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 Print
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 Print
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 Print
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 Print
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.
We love hearing from readers, especially readers who are as passionate about mountain biking as we are. Alexis, 13, of Biddeford, Maine, sent us this poem that beautifully summarizes why we do what we do. Thanks Alexis.
Alexis is a member of the Biddeford chapter of Trips For Kids. Operating in the United States, Canada and Israel, Trips For Kids has opened the world of cycling to over 100,000 at-risk youth since 1988 through mountain bike rides and Earn-A-Bike programs. The over 80 Trips For Kids chapters we support combine lessons in confidence building, achievement and environmental awareness through the development of practical skills, and the simple act of having fun.
I know the surrounding woods like a life long friend, the squawking birds and wind rushing through the trees.
The bright leaves that littler the trail are like a collage of autumn colors, they are beautiful.
I start out on the trail, riding hard.
All I can see is the trail in front of me, all I can hear is the pounding of my heart, all I know is this moment, right now.
I hammer down on the pedals, tree branches whip at my arms and legs.
I concentrate hard, tearing through the woods, excited and anticipating what the trail leads to next.
My wrists are numb, my legs are aching, but I don’t care anymore.
The happiness and freedom that the trail brings me overrides the pain of the moment.
I grip the handlebars tight; dig in deep on the longest hill in the world.
My whole body aches, but I will myself forward, dig deeper, power hard, almost to the top.
Here I come! Screaming down the other side, exhilarated, terrified, gaining speed, sure to crash.
Flying over the winding path, I let off the brakes and just float.
I feel light as a feather, it was worth the climb.
Smoothly avoiding rocks and branches, I am flying around the twisting path, gravity is on my side now.
I feel so happy, banging around out on the trails, like I was born to do this, and nothing else.
The smells and sounds of the woods fill my nose and ears, leaves swishing, water rushing, the smell of trees.
I feel like there should be nothing more to the world than this.
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 Print
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 Print
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 Print