Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Dirt Rag issue #173, published in October 2013.
By Paul de Valera
Mountain biking is a province of firsts. Repurposing cruisers for dirt duty: a first. Bikes with suspension on the front and back (that work): a first. Hucking huge gaps: a first. Using your coaster brake to cook bacon: a first. What is that you say? Did I hear bacon? Yes, vegetarians need not read further, for this is a tale of the candy of meat: bacon.
How this started is, we have been organizing off-road races utilizing only the coaster brake for several years now in our hood of San Fernando Valley, California. Many of us in our bike club, the SCUMBAGS, have used these coaster-brake-challenge race bikes in place of our regular bikes for some time, tackling the trails that we rode our “normal” bikes on. You could call it retro or paying homage, or being fed up with the next new thing that we have to have, but coaster brake riding is also just fun.
On one of these fun rides we went down a long descent. At the bottom my coaster brake hub was smoking, and we poured some water on it, which evaporated upon contact. One of our more enterprising members (he rides a Huffy with Yeti stickers on it) exclaimed, “That hub is so hot, you could cook bacon on it!” A capital idea.
Months went by and the idea stayed with me. One night before a ride I went and got some bacon, wrapped it in tinfoil, and then used electrical tape to hold it to my coaster brake hub. We did a four-mile climb with about 2,700 feet of gain. On the way down, I rode the brakes to create more heat. As my friends passed me they shouted, “I can smell bacon!” It was working!
Once we got to the bottom, we saw the smoke scrolling off the hub and could hear that wonderful sound of bacon cooking. My back rim was covered in bacon grease. Upon unwrapping it, we saw that the bacon closest to the hub was charred black and then went from crisp to cooked to raw where it overlapped. Much celebration was in order, and then I ate the bacon. I went off that day feeling accomplished. In a world where people are always telling you that it has all been done before, we once again have a first.
We’ve published a lot of stuff in 25 years of Dirt Rag. Find all our Blast From the Past stories here.
Words by Frank Maguire, photos and illustrations by Jon Pratt and Shea Ferrell of Flowline Trail Design
The most iconic images of mountain biking often involve a just-right moment of wheels arcing through the air, body and bike fluid in their escape of gravity’s pull, the rider willing the bike onward and upward toward what we all imagine will be a smooth re-entry. Those images make us reminisce about days spent playing in a driveway or alleyway, where we leaned a piece of three-quarter-inch plywood on a cinderblock and launched ourselves at the makeshift ramp.
Or maybe you went to a corner of the yard, just out of Mom’s sight and started digging, knowing that if you dug deep enough, you’d have enough dirt to make some sweet jumps. Those momentary childhood expressions of freedom often came to an abrupt end when Dad came home and put an end to the “mess you made.”
Now that we’re adults, it’s time to think about what it will take to recreate those play spots and to to build something that will be worthy of our efforts. At IMBA, we sometimes refer to such trails as “bulldozer-proof.” The reward for doing things the right way is being able to rest assured that what we build will be long-lasting and can become true community assets.
The first step in this whole process is to recognize what it is you are asking for. Bike-specific features such as jump lines, pump tracks, and skills parks go beyond what mountain bikers have typically been allowed to build on public lands for the past 20 years. To avoid confusion in conversations with land managers, it’s better to talk about “features” or even “facilities,” than just trails.
Whereas natural surface trails can serve a variety of needs and users, bike features really only serve the needs of one user group, and probably a fairly narrow slice of the biking community at that. It is likely that such exclusivity will make it nearly impossible to put features into existing trail systems, and that’s probably for the best. Features require a different type of maintenance and planning, and should not be confused with any skills you and your club have developed through building singletrack.
The good news is that because these features are an entirely different animal, they might fit better into areas you hadn’t considered approaching for trails. County and municipal parks with developed recreation areas for traditional sports may be the best place to start. As opposed to multi-use facilities,
These types of parks are used to dealing with individual user-groups asking for specific facilities. For example, if your community has a disc golf course, it would be worth looking at how it came to be and use that as a blueprint. Skate parks are an even bet- ter example because it is likely that the city’s legal department had to get involved and determined that risk can be minimized (more on this later).
Learning how to speak the language of a facilities manager will help you walk them through your dream trail in a way that doesn’t immediately scare them or put them off. Incorporating the following ideas into your plan will help make that dream a reality.
What follows is a list of some of the different considerations and ideas that should be part of any plan. You may notice that I do not discuss how to shape jumps and pack berms. One reason is that there are several professional trail building resources available, but also because the fine art of feature construction deserves an article all its own. The focus here is providing an understanding of how to begin to develop the design concepts for the features you want.
The entrance: It is critical to make sure that the only people who get on your trail are the ones who have the desire and skill to be there. This is accomplished in two ways: signage and qualifiers. It’s best if the entrance is not in the normal flow of any other trail traffic, but rather acts as a gathering spot before people roll in. Funneling riders to the signage and the qualifier will help them transition into the different experience.
Signage: The language of a good sign is more than a list of “Thou shalt nots!” and should focus on making the trail experience understandable. It should encourage people to walk the trail first. Explain the skills that are needed and the types of equipment and protection that are mandatory or strongly encouraged. Include some sort of way-finding as well as directions to the nearest emergency room. The language should be developed with the cooperation of a local risk management official.
The Qualifier: Think of this as the clown’s arm at the amusement park, the one that says, “You must be this tall to ride.” The qualifier is a mandatory feature that sets the tone for the ride. It should be an example of what the rest of the trail will be like in terms of features and the ability level required to ride them. And unlike other features on the trail, this one has no ride-around option. Good examples of this would be a skinny boardwalk or a rock drop. Placing rocks, or even a fence, to guide riders onto the qualifier helps emphasize the gateway feel.
The Approach: Placement is critical to the success of your features. Each feature needs to blend into the flow of the trail and not be an abrupt transition. By placing a grade reversal a few bike lengths before the feature you allow several things to happen. First, the surface leading up to the feature does not become a series of brake bumps, causing control issues. The grade reversal acts as a natural speed check and adds to the rhythm of the ride; think of it as going up to get down. Secondly, this speed check allows riders to square up or opt to take the ride-around option. The setup area should be between two and four bike lengths following the grade reversal, depending on the entrance speed.
Fall zone and ceiling height: Each feature needs to be placed with a bailout in mind. Good features will require practice and repetition to get right, so the inevitable fall needs to be planned for. Your fall zone should be at gradual grade and free of rocks and stumps in a one-to-two-bike length arc. You should also clear the trail ceiling (Yes, there is a ceiling.) eight to 10 feet above you when standing on top of the feature. Even on drops, clearing the ceiling prevents riders from focusing on something above them during the approach, when they need to focus on where they’re headed.
The landing: Transition on landing is key to how the feature feels in the overall flow of the trail. Abrupt transitions or landing on flat ground will sap momentum out of the ride and make it more likely that someone will get hurt. The landing zone should be twice whatever the approach area is, allowing for recovery before the next section of trail.
If you expect the trail to be heavily used, the surface of the landing might need to be armored with rock or turf block pavers to withstand regular impact. Make sure that the armoring is consistent and fairly uniform. The idea isn’t to create a rock garden in these sections, but to help the surface tolerate abuse. It’s also a good idea to place another grade reversal after the landing to let the flow return.
Materials and methods: Do you want to emulate the beautiful ladder bridges that photograph so well in British Columbia? There is a reason cedar is the construction material of choice. Abundant as debris from logging or wind damage, cedar is incredibly rot resistant and its grain provides a nice texture for traction. If you need to build out of wood, it is best to use untreated and non-dimensional lumber, such as rough cut white oak, locust, or cedar. The shortcoming of wood is that it needs to have a more rigorous inspection routine and can be expensive to replace. Are the fasteners holding up? Has anything become loose?
Do any planks need to be replaced? Building with rock is often preferable to wood, as it is aesthetically more natural in the landscape, and when done properly should hold up to years of abuse. Stone can sometimes be sourced locally and is more durable, but the skills to work with rock take time to acquire. Turf block pavers are great for hardening surfaces and are relatively easy to install, but can be very difficult to get on location. Any decision on what materials to use should be made in conjunction with the park manager.
Risk management: If you are dealing with a developed recreation park, chances are the park will have a staff person charged with assessing risk and management strategies. It is critical that this person understands what it is you are look- ing to build, and that you explain every step of the construction process. They should work with you to document the planning steps you have taken and how you plan to maintain the features, including developing a maintenance schedule. Risk management is all about trying to plan for the eventual accident. In all activities, the participant assumes some risk, but it is up to you as the trail builder to make sure your features don’t increase that risk. The final step in any risk management plan is to have liability insurance, because even if you do everything right, you might still need to prove it someday.
About the images
These illustrations were the product of in-house photography that was combined with illustrations from Flowline trail Design. They are a collaboration of designers, artists, builders and riders drawn together by the common drive to create progressive and sustainable riding destinations. Check out what they can do at www.flowlinetraildesign.com.
By Josh Patterson, photos by Sterling Lorence
In the world of mountain bike photography, Sterling Lorence is the closest thing to a
household name. Over the past decade his photos have documented the rise and evolution of the freeride movement. Living in Vancouver, British Columbia, Sterling bore witness to the early pioneers of the sport, riders named Berrecloth, Hunter, Watson, Simmons, Shandro, and Vanderham. His skill behind the lens catapulted these riders into the cycling media and introduced mountain bikers across the globe to locales such as the north Shore, Whistler and Kamloops. Despite his accomplishments, Sterling is humble enough to chalk his success up to being in the right place at the right time.
What made you realize you could turn photography into a successful career?
I knew deep inside that I had a lot of creative energy towards mountain biking and the photography of it. I thought if I could get a bunch of those ideas into photos, I would not only be able to make some money from it, but I would also be able to properly express the love I had for this sport in an artistic way.
Do you have any formal training, or are you self-taught?
Some schooling during high school and college—I majored in environmental studies. I am lucky to have a cousin that is a professional photographer. He acted as my mentor for many years.
Are there other photographers you look up to, or whose work you admire?
When I started to pay attention to the photos in the mags, I liked the work of John Gibson and Scott Markewitz. These days, some of the young shooters that have caught my eye are Reuben Krabbe and Jordan Manley. (Manley’s work was featured on the cover of issue #158. ed.)
Describe your style behind the lens:
Sniper-like. With a desire to extract as much soul, style and stunning light as possible. If you’re going to waste the Earth’s fine paper products on my work, it has to stoke the reader.
Describe your style on the bike:
Swiss precision in the tech (I grew up on the Shore.) and I smile at huge climbs through alpine passes.
What’s the most difficult aspect of being a professional photographer?
I am completely freelance which can be a bit scary—I can’t predict my paychecks more than a few months out. But, I will say that cycling has been great to me and I have found a solid career in this industry. The most difficult part is the travel. To work in this sport means that you’re moving around to find new places and create new looks from new places. It can be hard to be away from my family when I am on the other side of the globe for weeks at a time with people I don’t really know.
If you were not making a living as a photographer, what would you be doing?
I have always had a huge desire to help save our precious fisheries. I would be a badass politician in this area, and/ or would work in habitat restoration, making sure our rivers were healthy for the salmon to return to.
What inspires you?
My family, people who are willing to think outside the box, people with an environmental conscience, evening light that is raging the land, and riders with style.
What is your favorite destination for riding/shooting?
British Columbia has the most diverse collection of mountain bike landscapes imaginable. But I can knock it a bit due to the excessive forest landscapes, which can limit access to sunlight. I will say that Utah, with its dry, clean air and uniquely colored landscapes, still blows me away photographically.
You get to work with a lot of talented riders. Any new riders we should be on the lookout for?
A couple of young groms from Whistler Bike Park named Jack and Fin Iles.
Camera and lens of choice?
For action, I would say the Canon 1DX with a 70-200/2.8 lens. For lifestyle, a Hasselblad with an 80mm lens.
Bike of choice?
Trek Remedy Carbon spec’d with an aggressive vibe, so I can shred the shore and then hammer through some mountain passes a few days later…
Beer of choice?
That is a tough one. Let’s just say that when I get to the supermarket (except in Utah), and the variety is so diverse that they dedicated the entire aisle to beer, I am radically stoked and can never decide what to get. I will take a lifetime to try and savor them all.
What advice can you pass on to fellow riders who want to improve their mountain bike photos?
I tell people this all the time “Mountain biking looks boring in photos unless the rider is completely pinning it into a dynamic part of the trail, so shoot the fastest parts and get the rider to f’n pin it!”
What equipment suggestions would you make to aspiring photographers?
Shoot lots of photos and be your own toughest editor. Once your photos begin to look quite professional you can start worrying about buying nice lenses, lenses are more important than megapixels and frames per second.
Words and photos by Adam Newman
For 30 years, Moots frames have been handbuilt not just in America, but “in the Rockies,” as each one proudly states across its flanks. Founded in 1981 by Mountain Bike Hall-of-Famer Kent Eriksen, Moots began like many brands—a small operation housed in the back of a local bike shop. The name was inspired by a recurring character in Eriksen’s life: a pencil eraser adorned with a top hat-wearing alligator called Mr. Moots. His likeness appears on every Moots frame to this day.
In 1983, a passion for the backcountry trails surrounding Steamboat Springs, Colorado, led to the first Mootaineer mountain bike, and Steve Tilford promptly won the first NORBA National Championship aboard one. The early excitement surrounding mountain bikes is more widely associated with California, but took off in Colorado too. “Almost the same time it was happening here, with Moots. It was just much further off the map,” says Moots marketing and social media director Jon Cariveau. “The terrain around here really prompted the need for a mountain bike.”
Only four short years later, they debuted their YBB (Why Be Beat?) soft-tail design, which is still used to this day. With no pivots, and only a small shock incorporated into the wishbone seastays, it allows for 1.125 inches of rear wheel travel.
Eriksen eventually left Moots in 2004 to start his own custom frame shop, Eriksen Cycles in 2006. (Read our interview with Eriksen from 2006.)
But wait, you say, was Moots really making titanium frames way back in 1981? Well, no. Lugged and TIG-welded steel was the material of choice until 1991, when titanium quality and technology finally reached the company’s standards. The company made an almost overnight switch in materials. Titanium’s unique ride quality perfectly meshed with the company’s design philosophy.
“It’s the ride experience. It’s the feel of the bike,” says Cariveau. “That’s our driving force, the ride quality.”
That signature satin tubing is sourced entirely from domestic companies and is always seamlessly drawn in a 3/2.5 blend, allowing for custom-spec’d, proprietary tubes designed just for bicycles. Ti frames will not fatigue, loosen or deaden over time like other materials. Moots can also refinish their frames to make them look like new through the company’s refurbishing program.
Moots owners—or even just wishful owners—are welcome to visit the factory each Monday, Wednesday, or Friday at 10 a.m. for a step-by- step look at how the frames are crafted. The transformation from tube to bicycle begins in the mitering room. Here tubes are cut and shaped by hand, then mitered and drilled as needed. A jig allows for test fitting of each piece before it moves on. Each miter and cut must be perfect to ensure a clean weld and a solid joint. Excess material or imprecise fittings are simply not tolerated. Small batches of stock-sized bikes are often cut at once to save time down the line. Each size frame uses size- specific tubing, used to fine-tune the ride quality.
Once cut, the tubes are polished, cleaned near the weld points to remove any dirt, grease, or cutting fluid, and then placed in an ultrasonic cleaner for additional cleaning. From now until welding is complete, the tubes will not be handled without gloves. The welder then arranges the tubes in a jig, then seals off any holes or openings. Because titanium requires an oxygen-free environment to be welded properly, argon gas is pumped into the frame and expelled from the welding torch to shield the frame from contamination. The Moots factory has a beautiful system of gas lines and custom-made jigs that keep the floor clear of clutter and allow the welders to work unimpeded.
The first step is to tack-weld the frames to hold their shape. Small size runs are often paused at this stage, allowing final details, like braze-ons, to be added as needed after an order has been placed. Moots’ trademark “stack-of-dimes” welds are made with a double pass. Not the fastest way to get things done, but it results in a high quality juncture.
“We make sure every little detail is paid attention to,” says Cariveau. “Cutting corners is not what we’re about.”
Once complete, the frame travels to the finish department, where burrs are removed, headtubes and bottom brackets are faced, and careful inspection for defects takes place. The signature Moots satin-silver finish is applied—or rather, removed—by a particle blasting of tiny glass beads. Then decals are applied and each frame is boxed up for a trip to its new owner.
The factory produces about 1,400 frames a year. In fact, every Moots product, including the stems, seatposts, headset spacers, and TailGator rack, is produced in Steamboat Springs. Almost all of the sub-pieces— binders, cable guides, etc.— are also produced in house.
When you purchase a Moots frame you enter an exclusive club. Between the nature of the tubing, the lifetime warranty, and the refinishing service, a Moots frame really is expected to last a lifetime. Yes, they are expensive, but you’re paying for the finest materials, handled by the finest craftsmen.
The collective knowledge and experience in working with titanium—20 years and counting—has led to the development of the RSL family of frames designed as zero-compromise machines. The road, mountain, and cyclocross frames offer the most advanced tubing shapes and were designed from the ground up around modern frame standards such as 44mm inset headsets and press-fit 30 bottom brackets.
“We’ve challenged ourselves and had a bit of a re-awaking with Moots,” says Cariveau. “We can look forward, we can design these modern day bikes with modern day features and still hold our titanium line… It was very much a collective effort within Moots to push ourselves.”
While the frames are by no means heavy, Cariveau stresses that eliminating grams was not the driving motivation. “We could make a much lighter road frame, but the ride quality starts to diminish very quickly.”
I got to experience that ride quality first hand when I visited Steamboat Springs to ride with Cariveau in the thin air of northern Colorado. Steamboat is a bike lover’s paradise—in the summer, at least—with a flat, bicycle-friendly downtown surrounded by picturesque mountains coursing with veins of sweet singletrack. I worked the MootoX RSL as hard as I could to keep up with Cariveau, though there was little chance I could catch the defending two-time CrossVegas “Wheelers and Dealers” race winner.
Titanium may not be de rigueur in the industry these days, but Cariveau sees the pendulum swinging back towards traditionally made, metal bikes. “If you ask a Moots customer, a Moots rider, if they would switch to another bike, the constant response is ‘Nothing rides like my Moots. Nothing.’”
Moots continues to expand their mountain bike offerings with the pending release of the full-suspension Divide family of frames, available in both 26 and 29-inch versions. Designed around an all-new single- pivot suspension, they will offer four inches of travel in a racy package. The frame, swingarm and seatstays will be made in-house of titanium and the chainstays from 6061 aluminum.
The new models will also incorporate the larger, 44mm inset headtubes and press-fit 30 bottom bracket shells first seen on the RSL frames. They will undoubtedly be light, but again, ride quality is paramount at Moots.
“Concentrating on, and keeping that durability very high was on our brain the whole time. We don’t want to make a mountain bike that goes out there in a very abusive world and doesn’t hold up,” says Cariveau.
The Divide bikes will join Moots’ already diverse line of mountain bikes, including the MootoX RSL, which gets a new, double-curved downtube for 2012. Look for complete Divide bikes to be ready in spring 2012.
By Josh Patterson
We caught up with Mountain Bike Review founder and general manager Francis Cebedo at Interbike. As one would expect, Francis was hard at work, hunched over his computer, keeping tabs on the website and uploading news and photos for the thousands of mountain bikers who visit the site each day. MTBR.com is many things to many riders: a valuable source of information, a place to connect with fellow riders, and sometimes, an inescapable black hole, robbing riders of time that could have been spent mountain biking.
How did MTBR come about?
I started riding in 1995. When I first saw the Internet in 1996 my first thought was “there needs to be a site for mountain biking.” The vision was about trust. I trust the people I meet on the trails more than magazines or advertisements. If I could build a site with users who trust each other it would be better for me. I was not looking to start a business; I was just looking for advice to help make me a better rider.
What was the initial reaction?
The idea of letting people publish their opinion was very radical. Now it’s an accepted part of the buying process. It was cool to see the progression, within a year Yahoo choose [MTBR.com] as a cool site. In the very early days about 95 percent of companies were against it, now maybe five are percent against it.
When did the site transition from a hobby to a full-time job?
In 1998 I had 15 unbuilt bike frames in my garage, because that’s how advertisers paid me. My wife, who was supporting me, wised up and said I better start making money. What motivated me to build a company was that the idea was not unique to mountain biking; it worked for many products, on a larger scale. There’s no patent to protect the idea, the only way to protect it was to be an early adopter, to build the company first.
You have many more competitors than you did 10 years ago. How does MTBR stay relevant?
I respect what other online outlets are doing and I try to learn from them, magazines as well. You can’t get over-confident. People come up with better stuff every day. There’s a real push to doing our core stuff better, reviews and forums. We are redesigning our user interface. We already have 1.5 million users on our old, crappy interface. We could probably have 2 million with a redesigned site.
Have your goals for the site changed over the past 15 years?
The goal hasn’t really changed. I think the goal of creating a great resource for sharing ideas has helped from day one to today. It’s really an information kiosk for everyone.
Which forum is the largest offender/troublemaker/source of headaches?
We had a political forum but it kinda went awry.
You get to ride a lot of bikes. What are your favorites?
I tend to ride singlespeed 29ers because the trails close to my house are relatively easy—singlespeeding makes them more challenging.
It seems like many people in the bike industry have a love/hate relationship with MTBR. Companies love it when their products get positive reviews from riders, but hate MTBR when pictures of their cracked frames are plastered all over the Internet.
I’ve been through some factory tours and the VP of marketing always has MTBR open. Companies have to be in-tune with the community. The winners are those companies that can communicate well with users to create excitement and solve problems. If the medium is used right, it can be a great way to communicate with customers and loyal fans. Customers are more likely to judge companies on how they deal with failure than success.
Do you think this shifts the balance of power from companies to consumers?
Definitely. In the old days, if a manufacturer dealt with a customer’s problem by telling them “You’re overweight.” or “You were riding it wrong.” that would have pretty much been the end of things. If a company does that today they are screwed. Today the customer is in much stronger place if they feel they are being mistreated.
Last Question: Can you quantify how many hours people waste viewing your site when they should be working?
[Laughs] We are a culprit of lost worker productivity. Once people are hooked on a forum, they’re really hooked. When our server goes down my email and Facebook page blow up. I get messages like, “I cannot go on with my day!” This is funny because people are addicted. It goes from CEO’s of bike companies to avid consumers, government workers and teachers; they’re all on the site.
By Leslie Kehmeier
All great journeys start with thoughts of “I wonder if…” Great long-distance trails start with an even bigger wonder, the thought that it might be possible to create a way to get from here to there. Along the way, the trail dreamer needs to link bits and pieces of land and communities to make the journey a reality. This is more than a ride in the park; this is about building an experience. So start by grabbing your beverage of choice, lay out some topo maps and draw imaginary lines with your pointer finger, saying “I wonder if…”
Arizona’s Black Canyon Trail is several decades in the making. Designated in the 1960s for cooperative recreation, the southern portion of the trail began to appear in the early 1990s. Budget constraints delayed further construction until six years ago, when the BLM enlisted the services of IMBA Trail Solutions Specialist Joey Klein.
Perhaps the delay was a blessing in disguise. The vision for the Black Canyon Trail was revised to include mountain biking as an accepted use, a new school of thought from other, older long-distance trails. After seeing the potential for continuing the trail through an amazing landscape, Klein rallied the local community to come together to build a trail that is now more than 80 miles long. The Black Canyon Trail is a blueprint for the future of multi-use, long-distance trails.
“How do you feel about river crossings?” This was the first question asked when I made the call to get more information on the Black Canyon Trail. The voice went on to add “less than two weeks ago we had to carry our bikes over our heads while crossing the Agua Fria.” At the time, I remembered picturing a scenario that probably looked more like Alaska than Arizona. At least I only had to worry about flash floods in this scenario. The conversation went on to include visions of poisonous reptiles, dramatic scenery, and oodles of backcountry singletrack. As I hung up the phone I thought this would be more of an escapade, compared to run-of-the-mill road trips. I would soon find out that it was definitely worth the drive across three big, square states.
Somewhere between Flagstaff and Phoenix, along a lonely strip of Interstate 17, lies the Black Canyon Trail, more than 80 miles of singletrack that connects the Carefree and Prescott Highways. Commonly known as the “BCT,” the trail was developed through a 4,000-acre corridor of picturesque landscape, rivaling anything out of those classic Western picture shows. From the high elevations of the rugged Bradshaw Mountains to the iconic saguaros cactus of the Sonoran Desert, this part of the world is tough country for any creature—the perfect place for those who love a good old-fashioned, two-wheeled adventure.
That initial trip to the BCT two years ago was more than just an excuse to get away from the Colorado winter. The mission, which my husband and I eagerly chose to accept, was to ride the trail, use our GPS to create a map, and bring more exposure to the “next great place to ride.” Trails like this provide a remarkably different experience than the typical, local community trail system. Too often, however, these destinations do not get the recognition they deserve. As we planned the details of the initial trip we had two goals in mind: discover some relatively unknown, high-quality singletrack, and showcase it with a great map.
After our first trip was in the books it didn’t become another photo album on the bookshelf. We actually had very good reason to go back: to ride new trail segments as they were completed. At the time of our initial visit, only a third of the entire trail had been constructed. Since then, we’ve returned again and again, each time logging rides that include narrow, exposed singletrack, spring flowers in bloom, sweeping vistas, and crazy characters. In almost a dozen visits to the Black Canyon Trail I have never been disappointed.
The Black Canyon Trail is both old and new. An ancient trade route turned livestock driveway, the BCT has become a place for recreation over the last few decades. Managed through a partnership with the BLM, Yavapai and Maricopa Counties, and the Black Canyon Trail Coalition, it provides opportunities for both motorized and non-motorized users. In fact, these two groups have worked side by side throughout the development of the trail. Today, both user groups have their own trail; the original BCT 4×4 route caters to the fuel-propelled crew, and the singletrack invites the feet, hooves and tires of the self-powered crowd.
The BCT has remained relatively undiscovered since our first trip in 2009, not a surprise when you consider it’s sandwiched between the well-known destinations of Phoenix and the Golden Triangle (Sedona, Flagstaff, and up-and-coming Prescott). The good news is that it isn’t just more of the same kind of desert riding. It is truly a different experience, and without question, warrants getting in a car or on a plane to travel across the country.
Similar to the Kokopelli Trail in Colorado and Utah, the BCT has a definite remote, backcountry feel. It is the kind of place where you feel small in a big landscape. It is on par with the likes of other well-known long distance adventures like the Colorado Trail, Georgia’s Pinhoti Trail, and the Maah Daah Hey in North Dakota. As mountain biking becomes more popular and trails become more accessible, the BCT, like the others, still remain unique and special experiences—like a favorite beer you drink only on special occasions.
With more than 80 miles of trail to conquer, it’s a little overwhelming to know where to start a ride on the Black Canyon Trail. Whether you’re there for one day or many, one aspect that makes the BCT very attractive is an abundance of access points and dirt roads. It goes without saying that the crowd of weight conscious, gel consuming, ultra-endurance freaks will probably see the BCT as their next “been there, done that, drooled-along-the-way” challenge.
During our first foray to the BCT we based ourselves out of Black Canyon City. It served us well for riding different sections of the trail, both north and south. Over the course of three days we covered over 30 miles of trail from the Emery Henderson Trailhead to Arrastre Creek. Staging out of that location also gave us access to the best pie we’ve ever had. Yes, that’s right, there is pie.
Just off Interstate 17 at Exit 242 is the Rock Springs Café, home to burgers, fries, and yes, you guessed it, pie. Like all of the classic, long-distance trails, the BCT boasts its own, you-gotta-eat-here greasy spoon. Don’t expect anything like a bistro salad or a gourmet burrito here. We’re talking tortilla pizzas, charbroiled steaks, and mesquite barbeque. Beyond that, you will find more than 20 varieties of pie, advertised with the motto “Worth the drive from anywhere.”
Little did we know, when we were packing our car to venture south to Arizona, we were really just driving 700 miles for a delicious pastry. After the first bite we realized that the main part of the meal was purely a formality to get to a slice of Rhubarb Crumb or Jack Daniels Pecan. To do this day we keep our frequent pie card firmly secured in our glovebox.
Beyond the food, a stop at the Rock Springs Café will also give you a glimpse of true Western Americana. In other words, the BCT is the kind of place where you can find a lot of character (and characters) along the way.
When people think about the Wild West, they probably conjure up images of cowboys with six-shooters and big landscapes with red rock towers under bluebird skies. Surprisingly enough, this is exactly what you experience along any given part of the BCT.
And I’m not just talking the landscapes; it’s the cowboys too.
Since our first trip to the Black Canyon Trail in 2009 we have returned several times over to ride newly constructed segments or to share it with fellow mountain bikers and friends. On one such trip, we ran into a couple of colorful individuals, the kind that you might have to pinch yourself to believe. Pedaling out of the Black Canyon City trailhead we happened upon this fellow and his lady. He was wearing his ten-gallon hat, spurs, and side-arm, draped ever-so-slightly below his right hip. She boasted a similar ensemble, finished off with a fashionable floral bandana. They were out for a hike, enjoying the evening light, something that everyone should witness on a trip to Arizona. We chatted for a while about the weather and the difference between bicycles and horses. It was hard to remember anything else because I couldn’t get over the gentleman’s raspy, Sam Elliot-like voice. “You can’t make this stuff up,” I thought to myself. Just another day on the Black Canyon Trail.
In addition to cowboys, you’ll also find that agriculture and animal husbandry is still a very viable, and coveted, way of life. It’s not uncommon to pass livestock grazing alongside the trail or to have to navigate through the gates of barbed-wire fences of local rancher. No matter what section you ride, you’ll cer- tainly get a sense for the culture and history of the Desert Southwest.
On another ride, from the top of Maggie Mine Road back towards Black Canyon City, we descended the Old Stage section of the BCT, which back in the day, was part of the stagecoach route that traveled from Prescott to Phoenix. Aboard our full-suspension mountain bikes it was really hard to imagine someone having to endure a multi-day trip, riding in a box with wooden wheels. As we passed Two-Boots Junction we chuckled when we saw an antique pair of leather boots tucked into a mesquite bush on the side of the trail. Guess he didn’t survive the trip.
And the stories continue to stack up. Every time we hit the trail we add a new memory. There was the time we rode the day after Biblical floods, the giant rattlesnakes we saw, and the time our trip coincided with the desert in bloom. For those who are willing to make the trip and peel back the covers, they will discover much more than what is usually perceived as a desolate and uninteresting place.
With less than 10 miles yet to be built onthe Black Canyon Trail, the grand opening of this awesome route is likely less than a year away. When finished it will be a celebration of a fruitful partnership, a beautiful landscape, and a mountain bike experience like no other. Those who have already tasted the experience are eager to share it with everyone, and take you for pie at the end of the ride.
Words by Josh Patterson, photos by Shannon Mominee and Josh Patterson
If you look up Ned Overend’s Wikipedia entry you’ll notice it claims he retired from professional racing in 1996, which goes to show you that you can’t trust everything you read on the Internet. While it may be technically true, Overend did stop racing mountain bikes full time to focus on other endeavors, like winning two XTERRA World Championships. Racing is no longer part of Overend’s job description; his daily duties include marketing and product development for Specialized, his long-time sponsor.
That’s not to say Overend is a desk jockey. One certainly couldn’t tell he was no longer racing and training at the professional level from his showing at this year’s Cross Country National Championship in Sun Valley, ID. “Deadly Nedly” finished ahead of 48 professional racers decades younger than himself—it has to sting knowing this guy was in his prime while you were in diapers, and you still can’t hold his wheel… Today, Overend is a legend in his spare time.
What has been your most rewarding accomplishment as a mountain biker?
Well, there are individual races, but at this point it’s longevity. When people talk to me that is what they are excited about. The fact I’m still passionate about racing has become my biggest accomplishment, more than winning a World Cup or World Championship.
Is there a race you look forward to each year?
I always look for different races, but the Road Apple Rally in New Mexico is a favorite. It’s a high-speed race with bermed turns—not as painful as a lot of other races. It is also the oldest mountain bike race in the country, must be going on 30 years.
Road, mountain or cyclocross, do you have a favorite?
Mountain for sure. I love ‘cross racing for the intensity, even though it doesn’t so much suit my style. It tends to be more power-oriented.
This July you finished 14th at Cross Country Nationals. How does it feel to be 56 and able to leave riders half your age in the dust?
[Laughs] I’m conflicted. I do a lot of different stuff for Specialized, my job is more than racing, but it does allow me to train a lot. At the same time, when I get a result like this, I think “Jeeze! If I focused more on training then I could probably improve that result.” That’s just the way a racer thinks. It’s cool to be able to perform at this level still—I think it helps that there’s no pressure for me to race.
Any advice to master’s athletes, or any mountain biker who wants to be able to ride at their full potential, regardless of their age?
I’m not too obsessive about cycling, or training in general. My training approach has obviously worked for me. You need to be informed about the training process, don’t rely on a coach. Living in the mountains has helped me—it forces me off the bike in the winter. I Nordic ski and do other sports to create a physical balance that I think is responsible for my longevity.
What is your favorite trail?
We have a new trail in Durango, the Skyline Trail. It was initially built for the Singlespeed World Championships in 2009. There was a lot of hike-a-bike back then—we made the climb more rideable. It’s a super technical trail along a ridgeline.
Tech question #1: Do you see 29ers taking over the XC market?
I do. The 29er has reinvigorated the hardtail market. They have evolved to the point where they are a superior bike for cross country in most situations. There are a lot of situations where 29ers are faster and very few where they are slower. I think this year is the tipping point for 29ers in Europe.
Tech Question #2: What do you think the future holds for disc brakes in cyclocross?
[Todd] Wells and I have had cross bikes with disc brakes for a while. It gives those bikes a lot of range. It gets boring training in the grass, we like to go out and do trail rides on our ‘cross bikes in a variety of riding conditions. That is where disc brakes excel. We’re still trying to figure out how big the disc needs to be—the weight really needs to come down, but discs will evolve in ‘cross and on the road.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
[Laughs] I don’t know. I didn’t see myself doing this 10 years ago! I’m for sure a lifestyle rider—this will be part of my lifestyle. My wife and I moved closer to town for more of an urban lifestyle, I see ourselves moving even closer to town and using our bikes more and cars less.
Drink of choice?
IPA. We have some great breweries in Durango. Someone needs to start brewing more IPA’s in Europe! I enjoy the beer over there, but a good IPA is one thing I look forward to when I get home.
Headsets are assembled by hand before packaging.
By Josh Patterson, Photos by Adam Newman
Located on a rural roadside outside the small town of Fletcher, NC—and about twenty minutes due south of the hipster haven of Asheville—is the headquarters of component manufacturer Cane Creek. A passing cyclist could easily overlook the long, non-descript cement building, if not for the plethora of bikes sitting atop roof racks in the parking lot, loaded in anticipation of an after-work ride.
Inventory and distribution is handled from the Fletcher, N.C., location.
In a roundabout way Cane Creek was the product of the “bike boom” of the 1970s, when everyone and their uncle was rushing out to by a 10-Speed. Japanese cycling component manufacturer Dia-Compe constructed the current Cane Creek headquarters to supply brakes and brake levers to companies in the United States like Murray, Columbia, Huffy, Roadmaster and Schwinn that were struggling to meet the demand for affordable bikes.
In 1990 Dia-Compe purchased the Aheadset patent—which recently expired—and became the sole licensee and sub-licensee for this extensively- used headset technology. Shortly thereafter, Dia-Comp USA became a stand-alone company and created Cane Creek to be their high-end component line. Today Cane Creek may be best known for their headsets, but over the years Cane Creek dabbled in many other components including wheels, an early hydraulic disc brake system, and even produced suspension forks for RockShox in the early days, when the Mag 20 and Mag 30 were state-of-the-art suspension forks. Currently, the company focuses their efforts on producing a comprehensive line of headsets, the Thudbuster suspension seatpost, rim brakes, brake levers, the Double Barrel coil shock and the just-released air version of the Double Barrel.
All CNC parts begin as aluminum bar stock.
Going Against the Grain
Cane Creek’s headset design engineer Jim Morison recently gave us a tour and discussed why the company chose to move much of their manufacturing from Taiwan back to the United States. The facility is divided between office, warehousing and industrial space. Voices echo over the whine of machinery, as office dogs run between shelves lined with finished products awaiting shipment. Until three years ago, most manufacturing was done overseas. Final assembly of Thudbusters and Double Barrel shocks was done in-house but the company’s bread and butter, headsets, were made in Asia.
“There’s this notion that if you want it cheap, you have to send it overseas, but when you get to a certain level of quality you really need to have control,” says Morrison. Concerns over quality control and the creation of a new flagship headset, the 110 series, led Cane Creek to purchase two state-of-the-art CNC machines and hire the machinists to run them in 2008—a risky proposition during the height of a recession.
The gamble paid off. “It allowed us to prototype faster, and make changes faster,” says Morison. To be competitive, the company had to figure out how to work smarter. “The key is efficiency, our headsets were made in two steps—we just figured out how to do it in one,” Morison proudly states. Under the watchful eye of a skilled machinist, a single push of a button sets the process in motion. In goes a four-foot length of aluminum bar stock and out comes shiny bicycle parts ready for anodizing and final assembly.
Cane Creek’s Director of R&D Josh Coaplen demonstrates one of the CNC machines that turn aluminum bar stock into shiny new 110-series headsets.
A Game-Changing Innovation
Rapid in-house prototyping played a significant role in the development of Cane Creek’s Angleset—an elegantly simple innovation that gives riders an unprecedented level of adjustment. For those not familiar with the Angleset, it is a headset that uses gimbles and an offset top cup to allow for changes to a bicycle’s head tube angle. An adjustment of up to plus or minus 1.5 degrees is available. This gives riders one more way to fine-tune their bike’s handling characteristics to suit local terrain and personal preferences. While it is a cool idea on paper, Cane Creek grossly underestimated how popular their adjustable angle headset would be. “We estimated we would sell 1,000 the first year. We were off by a factor of 20,” says Cane Creek’s director of R&D Josh Coaplen.
At Interbike 2010 we saw just how much of a game-changer the Angleset was—several bicycle manufacturers went so far as to halt production of new frames in order to redesign them around the Angleset. It has also proven to be a boon for smaller bike companies. Mike Reimer of Salsa Cycles noted how they were able to cut down on the number of prototype frames they produced thanks to the Angleset’s ability to fine-tune preferred ride characteristics.
Remember those bikes loaded on roof racks out front? Cane Creek is located in an ideal location for real-world product testing, with Pisgah and Dupont State Forests a short drive away. We took full advantage of the opportunity and would like to thank Holly, Chris, Jim and Josh for guiding us on the Pisgah trails and giving us a sneak peak into Cane Creek’s day-to-day operations.
Editor’s note: This Access Action piece was published in Dirt Rag #158, in August 2011.
By Greg Galliano and Melanie Strong
Situated between the Cascade Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Portland is cycling utopia, where cars yield to bike lanes and intersections feature green-painted bike boxes. This fine city is arguably home to the largest population of fixed gear pedaling in the country, and a thriving culture of cyclocross. For road riders, there are hundreds of miles of bike-lane lined roads to spin on inside and outside the city. However, if you’re a mountain biker in search of singletrack, you’ll need to strap your bike to your vehicle and hit the road. Although Portland is also home to the largest forested urban park in the United States—aptly named Forest Park—the majority of its 70 miles of recreational trails are closed to mountain bikes.
In 2008, Portland became the first large U.S. city to earn the Platinum Bicycling Friendly Community status from the League of American Bicyclists. This was due in part to the more than 270 miles of on-street bike lanes, the number of businesses providing employee incentives to commute by bike, and the growing popularity of community rides like the Providence Bridge Pedal.
“Portland has had the courage to lead, to innovate, and to pursue a vision of their community that emphasizes choice, equity and quality of life,” said the League’s president, Andy Clark. “The job isn’t done, however. Platinum status isn’t forever, and it carries with it the responsibility of setting a high standard for other communities to follow. We recognize that compared to other world class cities for cycling, Portland still has a long way to go.” One of the improvements Clark and the League recommended was ensuring better access to city parks and recreation areas for off-road riding.
Shortly after the announcement, the local mountain biking community revisited an issue the city had long grappled with: how to move forward with a plan to develop singletrack riding in Forest Park. Currently, mountain bikers have access to more than 28 miles of trails in the park. But these are comprised primarily of gravel roads and fire lanes, with some of the most attractive dirt trails such as the 30-mile Wildwood Trail completely off limits to bikes. The local cycling community has long advocated for either opening some of the existing trails to bikes, or investing in the development of new trails. But with this challenge from Clark and the League, they recognized an opportunity to make some significant progress.
Their renewed efforts, however, were met with concern from the Forest Park Conservancy, the Audubon Society and local community association and neighborhood leaders. They worried that opening these trails to bikes could lead to over-crowding, and further damage trails already heavily used by hikers. A Forest Park Singletrack Advisory Committee was formed, and for the next year local community leaders from both sides of the issue discussed the pros and cons, and possible solutions. In July 2010 the Committee issued a 178-page report, stating “after many difficult meetings, the Committee presented their recommendations… the Committee did not reach consensus on any proposed trail actions.”
More than 20 community members—including members of the Northwest Trails Alliance and IMBA, as well as Portland Parks & Rec., Forest Park Conservancy, the Audubon Society—met for a year, and at the end they still couldn’t agree.
“When the committee started meeting, the direction was that the group should identify opportunities for increased biking in Forest Park by 2010,” said Tom Archer, president of the Northwest Trail Alliance, a local biking advocacy group. “But there are a lot of factors at work.” Beyond the emotionally charged nature of the issue, the committee was also working through the complicated land-use guidelines laid out by the 1995 Forest Park Management Plan. Even if the committee had agreed to some development of new trails, they would have been required to submit a land use application that would require additional time and resources. “Opponents felt like, ‘we’re not currently funding the Park appropriately, so why would we invest in new uses?’” Archer said.
According to the report, the committee recommended “a group of management actions” including the completion of a wildlife and vegetation study in the park, and a recreational user survey to get a better understanding of how the community would like to use the park.
So now what?
“The decision concluded that within the next two years the Parks Bureau would focus on the management actions and would not be building new trails or open new trail-sharing opportunities,” said Emily Hicks, policy coordinator for Portland Parks and Recreation’s Commissioner Nick Fish. However, included in the Singletrack Advisory Committee’s report was a recommendation to improve two of the firelanes in Forest Park currently open to mountain bikers. “The idea,” Archer said, “is to ‘regreen’ the firelanes to give bikers more of a singletrack experience.” Portland Parks and Rec. has brought on a consultant from Vigil-Agrimis, a natural resource design agency based in Portland, to develop several scenarios for this project. His findings are expected shortly after this issue goes to press.
There are other more successful singletrack projects in the works in Portland as well. Improvements are underway along more than five miles of multi-use trail in Powell Butte, the second largest park in the city. An unused 30-acre parcel of land between two freeways called Gateway Green is being considered for development of bike trails. Plus Archer and NWTA are involved in two bike park projects, including what would become Portland’s first pumptrack bike park.
Until then, one need only take a look at any of the Portland-based cycling message boards to see that the Forest Park issue remains alive and well. Archer and others remain committed. “We will continue to engage the City of Portland, other local land managers, and stakeholders in a positive fashion, but with the expectation that they commit resources to providing recreational cycling opportunities in and around the urban core. It may take time, but it’s a worthy cause.”
His advice for locals wanting to do more: “Become part of the movement. Join Northwest Trail Alliance, come to a work party, and make your opinions known. Tell your local policymakers that we need recreational cycling opportunities closer to where you live.”
Five Fantastic Rides outside Portland
While Portlanders may not have miles of singletrack in their backyards just yet, there’s some incredible riding outside the city. So group up to save gas, and check out these local treasures.
Lush fir forest, ferns and moss abound as the scenery layers green on top of green. Trails here can get muddy but drain well, making them rideable year-round. Barring occasional coastal range snow, several singletrack loops can be ridden from the Gales Campground parking lot. Be prepared to climb from the start: 3-5 miles depending on which way you choose. Look for the Sickter Lars sign when you get to the top of Story Burn. It’s a 2-mile roller coaster ride full of bermed log-overs and bridges. All trails are well-marked and easy to follow. The longer Gales Creek trail will re-open in Spring 2012. Browns/Rogers camp is the more technical singletrack within this trail system, and can also be the muddier trail. Combining Story Burn, Sickter Lars and Browns Camp loop will net you more than 20 miles of challenging, blissful Northwest singletrack. On the way home, stop at the Rogue Pub in North Plains for a tasty burger and beers.
This is the same section of Tillamook Forest as Gales Creek, and has a similar feel. Don’t be fooled by the shuttle option of this ride: this is not a strictly downhill trail. As soon as you exit the Elk Creek campground, the trail goes straight up a leg-searing initial climb. The first climb isn’t long, but makes up for that by being steep. Not to worry— longer climbs await. You’ll ride roughly 4,000 ft of vertical in all. The trail treats you to a series of rocky stream crossings throughout the length of the ride. If you do the ride from Elk Creek to Keenig Creek, you’ll have 20.6 miles of pain and pleasure in the saddle. Bring plenty of food and water. This can be a long day if you have a big group or any mechanical difficulties. On the way home, try McMenamins Roadhouse on Cornelius Pass Rd in Hillsboro to refuel.
This is a challenging, but extremely fun 27 miles of out-and-back trail. From the parking lot you can go up the gravel road for 9.5 miles to the trailhead. Or, head down the road you drove in on for 100 yards, and take the trail up. We recommend the trail. Roughly sixty switchbacks await on the way out alone. This trail is very difficult from a fitness perspective, and the tight rocky switchbacks near the top will push any rider to his limit. When you get to the top, you’re rewarded with 360-degree views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood, and you’re only halfway through the ride! One word of caution: don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a free ride back to the car. The way back is not all downhill. Initially you descend to a creek crossing, but then it’s a gut-busting switchback climb back up and over the ridge you started on. Thankfully it’s a downhill finish to the lot, giving you a little time to revel in the pleasure, and forget the pain. Kind of… Bring a cooler and grill, as there aren’t many options for post-ride grub. If you go in the heat of the summer, take a bathing suit, as there are some amazing swimming holes right next to the trailhead.
This new trail system adjacent to Mt. Hood National Forest is a partnership between the BLM and IMBA. It’s a biker/hiker-only trail system, and definitely has the feel of a trail built by and for mountain bikers. Bermed transitions and rollers are a highlight of the Hide and Seek section. The trails here have amazing flow. As soon as you’re done, you’ll want to ride it again. And since it’s fairly short—7 miles of singletrack when we went to press—you can do it a few times. Due to traffic and the nature of the trail, it’s best to be ridden one way downhill, riding up the private road to the top of the trail. The long-term plan for this area is to have approximately 18 miles of singletrack. This season will see the completion of an additional 7 miles of trail, as well as the development of a trailhead facility consisting of restrooms, parking spaces, pump track, warm-up trail options and visitor information. The last stage of trail development is scheduled for completion by the Spring of 2013. Stop at Joe’s Donuts in Sandy for caffeine and some pre- or post-ride carb-loading.
There’s something for everyone here. The home of the first stop of the Oregon Super D series, Post Canyon has some of the most difficult technical riding in the area. There are many large bridges and built features sure to satisfy even the most skilled riders. No matter your skill level, make sure to take a couple laps on Family Man. This section of trail consists of a series of bridges and skinnies 12”-18” off the ground to hone your skills. If you feel good on Family Man, you can head for Middle School or tackle Frankenstein. Or combine buff, twisting singletrack loops into endless miles of fun. Many trails can be tied together into one nice loop without having to do the stunts. These trails usually escape the winter snow, but can be very wet in the winter months. Post-ride, hit 6th Street Bistro in Hood River for great, fresh food and frosty beverages.Tweet Print
Deus ex machina: Chris Currie
In need of technical assistance? Send your questions to [email protected] Please include "Manic Mechanic" in the subject line.
I need to replace my rear derailleur. What are the differences between the short/medium/long cage? Does the length of the cage matter that much?
The easy answer is, if you have to ask, get a long cage. A long cage will work in every situation. I’m one of those “teach a guy to fish, so he quits asking me to give him fish” types though, so let’s impart some knowledge.
Understanding the differences in cage length means understanding both things a rear derailleur does. We all know a rear derailleur moves the chain in and out from one cog to another, but the other, equally important thing a derailleur does is move forward and back, taking up chain slack that varies as you change gears. The bigger the difference between the sizes of your gears, the more chain you need your derailleur to be able to take up. The ability of a rear derailleur to handle a range of chain lengths is referred to as the derailleur’s “chain wrap capacity.”
You can calculate your chain wrap capacity by subtracting the number of teeth on your largest front chainring from the number of teeth on your smallest front chainring, doing the same with the gears on your rear cassette, then adding the two values. So necessary chain wrap capacity on a bike with a 44-tooth big ring, 22-tooth small ring, and 11-34-tooth cassette, would work out like this: (44-22) + (34-11) = 45 The longer the cage of a rear derailleur, the more flappy chain it can pull tight, so the wider variance you can have between gears. Sometimes a manufacturer will tell you the chain wrap capacity of their rear derailleur, but the bottom line is you should always be sure you have enough chain to reach every gear combination—even the crossed-up ones you shouldn’t use but might shift into accidentally.
For most mountain triples, that amount of chain requires a long cage rear derailleur, and those work just fine.
So why do people try to use shorter cages? In theory, a medium or short cage derailleur may shift a fraction better because a shorter cage equals a stiffer cage, and they’re slightly less vulnerable to getting smote by rocks and the local flora, so experimentation is fine, provided you’re careful. In fact, most configurations will accept a medium cage rear derailleur, but only if chain length is set up carefully, and you err on the side of leaving more chain than you think you need.
It also helps if you get rid of your biggest or smallest cog to lower that required chain wrap number. For most people, the added risk and configuration challenges aren’t worth the time, making the long cage the go-to option.
There are too many damn “bottom bracket standards!” I can’t keep them straight and I don’t really understand why we need them! Can you set me straight on the difference between BB30 and Press Fit 30, if there is a difference?
Agreed. The word “standard” isn’t necessarily the most accurate way to describe current bottom bracket or headset systems. While the smoke is clearing, never assume any two systems are compatible, let alone synonymous.
A “BB30,” which uses circlips to retain bearings inside the frame’s bottom bracket shell, is not the same as a “Press Fit BB30,” which presses into the frame in a way similar to conventional headset cups. The goal in both cases is the same: bigger diameters equal stiffer structures, which equals more power.
High end road bike manufacturer BH has just developed a BB30 variation that allows extremely light frame designs, and we can probably expect still more systems to appear in the marketplace, because the basic idea behind oversized bottom brackets is sound: bike frames and crankset spindles need the largest surface area possible to ensure maximum power transfer, and the bigger the diameter of the bottom bracket spindle holding the crank arms together and larger the bearings, the more power you can squeeze from every watt being exerted. Plus, you get a stronger and more durable system.
Basically, we’re just using bigger bottom bracket spindles these days, which caused us to find larger bearings, which in turn caused us to need a bigger diameter hole in our frames. Old designs enlarged the spindle, but not the frame, which meant tiny bearings that wore out even faster, but by enlarging that whole bottom part of the frame, we can now fit enormous bearings inside that frame shell, where they’re better protected from the elements and lighter, because neither the cups nor the frame require threads.
Tucking large bearings inside the bottom bracket shell of the frame also allow the frame to be wider in that key area, which makes for a much stiffer overall frame. This is the same thing we saw happening when the industry began to move from smaller diameter steel frame tubing to oversized aluminum tubing. Increasingly lighter materials require larger and larger diameters. That’s what we’re seeing in the current bottom bracket “standards.”
by Josh Patterson
Photo by Michael Darter
In 2004 Chris Sugai was an avid rider with a successful commercial window tinting business. That same year Sugai decided to turn his passion into his day job. Starting a bike company is no small feat, especially one solely focused on producing 29ers at a time when most 29er sales were custom, and only a handful of stock options existed. Sugai, along with co-founder Steve Domahidy, chose to bet the success of their start-up on the growing popularity of “wagon-wheelers.”
“I distinctly remember Sea Otter 2005, nobody bought a bike and nobody really came to our booth, it was kind of disheartening,“ says Sugai. “A lot of people thought we were absolutely nuts. But now it’s working out for us.”
I had the chance to ride with Niner’s president and cofounder at the company’s 2012 product launch in Park City, UT. While riding Niner’s new Jet 9 RDO Sugai shared his thoughts on life, bikes and big wheels.
A Fat Chance Yo Eddy, size large. It was a loaner from a friend. It took me a while to figure out it was the wrong size—I was riding it for a year and a half before I got a bike my size.
What motivated you to start a bike company, and why did you choose to focus solely on 29” wheels?
The main inspiration came from that quote, “Do something you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” I had another company I started when I was 19. It was sort of running on its own. I looked at purchasing a bike shop, or an import/export business. Then I rode a 29er and immediately saw the benefits. On our Wednesday night rides I immediately went from mid-pack to near the front. That was the impetus to get things started.
Who inspires you?
I’m really impressed with Jeff Jones and Sacha White [Vanilla Cycles]. I really like people that make bikes that are functional and beautiful as well. Mike Sinyard [Specialized] also, people may like or dislike the company, but the employees are really passionate about what they do. To infuse a company that large with that much passion is impressive.
Favorite non-Niner bike you’ve ridden recently?
I have a Soulcraft commuter bike I really like. It’s an old road bike converted to a singelspeed with a high-rise stem and flat bars. I pull my dog behind it in a trailer when I go to work.
Now that every company has 29ers in their lineup—including companies that swore they would never build them—what does Niner, as a small company, have to do differently?
I knew this fight was going to come one day. We’ve invested heavily in our own R&D; we have our own lab, and our own test equipment. I think for a company our size, 17 people, we can hold our own. The main thing that keeps us relevant is that we are a highly-focused company. Everyone rides, everyone gets a say in product development. We’re not trying to be good in all fields, there are very few companies that can do that. Companies that are very focused on singular products tend to be very successful and hold their own.
Niner’s race team is very different from others. Is having a neckbeard a prerequisite for sponsorship?
Hah! Not at the moment, but many of our staff do have furry faces… I, unfortunately, can’t grow a beard. Racing should be fun—we look for people that are outgoing, people you want to share a beer with.
Has turning your passion into a profession made you jaded?
I wouldn’t say I’m jaded. I don’t get to ride as much as I did before, but I always try to stay humble. I remember what I was doing before, I liked it, but I wasn’t passionate about it.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Good question—probably balancing work and family life. I really enjoy what I do so working 12 hours a day is pretty easy for me, but I also have to get home, eat dinner with my family, and say goodnight to my daughter.
What’s next for 29” wheeled bikes?
I see 29ers moving up the suspension travel ladder. I think they are viable at longer travels. Bicycle sales are on a bell curve—making it more difficult to get manufacturers on board. We wouldn’t want to commit to a DH bike until we get a fork manufacturer on board. We have our hands full with our current bikes.
Any non bicycle-related hobbies?
My two other passions are Formula One and I enjoy playing poker
I have acquired a used Shimano XT770 crankset. The big ring is trashed and I am going into sticker shock at Shimano’s replacement prices. Anyone have luck with other brands i.e., Blackspire, FSA, Race Face for this particular model? I have a hard time throwing down $60-$100 for a chainring.
I sympathize with your plight. Shimano does seem to subscribe to the same OE replacement parts pricing as car dealerships and national defense contractors. The big ring on an XT770 series crankset actually has a 104mm 4-bolt pattern, the same pattern used by most other brands, so other rings will match up, but be careful. Much in the same way you can’t imagine being married to a unicorn or living in a world where dogs can drive, Shimano can’t conceive of a world in which people buy FSA or Blackspire rings and bolt them to their XT cranksets.
If you know the history of Shimano chainrings over the past few years, you’ll appreciate what a miracle it is that even the bolt pattern happens to match now. So the good news is that nearly everyone makes an aftermarket 104mm BCD, 4-bolt ring that will match up to the bolt hole pattern on your XT770 crankset. The bad news is that it won’t work as well as the Shimano. This is partly because Shimano just makes excellent cranksets and chainrings, but mostly because all Shimano parts are designed specifically to work only with other Shimano parts. They don’t intentionally prevent other rings from bolting on, but they don’t test for them either. This means that, even if something else can technically bolt up, it probably won’t mesh all pro-like to the crankset’s spider—it will most likely be slightly too wide or too narrow, and some rings may even need sections filed down if they’re making contact with the Shimano spider or arm itself.
Generally, a Shimano crankset with another company’s ring on it also won’t shift as well, because chains, chainrings and cranksets are one of the things Shimano still does extremely well. So it comes down to you: if you’re the ultra anal-retentive type who demands perfection, you should shell out for the Shimano ring. If, on the other hand, you’re more the frugal rebel type who can smile while pressing a shifter paddle a bit harder to convince the chain to shift into a less expensive big ring, look for the most basic-looking 4-bolt, 104mm BCD ring you can find and get your rogue on.
I was trying to install a new pair of clipless pedals on my wife’s bike and after 15 minutes of cussing I finally realized one side was reverse threaded. Why is this?
You have encountered the left-handed threading of non-drive side pedals. All proper bicycle pedals and crank arms are designed this way. Theories for this phenomenon abound. A compelling argument exists for the theory that this design keeps the combined weight of the rider and pedaling motion from being able to loosen the pedal and allow it to damage the threads of the crank arm, or even unscrew completely off the arm. The term for this particular stress applied to rotating objects is “precession,” and I’ll leave the definition of that word to much smarter men like Jobst Brandt and our much missed Sheldon Brown.
But even if it looks odd, there’s an actual engineering requirement behind the design, just like the Large Hadron Collider or Donald Trump’s “hair.” I’ve given you the logical answer, but I know it fails to address the frustration you felt in discovering this, so here’s a bonus irrational explanation that, while completely inaccurate, should make you feel better: the Knights Templar did it. Some secret French guy designed bicycles this way just to frustrate Americans. There is, in fact, an underground faux-quasi-neo-Illuminati organization at work within the mechanical designs of things all around us. They’re not only responsible for left-handed threading on nondrive bicycle crank arms, but far more insidious things, too, like cars with the steering wheel on the wrong side, or the metric system.
Every year, hundreds of red-blooded American men like you and me do our part to shake off the shackles of this secretive organization by destroying non-drive crank arm threads or rounding off the head of a metric bolt with an English wrench. Your wife might not understand your struggle, but we do. Looking like an idiot for 15 minutes (we both know it was probably closer to an hour) is a small price to pay for battling evil itself. Respect.
About the mechanic
Chris Currie is our manic mechanic. Have questions about life, love and mountain bikes…or maybe just bikes? Send your letters to [email protected]. You can also read his tech blog at CanooterValve.com.
Got a better way to do it? Let us know in the comments below.
Matt Weatherbee, photos by Theodore Barrett Van Orman
Devin Lenz has been building performance mountain bikes under the Lenz Sport name since 1997. Lenz Sport bicycles are all hand-crafted by Devin in his warehouse, adjacent to his home in Fort Lupton, Colorado.
Devin is responsible for almost every step of the frame building process and is usually accompanied by Betty, a small black pug, whom we had the pleasure of meeting. He’s a self-taught engineer who began his career building custom guitars in his father’s guitar shop. His father, Dan Lenz, is a luthier (guitar maker) who still builds and repairs guitars at his shop in Westminster, Colorado, Dan Lenz’s Axe Haven. I had a chance to check out two of Devin’s hand built electric guitars and you can see and feel the quality, precision and care that Devin puts into his craft. The quality and performance are the same as what you can feel in his bicycles.
Devin began riding BMX bikes in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, as well as dirt bikes, racecars and snowmobiles. In grade school, Devin saved all of his money from delivering newspapers to purchase his first BMX bike, an FMF aluminum frame. This bike was, and remains, his inspiration for making the larger-wheeled bikes he’s producing today. Devin built his first 26” mountain bike in 1989.
The first prototype mountain bike he built under the Lenz Sport name was the “Bouldervore,” built in 1996. The Bouldervore was a 4.5” full suspension trail bike. That same year, Devin packed his parents’ mini van and headed to Vail, Colorado, for a NORBA Race. He then headed to Mammoth Mountain, California for the legendary Kamikaze downhill. There he realized the Bouldervore was not enough bike for the rigors of downhill racing. On the drive back to Colorado, Devin began dreaming up the idea for a 6” travel downhill race bike, which became the Pro-Descender.
In 1997, Devin began selling production models of his bikes, including the Pro-Descender. The Pro-Descender was easily identifiable by the Kawasaki green Wedgie DH saddle, invented by Devin and still used on his Alpine Brawler ski bikes.
Since 1997 Devin has become completely immersed in building mountain bikes. Over the years, he has done everything from remortgaging his home to maxing-out credit cards, to working a regular job during the day and building bikes at night and on the weekends. In the early days Devin would frequently work twelve and fourteen hour days. His hours are slightly less frantic these days, though not by much.
In 2003, Devin met ultra-endurance racer Mike Curiak. Mike became the driving force behind Devin making the decision to build primarily 29”-wheeled full suspension frames. You can still purchase a 26” Lenz, but his current focus is high-performance 29” bikes. Devin has someone who assists him with marketing and his website, but when it comes to the manufacturing process, he is responsible for everything.
The process begins with raw 6061 aluminum. Pieces of aluminum are cut and CNC’d using CAD. This step in the process is quite unique and Devin can literally customize all of the frame components from the linkages to the tubing for the frames. The next step is tacking the tubing together and organizing the pieces in kits to be welded completely and assembled. The frames are then aligned by hand, checked and re-aligned to ensure quality.
Devin can then bead-blast and/or buff the aluminum to prepare them for heat-treating. The heat-treating process is outsourced to a company in Longmont, Colorado. Heat-treating is a 2-step process: The frames are heated to 900° Fahrenheit and then dropped in a glycol and water solution to cool so the molecules freeze in a uniform state. The second step is to age-harden the frames at 350°F degrees for eight hours so that the aluminum reaches a T-6 hardness. This ensures that the aluminum is ready for years of abuse.
The final step in the production process is aesthetics. The customer can choose from a variety of colors and finishes. Powder coating and anodizing is also outsourced. Possibly the most striking finish option is called bright-dipping, a tedious chemical-brightening treatment, which produces an extremely high luster finish. This finish is done by a company in Oregon, one of the only facilities doing this in the U.S.
When the frames return to Colorado, Devin carefully applies the graphics, and faces and chases the head tubes and bottom bracket shells. In terms of design philosophy, Devin is a big believer in a product that works well, requiring little maintenance and that is why he uses the current design, which is a slightly modified single pivot design. This design is a tried and true pedaling platform that is efficient and low-maintenance.
One of the advantages to Devin’s 29” bikes is the ultra-short chainstays. When he was in the midst of R&D for the Spankster, which is the Lenz Sport mountain-cross frame, Devin realized he needed to shorten the chainstays so the bikes could manual with ease. He began using a bent seat tube so the effective chainstay length on the Behemoth, Spankster MXT and PBJ bikes is 17.3” even with 29” wheels. This makes for a relatively short and flickable rear end.
When speaking with Devin about the entire manufacturing process, you can tell that he takes immense pride in his work. He could probably outsource his manufacturing and create an exponential increase in his production and revenue, but then he would not have the pleasure and control over his frames, which are functional works of art.
The Lenz lineup
Devin now produces 100-200 frames per year. Lenz Sport has a very diverse lineup for such a small operation: Devin builds 3” endurance race bikes, 29ers designed for DH racing and everything in between. One of the newest models is the Lunchbox, a 6” travel 29er, do-it-all, all-mountain/freeride machine. The Lunchbox utilizes a 150x12mm thru axle rear end for added stiffness. This monster of a bike is best described by the quote on the Lenz Sport website, “There is no comparison; this bike is like putting Andre the Giant up against the seven dwarfs.”
The PBJ is a full-on DH race bike with 29” wheels. The PBJ also uses the 150x12mm rear thru axle and floats on 7” of travel combined with the 8” 29er-specific Manitou Dorado fork. I had a chance to play around on this bike and it is something to behold.
A new niche
In addition to carving a niche as a U.S. framebuilder and pioneering the development of long-travel 29” bikes, Devin has become an avid ski bike enthusiast, as well as an advocate for this growing sport. Currently, there are only a handful of ski resorts in the world that allow these new-school machines and only time will tell how the sport will evolve. The flagship Lenz Sport ski bike is the Alpine Brawler, which has 6” of rear travel and is designed to work with a 7-8” travel dual crown suspension fork. The newest ski bike model is the Launch, which also has 6” of rear travel but is specifically designed to work with 6-7” single crown forks, allowing riders to do bar spins and X-ups. Interested in trying one? Winter Park Resort in Frasier, Colorado has a full lineup of Lenz ski bikes for rental. They also offer lessons and guided tours.
It was a pleasure to talk with Devin Lenz and tour his facility. As a self-proclaimed bike geek, it is comforting to know passionate, progressive, bike manufacturers still exist. All Lenz Sport frames come with a 2-year manufacturer’s warranty. If you are interested in throwing a leg over a Lenz Sport cycle or ski bike, talk to your local shop or visit www.lenzsport.com.
5 Questions with Devin Lenz
It looks like you are primarily building 29” bikes now. What led to that decision?
As a small frame builder, I needed to separate myself from all of the big guys like Specialized and Giant. Mike [Curiak] was a big part of why I have been making 29” full suspension bikes.
He’s [Mike] is quite a hammerhead, isn’t he?
He was more of an XC endurance guy. Not just endurance, but super-endurance. He’s kind of gotten the bug of hitting jumps and jumping off stuff, you know, with the longer travel bikes.
I am intrigued by the PBJ, which is a 7” travel DH bike with 29” wheels and a Manitou Dorado dual-crown fork, made for use on a 29er. Did Mike have any influence on the PBJ?
Absolutely. This is Mike coming back to me asking for more. Mike wanted a bike that he could take up to Whistler. Manitou had a Dorado that would work with a 29” wheel. Mike has been pushing the 29” wheeled movement all along and he’s totally responsible for me doing that.
So you put in a ton of hours, and you do everything yourself, but you don’t seem jaded?
I definitely can’t go as hard as I used to, but I definitely do it for myself. I have a pretty good passion for it and the ski bikes definitely keep me motivated—ski biking is so new and so progressive.
Do you find there are advantages to being a small operation?
I do. I can do whatever I want. I’ve got all of these different models. I love trying new ideas and the ski bikes have done that for me. I just like trying new stuff.
A conversation with Warsaw, Missouri’s Mac Vorce
By Peter Hoecker
Mac Vorce is the Director of Parks and Recreation, owner of the local bike shop and master trail builder in Warsaw, Missouri. Since 2007 he has worked tirelessly to get nearly 20 miles of trails built in his small town. Since building the trails, Mac has seen Warsaw embrace not just mountain biking, but road and cyclocross, paddling and trail running. Mac’s approach is unique: he convinced the city government to allow community restitution to be fulfilled by building trails. In the process of providing this small Midwest community with top-notch trails, Mac has transformed people’s bad decisions into an opportunity to take ownership and pride in their parks. What’s more, the opportunities for recreation are helping to renew the local economy. What follows is an inspiring story of advocacy, community development and second chances.
How would you describe Warsaw, Missouri?
It’s quant, historic, small-town, USA. There are 2,070 people in the city limits and 10,000 in the county. We’re an hour and a half drive southeast of Kansas City and north of Springfield, MO. Warsaw is a few miles east of Truman Lake, a reservoir created by the Harry S. Truman Dam. Truman Reservoir is basically the headwaters of the Lake of the Ozarks and is the largest reservoir in the area. Hunting and fishing is what the whole town has known for decades. When the dam went in they thought they could watch the tourists flock here. I guess you could say Warsaw is a small town that never grew. The dam hasn’t been as attractive to tourists as they thought. The main tourist draw in town was mostly just hunting, fishing and antiques.
How did the development of the Warsaw trail system happen?
I actually opened a bar when I first moved to Warsaw. I started poking around and seeing what the terrain was like. I went to the Army Corps of Engineers and asked if I could build a short trail on some unused land near the dam. The area was littered with trash, so I asked these cats if I could clean it up. At that time the only unpaved trails in Warsaw were for equestrian use only. I took an amazing amount of dumpsters of trash out of the place. I got permission to build a half-mile trail by myself, just so I could start doing loops and stuff. Because Warsaw is such a small town, Parks and Rec heard I was doing some mountain biking and asked if I wanted to do a class. I put on an 8-week class with three or four guys. One was local judge Larry Burditt. Another was a schoolteacher and road rider, well known locally as Warsaw’s main cyclist. He’d never been mountain biking and came to check it out. After the class, this small group continued to ride and build the trail. At some point Judge Burditt said, “We should be using some of the guys in the orange suits to help us out.”
How did you use community service and volunteer labor to build the trails?
First, we got one small group of inmates; we even went over to the jailhouse to get them. When we got on the trails with them we decided that wasn’t a good avenue for us. Judge Burditt talked to the City Council to get community service workers out to help. I went and flagged the trail and then a crew followed to clean it up. In 2009 I was hired on as director, but I had been working as a partner with the Army Corps of Engineers since 2007. Eventually the city was able to lease the land from the Corps. This made things a lot easier because everything could go through Parks and Rec.
How receptive has the community been to the new trails and mountain biking in general?
Initially, I think people were just trying to appease me, but then I started going to the city meetings. I started to become a part of the community. My first day on the job as director of Parks and Rec was a park board meeting. The Park Board jumped on the idea of trail building. Warsaw was able to get a lot of stimulus money for trail system development. It has really been one big snowballing effect over the last four years. Randy Pouge, the city planner, has been as aggressive as I have been with the mountain biking. Right now we’re 10 years ahead of schedule for trails in the city master plan.
How have the trails impacted the lives of the people building them?
Some people who otherwise couldn’t have finished their community service did it because it was a better option than going to jail. For example, I had a guy that was about a week away from going to jail because he hadn’t completed his community service. I arranged for his family to be able to help him and count their hours towards his sentence. They came out and finished his hours in three days of trail work. Afterwards, they bought mountain bikes. It changed that guy; his family was proud of him. He’s part of something bigger now. Building trails is not belittling. It’s not like other forms of community service. It gives participants something they can be proud of—proud of their work, and of helping their community. By the end of their 40, 60, 100 hours they can’t believe we’re going to come through here and ride our bikes as fast as we can—or as slow as we can to see everything.
How have these trails impacted the community?
We have a town that has embraced cycling. Groups of riders are just starting to form, building up a volunteer force. We couldn’t have done it without community service volunteers because there are only six or seven core builders and 20 miles of trail. People are seeing cyclists everywhere. I recently had a meeting with the state park representative from Truman State Park. They have 1,400 acres and want include mountain bike trails. There is a marina at the far end of the park with places for RV’s and primitive camping. The marina has lost some popularity because of a decrease in fishing, but now they’re getting people stopping by in the fall months while mountain biking and they’re seeing the benefits.
What events do the trails host?
I’m planning to have eight or nine races a year on these trails. We’re having trail running races this summer and a three-race cyclocross series this winter. Mountain bike racing is bringing paddlers in as well; we hosted the Truman Lake Adventure Race on April 16. The Missouri Singlespeed State Championship Race will be held here in August.
How would you describe the riding in Warsaw?
The bike park sits right up on the side of the dam; one side has beautiful views of Truman Lake. Lots of tight, windy singletrack, some areas are pretty rocky. It’s super sweet flowy, wavy singletrack. We have very rolling hills—you’re either going up or down. We have areas that remind me of Flagstaff, areas that remind me of Big Bear, the dirt changes so much. Right now we have several different loops for different skill levels. The beginner loop, “Larry’s Groove Train” is a very easy 1.5 miles. That one might be more downhill than uphill. Our 7-mile loop, called “Hard Work,” has lots of steep stuff. Every single super rocky technical thing we have is on that loop; you’re going up the nasties. The biggest, and ever-growing yellow loop, “Come and Get Some,” is on the perimeter and connects all of the trails together. It’s 19-20 miles total. Because it’s a reservoir, sometimes you’re riding right alongside the water and other times it’ll be a quarter mile away.
How could other cities learn from Warsaw?
The main thing I’ve learned is volunteer forces can dry up, but if you work with the right groups of people you can accomplish something big, sometimes without having to pay for it. We got a kick-ass mountain bike park out of it.
This article originally appeared in Issue #157. You can purchase a copy of this issue in our online store or please consider purchasing a subscription to help keep this great content rolling your way.
By Karen Brooks
Marla Streb is a legend. If you don’t know this, you’ve been riding recumbents, or not riding at all. Seriously, she was a dominant force in the downhill scene in the ‘00s (with a couple of Single Speed World Championship titles thrown in), and has a captivating personality. Now, Streb is focusing on family and managing her former race team.
How did you transition from racer to team management?
During the last nine (of 16 total) years of racing professionally, I started conspiring to one day become the GM or marketing manager of Team LUNA Chix. Clif Bar & Company is a notoriously loyal sponsor, and even supported me during both pregnancies as a pro. So if I proactively showed an interest and helped the team with PR and marketing while racing/pregnant, they might eventually hire me full-time after my career, which they did. For this “semi-retired pro,” it’s been a dream soft landing.
Do you miss racing? Plan to do any events just for fun?
Yes, I miss some aspects of racing, especially the community vibe and the feeling of total physical exhaustion that racing provides. I’ve raced one local XC event this year, and will certainly ramp back up now that the girls (two and five years old) are starting school.
The mountain bikers (and other athletes) on Team LUNA Chix have had incredible success in the last few years, earning the UCI’s #1 team ranking, with plenty of individual race wins. What’s the team’s secret?
It may not be a secret, but the LUNA Pros’ individual successes come from being a part of the most well-oiled, organized mountain bike program in the world. From the unwavering support of Clif Bar’s Gary and Kit Erickson, to enjoying the best sponsors, product, and staff available, the athletes can really focus on winning. Their salaries are also commensurate with that of the men, so that doesn’t hurt.
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done on a bike?
I barely remember this, but I coasted down a sidewalk in Fruita, CO once at about 30mph with my calves on the handlebars (instead of my hands). The resulting crash was sudden, epic, and haunts me every time I look at my butt in the mirror. Personally, I was not scared (Red Bull + tequila), but others mentioned that it was the scariest thing they’ve ever seen. Scary perhaps, but I’ve done dumber. (And if this wasn’t the answer to the previous question…)
What led you to race the DH at Snowshoe, West Virginia in 2002 with no protection?
Again, I’m not the brightest firefly in the jar…so I probably thought that I could save a tenth of a second by dressing like a speed skater.
Not to sound cliché, but—how do you balance motherhood, work and fun?
The work part is impossible with young kids, so now I drag my “night person” body out of bed at 4 a.m. for work. When I was seriously training, I just dragged my kids behind me in the Chariot trailer and climbed 3,000ft. up somewhere. For fun? Luckily, I got a lot out of my system in the 42 years before I decided to have kids, especially the last 16 years of racing around the world, surrounded by fit, young men. So at this point, hanging with the kids is my way of having “fun.”
On that note—are you looking forward to raising your kids as total trail shredders?
If my two girls grow up to enjoy shredding trails with their mother, then my life will be complete. My maternal mission: to love, nurture, and take them to the emergency room.
I hear you are working on opening a bike cafe in Baltimore…
It’s a concept café—about a third dedicated to bike retail, mostly focused on the café, with fresh coffee, then there’ll be the fun liquor side of it. There are some combinations of café/coffee shop/bike shops, but not all three in one place. It’s called The Handle Bar Café. It will have indoor and outdoor bike parking (with locks available), a bikewash, a sink outside the bathroom for just washing up—anything that you can imagine as a cyclist that you’d like. We’ll also do clinics, women’s rides, kids’ rides, and we’ll have enough room to do a spin class to encourage exercise in the winter, not hibernation. It’ll be low key, fun, functional, comfortable, and community-oriented. It’s kind of my dream situation—I’m always looking for places like that that will accept my drenched body. We’ll even welcome recumbent riders. We hope to open around the first of September.
This interview originally appeared in Issue #157. Order a subscription now and you’ll get all our content delivered right to your door as soon as it’s published.
You can read part 1 of Maurice’s review of the new XTR components here.
We talked about Shimano Dyna-Sys in our last installment. Next news from the XTR camp is that the component group is now “Rider Tuned” for your pleasure.
Tired of XC race folk being the principal marketable customers, Shimano now offers an array of choices for setting up an XTR bike. There are two wheelsets to choose from, one Race and the other Trail (IE: Light and heavy). Same with brakes. Cranks are available in a variety of double and triple chainring configurations, and there are Race and Trail pedals to choose from as well.
Now the “R” in XTR can stand for “Race” or “Rail”. In the brake department, the race brake weighs 40 grams less than the current XTR model and has a 110% power increase over that brake. The Trail version weighs the same as the old brake but features a 125% power increase. This power was proven with a solid test on the Downieville DH course.
While Wilderness Trail Bikes representatives Mark Weir and Jason Moschler are off the front sailing that shit, I am off the back and on the brakes. These guys had a blast. I hung on and tested the brakes. Shimano has worked hard on the goal of dissipating heat. This is good, as I am one person capable of boiling ‘em on such a long sustained downhill. It’s happened to me before. How is this possible? How about the heat-sinking fins extending from each brake pad? You see that in computer hardware all the time, it’s rather novel to see on a bicycle.
Another part of the equation is that the rotors are made in an aluminum-steel sandwich, actually an aluminum core dissipates the heat, while steel provides respectable wear. They call this I.C.E. Technology. Other new stuff includes ceramic pistons, larger hoses for increased power, and a nice, adjustable, one-finger brake lever which felt awesome.
Yep the XTR Trail brake got me down the hill with no drama. If fact it was one of the highlights of my life as a brake squeezer. Power, modulation, feel. this brake had it all, and stood the test at Downieville. I dig it the most.Tweet Print
By Andy Beach
It’s the middle of the week. The living’s easy because I’m riding hard with my crew, dubbed “Pelotronix.” We’re devouring some of the best trail on the San Francisco Bay Area mountain biking menu. Even tastier is the fact that we dine alone, having not seen a single rider since wheels went down—and we won’t for the rest of the ride, guaranteed. It’s just us and the woodland creatures because the Sun is not among the stars shining above. It’s around 10 p.m.
Unique riding conditions, to be sure, but this isn’t an uncommon outing for Pelotronix. The vast majority of our rides take place in the dark.
A decent question is, “What the hell for?” Well, we need too. But I don’t I say that in a pierced and tattooed-eyelid, adrenaline junky, “cuz we need to, brah” way. We’re definitely a strong group that rides hard and loves to take on the technical stuff, but we don’t ride in the dark because we’re thirsty for extra danger. Ironically, we ride at night because these days we’re kind of the opposite of live-on-the-edge types.
We’re what I refer to as “grown-ass men,” in our late 30s or early 40s. Like most grown-ass men, we’ve got grown-ass man obligations: careers, family, big bills, etc. One thing that isn’t in abundance is free time. And even more rock-blocking is that on the weekends, the time when riding is traditionally done by the employed, there are often family members and other loved ones who want to spend time with us. Hell, after working all week, we want to spend time with them. We’re not too old to ride, but in a way, we’re too grown up to ride—at least often.
For many, this can mean a decline in riding declines.
It’s no mystery, what I’m talking about. When one becomes a grown-ass man or woman, some of the activities that we love begin to take a back seat. For many, that back seat is covered in pulverized Cheerios and the crust of dried formula and has a child seat securely belted to it.
Next thing we know, the up-facing surfaces of our snowboard, mountain bike or other gear begins to gather dust. A little spider might even make a home up in the steerer tube during the two weeks…then three weeks…then five, that our once heavily used mountain bike sits, untouched, lonely and surrounded by toys. That little spider may even nest undisturbed long enough to have a family of her own.
It’s a tough spot. Compromises can be reached and rides can be had. But consistently? Every weekend? Probably not. And multiple rides per week, like the old days? Haa ha ha haaaaa! Ha.
But I’ve discovered that all is not lost for the grown-ass mountain biker. Night riding is a way to subvert all that wonderful, yet terrible, adult stuff and keep the dust and spiders off your whip.
The guy who started my now unstoppable night riding momentum is named Jeremy. He’s one of the Pelotronix crew. While talking at work one day, we discovered that we were both mountain bikers. Eventually, after coming to the conclusion that I was a serious rider, he tossed out, “You should come riding with me and my friends. We go riding every Wednesday night.”
“You ride at night?” I asked.
It’s a response that I would eventually get very familiar with hearing, myself. Three years, and probably over 100 night rides after Jeremy’s fateful invite, I’ve become a walking PSA about the benefits of night riding. I love to bring it up to guys who tell me, looking down at new girth, how bummed they are that they never get to ride anymore. But like I was, a lot of riders—even experienced ones—are in the dark about night riding.
“You ride at night?” they ask.
Unfortunately, most of the guys I talk to don’t make the leap and buy a light and start ripping it up after the day’s obligations are taken care of. I understand. For many reasons, some legit, some motivationally related, it’s not an easy leap to make. But I sure as hell did.
Although, I confess, I can’t exactly describe my first ride as “ripping it up.” Mostly because I didn’t do what I’d describe as, “buy a light.” Brainiac that I am, I figured that my cool little Mini Maglite would do the trick. Hell, it was small and really bright. I figured I could…you know…just hold it…sorta…next to my grip and shine it on the trail. Yeah, that’ll work! It didn’t work. Fortunately, it was the middle of the summer so the darkness didn’t reach a debilitating level until later in the ride. Also fortunate was that Jeremy, the guy who had invited this rookie dumbshit, had some extra lighting that strapped to my helmet as opposed to being lamely clung to, like my Mini Maglite. Jeremy’s loaner wasn’t the brightest light by bike light standards, but it was brighter than my ridiculous flashlight.
Probably a good time to mention that a good lighting system is obviously a must. These days, thanks to technology getting cheaper, you can get a really good light for not much over $100, which was unheard of just a couple years ago. I recommend you get two: one for the helmet, one for the handlebar. I rode with one light for a couple years before getting a second light. My speed and comfort (and enjoyment) level went way up.
Potentially disastrous as my first attempt at night riding was, I lived and, goddamn, did I love. I was immediately hooked on the whole scene. For one, I knew that once I got my shit together on the lighting thing, it was going to be a great time. And later it occurred to me that consistent riding—the Holy Grail for the grown-ass mountain biker—was going to be much easier to come by if I started joining these guys on their weekly rides.
I was right on both points. Now that I have lighting, it is a blast. And, excluding the rainy season, rarely does a week pass without a ride. (Yes, I live in California, so cold isn’t the issue it is, well, pretty much everywhere else. I realize night riding may lead to a broken- off nose in many parts of the country.) If I didn’t night ride, I’d get in maybe two to three rides a month, which was just too lame for a guy who has as much of a thing for mountain biking as I do.
It was an adjustment at first, to be sure. But we humans are the most adaptable of all creatures. I won’t go as far as saying I’m as confident at 9 p.m. as I am at 9 a.m., but it’s close enough, especially now that I’m not using a Mini Maglite.
Another reason I was hooked was that night riding was a thrilling new experience. It was kind of like learning to ride a mountain bike in a whole new way. One must develop what I call “night legs.” Balance is a very different skill when vision is limited. Your awareness of the trail and your reaction time has to be just that much better. It’s made me a much better rider, overall. It’s almost like training at high altitudes or growing up on Krypton.
Then there’s the fact that, save the occasional skunk, the trails become our personal playground. It’s nice not having any of you people around.
But at night, the only things I’m going to run into on those trails are the usual obstacles—a slick root, a low branch or other weapons of choice of the ever-present enemy of the rider, Crashboomzilla. And if there does happen to be a hiker out there enjoying an evening walk, a row of 300-lumen lights approaching in pitch dark tend to take the surprise out of any encounter. Everyone sees what’s coming from a mile away, sometimes literally. Plus, in the case of the crew I ride with, you can also factor in auditory alarms in the form of our random howls of joy.
Empty trail is a freedom that’s impossible to obtain during the day around here. At night, less-than-full illumination may slow you down a little bit, but less-than-abandoned trail won’t slow you down at all. The lack of other trail users makes up for the lack of light. Who needs the sun when you have the benefits of its absence?
Some tips on night riding that have nothing to do with your bike
Now, I know it’s easier said than done to rally after a full day at work (and if you live far from your favorite trail, it may even be impossible and this story may be moot, but please, enjoy the rest of the article anyway. You’re almost at the end). But would you be into mountain biking in the first place if you didn’t have some drive?
Let me give you a few tips on motivation. First, don’t get bogged down by the thought, “Wow, I’ve just had the most exhausting, shitty day at work. I just can’t ride.” C’mon. What better time to ride? Riding is joy. Riding is freedom.
Riding cures bad-day-at-work hangovers. As easy as it may seem at the time, you just can’t use the “tired from work” excuse, ever. You’ll certainly regret it. I mean, have you ever had the thought, “Damn, I wish hadn’t gone for that ride.” Of course not! Yet we feel regret pretty much every time we decide to bail out on a planned ride. I’ll end this section of my lecture with this truth: going to bed physically tired from a ride beats the hell out of going to bed mentally exhausted from a rough day at work, every time. Trust a guy who does both damn near every week.
Another tip I’ll give you isn’t just for motivation, but for safety: rally some buddies. Pelotronix has an email list of about 15. Of those, there’s a core group of about seven or so that go regularly, so on average, we have five riders a week. I draw strength from the email chatter that starts every week before the ride. I live in San Francisco, and our main stomping grounds are on the other side of the bay. The drive is a pain in the ass. But I love the guys and I want to ride with them. That’s just as big a motivation as the riding.
Observed trials, once a popular sport in the USA, has gone into hiding. A cycling event that became a UCI world championship event in 1984 (six years before mountain biking), has disappeared from the collective radar of mount
By Nikolai A. Braun
Observed trials, once a popular sport in the USA, has gone into hiding. A cycling event that became a UCI world championship event in 1984 (six years before mountain biking), has disappeared from the collective radar of mountain bikers. What happened to it? Where did it go and when is it coming back?
As the mountain biking fad waned in the late ’90s and competition and overall race attendance diminished, NORBA was absorbed into USA Cycling. Observed trials events were dropped from the National Championship schedule, and resultantly, there was no national trophy for American trials riders.
Because of the sudden lack of organized national support for observed trials, some guys decided to do something about it. Tim Williamson, Robin Coope, Pete Wilk, Randy Vancil, Mike Friddell and many others—mostly riders looking to give back to their sport—formed a new national trials organization: The North American Trials Series (NATS).
Mike Friddell is the current administrator of NATS, and he describes its formation: "NATS from day one was basically meant as a loose-knit group of event organizers that agree on a ruleset and a points series—just to give the riders the opportunity to continue to travel around and get points and get crowned champion."
After NORBA cut observed trials loose, the sport would have surely died a quick death if not for the formation of NATS. If riders no longer had competitions to challenge them and competitive goals to work toward, and if pro riders no longer had a reason to compete, then the sport would have fizzled at both the top and the bottom ends simultaneously.
Unfortunately, nearly 10 years after the formation of NATS, competitive trials is struggling, both for grassroots events and the NATS competitions. Mike Friddell reports, "In 2000, an average event had 25-30 competitors. Today, the average is probably closer to 15-20." Although this is a worrying trend, there are other indicators of how the sport is faring which are more encouraging: website hits and bike sales.
ObservedTrials.net is the premier trials news, competition info, rider hookup, and chat site for the United States. Site owner Matt Lovewell comments, "I have noticed a steady increase in the average amount of users online over the course of the years, particularly the past two years." And Todd Gorman of Webcyclery, an online retailer of trials bikes, reports that trials sales have increased every year and are doing "very well." However, based on the kinds of trials products sold, Todd commented, "We are seeing trials move into more of a street/urban direction."
So people are online reading and chatting about trials, and they’re buying trials bikes, but they aren’t competing. So what? Does that matter?
It all depends on what your goals are.
Everybody knows Danny MacAskill, star of the viral internet video "Inspired Bicycles," which was released in April of 2009. He has a background in both observed trials and BMX, and he mixed the disciplines in an exciting way never seen before. Danny created a video that was instantly recognizable to cyclists and non-cyclists alike as something really cool.
Danny’s video clearly shows top-level riding, but it caught the attention of people in a way that top-level trials riding never has. Belgian rider Kenny Belaey, one of the best competitive observed trials riders in the world, commented, "We have been trying for years to get recognition and respect, and along comes some amazing rider who has never competed and gets it instantly."
How did Danny get this instantaneous respect, and how come the multitude of internet videos starring the worlds top observed trials riders have not?
Usually, a trials rider does not learn tricks, he learns techniques—movements specific for navigating obstacles, no matter how flashy they may seem. But Danny has taught himself how to do 360s, tailwhips, and turbine nose manuals—things that have zero application to competitive trails riding. Danny has learned tricks just for the sake of learning them.
"Competitions sometimes have a bit of negative image…the guys are way serious, and they have these tight clothes on and so on, so the whole urban street thing opens up a door to a whole different breed of trials riders. You see some of the top trials riders in the world, and people don’t aspire to be like them. They are more inspired to be like Danny MacAskill who just has fun and rides around and does cool stuff," commented Hans Rey.
Will this style of trials riding—urban riding without any focus on competition preparation, just learning bicycle skills for the sake of doing tricks—overtake traditional observed trials?
Besides the potential to produce a few internet stars, I believe this faction of trials biking will ultimately stay small—because without competitions, a rider is never truly inspired to excel.
"If you don’t go to competitions, you aren’t challenged in that way that you are when you are pitted against a section," says Mike Friddell. It is absolutely true that the best and quickest way to improve at observed trials is to go to competitions. Until a rider is in a position where he or she has to ride a rock pile because points and honor are on the line, they will never know what they are truly capable of, and they will never realize the skill deficiencies they currently have.
Besides providing a rider with an honest assessment of their trials abilities, a competition also provides friends. Observed trials is such a tiny and dispersed sport that there is an instant camaraderie between riders of all ages and all skill levels.
Friddell comments, "It’s worth it to drive that distance just to spend a day or two [at a competition] with 20 other trials riders. You learn a lot, you progress, and you make friends that you can plan group rides with in the next month. It fosters your interest."
Making trials friends with whom one can meet up on the weekends—riders that have different riding skills and style, different riding motivations—and riding at different locations provides continuous challenge and motivation throughout the year.
A beginner rider might be attracted to the non-competitive riding of Danny MacAskill, and this could inspire him to get involved in the sport, but until a rider has their eyes opened by a competition and sees that trials is so much more than what they have been practicing, he or she will never know what it even is that they have to practice. Also, without the friendship of other riders to challenge them to ride better, they will never fully realize how beautiful and magical riding trials is.
But how does a non-trials rider make the decision that trials is something that they even want to try? How can the sport get more riders of any kind, if only to take sides in the street-versus-competition debate?
A survey of several mountain bikers in a northern Virginia park revealed that none of them had heard the terms "bike trials" or "observed trials." However, when asked about "those videos on the internet of cyclists hopping around on their rear wheel," everybody knew right away what it was. Exposure of the sport in the age of the internet isn’t a problem.
Jay Copeland of Burke, VA, a mountain bike rider for 10 years and a road rider since the ’70s, said, "I have seen that. It’s very cool," when asked about observed trials. But what is keeping him out of the scene is a total lack of organized support. "Where would I go to even find a group of guys that would get together to learn trials? I don’t know."
"There’s no infrastructure" is how Hans Rey summed up the problem to attract new riders. "Where does a new rider start? Where does a new rider go? The big difference between Europe and America is that in Europe you have clubs. The problem is America is a very big country. The sport really needs to grow regionally. [A beginner rider] needs to have stuff on his doorstep." Unfortunately, no trials clubs exist in the U.S. because there just isn’t a high enough density of riders anywhere for a club to make sense. Or maybe the converse is true—there aren’t enough riders because there is no club.
Mike Friddell understands this and is looking to reorganize NATS to focus on local scene development. Currently, the NATS championship selects more for the riders that can afford to travel all over the country to compete, not the riders with the most talent. Mike wants to retrain the focus of NATS on regional point accumulation and scene development, and have only one national final.
"[We would] have these competition regions that encourage more people to attend the events in their region, and more people to organize more events in their region, so the riders have more opportunities to earn points."
Mike’s reorganization plan sounds like it could be the beginning of grassroots regional club development in the U.S.—an exciting prospect if it happens.
Hinmaton Hisler is a man with an unusual name and an unusual vision. He wants an American trials rider to compete in the top 10 in the world—and wants them to do it on an American-made trials bike.
After spending a weekend with Frank "The Welder" Wadelton learning how to weld, Hisler built his first trials frame. It wasn’t very good, so he built another. That one wasn’t very good either. But he kept at it, and he has built 13 trials frames that are good. Really good. His fledgling trials company is named Caelifera and it is a serious business for Hisler, one which he will continue only if it remains profitable. But there is also an altruistic component to his business, because Hisler wants to make more than bike parts—he wants to make role models.
"The reason why I started this was to boost the trials scene in America. Most of the top frames and top parts are coming from Europe. So even if we have a good American rider, they’re not riding anything American. They’re riding French or Spanish. Or Chinese," he says.
"If I can come up with a frame design and start building this company and start making high-end, competition-based products, eventually it’s going to trickle out and we’re going to find a rider that can at least compete on the world level and then we can start representing as a whole package."
Hisler is using a top-down approach to expand the sport—by creating world-class American trials bikes and securing world-class American talent, there will be a role model for all American trials riders to emulate. Developing a culture of elite trials riding in America will give more American trials riders the confidence that they can succeed at the highest levels.
While the United States has a more acute problem in developing trials interest compared to some other places, even in a country like France or England where trials is "huge," it is still a tiny sport. Observed trials is simply a much more difficult sport compared to mountain biking or running or weightlifting.
Most efforts of trials rider recruitment focus on converting mountain bike riders. This is because every trials rider today started on some kind of mountain bike—playing around, balancing, hopping—until the trials bug took hold and they became full-fledged trials riders.
Since we can globally see that bike trials only ever appeals to a minority of bike riders, advertising and promotion and organization efforts are unlikely to change the probability of any single mountain bike rider moving to trials. So perhaps the trials community should not be asking "How do we get more mountain bike riders exposed to trials?" but instead "How do we get more mountain bikers?"
The best way to do that is getting more kids out riding around in their neighborhoods on their bikes, riding to school, and riding to their friends’ houses after school. The bottom of the observed trials pyramid isn’t beginner trials riders, it’s not more mountain bikers, it’s more kids riding their bikes around their neighborhoods.
Some of these kids will wonder, "How fast and how far can I ride?" and they will see how fast and far they can ride. Some kids will wonder, "how far will I fly if I ride off that ramp?" and they will ride off the ramp and take flight. And some kids will wonder, "Is it possible to balance on a bike without moving?" and they will discover that yes, anything is possible with a bicycle.Tweet Print
By Frank Maguire
So how long will you wait for trails? Tough question, but it’s becoming more and more a fact that good things come to mountain bikers who can wait. The new Allegrippis Trails system at the Raystown Lake Army Corps Project is a great case study in patience. When IMBA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Army Corps in 2002, mountain bike advocacy was still in its gawky teenage years.
By 2009, when the ribbon on the trails was cut, advocacy had moved forward by learning from the successes and building towards the future. For certain, there are some other big projects moving through the proper channels, but Raystown is the largest of the original areas of focus in the MOU to be completed. IMBA has been able to build incredible trails because of the planning and patience learned in the last twenty years of mountain bike advocacy.
At any point, someone could have done a "rake and ride" trail system that would have taken seven days to build, not seven years. But beyond the person who scratched them in, would anyone have cared? While they were walking around with their rake and loppers, would they have been able to avoid the siren song of old roads and game trails that looked OK, but wouldn’t have held up under more than 20 wheelsets a year? Would they have known that "sustainable" actually equals "more fun"?
At Raystown, IMBA was presented a blank canvas to create what would become a unique ride destination. Suffice it to say that it has been a long road to get to a place where between 300 and 400 mountain bikers from around the mid-Atlantic could show up this May, after a week solid of rain, and ride 30-plus miles of built-to-last trail.
Although many of the lessons learned at Raystown can transfer to other areas, there were neither existing trails nor any local mountain bike community to begin with. This was both a positive and a negative, as the lack of a local club severely hindered recruiting volunteers throughout the process. However, there was also no one who claimed ownership of trails—who liked them just the way they were. The lack of trails on the ground allowed a master plan for the trails, following the idea of a stacked loop system to be implemented.
If you haven’t heard the term before, the stacked loop system places the easier, more approachable trails closer to the trailhead, and more difficult trails in concentric circles off this intro loop, allowing for progressive riding challenges and multiple ride options. Often when people hear that there are 32 miles of trails at Raystown, they assume that means they will ride 32 miles and cover everything, but the loops would actual require between 45 and 50 miles to cover all the options.
Making it happen
So what are the lessons from Raystown that are repeatable in your own backyard? To make trail projects like this happen, there usually needs to be two crucial ingredients: local buy-in and the insider. Local buy-in doesn’t just mean a club that can volunteer for trail work, but a mountain bike community that understands that trail-building is a process, that it will take a while, and that there will be setbacks.
The insider needs to be someone within the land management agency who takes ownership of the project. The interesting aspect of this insider is that they don’t need to be a mountain biker, just someone who is willing to continue to move the process forward. Basically, they just need to get it.
At Raystown, the local buy-in was actually several different people acting at different levels over many years. It’s often hard to take such a long view, particularly in central Pennsylvania where we already have close to a million acres of state public land that often turned a blind eye to mountain bike trails. Originally, there was a local environmental engineer, Shannon Dolte, who had laid the groundwork, doing the initial environmental assessment and putting the Army Corps of Engineers’ fears to rest about turning bikes loose.
There was also a GIS specialist, Clark Fisher, who had been working on road cycling routes for the regional economic development commission, an organization that conveniently shared their office with the Army Corps. As the IMBA state representative, I got involved with the project in the winter of 2002-2003; Raystown was a place 45 minutes from my house, but I had never been there.
The really heavy lifting in the final year fell to Evan Gross, who not only heads up the brand new local mountain bike club (Raystown Mountain Bike Association), but has put in hundreds of volunteer hours in less than 12 months and has the MacGyver skills to prime a keg with a bike pump.
Working with land managers when you have an insider is like traveling in a foreign country with a quality interpreter and guide. You may get frustrated with the pace of things and insult some local custom, but the insider makes sure that you don’t end up needing to bribe your way out of jail. At Raystown, there were actually two insiders. Deb Prosser, the director of business development for the Southern Alleghenies Development Commission, became the facilitator, making sure that the bureaucracy always moved, even if glacially.
At the same time, Allen Gwinn was the ranger who was tasked with coordinating the project within the Corps. Allen often would seem to dampen down our enthusiasm with doses of reality, and then show up on his day off to deliver tools and beer to our volunteer days.
Choosing the design
When considering the design for Raystown, we understood from day one that these trails were going to be a destination place. Central PA is not lacking in public lands, so there needed to be something a little more going on to make people want to come. In the first meeting with the Huntingdon County Visitor’s Bureau, Rich Edwards, a Trails Specialist with IMBA Trail Solutions, made the statement that at a minimum 25 miles of trail were needed, and that 30 would be better. The math came from the fact that the target audience was at least three hours away.
The system was going to need to be large enough to warrant a second day of riding. The trails would also need to be well-marked and laid out in an easy-to-understand manner, as visitors wouldn’t have the accumulated knowledge of riding familiar territory to rely on. In many ways, first impressions were going to be the make-or-break for the trails.
Another question that came up about Raystown was, "Where are all the rocks?" Central PA trails are known for being rocky, but that is mostly because the public lands are on the ridges, where agriculture is impossible. The western shore of Raystown Lake, as former agricultural land that was ceded as part of the dam project, actually still has significant amounts of dirt. Underneath, however, is a stratum of crumbly shale that allows the land to drain well. In many ways these conditions allowed us to build in the ideal situation: the land had great contours (it’s difficult to build machine trails unless you have 20 percent-plus side slope) and very few areas that would require a lot of volunteer hand labor.
For people who are used to riding legacy trails (trails that were built with other uses besides mountain bikes in mind), the idea of machine-built trails can be difficult to comprehend and seem akin to blasphemy. In the hands of a skilled operator, though, mini bulldozers and excavators can produce trails that will rival anything that can be done by hand in a much shorter time.
As a comparison, to achieve full bench-cut trail construction with volunteers, it’s reasonable to expect six feet an hour by hand. So the 32 miles of trails at Raystown would have required over 28,000 man-hours just moving dirt. By using machines, the number of volunteer hours was reduced to a tenth of that. Machines also make it much easier to take the harder route, rather than using an existing road grade or game trail because it’s already there.
But the real big advantage to machines is that they will put grade reversals and turns exactly where they are needed. Machines also make sure that the proper grade and drainage is achieved, and then the trail tread is allowed to develop through use. In just a few short years, the trail will be a continuous 12 to 18-inch ribbon. What has been avoided by this build method is having the trail drift off the graded portion and creating multiple lines because something about the layout wasn’t quite right.
So was it all worth the time and the effort? Was seven years too long to wait for trails? The week prior to the grand opening, there were at least two events cancelled in the mid-Atlantic region because of the seven to 10 inches of rain that had fallen in the ten days previous. The only wet spots on the Allegrippis Trail were the sections where we had not been able to armor spring seeps, creating probably less than 100 yards of mud over 32 miles.
But more important was the comment I heard throughout the weekend, "I couldn’t stop giggling." With the ride quality described as twisting and turning, carving and weaving, the trails were compared to everything from a roller coaster, to a BMX park to an all-day pump track. If more smiles per mile makes the trail, I would say that waiting for Raystown was time well spent.Tweet Print