don’t want to let these people down.
In the coming weeks I’ll share my rides and thoughts going into TSE. Grab a beer and check back in from time to time. Cheers!Tweet
By Vicki Barclay. Photo courtesy of Dave MacElwaine.
One of the things I love about mountain biking is the way that people refer to trails as if they are living entities. I often hear local people here in State College talking about how the harsh winters in Pennsylvania allow the trails to “get a rest” under the blankets of snow, like a sleeping beast waiting for spring.
There are certain trails that are named after people whom I have never met, but I always end up judging the personality of the actual person based on the features of the trail (grumpy, relaxed, fun, etc.)
I reckon Mike Kuhn made a good choice using the trails around State College to host the Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic. The local community—especially Nittany Mountain Bike Association—is so deeply connected and proud of its trails that it works hard to ensure that visitors get to experience all the personalities that the trails will throw at them across the week.
The new enduro stage at the 2013 edition of TSE will be sure to challenge even the local racers like myself, as we will be forced to race down some of those trails best known for having particularly unforgiving personalities. I often ride past Wildcat Trail with eerie avoidance, opting for a gentler ride down the mountain on the next trail.
Watching motocross racing last night, and checking out their training regimes, got me thinking as to whether I should continue with my upper body workouts right up until TSE to try and preserve some strength for the middle of the week enduro stage. It’s cool to think there will be a day that might involve more arms and guts than legs and lungs.
Regardless, the Stan’s NoTubes Women’s Elite Team will be in good shape for the enduro stage with our Cannondale full suspension bikes, full face Uvex helmets, variety of choice in Kenda tires that we can run at ridiculously low pressures, and feathery Magura brakes. My money is on my teammate Sue Haywood—be afraid be very afraid.
With the snow gone, and the race trails clear, it’s really time to start stepping it up a gear in preparation for May. I always find it so hard to judge whether I am fitter coming off a milder winter when I have been able to ride outside, but have been less structured, or one where I have been forced to kill myself in the basement on the trainer.
Sure there are watts and numbers and bells and whistles, but if you can’t put it all together on race day it means nothing. So far this year, I feel like the winter conditions have held me back from putting things together on race day, so I am looking forward to this journey through spring on the way to TSE. I hope you can join me.Tweet
Kelly Noltensmeier’s Klein Adept features a custom rear triangle, modern components, and yes, 29-inch wheels.
By Adam Newman
When Kelly Noltensmeier decided to take on longer, more endurance-oriented rides and races, his all-mountain bike just wouldn’t do. After borrowing a friend’s 29er he knew the big wheels were the ticket, but rather than purchase a new bike, he eyed his Klein Adept and thought… “why not?”
Noltensmeier had a head start on the project: after all, he was a welder at the Klein factory in Chehalis, Washington, and is still committed to their quality. A friend supplied several broken Adept rear triangles to salvage parts from and after heat-treating some of the first batches of parts in his wife’s oven he was told to get his own oven in the shop, so he did. The latest version has modern pivot bearings and an extra pivot near the rear axle. It smoothes out the ride a little but the jury is still out on pedaling efficiency, he says.
What is likely the only 29er Adept in the world is getting a lot of attention on the trails of western Washington, which is still Klein country, Noltensmeier says.
Working at Klein was a great experience, Noltensmeier says, and the employees were like a large family that he still keeps in touch with today. He recounts his first day on the job when lunch rolled around and the foreman announced that since they made their production goals, Gary Klein had hired caterers for lunch. “Sure enough, there was a sit-down dinner being served on the production floor,” Noltensmeier said.
Fridays were the best days, because that’s when the work pivoted to product testing. “We could take the new bikes out and try to break them. We would grab a demo take them to Capitol Forest and ride the hell out of them,” he recalls. One bike didn’t survive. A guy nicknamed Junior—all 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds of him—grabbed one 22-inch XL Attitude and taco’d the wheels, bent the top tube and generally messed it up. They all had a good laugh until they got back to the office and Gary Klein was asking where his new XL bike was.
Noltensmeier says his modified Adept rides great. It gets some strange looks on the trails of western Washington, which is still Klein country, and word is getting around, too. He took it on a 50-mile endurance ride and knocked an hour off his time from the previous year.
“This is the bike they will bury me with,” he said.
Film by Adam Nawrot.
Mountain biking isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words ‘New Jersey’. Nevertheless, Jason Fenton has been building and maintaining mountain bike trails in the heart of Central New Jersey since 2004. "The Dirt Merchant" takes a peek into what it means to be a cyclist in the middle of some of America’s densest suburban sprawl.
The Dirt Merchant isn’t necessarily a documentary about Six Mile Run State Park or Jason Fenton in particular but rather a film about the cycling community and how its individual members make it what it is.
About the filmmaker: "I race bikes for Rutgers University, where I study filmmaking and graphic design. I grew up riding Jason’s trails at Six Mile Run in my early teens and I’m so excited that this film is able to give back to the community that has shaped my life so dramatically."Tweet
The Puppies & Rainbows Ladies Jump Jam at the San Francisco Bike Expo was a skills clinic and practice session that brought the joy of dirt to San Francisco’s Cow Palace.
By Joh Rathbun. Photos by Shane Mckenzie.
While San Francisco is a culturally progressive and geographically unique city that provides everything a metropolis can offer, what it doesn’t have is legal, fulfilling singletrack. Like most urban environments, those with a thirst for tasty dirt must leave the city to find it. China Camp State Park, Joaquin Miller Park, Pacifica, and Mount Tamalpais State Park all offer great riding, but are not in the city.
Enter small businesses like RideSFO and Clayton Bicycle’s Stunt Team. They bring bike events to urban San Francisco. Phil Segura, owner of RideSFO and the man behind the San Francisco Bike Expo says there’s no money in doing this, “but that’s not what it’s about.”
Originally founded in 2003 as an online forum for riders, RideSFO evolved into its current iteration as a retail outlet with a mobile dirt jumping/park mobile set and crew. Headquartered out of a warehouse called the Sand Box on Portretro Hill, RideSFO is a unique blend of bike shop and cycle-centric traveling circus.
There’s no one like RideSFO in San Francisco when it comes to the 26-inch bike. As such, Phil is busy with coordinating with others like Hank Matheson of Bicycle Fabrications—co-habitant of the Sand Box—to spread the word and make mountain biking accessible to city dwellers.
Events like the San Francisco Bike Expo highlight technical riding like AT’s Showdown, a jump competition that features 30-foot doubles with a fear-inducing run-in. Based at the Cow Palace, these folks are bringing the mountain to the cycling San Franciscan. The event also included a female-specific event, this year it was the Puppies & Rainbows Ladies Jump Jam hosted by my publication, Shine Riders Company. Shine is an online publication and community center for women’s gravity mountain biking.
When speaking of AT—Andrew Taylor—of AT’s Showdown—Segura says, “He works really hard—the course is a labor of love—he’s not making any money off of it, but we both love riding, and want to bring something to the riders. We’re the only people putting on urban slopestyle events. So, that’s where we really want to hang our hat, and these comps show the possibilities with the parks and therefore, providing access for us, and hopefully we’ll have a domino effect.”
The cousin of RideSFO is the traveling Clayton Bike Stunt Team. While they’re a non-profit, they “provide BMX shows for all occasions.” As a non-profit, they focus on “bicycle safety, such as safety gear, obeying traffic laws…and always being aware.” Clayton Bicycle Stunt Team recently hosted the Battle of the Bay on Treasure Island in San Francisco.
Mike Henry, a competitor and native San Franciscan, is thankful for the few organizations like Clayton Bicycle Stunt Team, and said, “I just like to pedal around after work. I like the Chili Bowl, in Balboa Park. I got into bikes through a friend in the Mission District. If you want a dirt fix, though, you got to go out of town. We just got our jumps plowed. Guess the city didn’t want no one getting’ hurt out there.” Without cycling-centric entities like RideSFO and Clayton Bicycle Stunt Team, the San Franciscan wouldn’t get their dirt fix in the city.
“We got to keep building momentum so we can bring it to the people,” Segura said. “The great thing about the Expo is you get exposed to a lot of different things, but a kid riding in a parking lot gets a glimpse at a different type of sport. Promoting a healthy lifestyle that embraces alternate modes of transportation like cycling is beneficial for the urban community, and incorporating different lifestyles like mountain biking along the way can only be beneficial for that community as well.”
About the author
Joh Rathbun is a sport and travel journalist, a pro mountain biker and editor in chief of Shine Riders Company. For coverage of West Coast events, bike adventures, cool tips and bike tutorials, like her on Facebook
Words and photos by Harlan Price
This weekend, September 29 and 30, was the inaugural King of the Mountain enduro at Mountain Creek Bike Park in Vernon, New Jersey. The three stages on Saturday were for amateurs and pros while Sunday had two extra stages just for the pro class, which was really just an open class for anyone who thought they’d be competitive or could handle the more difficult terrain.
The weather on Saturday had threatened to be clear, but most of the day we were riding through heavy fog or a slight drizzle. The trails were amazingly resilient but there were enough fresh trails or short muddy sections to give everyone wet shoes and grinding drivetrain.
Todd Ford and Elwell Marjory are about to get their bikes dirty.
Stage one was a mass start by category and off the line it was chaos. After a 100 yard sprint up, we immediately dropped into a muddy access road with a half dozen water bars. People were sliding all around, taking lines on purpose and accidently. I immediately realized my goggles were only distorting my vision but couldn’t take a hand off the bars to pull them down around my neck. Mud in the eye is better than feeling like I was wearing bifocals. A mix of rough dualtrack, high speed corners, short quick climbs and a series of grass-slope turns brought us to the bottom. It was fun, intense and full of virtual elbow rubbing and corner chopping.
The transition to stage two had a little hill on it.
The transition climb to the start of stage two had a time bonus to keep people moving. The top third of each category got a 20 second bonus, the second third got 15 seconds and the last third got nothing. The first person to the top was awarded at the end of the event with some swell Saint components from Shimano.
Sean Pritchardthorp on stage two.
Stage two had a more cross-country style, except it was very technical with lots of awkward moves and big rocks to get through. Mountain Creek is developing it’s cross country trail system and there were some fresh lines to be had. It was the shortest stage but was a beautiful transition before heading back to the more gravity-oriented stages.
Stage three dropped down off the top of the mountain and mixed in the mountain’s green trails with some quick transitions to steep climbs to make sure it wasn’t only about your descending skills. Those transitions also allowed different trails to be connected that aren’t normally linked together. It was a great way to finish the day and the final section of berms left everyone with a grin that wiped away the pain from the climbs.
Paul Dotsenko on stage four. Paul ended up 6th overall.
On day two and stage four the pros saw the sun come out and trail difficulty amped up. There were drops, tabletops, step-downs and some serious rock gardens to test bikes and riders. The climbs also came more frequently, got steeper, and more awkward. Cross country riders were feeling a disadvantage to the guys able to huck and whip, but the climbs kind of evened out the field. One notable feature was a high-speed step-up that was probably 10 feet tall then dropped quickly into a berm with a step-down out of it. Mountain Creek is a really well designed bike park.
Winner of the Madcap Enduro in August, Matt Miller got 3rd overall at the King of the Mountain. Look at that face. Enduro racing is hard! Photo by Matt Stiegler.
The last stage actually felt a bit calmer than stage four. It had several short table-tops that were about the perfect size for the speeds we were hitting, several drops that could easily be overshot, and just enough wooded sections to make you pucker and slide around on roots and slabs of rock. The finish through the trail called Indy had so many berms with descending radius’s I felt like I was gonna be spit out the end of a spiraling water slide.
Mountain Creek and course designer Jeff Lenosky did a great job on a first time event and they are looking forward to doing more next year! In a nutshell, it was a ridiculously fun and challenging event. I’ll definitely be back next year.
The women’s podium was a happy place. Maria Nyholm (Ridetopia) managed first in front of Kait Fields (MountainCreekBikePark).
The men’s podium hosted the East Coast’s burgeoning enduro experts. From Left, Derek Bissett (Pro-Mountain Outfitters), Harlan Price (Santa Cruz Bicycles/ TakeAimCycling), Jeff Lenosky (Giant/Teva/Fox/Shimano), Matt Miller (Giant id-Atlantic), and Keenan Hanson (DB 30).Tweet
By Stephen H. Smith
In the sensible Midwest, long before exotically-mapped fondos, gravel centuries, and mountain bike epics with entry fees steeper than a Colorado mountain peak, there has always been the Chequamegon Fat Tire 40. This meat-and-potatoes, point-to-point 40 miler has consistently filled the starting grid for three decades with racers eager to line up for the love of racing in a venue decidedly void of the trappings of A-lister cyclerati and hipster race names.
Sure, some notables have made appearances. In fact, down through the years Greg LeMond regularly toed the line (perhaps most epically riding post Tour de France in road shoes and pedals in a year  that welcomed riders with hub-high mud bogs). And, just this year, Wisconsin native and professional roadie Matt Busche (RadioShack/Nissan) set a course record (40 miles in 2:00:32.8, a 20.3mph average), last set in 2011 by Brian Matter. But, at its core, this is an everyman bike race. You show up, you line up and you go!
Thousands of entries are narrowed down by a lottery each March, and for those lucky enough to earn an entry a demanding seesaw mix of trail plays havoc on head and hamstrings between Hayward and Cable, Wisconsin on the second weekend in September. The unrelenting course runs reverse on many of the trails used for the grueling American Birkebeiner ski marathon, a race that draws almost 10,000 skiers each February to the same Northwoods.
In these parts, any mountain biker worth a huck ALWAYS aspires to do Chequamegon. The magical mystery of one of the biggest and longest-running races in the country (in the world?) has drawn my cohorts for more than 20 years. With such an extensive trail record on the fabled course, we’ve come to thoroughly understand the quirks of the race. Traditions emerged and are now followed religiously:
Thou shalt ALWAYS upgrade: The annual rite of “Buying Speed” to account for the race conditions is part art, part science…and part temptation. This year, astride a new Milwaukee Bicycle steel 29er, buoyed my spirits with a chance to introduce a new story line into my personal 22-year narrative. This wide open course is made for big wheels.
Thou shalt dine on beer batter and fry: Friday nights in Wisconsin mark much more than the start of the weekend. It indicates a meal service in which fresh fish can be deep fried and served with coleslaw and a stout ale. Beer-battered perch and a freshly brewed River Pig Pale Ale at the Angry Minnow always produce a happy pre-race sleep.
Thou shalt watch HBO/cable TV right up until the start: "For a Few Dollars More" was an excellent way to get the competitive juices flowing!
Thou shalt manage the start: A three mile roll out on pavement (“controlled” …at 27 mph), quickly dumps competitors off-road and onto Rosie’s Field. Catching the right wheel on the fastest train is critical. Enjoy the schizophrentic “Flight of the Bumblebees” blasting the field through massive speakers; this is the last sight of humanity for the next hour.
Thou shalt burn many matches climbing Fire Tower Hill: This four-tiered mile climb forces a steady cadence, ability to avoid loose screed and walkers. Riding over the top earns you the affection of the two dozen tifosi up top, who may even offer you a beer for the fine work.
Thou shalt respect the Rooster: Since 2000, a dedicated group has raced for the honor of being the Big Cock of Cable. First across the line wins the travelling trophy, a ceramic Rooster atop a running tally of previous champions. Rooster hunting has inspired some top-70 finishes and ALWAYS demands a perfectly scripted day of racing.
Thou shalt celebrate like lumberjacks: In this case, the post-race feed must be taco pizza at Coops, topped off with cherry pie from the Norske Nook. Celebrating commences through the night starting with white Russians at Turk’s Inn, followed by dancing at The Sawmill and capped off with pool and pickled eggs at the Moccasin Bar, where my former racing buddy Gary B. almost got his ass kicked by a gang of locals for choosing a Nirvana song on the jukebox in 1993.
About the author: Stephen H. Smith, 46, races for the Cafe Hollander cycling team in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He finished his 23rd run at the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival with a personal record time of 2:29, finishing 199th overall. This means Smith gets to cherish his Big Cock of Cable Rooster trophy for the next 12 months. He’s lobbying to have the state motto changed to “Welcome to Wisconsin: Smell our Dairy Air!”.Tweet
By Matt Kaspryzk
Moab is an odd place. There are a lot of mountain bikers, ATVs, 4x4s, and hikers for obvious reasons, but there are also a lot of folks who look like extras from "Cocoon" walking around town. It makes for a strange dichotomy.
In addition to having some of the most sought-after trails, bus tours through Arches National Park and buying Native American lawn decorations must be an equal draw for this southern Utah oasis. People certainly don’t come to Moab for the nightlife, but The Whole Enchilada Enduro race weekend had a bit of a festival atmosphere regardless.
There wasn’t much of an expo area, but there were parties and group rides to keep spirits high. I was happy to run into some industry friends that I haven’t seen in awhile, let alone get to ride with. It was also a good opportunity to meet new riders from around the country.
Loading up the shuttles for the 6 a.m. roll out.
The event brought in riders from several corners of North America. Pros and amateurs mingled waiting for early morning shuttles or while enjoying PBRs at The Chile Pepper bike shop party on Friday night. Shuttles were prompt, the organizers were organized, and sponsors like Fox, Shimano, POC, DT Swiss and The North Face provided some fantastic raffle prizes. The field was capped at 150 racers because of restrictions with land management, so the event seemed almost like invite only.
Even organizers Bigfoot Productions hopes to increase that number by appealing to park officials with well-executed events and responsible riders. So if you didn’t get in this year, there could be a better chance in 2013.
The final push to the top of Burrow Pass.
The ride from the top of Burrow Pass down to the Colorado River is a bucket-list ride. Many mountain bikers who have done it believe that it was the best ride they have ever done, or will ever do. So an enduro race on the Mecca of all trails is a good idea, right? Time will tell, but a lot went well for the first official race down to Moab.
Zach White, at right, practicing his lines for the winning Amateur Men’s time.
The course sounds great on paper: more than 7,000 feet of descending along more than 25 miles. However, it’s incredibly punishing on body and bike. There were significant climbs at high elevation. Sections of the course are very technical, fast, and rough with lots of potential for serious injuries. It’s the quintessential mountain biking that most of us dream of. I just hope racing this course doesn’t ruin a fantasy epic. A group ride where you can drink in the scenery and appreciate where you are is much different than being blurry-eyed staring at your front wheel while hoping your fingers will work when they need to.
The finish doesn’t look like much here, but on race day it was the best sight ever.
If you need another reason to make your pilgrimage to Moab, this event could be it. Hats off to the promoters, sponsors, volunteers and racers. I hope to see everyone next year.Tweet
By Adam Newman
There’s no doubt author and racer Molly Hurford is passionate about cyclocross—after all, this is the woman who permanently inked it into her skin, an act made famous by her column known as “The Girl With the Cowbell Tattoo” that appears in "Cyclocross Magazine."
She has recently turned that passion into her first book, “Mud, Snow, and Cyclcross,” where she traces the history of ‘cross in North America as it spread from humble beginnings in the 1960’s and ‘70s to the rabid, nation-wide passion it garners today. She tracked down and interviewed anyone and everyone who has had a hand in shaping the sport and collected it into an oral history, letting the subjects themselves tell the story.
Like most ruminations on the sport of cyclocross, this book—published by Deeds Publishing—begins with an explanation of the racing and its rules. Rather than rehash the expected “cross between mountain and road biking,” Hurford lets the racers and race promoters share their own thoughts on the matter: “It’s one of those things you just have to see to understand,” says one quote from elite racer and two-time National Champion Ryan Trebon. “Its like a road race and a mountain bike race, combined… without the crappy parts.”
Trebon is just one of dozens of elite-level racers, both past and present, as well as men, women, and juniors, that makes an appearance in the book, with each sharing their first-hand thoughts on why they love the sport. Katie Compton dishes in on her “Best Worst Day,” and racer-turned-race promoter Adam Myerson traces his career from winning collegiate Nationals in 1997 to winning the Verge Series overall title in 2010.
Women play a key role in the story as well, as female American racers have had far more success on an international level than their male counterparts. Mo Bruno Roy, a native New Englander who spends a large chunk of her season racing in Europe, recalls, “In my first race, there was a women’s category—Women’s Open—and there were 10 to 15 women, so now to see a Cat 3/4 field with over 100 riders in a phenomenal difference in a short amount of time.”
Recounting the drama of the racing and elite racers is to be expected, but Hurford goes beyond the course tape to share the spotlight with the race promoters in the early days that put in a massive effort to attract national sponsors and grow the sport beyond isolated, regional scenes. For example, Paul Curley helped organize the National Championship races in 1992 when, for the first time in the U.S., courses were designed, marked, and maintained by professionals with professional-level amenities for riders and spectators. “It’s the first time we had pro and amateur fields, locker room facilities, and hot showers. We charged admission. It took it to a slightly higher level,” he said.
While one chapter focuses on the individual race series’ and their key venues, one of my favorite sections is the contrast of East Coast vs. West Coast racing and their very different styles. The East Coast scene has a long-held reputation as being very serious and very aggressive, while out west the races are often more laid-back with a greater emphasis on spectator fun.
The spectators are as big a part of the sport as the racers, and Hurford gives credit to the hecklers—both at the races and online—for helping expand the popularity of the sport. After all, cyclocross is perhaps the most spectator-friendly type of bicycle racing. Jeremy Powers discusses being the subject of an online reality show, “Behind the Barriers”, and Hurford shares her advice for choosing the right spectating location: “Just visit any major race… and look for where the crowd is cheering the loudest. Congratulations, you just found the beer garden.”
Like the sport itself—and its often rowdy participants—the book is a little rough around the edges. One bummer was that despite the attention paid to the importance of women and equality, there is also no listing of the Women’s National Champions alongside the Men’s in the appendix. Hurford told me it would be added in the next printing.
Bumps and bruises aside, I thoroughly enjoyed “Mud, Snow, and Cyclocross.” Already a huge fan of the sport, I was glad that Hurford kept the introductory and beginners sections short. Most of the books I’ve read about cycling are written with a beginner rider in mind, and I never understood why some authors write books designed to introduce readers to a sport, despite the fact that most of the actual readers will already be well versed. Thankfully, Hurford avoids this trap well and presents a novel account of a sport I love. This is a rare book that can appeal to newbies and experts alike.
So what’s next for cyclocross in the U.S.? This winter, Louisville, Kentucky, will host the 2012-2013 UCI Elite World Championships, an event that is sure to boost the visibility of the sport and expand its American audience. “Most of the elite racers think that Worlds in the U.S. will be game-changer,” Hurford writes. “For one thing, there’s a mandatory clause that it needs to be televised, presenting the first chance to make a push for races to be watched and popularized… And that’s when the shift from a fringe sport to a major American pastime begins to happen.”Tweet
By Justin Steiner and Eric McKeegan. Photos by Emily Walley and Philip Duncan.
This past weekend more than 100 racers lined up to test their mettle at Snowshoe Mountain Resort’s Chomolungma Challenge. This endurance downhill event challenged riders to race down nearly 30,000 vertical feet of elevation loss, which amounted to 20 runs down Snowshoe’s Western Territory—1,500 feet of loss with each run.
Racers could choose to tackle this event solo or as a member of a duo or four-person team. Race promoter Mike Baker was wise to segregate solo and team riders on two separate courses. Upon race start, solo riders tore down the natural terrain Pro DH trail, while team racers ripped the mostly flowly, bermed jump line consisting of Judi Chop, Ninja Bob, Ball ‘n Jack, and finally Powerline. At Noon, racers switched tracks to keep things interesting.
Dirt Rag staffers Jon, Eric, and myself rolled down to represent in the Solo category. We arrived Friday afternoon and rode a few practice runs in between weather holds due to storms in the vicinity. Fortunately for us, very little rain fell in the Snowshoe area to spoil the absolutely perfect trail conditions.
For Saturday’s race start, riders were organized in Snowshoe’s Village area at the top of the mountain via random number generation. With a shotgun start, we were off, ripping down through the village, and down the road to the trails. Despite the road section, things piled up quickly on trail, resulting in a somewhat frustrating first lap—that’s racing, however.
Everyone from the middle of the pack and back had to deal with pile-ups on trail, as there were simply too many people on trail to make passing productive. This first lap was the only time all day I experienced a line at the lift. Even then, I wasn’t waiting too long. That said, the race leaders were completing their second lap just as I was starting up the lift for the first time. Lesson learned; next year I’ll be hammering as far to the front as possible. Better start working on my sprint training…
By my second lap down the mountain, the pack had spread out far enough to allow for quite a bit of flow before catching other riders. Despite an amateurish crash on my third lap, it was easier than expected to tick off laps over on the Pro DH track, which offers nice flow through a variety of terrain. For the most part, the course held up amazingly well to the abuse, though some of the more flowy sections sprouted gnarly braking bumps after a few laps.
Going into this race we were uncertain how our bodies would hold up during 20 laps of abuse. For me the first 13 laps on the Pro DH course went well, with just some hand and wrist fatigue/pain creeping in around the 10-lap mark. After switching tracks to the longer and more pedaling intensive flow track, I started to fatigue quickly and my pace dropped significantly. Who knew you ride every berm from top to bottom by sitting your inside thigh on the seat? I didn’t, but quickly found it to be the easiest way down the mountain. There’s a relatively straight, blisteringly fast section of Ball ‘n Jack that’s littered with baby head rocks which was simply torturing my hands on the last handful of laps.
I have to admit to being mighty happy to finish my 20th lap, both because I could stop riding and because I came away nearly unscathed. I wish the same could be said for your intrepid Subscription Guy, Jon. Unfortunately, subscription customer service may be running just a bit slow for a few weeks while Jon’s arm heals. Check it out below. Yikes! Here’s to a speedy recovery, Jon!
With mostly cloudy skies and moderate temperatures, we couldn’t have asked for better conditions for this race. Everyone I spoke with was thrilled by how well organized and executed this entire event was. Many thanks go out to Baker and the rest of the Snowshoe crew for putting on such a wonderful event. As the pain of my sore muscles fades away, I’m pretty certain I’ll be back for next year’s race, which will certainly be bigger and better than this year.
Racing aside, the opportunity to spend that much quality time in the saddle was great for my riding. This race pushed me to become a better rider, and that’s all I can ask for from any event, really.
Tech Editor Eric McKeegan’s race report:
I thought I’d sworn off DH racing, I really only ride downhill for fun, a timed run usually takes the fun part out of it for me. The Chomolungma Challenge and its focus on endurance rather than outright speed changed my mind.
Considering the broken bones, hard crashes, and mechanicals I saw and heard about, my race was pretty uneventful. Other than loosing some skin off my knuckles in low speed collision with a tree I was crash-free, and a broken shift cable was the worst of my mechanical issues.
I probably lost a few places bandaging up my fingers and adjusting the derailleur limit screws to get my bike out of its hardest gear, but I wasn’t really there to race other riders, I was there to see if I could finish 20 laps.
After our three run practice session on Friday I was worried I’d be a mess by lap 15, but I ended up feeling great for most of the race. My hands started to cramp on the Pro DH side, but once we switched to the course with more flow I started to recover.
At this point my XC fitness (thanks Trans-Sylvania Epic!) came into play, allowing me to pedal, pump and jump my way past some obviously flagging competitors, moving up from my first lap second-from-last position.
The Dirt Rag pit area was well-equipped with food, tools, and spare parts, but other than a few bottles of water, a banana and a 3mm allen wrench I had little use for it. This was mostly because the neutral aid provided as we got on the lifts was awesome. Two pleasant ladies stationed there provided fluid and food hand-ups, and the 10-minute ride to the top was plenty of time to eat and drink.
After a few days my hands are still a little weak feeling, but over-all I feel great, both physically and mentally. I had fun and bumped my DH skills up a few notches. This may be the best 1st year event I’ve ever attended.
There aren’t many events like this in the country, and none that I’m aware of on the east coast. Trestle Bike Park is hosting the Red Bull Final Descent 12-hour race on Sept. 8th and Mountain Village Bike Park will be hosting the Fall Tilt Telluride 12-hour race on Oct. 6th.
Across the pond, there’s the Fort William Downhill Endurance 6-hour race, which went off in July this year—you’ll have to wait for the 2013 event. So, the Chomolungma is nicely positioned to become the go-to event for east coaster downhillers looking to go long. Don’t dally to register for next year, I’m guessing this race will fill up quickly.
Editor’s note: Chris saw our short video about the Salsa full-suspension fatbike prototype and wrote in with the story of his own build. Thanks Chris! Got an interesting or unusual bike you’d like to share? Send some details to [email protected].
By Chris Willsey,
Ever since I started riding full-suspension bikes in 1994 I’ve been trying to mimic the experience of riding a motocross or enduro motorcycle, in that the suspension absorbs the terrain so you are in control all the time rather than trying to overcome a machine that only works really well when on smooth trails. I haven’t bought a hard tail since 1984.
About three years ago I started investigating the new “fat” or “snow bike” phenomena and got the idea that running fat tires with lots of volume and a bigger diameter might allow a bicycle to perform more like I wanted it to on rough terrain. However from off-roading with four wheels over the years I had seen that high volume fat tires are basically non-dampened springs that bounce uncontrollably if you hit something too fast or hard. I assumed that a rigid fat bike would work great on snow or sand but it might bounce on rocks and roots. So that is when I began designing a full suspension fat bike to get the benefits of the big tires but still keep them in control.
I had been building up longer and longer travel bikes over the years and each step was an improvement in performance so I wanted to have pretty long travel on this bike too. The most logical platform to start with was an old Intense Uzzi DH that I had built into a 7-inch all-mountain bike years ago when 4-inch was the longest travel any XC bike could put out and before "all-mountain" was even a category.
After thinking for a while about how to do it, then waiting some six months gathering up the parts, which included several Intense rear ends, I started the fabrication. The main part of the transformation entailed cutting up the rear end parts, machining, gusseting, welding them back together then heat treating the finished product, all to make room for wider and taller tires.
I built the wheels using 47mm trials rims. I wanted a more round tire profile for cornering and less width because I didn’t need the flotation provided by an 80mm or 100mm rim that works well for snow. Plus I wanted to save weight where I could. To avoid tire chain clearance issues I built around a 170mm rear Hadley rear hub provided by Fatback out of Alaska. Then I had to get the chainrings in the right place, but I only had a 68mm BB shell rather than the 100mm width that has become the norm on current Fatbikes. After some experimenting I ended up with the widest Ti spindle that Profile Racing makes, which allowed for the chainline I needed. With chromoly cranks it probably adds at least a pound to the overall weight but for a prototype it works fine.
As far as gearing, I had been riding a 26-inch downhill frame as an all-mountain bike for a while and since that had no provision for a front derailleur I was running a 24 front ring only which provided me with low gears for really steep technical climbs and the 24/11 is high enough that I don’t spin out around here with our short downhills.
But when I tried that on the new FS Fat bike I found that since the bike rolled over things so much easier I was up at least 3 gears basically everywhere compared to the 26-inch. Unfortunately with the chainrings hanging out it space so far from the seat tube, any normal front derailleur setup was not going to work. After several other attempts I ended up fabricating an E-type hanger that lowered and spaced out the derailleur to just the right spot and it’s been working ever since with 22-32 front rings.
My theory was right about the fat tires and long travel suspension combination. I roll over rough terrain so much easier and faster that I can keep up with guys who would usually be much faster than me. They only catch up when it gets smooth. I am pushing a 37lb bike after all. I run 9psi front and 14psi rear. That seems to be a good compromise offering compliance but good rolling resistance and rim protection. The rigid Fat guys run considerably lower pressures.
There is one really rocky trail that I always ride when I build up a new bike or modification to test for bump compliance. There are several technical rocky climbs where I have to be pretty on to get up and sometimes I don’t. There is also one section that I have never gotten up, even once, despite trying since the mid ‘80s. Yeah the mid ‘80s!
When I took this bike on that trail two things happened. One was that I cleaned the "can’t be ridden" section and after getting to the end of the trail I was thinking "What happened to those hard climbs?" Turns out in my enthusiasm I had just ridden right up them like they were hardly there. To prove that it wasn’t a fluke I’ve been back a couple of times to that trail and had the same results.
I just built up a long travel DH/AM 29er bike out of a newer Uzzi with VPP to see if it was just the big tire diameter that was giving me all the advantage sine I had yet to own a 29er prior to this one. I’ve been riding it for about three weeks now and while it is better than normal 26ers it’s still not on par with the full-suspension fat bike, even though travel is about the same and tire diameter is slightly larger, plus the bike weighs about 5lbs. less in all-mountain trim. I have several cool 26ers and I really don’t want to ride them any more, except for novelty sake. I know I’ll go slower and use more energy to get there and probably go shorter too.
I’m sure it’s not for everyone. The rigid SS guys will probably put up the greatest resistance. Many will think "Yeah whatever. It can’t be that much different." and "Aren’t those big heavy fat tires slow?" Well, since there are almost no full-suspension fat bikes in the world for them to try, I guess they will just have to wait until someone starts producing frames so they can experience the revolution for themselves. Hopefully I can get the motivation to make more myself to help push that along.
By Montana Miller
Stage 4 — Aqueduct Loop — 41 miles
I’m hiking up the same hill that I’ve walked up a few times earlier this week. It’s not getting any easier. Across the top, then down a super fast descent that’s covered in baby heads. I get off the front brake and bounce down the trail.
At the bottom, I catch my friend the Bradley the Birdman of Charleston. I cup my hand over my mouth and fire the customary greeting birdcall at him. “Kah-Kaw!”
“Dude, I’m gonna have to quit. My knee,” he says, rubbing his boney leg. He pulls into the first aid station and stops. Bummer. I keep riding.
On to the Colorado Trail. It’s a beautiful piece of dirt. Winding through the pines, short rises, buff corners. After a few miles, I turn on the Aqueduct Trail. It’s as hardpacked as concrete, with a gentle grade down. I tuck in behind a few geared guys and draft.
The first guy slams on his brakes and slides sideways. Then the second. They skid out of the way and reveal a corrugated metal pipe running at a weird angle across the trial. I tap the pipe with my front tire then hop over. Damn. That was close.
Ride across a wobbly log bridge, then through the second aid station. I’m on the big eight-mile climb out of Keystone Resort now. Two years ago, this thing crushed me. But I’m mentally ready for it this time. It’s a nice smooth climb the whole way up. Just settle in.
Pedal up three miles of smooth fireroad. There’s an arrow. I turn and splash through a stream. Shit. The course switches to a loose, rocky Jeep track. Totally forgot about that part.
Thirty minutes later, I’m still climbing. The end has to be around this switchback. No. Then it has to be the next one. I’m level with the top of the mountain beside me. No. Maybe the next turn. No. It’s endless.
The Jeep trail ends. And the climb keeps going, on single track now. Damn this is a long climb.
I finally hit flat ground. I look around. No land higher than me. The top. I relieve myself real quick, then jump back on my bike.
The single track drops steeply. I’m flying through the trees, lifting a thin trail of dust with my tires. Brake cables clank softly against my frame. Around a tight corner, through a sharp rock garden. Down and down. Pop over a root, land, push through another turn. This makes all the climbing worth it.
The single track ends on a dirt road. Such a rad descent. My dad is helping at the last aid station. “Seven miles to the end, all uphill?” I ask. He nods.
And it is all uphill. Steeper than anything else we’ve gone up. I’m leaned so far forward pushing my bike, I feel like I could lick the ground.
After the top, I drop down a steep single track descent and pass an abandoned snowmobile. I can hear the loudspeaker at the finish. But the arrows turn me away. Damnit. Another few miles of bonus trail. I don’t really enjoy it. I just want to be done.
Then I’m headed back to the finish. My tires skip down a rocky patch, then roll across the line. I order a peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich from the guy working the snack table. Two more days.
Stage 5 – Wheeler Pass — 27 miles
I’ve had mediocre finishes in the single speed class all week – ninth or tenth out of 20. I haven’t been able to breathe enough to actually race. Today is a shorter stage. Doesn’t matter if I blow up. I just want to land a top five.
We’re staged by class. The Open Men’s class sprints away. We move up to the line.
“One minute!” says the announcer. I try to convince myself that I have some energy.
“Go!” he says. I sprint up the hill behind the guy in third. We start passing geared guys immediately. The trail is super rocky, and pitches up steeply. I beat through the rocks. I’m moving fast to be in a good position for the hike on top of the pass.
On to fire road. One guy passes me. Fifth now. That’s fine. Just keep him in sight. Twenty minutes later, I jump off my bike and start the hike. We’re above treeline. There’s no air. I’m pushing my bike as fast as I can, gasping. There’s a big string of riders in front of me going over the pass. The fastest guys are just little dots of color on the huge mountainside.
“Montahnah!” my friend Don Powers yells. His voice echoes through the mountains. I don’t even have to look back to know who’s yelling. Bastard.
Hit the first saddle on the pass. Breckenridge is on the right, looking like a little doll village. I look back. Powers is a few seconds back. Stupid caveman walks so fast. I jump on my bike.
It’s hard to ride up here. I don’t know if it’s the wide-open space, or the lack of air, but I can’t keep my bike going in a straight line. I hit a rock. My tire hisses. Son of a bitch. It goes flat.
Powers passes me. This is the worst thing ever. I throw my Co2 inflator in frustration, put the tube in, and look for my inflator. I can’t find it, because I just threw the damn thing in the grass. Such an idiot move. I curse loudly. The wind blows across the desolate pass.
I finally find the inflator and blow up the tire. Hike across the top. Somebody is cooking bacon. Awesome. I grab a strip, and start down.
Big loose rocks. A ditch. Thousand foot drop to the left. I blink and see stars. Dry bacon taste in my mouth. So dizzy. I bounce and skid down the mountain. My head is spinning. Back to tree line. The rocks are bigger, with ledges and roots. Just don’t crash. The rocks pound my bike.
My hands start to lock up. Can’t do much more. Then I hit the bottom. And onto a paved bike trail. I tuck and coast, passing roller bladders, a woman with a stroller, and a guy towing a trailer.
Back into chattery single track. It climbs slowly back to Breck. I’m pretty toasted. Trying to go fast, but I can’t. I don’t catch Powers. He smiles smugly at the finish line.
“Congratulations meatbag, you finally beat me,” I say. I hate loosing to that guy. I need to go back to the condo and drown myself in the hot tub.
Stage 6 – Boreas Pass – The Leisure Ride
Back at the condo after Stage 5, we’re sitting in the living room. There’s one day of racing left.
“So who wants to go on a leisure ride tomorrow?” someone asks. Everybody in the room raises their hand. Except one.
“No way. I’m racing tomorrow,” says Don Powers.
“Why? For what reason?” I demand. He’s behind me in the overall, and I’m barely in the top ten.
“To beat you Montana, I’ll make myself hurt to make your day miserable,” he says.
That dick. I immediately start trying to think of ways to make his day miserable. There’s a jar of maple syrup in front of me. I could fill his shoes with maple syrup. Cover his saddle in maple syrup. Fill his gloves with maple syrup. No, forget the syrup.
There’s an hour long climb over Boreas Pass tomorrow. It’s so gradual that you can’t stand up to climb it on a single speed with a low gear. I’ll lower his saddle an inch. That’ll make his knees explode.
The next morning, I go out to the garage and lower Don’s saddle. I let a touch of air out of his fork, so that it sucks down when he sits on his bike. I fill one bottle with 114 proof bourbon, and the other bottle with powdered donuts.
Photo by Brad Schmalzer
When he needs some water after that whiskey, he’ll get a spray of powdered sugar in the face. We’ll see who’s miserable today.
We leave the house to ride to the start. When he hits the first bump, Don’s fork sucks down. He stops his bike and looks at it sadly. I ride away.
Fifteen minutes later, he rolls into the start line with a fork pump.
“Well, I guess I can’t race today. My forks blown up,” he says.
“Oh man, that’s a bummer,” I say sympathetically. “Did you bring a pump down?”
He hands me the shock pump. I start fiddling with his fork. There are only a few minutes until the start. I hurriedly pump up one side, then the other.
“Here, see if this works,” I say. He cycles the fork.
“Great. Thanks. Well, I guess since you’ve been so nice I can’t screw with you today,” Don says.
“Yeah Don, Montana is such a good friend,” says another guy who knew about my sabotage.
The announcer talks into the mic, then we start up the road.
“Dammit, did you fuck with my saddle?” says Don. I start laughing. “This is gonna make my knees blow up,” he stops to fix it, and we ride away.
Climb up some single track, up some Jeep road, then up more single track. We have a couple backpacks full of beer, and stop to take a lot of pictures. Only two of the single speeders from the West are riding with our east side group.
When Don takes a drink, he’s actually excited to have the disgusting whiskey-Gu Roctain mix.
We cross the top of the pass, hang out at the un-official beer stop for a while. Don enthusiastically dumps more whiskey into his bottle. We ride onto the Gold Dust Trail.
Photo by Rob Lochner
It’s an awesome trail. Almost all flat, winding single track in a big shoulder height ditch. Every turn is banked, every decent has a rollers to pump.
Back up the other side of Boreas Pass. It’s a long climb back to the aid station. Don finally gets tired of drinking booze, and reaches for his other bottle. He squeezes it. The powdered donuts get crushed.
“Dammit! You emptied my other bottle too! I hate you!” he says.
“No man, it’s full,” I say.
“What’s in there? And I wish I had some water you dick,” he says. I decline to tell him. I’m having a fun day. Looks like I won the misery contest.
At the aid station, he opens the bottle, and whips the donuts at me. We hang out at the beer stop for a few more minutes, then start the last descent of the Breck Epic.
The Birdman and I sprint down the mountain, launch over big rock piles, and whip around tight corners. He cuts me off to pass on a switchback before the finish, but I surge around him at the line.
He grabs a can of coke, and sprays everybody with it as they finish the race. We stand around for a while with big smiles. That was a great week of riding. Then we head back to the condo to get clean for the after party.
By Miguel Arias, Bikeparts.com / Waltworks,
The sweat started developing on my palms as I looked down the trail. It sure was steep, and right at the bottom there was a big rock on the left hand side. My bare sweaty hands tightly clutched the grips, making them feel extra squishy. The nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach only became worse as two older riders pulled up on their new bikes, contemplated the descent, and between them decided to "wait for another time to try and ride it". They pedaled away as I decided to stare at it for just a little longer.
It had been a while since I had gotten my first mountain bike and I tried to ride it alone as much as possible so that no one could see how terrible I was at it. A humble bike it was, heavy by any standard with low-end components and no suspension. Mountain biking had become popular overnight in Queens, where I had noticed Thule and Yakima racks appearing as status symbols on cars before I ever owned a mountain bike. I recall sitting in my friends VW as he handed me a Specialized bike magazine of that model years’ bikes. When showed the one that he was going to buy I wondered to myself how I would get the money to afford something similar. Other kids in the neighborhood already owned expensive bikes; and of particular envy was one Team Edition Volvo-Cannondale bike.
* * *
I had already begun cursing my luck the day before I flew out to race the Butte 100 in Montana. It had been a priority to get new seals for my suspension fork since it had been pouring oil since the last race, but the parts had not arrived in time. Unfortunately the race would have to be ridden on a fully rigid bike. From what I knew of the race besides it being 100 miles was that it would climb and descend almost 18,000 feet, far more than any race or ride I had ever done. This elevation gain was so absurd to me I questioned if it could be fit into 100 miles. Tinker Juarez, who once rode for the Volvo-Cannondale Team, called it his favorite and the hardest race he had ever done. These words carried weight since they came from an accomplished racer.
In the pre-sunrise light of the early morning I lined up at the start of the Butte 100. Trying not to think of the 100 miles before me, my gloves that had somehow disappeared (I later found out our friend’s two year old had taken them) and the lack of suspension on my bike I looked around and saw Tinker. A smile came across my face as the thought came across my mind. "Never did I imagine that I would one day line up against the mountain bike racers in the magazines of my youth."
The smile turned to focus as the call came out; "15 seconds till start". I checked to make sure that I was in the right gear, and that both water bottles were there. "10 seconds" I felt my heart start going a little faster, took a deep breath and swallowed. "3, 2, 1, Go!" the early morning spectators clapped and cheered and we rolled through the start line.
I worked myself into fifth position going at a comfortable pace, knowing that no one wins a 100 mile race in the first couple of miles. Dead ahead was Tinker, flanked by two other riders surely trying to test the defending champion. We entered the first downhill section and I followed the fourth place rider. Thinking he was going too slowly so I went for the pass. Soon after going for the pass I realized the reason for the reduced speed. I washed out full speed in 6 inches of sand trying to make a right hand turn. As I slid across the sand dragging my leg and knuckles I was relieved that there were no rocks and that it really didn’t hurt that much. A couple of thoughts went through my mind 1.) bad way to start a 100 and 2.) this is really going to hurt. A rider passed me from behind as I tried wiping the sand off my hands. I was now in 6th place and my hands already hurt.
It took me about 20 minutes of descending to figure out how to corner, but after trading positions on the uphill and downhill I realized that the rigid bike was naturally slower on the descents, despite my efforts to the contrary. Not helping the situation was that I had never seen any part of the course.
It was early in the race, where the first rays of the sun were beginning to peek through the trees. Feeling the comfortable temperature I knew we would be in for a hot one. I reached down to drink and saw that I lost a water bottle during the crash – I had one left but it was half empty. "Stick it out till the next aid station", I thought to myself, emptying the contents of the water bottle into my mouth.
Passing the next checkpoint I was between two Montana riders on the same team, sitting in 5th place. My bottle was now full, and I fished into my pocket to eat some food. As I did the guy behind me sped around and bridged up to the rider in front. I let them go, deciding that eating was more important at this moment. I am still not sure if it was a mistake, but I only realized after I rode them that the next 20 miles or so were perfect terrain to trade turns drafting and conserving energy. I would ride the rest of the race alone.
Somewhere around mile 60 I saw our blue rental car with Melissa in it. This was the first time I had seen her all race as she had been looking for gloves for the past 5 hours. She drove ahead up the road and waited for me. Once outside the car she pulled out gloves and filled my water bottles. My hands felt instant relief from the beating that they had taken over the previous miles. I sped to the next checkpoint with renewed energy. "I’ll see you at mile 70!" she yelled after me.
Going into the checkpoint at mile 70 I was 30 minutes down on Tinker. Melissa was waiting there to fill my empty water bottles. Right after leaving the checkpoint I encountered a steep uphill section. No big deal I thought, just pace it like you have been. Yet the single track continued on and on, as did the steep climbing. What I encountered for the next twenty miles was the most difficult ride or race I have ever been a part of. I still don’t know how I didn’t cramp, because fluids and food were becoming less and less palatable. I was so focused on finishing I had to place the worries of a bike mechanical or crashing out of my mind. There was a very good possibility that if I did either I would have to walk out, or more likely, someone would have to carry me out.
As the miles dragged on my speed dropped significantly; and the climb continued with pain and mental fatigue slowly letting itself in. More than once did I look down at the soggy bottom headset cap on my bike; last years’ 100 miler trophy and 1.) wished my friend were there and 2.) reminded myself that everyone else was suffering the same as me. Strange what goes through one’s mind during epically long races, mostly to soothe the despair of late miles when the body begins to protest the mind’s commands.
Mile marker 90 came around and it was the last checkpoint. I was on my last legs – dehydrated with no desire to drink and hungry without any desire to eat. The end of my rope had come. Yet the final climb was still ahead and somehow the first two miles felt relatively easy. Maybe it was the feel that the finish was so close or more likely it was the last desperate effort from a body that could no longer go. Whatever it was, as the climb continued the energy began to ebb from my body. I no longer had any power behind the pedal strokes; 90 plus miles and over 17,000 feet of vertical had taken their toll. Cresting over the last hill I somehow rolled to the finish line holding onto sixth place.
It was difficult to get into the car following the race; my body felt cold and my extremities began to tingle. I could see the muscles twitching in my legs, but I couldn’t feel their movements. I was trying to ingest fluids but the nausea kept protesting. I knew that if I threw up it would be a hospital visit for IV fluids. Rolling down the window to get some fresh air gave me temporary relief.
Somehow holding onto the contents of my stomach we arrived back at the cabin we were staying at. I needed to be flanked on either side to exit the car into the house. Like one with broken legs I was helped into the bathtub. My body temperature had dropped; I needed heat, food and fluid. Pouring Epsom salt into the running bath I stepped in. Maybe after some minutes or maybe an hour the salt and water began to hydrate my skin and life began to return to my body. I ate a Graham cracker and washed it down with water. I was going to be ok.
* * *
Somehow around mile 80 I remembered what it was like to be scared of descending on a mountain bike; looking down the trail with my palms pouring sweat and my heart racing. It had been hidden away in memory for 15 years, locked up with life’s other awkward moments we would sometimes rather forget.
Memories come up that retroactively act like barometers of our own life’s weather patterns. They are tools of measurement, to see how far winds and weather have carried you and just maybe, during a moment of clarity you realize how far you have come with the work you have put in. Sometimes taking a step back and eliminating noise makes one realize how good they have become at something, not just in cycling but anything in life. It is easiest for me to think of such things when I have the menial task of pedaling in little circles and getting up that next hill.
I wish that only words could share the elation and pride that I felt at mile 80; yet as is often the case during any long excursion I had the most beautiful thought come to mind only to have it leave as easily as it came in. As I write these words realizing they are unjust to the thoughts I was having, as I have butchered them once again. Like trying to make a moment last forever I still clutch for it as it rapidly slips away.
Somewhere there at mile 80 a boy finally rode down the steep trail, even if it was only in my mind. We had come a long way together, growing and learning. It was the old me and the young me, meeting again for the first time on some dusty trail high on the Montana continental divide, embracing the past, present and future, knowing that our road together had come too far to let those last 20 miles stop us.
By Montana Miller,
“Can you imagine shooting a kangaroo with a bow? The things have hands. It’d rip that arrow out and stab you,” my friend Brad says. We’re sitting at the dining room table in the condo. Just finished the stage.
Today’s race was way better than yesterday’s.
The sun was out from the start. We left town on the neutral roll out and started the first climb. Riding up the first hill, I take a hard pedal stroke. The chain pops and falls off. Crap. That’s not supposed to happen on a single speed.
“Get off the trail hippy!” yells my friend Don Powers.
“Blow me meathead,” I say. I put the chain back on and start riding again. A few minutes later, it pops off again. Damn it. I look at it a little more closely. Busted link. I push the pin back in with my multi-tool. Pedal a few more feet. It explodes again.
Last place duo-open team Rich Dillen and Peter Keiller pass me. That’s not good. I’m way in the back now. I stand by the side of the trail begging for a quick-link. A guy finally rides by and gives me one.
Get the chain going again, then start walking as fast as I can. The trail is too steep for riding. But I have to make time. I have to catch back up to Don Powers. If he beats me in a stage, he’ll shout and stamp his feet like a happy caveman for the rest of the week.
I rip down Little French, chunks of shale spitting out from under my tires, through the first aid station and onto the climb up French Pass.
The jeep road narrows to single track. Climbing higher, the trees get stubbier, then disappear. Just grass, and a narrow strip of rocky dirt. I can see people strung out along the pass a mile away. There’s a grey and black jersey. Powers.
I slowly reel him in, then make a hiking pass. We walk the rest of the way to the top of the pass. A guy is handing out Skittles. I grab a handful and start descending the other side.
I choke on the Skittles. Spit out a big chewed up ball of them. The trail is super fast, wide open. My front tire catches an edge. Oh shit. I unclip a foot and drag it in the dirt. My bike stays upright. Behind me, I hear a pop. Look back, Don Powers is standing over his bike, waving his arms. Nice. Don’t have to worry about him anymore.
Down a fast single-track descent, then through the second aid station. I start the dirt road climb up Georgia Pass. Half an hour later, I hit the top. Finally. All the climbs out here are so damn long.
Onto the Colorado Trail. The top section is fast and flowing, cut into the side of the ridge. Around a few switchbacks. The trail gets rougher, until I’m slamming through a huge rock garden. Slide down a steep rock chute, and across a stream.
A few more miles of fast double track, then into the finish. Excellent day.
Back at the condo, we still aren’t talking about anything bike related. “All animals are rats. Even my dog. She’s actually just a big rat,” Brad says. This week is starting to get fun.
Brady Kappius took the single speed win, beating Macky Franklin (who was racing with a broken cleat) by five minutes. Jenifer Wilson continued her dominance in the single speed women’s race.
Benmelt Swanepoel beat Ben Sontag by one minute in the Open Men’s Race, and Amanda Carey outsprinted Yolondi Du Toit for the women’s win.
By Montana Miller,
“Alright, Stage 2 of the Breck Epic! Go!” the announcer says over the loudspeaker.
A drop of rain hits my arm. We follow the police car out of town. Up the first climb. I get off my bike and start to walk. The rain is coming down steadily.
“Don’t worry guys, there’s blue sky right over there!” a volunteer yells. I hope it makes over here.
Up some more double track, a few miles across a section of road. I start the walk up Little French Gulch. The thing is way too steep to ride on a single speed, and covered in sharp chunks of shale. The rocks crackle and roll around under my ankles.
A guy on a single speed rides past me. Dammit. This is supposed to be too steep. He can’t be riding. But he is. I hate how well the guys that live here deal with the thin air.
It’s raining harder now, and I’m starting to get cold. I stop at the top of the hour-long switchback climb on the Colorado Trail. Pull on a long sleeve jersey. I start the sweet descent down the other side. Ripping across the mountain, grabbing brakes, dropping over a wet root, turning on a tight switchback. And again. Half an hour of fast descending until I hit the bottom. I love that trail.
My jersey is soaked the whole way through now. Still sort of having fun though. I’m just trying to pretend that it’s a spring race in West Virginia. And the rain has to stop soon. It never rains all day in Colorado.
Two hours later, it’s still raining. I’m shivering badly. But it’s cool. Just keep it together. I roll through the last aid station. Only 12 miles to go.
Six miles later, I’m not keeping it together very well. I’m yelling into the woods, shouting about the climbs, and squeezing my grips as hard as I can. I’m starting to lose the feelings in my hands.
A few miles to the finish, I’m totally numb. I cross the line. My girlfriend is standing at the finish with a dry shirt and some coffee. I can barely grip the mug.
My friends Don and John finish. We start the ride back to town. John’s chain sucks, bends, and breaks. We stop with him. He can’t fix it.
“Just get out of here. Leave me,” he says. It’s still raining and not much more that 40 degrees. We don’t argue, and ride away without him. I’ve never been so cold. My chest is starting to cramp.
Don wails like a stabbed howler monkey. His teeth are chattering so much that he can’t form sentences. I make it back to the condo 20 minutes later. I’m covered in freezing mud. Dive into the hot tub. I start to warm up a little. People start rolling back into the house. They’re discouraged, angry, and hypothermic.
After we warm up, we spend the rest of the night fixing our bikes. I hope it stops raining. I don’t think I could race another day in that shit.
In the Single Speed Stage Race World Championships Race, Brady Kappius took the stage win by beating
Macky Franklin. Jenifer Wilson took the Single Speed Women’s win again.
Amanda Carey beat out Yolandi Du Toit in the Opens Women’s Race, and Friberg Calle was the fastest Open Man.
In Men’s Open Duo, Rich Dillen and Peter Keiller are still in last place.