CategoriesAdventures

Recap: Mountain Biking in the Estrella Mountains

Mountain biking in the Estrella Mountains near Phoenix is, for me, a lot like eating at one of the ubiquitous fast-food joints with “berto’s” in their name. A few years will go by and I’ll think “hey, why don’t I ever go to Filiberto’s/Aliberto’s/Philbertberto’s?”

Then I get myself berto’s quesadilla or carne asada burrito. Hours later, I’m on the toilet regretting every decision I ever made in my life.

So it is with Estrella Mountain Regional Park, which is about 30 minutes from my house. Drive another 10 minutes or so, and I’m at the fabulously fun Fantasy Island North Singletrack. That network is a bit compact, so any decently long ride will wind up repeating plenty of segments.

That’s what convinced me to return to Estrella.

Mountain Biking in the Estrella Mountains
This map kind of sucks.

My History of Mountain Biking in the Estrella Mountains

I first rode the Estrella Mountains back in about 1996, in the beginner racing class of the Mountain Bike Association of Arizona series. I remembered it was a pretty fun ride, but not one of the best around. That’s even less true now as the newer, better trail networks have popped up.

I visited the Estrellas a few more times between then and now, including a visit to the Competitive Track, which doesn’t get much love and doesn’t really deserve any. Unless you like sand.

Oddly enough, I didn’t recognize anything at all during my latest ride. It’s like all the trails I rode back in the day have been erased.

Relive ‘Accidentally Epic in the Estrellas’

Estrella Can’t Compare to McDowell Mountain

Estrella Mountain Regional Park and McDowell Mountain Regional Park are both owned and administered by Maricopa County. McDowell is a great example of outstanding mountain bike trails that have something for everyone.

Estrella is … an example of what happens when sadomasochistic dentists get into trail building.

I took the Rainbow Valley Trail (and I use that word loosely) until it met the Toothaker (yes, that’s the correct spelling) Trail. The early portions of Rainbow Valley were alright. At some point, they got steep and loose, with copious amounts of rubble making it hard to get any traction. These trails will involve some bike pushing, especially if you dig singlespeeds.

Mountain Biking in the Estrella Mountains
Way too much of the Rainbow Valley Trail looks like this.

I also spent a lot of time on the Gadsden Trail, which is fairly decent. It features some sandy bits, especially when it drops in and out of washes.

My major takeaway, though, is that the Pedersen Trail that connects with what appears to be some social trails over the park’s west border is the way to go.

The social trails appear to be built by the local developers rather than any sort of government entity. Had I more time and fluids, I would’ve scouted that area more to find some better mountain biking in the Estrella Mountains.

My Plan for future Mountain Biking in the Estrella Mountains

Next time, I probably won’t park at Estrella Mountain Regional Park. While the bathrooms are great, the water fountains were too weak to top off my bottles. So there’s no advantage to paying $7 to park there.

Also, the printed trail maps were not a huge help. It seems there are plenty of spurs that don’t feature on the map, which makes navigating hard. I think it would also be wise for Estrella to have a main named loop, and use it as a reference on signage (ie, This Way to the X Loop).

Mountain Biking in the Estrella Mountains
Here’s what I could get out of Trailforks after uploading a trail log.

I also lost a few miles to a sign pointing me to a parking lot. I whizzed by too fast to notice that it was the Comp Track parking lot rather than the main parking lot.

Next time, I’ll probably go further into the maze of red tile roofs to try accessing the trails on the west side to go mountain biking in the Estrella Mountains.

One Other Complaint – But About Trailforks.com

A pox upon Trailforks.com. Until recently, Trailforks would let you scout and plan rides just about anywhere.

Sure enough, they hopped on the “pay up” bandwagon right after Strava did.

I have no problem paying for good help. I think, though, that Trailforks isn’t a good value at $36 a year for global trail info.

I would happily buy my state’s info for $10 a year, and if they had an option to buy certain areas for a limited time, I’d be thrilled. For example, if I’m going to New Zealand for a few weeks and want to plan my rides, I’d shell out some $$$ in a second for limited access to that info when I need it.

This is why Trailforks was on my mind: I couldn’t plan my ride, and I also couldn’t use the app to see where I was during the ride. Trailforks gives users a free area – anything not in that area is grayed out on the app.

So if you’re lost during a ride, don’t count on Trailforks to help.

They also say you can change your free area once. I looked up the directions, and it mentions features that don’t appear on my app or in the online version.

CategoriesUncategorized

VIDEO: The Pivin Loop and Papago Park

The Pivin Loop at Papago Park has become unbelievably fun over the past few years. It didn’t even exist until a few years ago when the City of Phoenix decided to — without public input — plow the existing singletrack trails.

There was plenty of howling and gnashing of teeth (including myself). Some people wanted the trails restored to their original state. I thought that was a crappy option. I could see the use in the new trails, even if I didn’t like the method. The wide, smooth trails are perfect for runners and wheelchairs. I advocated for building new trails.

And sho’ ’nuff, someone did. It wasn’t the city, that’s for sure. Because these trails rock hard. They exceed the original trails in every single measure. More fun, more challenge — yet beginners like the dudes I met this weekend were undaunted and willing to try their luck (a few pointers from a certain rider helped them clean an obstacle that had stymied them).

The Pivin Loop at a Glance

Some guy on Strava mapped this loop out. I don’t think he actually built it. But he sure as hell staked his claim to history by IDing this 4-mile loop that encompasses all the good that Papago Park has to offer.

There are other new offshoots of the Pivin Loop. None have worn in as nicely, though. None can match the variety and ever-elusive and hard-to-define flow of the Pivin Loop. There are even a few little jumps scattered around to make things more fun.

In retrospect, I welcome the 5k and say good riddance to the old trails. The Pivin Loop thoroughly whoops their ass.

What Next?

I’d like the city to actually legitimize these trails. Someone did what they couldn’t — faster and inexpensively, to boot. And cities that have offroad trails need to figure out a way to tap these resources. Why not welcome them into the fold to use their expertise and time?

Bureaucracy has a place. But this isn’t rocket surgery. It’s just people having an idea about using the existing resources better.

Anyway, on to the video. Enjoy!

CategoriesFitness

Recap: Prescott 6’er Mountain Bike Race

For the past year, I’ve ridden about 90 percent of my mountain bike miles on a belt-drive singlespeed (first a Raleigh XXIX, then a Domahidy Ti). The big question on my mind has been -- could I actually race the thing n the Prescott 6’er?

prescott 6'er
A bit of race-prep help from a short person.

The races I do are typically long: I’ve been in 24-, 12- and 6-hour races, along with singletrack races 40-65 long. And I also do the occasional 60+ mile road bike tour. The biggest question mark comes from my legs’ tendency to completely seize up about 4-5 hours into a hard ride (more on that later).

Well, I decided it was time to see if my solid (for me) summer of training, some new practices and a fun belt-drive bike could get me through the Prescott 6’er. If you’re unfamiliar with the format, that’s as many laps as you can do in 6 hours. Each lap was 8.6 miles with about 650 feet of climbing. My previous longest singlespeed ride has been about 30 miles, with right around 2,000 feet of climbing.

It’s Race Day at the Prescott 6’er

If you didn’t know the Prescott 6’er was going on, it would be easy to overlook the venue, which was right near a gravel pit. In fact, we had to point one other racer in the right direction. It was a small field, with only 6 racers in the men’s singlespeed solo category. In all, I’d estimate fewer than 200 racers. The promoter, Mangled Momentum, gave the event a friendly, low-key vibe that was extremely welcoming. There was even a beginner class.

prescott 6'er

The start-finish area passed close to spaces for team tents, with a dedicated Solo Alley. Mangled Momentum was even nice enough to put up a tent for solo riders who needed some shade – I brought my own, but that was still a very nice touch.

I set up my little camp with a cooler full of water bottles filled with EFS mix. I trained with EFS because of its large load of magnesium, which was part of my cramping problem in previous events. I also had a jar full of pickles, a box of fix bars, a bunch of gels, various single-serving electrolyte powders, extra EFS mix, some jugs of water and a bottle of Starbucks iced coffee just in case I felt a bit sleepy.

Oh, and someone asked me about my gear ratio, probably because I’m not only rolling a singlespeed, but also a belt drive. They got my standard answer:

Prescott 6'er

Go Time

I started out at the back of the pack for a few reasons: I wanted to take the first lap a bit easy. Getting wedged behind people prevents me from going at the course like a spider monkey -- thus blowing my legs out early. I often felt like I was holding back on the descents and climbs. But I kept it friendly and easygoing knowing that it would be a long day. I passed only when it was safe and tried to chat with other riders.

The course itself is seriously fun riding that has that elusive, hard-to-define "flow" that seems to make bikes and riders happy. There were a few sandy patches, but traction was overall pretty good anyway. The hardest part was the far north part, where there were some steepish switchbacks covered in loose rocks.

On the Rocks

It was on the switchbacks in the first lap where I had my major problem of the Prescott 6’er: My seat tube water bottle cage broke! My plan was to ride two laps at a time with two water bottles. I figured that would be good for the distance (I don’t like racing with a Camelbak if I can help it). But that plan went pear-shaped in a hurry. I had to hop off my bike, fetch my bottle and broken cage, stuff it all in my jersey pocket and then re-start in the switchbacks.

A few people I’d recently caught also reeled me back in because of this, but it probably would’ve happened anyway. I already got away from my plan of riding my own race and not focusing on who I’m catching or who’s catching me.

Lap After Lap

I actually rode my second lap slightly faster, but the stop to deal with my water bottle cost me some time. The nice thing about the second lap is that I wasn’t front wheel-to-poop chute with everyone else, which gave me space to ride the way I like. And also had more opportunities to take a gulp out of the water bottle. There just wasn’t really time and space on the first lap.

The third lap was definitely a bit slower, and I felt just a twinge in one of my calves. I staved that off with a generous swig of pickle juice. On the fourth lap, I felt no sign of cramping, but my legs felt tired. I settled into my camp chair to enjoy some shade, a can of coconut water, more pickle juice and an electrolyte packet that dropped a huge magnesium bomb into my system; my wife, who has ridden four Ironman-distance triathlons and definitely knows her stuff, suggested magnesium to me -- but with an ominous warning along the lines of "too much of it will make you shit like a demon." Well, let’s just say this electrolyte package may have been the definition of "too much."

But did my legs cramp, even on my first singlespeed race? Now. Those legs stayed loose and ready to go, albeit with less life in them than the first few laps. My biggest problem on that fifth lap was getting pounded by the seat. On a geared bike, you can shift into a higher gear, push the pedals a bit and keep the weight from settling square on the ol’ taint (or chode, if you were a Beavis and Butt-head fan). On downhills, my speed exceeded the bike’s gearing, so my butt settled right onto the seat. This is just something I gotta get used to for future races.

The fifth lap of the Prescott 6’er also brought the demon of trail boredom. Races like the Tour of the White Mountains ensure that you don’t keep seeing the same stuff over and over again, which definitely keeps me mentally more alert. I kept getting that Groundhog Day feeling.

By the time I finished that last lap, I knew I was for the first time ever in dead last. But my time would’ve gotten me into mid-pack in the familiar and comfortable environs of the regular solo class. And there was really no way for me to move up. So I just said "it’s time to go have a shower -- but maybe first a stop at the portable toilets." I was also a bit in the Groundhog Day cycle of boredom. I’d seen the same trails too much in a given time frame.

Digressions and Final Thoughts on the Prescott 6’er

Let me digress here: When you’re at an event where there are portable toilets, thank the people who keep those in decent shape. Shake their hand, and don’t even think of cringing when you do. They are vital and important people taking on an extremely dirty job to make your life better through sanitation. Better yet, go immediately to your streaming media player and find the Australian film "Kenny," which is all about the adventures of a portable toilet plumber. You will never take these people for granted again!

Prescott 6'er
“Do these blokes really need that much magnesium?”

About the event itself – so low key and laid back. If you sign up for a future Prescott 6’er, you won’t have to wait in long lines. You won’t have to circle around looking for parking. You won’t have to drive into some remote place. You can even send people for a quick supply run to a nearby grocery store if you forget something. And bike shops aren’t far away.

I’m hoping some event photos appear, especially since I saw a few people snapping shots with SLR cameras. The only other photos are from the start/finish shoot, which doesn’t make for very good photography.

The promoters also provided a pretty cool event t-shirt, along with some free gels and fizzy electrolyte tabs. Racers would also find coolers full of water and Hammer Nutrition products, along with solid stuff like bananas and cookies.

I would definitely race this event again and recommend it to anyone interested in a longer event. The six-hour (along with the 12 and 34) format has its ups and downs. You see the same trails a lot, unlike something like the Tour of the White Mountains where it’s one giant loop. This format allows you to support yourself much more easily. Personally, I like to do a bit of both.

CategoriesFitnessGearTastes

Riding Hard with Fuel100 Electro-Bites: A Review

For the first time in a few weeks, I did a long mountain bike without a stash of Fuel100 Electro-Bites. I’d run completely out of them, so I dug back into my extensive stash of gels.

And here’s the weird thing: My latest ride wasn’t that much longer than the previous weekend. The temperatures weren’t that much hotter. My route actually had a little less climbing. Yet I spent the rest of my Sunday feeling pretty whooped.

Could that be the Fuel100 Electro-Bites versus the gels? That’s a tough conclusion to attribute to just a difference in on-bike fuel. But there are some things I can definitely, conclusively, unequivocally tell you about Electro-Bites.

Fuel100 Electro-Bites
A convenient size with just the right amount of fuel inside.

A Welcome Change from Gels

For years, gels have been the THE way to refuel on a bike. They’re pretty super for races. But it has its drawbacks: Gel from open packets tends to get all over the place. And honestly, I can only handle so much sweetness.

The more-savory taste of every variety of the Fuel100 Electro-Bites seemed to please my tastebuds far more than gels.

I tried all the varieties: Simply Salty, Salty Vanilla, Apple Cinnamon, Salty Vinegar and Pumpkin Spice. Each flavor has the same core taste, which is very earthy and salty. That makes sense considering that potato starch is the main ingredient. The vinegar and apple and pumpkin flavors are all pretty subtle. I actually didn’t wind up with a favorite flavor.

Fue100 electro-bites
Inside, puffy little savory nuggets await to keep you topped off with energy.

Aside from the flavor, the texture might be my favorite attribute. The Electro-Bites are small pellets that have a nice crunch, but they also dissolve pretty quickly. That means you won’t be chewing for a long time and you won’t be distracted; even though this product was developed by runners, that’s great for mountain bikers who want to pay attention to the trail.

An Idea for Improving Fuel100 Electro-Bites

Packaging is one of the best attributes of gels: I use electric tape to attach packets to my top tube and handlebars, making it really easy during races to grab one, eat it and stuff the empty pouch into a jersey pocket.

That’s a challenge with the Electro-Bites packaging. There are riders out there who are skilled enough to manhandle a package of Electro-Bites, eat them and still not slow down. I’m not one of them – so I’ll have to ponder some ideas to innovate on a way to carry them. I figure there must be some sort of flip-top container I could stash in my jersey or in a stem pouch.

Fuel100 Electro-Bites
Rolling out to the trails with my last remaining packet of Fuel100 Electro-Bites.

Bottom Line on Fuel100 Electro-Bites

My experience with mountain biking dates back to the days when dudes would rip up a PowerBar and stick them directly to their stem and handlebars. I don’t miss those days at all, let me tell you. We’ve been through a lot of innovation and evolution with fueling up during exercise and races, and I really like what Electro-Bites has done. I like the taste, I like the texture and I like that they work well – possibly better than gels. I know just about every other rider (especially those without sponsorships) is always on the lookout for the next big leap in sports nutrition, and Electro-Bites are a worthwhile entry to the list.

Their price isn’t even out-of-line with other products, with a six-pack going for about $13. Chances are you’ll need to order them from the Electro-Bites website since they’re still finding traction with retailers. If you put in the effort to order some, I think you’ll like them.

Speaking of that, I need to place an order to get more – and they’ll be a go-to for races and long rides for the foreseeable future.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received Electro-Bites for free from Fuel100 in consideration for a gear review. As always, this is not a guarantee of favorable coverage. The product still has to earn its praise honestly.

 

CategoriesFitnessGear

When Should You Get a New Mountain Bike?

new mountain bike
My current full-suspension bike – a Santa Cruz Superlight.

When is it time for a new mountain bike? If you’re the bike industry, the answer is "every time we come up with a new wheel size or standard" -- both of which they seem to be doing with ever-accelerating frequency these days.

If you’re a guy like me, the answer is a bit more complicated. Here’s what I mean by "a guy like me:" I go out on frequent rides and love nearly every damn thing there is about the bikes I’m riding. But I also know that everything has a limited lifespan, especially stuff that gets pounded by a 200-pound dude plowing over rocky terrain with -- let’s say not exactly the most deft of skills.

I want to start a fun conversation about how we decide it’s time for a new mountain bike. I’ll start off by talking a bit about my bikes and my impressions of riding them. It would be great to get your thoughts, and also to hear about your thought process for deciding to retire a mountain bike.

Bike #1 is a 2012 Raleigh XXIX that I built up largely piece by piece -- back in 2013, when I scored a killer deal on the frame and the previous iteration of the Gates Carbon Drive singlespeed drivetrain (that’s right, I don’t have CenterTrack).

Continue reading

CategoriesFitnessAdventures

Mountain Biking in Nelson, New Zealand

The very same day I mountain biked in the Whakarewarewa Forest, I started to wonder where else in New Zealand I could ride. Our itinerary would take us to a sheep farm, Wellington and then on to Nelson. So I googled Mountain Biking Nelson, New Zealand -- and found out that none other than the International Mountain Bike Association give the Nelson trails one of its very few Gold ratings.

Oh, boy. This could escalate quickly.

When we finally got to Nelson, I spent a day poking around the bike shops to see who had the good stuff. There were plenty of fine bikes to be had, with one pop-up rental operation sending people out on Santa Cruz Bronsons. Fine bikes, but the KTM Lycan at Crank House Nelson caught my eye (I can demo all the Bronsons I want here in the US, but I didn’t think KTM made anything that didn’t have a throttle on it).

So the Crank House KTM it was -- I pedaled out toward Codgers Mountain Bike Park, which is apparently the closest place to ride. Other places would require driving and a bike rack, which wouldn’t exactly work for my situation.

My wife was nice enough to hang with the little person while I rode, and I wanted to be considerate and not disappear for a huge chunk of the day. I really wanted to cap my ride at not much more than three hours – time for riding and faffing off with my GoPro.

Mountain Biking in Nelson new Zealand
Me with my friendly KTM Lycan during a cruise at Codgers MTB Park in Nelson, NZ.

Get Ready to Work Hard

My first five miles included about 1,000 feet of climbing. Most of it was grinding up a jeep road. The trail signage wasn’t exactly helpful, and I didn’t do myself any favors by not knowing the full capabilities of the awesome Trailforks app just yet. It could’ve helped me navigate quite a bit better than just blundering around on my own.

Singletrack trails branch off of the main jeep road. They’re full of switchbacks, and pretty steep in places. There’s also a good amount erosion. Those of you who identify as more downhill-inclined will particularly love the Codgers trail network.

As more of a cross-country guy who loves some good flow, I simply didn’t love the Codgers trails. The scenery wasn’t much, either. Next to riding in Rotorua, Nelson seemed kind of blah. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t covered in massive groves of redwood trees. And the trail contours were a bit predictable -- a bunch of switchbacks all headed pretty much the same way.

Mountain Biking in Nelson new Zealand
Some of the Codgers MTB Park are pretty overgrown.

There Might be Better Riding than Codgers MTB Park

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that I simply missed something. I’d bet a local could’ve pointed me to the best bits. After my ride, a guy at Crank House Nelson clued me in that the trails that have more my style of flow would be at Richmond Hills MTB Park or SIlvan Forest MTB Park. Those areas seem a bit -- compact, shall we say, if you want to get in 20-plus miles.

Mountain Biking in Nelson new Zealand
A nice view of the town of Nelson.

Of course, that would’ve required some driving and a rack for the car. I could’ve also rented a bike in Richmond (New Zealand), but I really liked the Crank House crew, so I wasn’t into that option. Certain shops just have a good vibe, you know?

About That Bike

So about this KTM Lycan bike -- look, I don’t obsess over linkages and spring rates. That sort of stuff makes my eyeballs shrivel (and possibly other balls, as well). Let me ride the thing, and I’ll tell ya if it works, OK?

And the KTM Lycan works. I love my simple, single-pivot Santa Cruz Superlight. I know there are better suspension systems out there. But I also know that the improvements are by and large incremental, and the added weight and maintenance simply doesn’t justify the difference.
The KTM Lycan forces me to re-think my position. Late in my ride, my legs were hammered -- but I wanted to check out another bit of trail. All of a sudden. The trail shot straight up, and it didn’t look like I was going to get much traction. I’d also lost all my momentum. I had no choice but to shift into the lowest gear and stand up – not a best practice for climbing on a full-suspension bike.

Mountain Biking in Nelson new Zealand
A closer look at the KTM Lycan.

Well, wouldn’t you know, that rear wheel crunched right into the ground and gave me everything I needed to get up that steep, crappy climb with energy to spare. Awesome. I am certain that I could not have pulled this off on my Santa Cruz.

The Lycan also had 650B wheels and a 2X10 drivetrain. Both were absolutely spot on for maneuvering and shifting. The Rock Shox (Recon Silver, I believe) came in well behind the forks I’m used to -- a Recon Gold, Fox Vanilla Float and X-Fusion Slide 29RL. But that’s a Rock Shox issue, nothing to do with KTM.

Wrapping It Up

I was super-excited to ride in Nelson, and I’m glad I did it. Next time, I’ll likely head to Richmond instead of Codgers, though. Your mileage may vary – if you have more time than I did and really like some rutted switchback action, give it a go!

CategoriesFitnessAdventures

Recap: 6 Hours in the Papago

My training plan for the 6 Hours in the Papago mountain bike race wasn’t a winner: A month before the race, I came down with strep throat. Before my antibiotics even ran out, I was headed to New Zealand for two weeks. That doesn’t add up to a lot of pre-race saddle time.

Fortunately, I didn’t plan to win anyway. Did I have fun, though? Oh, hell, yes. It was one of my better days at a race … I credit the pre-race dinner of raviolis and Stone Xocoveza.

If you’re looking for a good race when January rolls around next year, here’s what you should know about 6 Hours in the Papago.

It Used to Be 12 Hours in the Papago

That’s right – 6 Hours in the Papago was once twice as long as it is today. The change in length had something to do with permitting from the City of Tempe. The new setup did wonders: Twelve hours is a LOT of time on a 7-mile loop in Papago Park. No, downright monotonous. But for a six, it’s pretty spot on.

6 hours in the papago
That’s me at my last Papago race – the 12-hour edition!

The Course is Jam-Packed with Stuff – Kind of

Each 7-ish mile loop will give you about 500 feet of climbing. That’s pretty solid as the laps pile up. And they’re not long, grinding climbs. Instead, you get short bursts. There are also no long downhills, but there are a few parts that can be tricky – especially as people jockey for position.

You’ll also spend some time blasting along flat, smooth canal bits. Not the most exciting, but … hey, it’s a mid-metro area mountain bike race.

The loop doesn’t include any of my favorite parts of Papago, probably because it would be hard to deal with crossing Galvin Parkway and -hey!- the city of Phoenix managed to destroy those awesome bits, anyway.

The Course Volunteers Were Off the Charts

From the course marshals to the crew of kids at the refueling station, every 6 Hours in the Papago volunteer was smiley and helpful from the first lap to the last. They put out a lot of energy to give the race a very fun vibe.

Organizers and Sponsors Had Their Priorities Straight

Look, I don’t need a huge medal and a bunch of useless sponsor coupons in my race bag. And frankly, I have exactly one race t-shirt that I’ll wear out of the house.

What I got for my entry fee at the 6 Hours of Papago was frankly, far more valuable than any of that: a well-stocked refreshment tent where I could fill up my water bottles and grab some sponsor-supplied Hammer gels whenever I needed them (I could swear the electrolyte mix was Heed, which I supplemented with Kola Nuun tablets – exactly why are those delicious little tablets discontinued?!).

Speaking of sponsors, AZ Barbecue was there selling food; racers got a ticket for some free bbq, but I didn’t partake – my priority after a ride or race is to take my shorts off and brush my teeth, and one of those always causes me problems if I do it before I leave the venue. Oh, and SRAM was the title sponsor. I’ve had soft spot for them since the Grip-Shift days, and my current bike is mostly SRAM. Just sayin’.

I Think I Missed Solo Alley

I thought there was supposed to be a place where solo riders could park and make a little encampment. But it looked like that plan morphed into more of an area for teams and clubs to congregate. I really could’ve used having my car and gear around … my 6-, 12- and 24-hour race plans always involve (I know this sounds gross) copious amounts of V-8 and chocolate milk, and that run to my distantly parked car  — and the cooler inside it — was a bit of a pain. But it was hardly enough to put a damper on things. Just a small tweak that could be in the works for next year?

What’s the Strategy for Average Joes?

I’d like to improve my standing the next time I do this, and I’m trying to lock onto a good strategy. I noticed that my first four laps were considerably faster than the dudes just ahead of me in the standings. Then my times ballooned up again (corresponding with the laps where I had to jet out to my car). Maybe I’d be smarter to hold back a tiny bit more … maybe use some lower gears in the climbs and hit the electrolytes a bit harder earlier.

I did start spinning low gears a bit, and the decision seemed to pay off, especially after my final infusion of V-8 kicked in. On my last lap, my quads came back online to nearly full power with no danger of cramping … that was after the previous three laps where I relied on calf power to spin the pedals (and frankly, no small amount of farting – to anyone who’d been with 150 feet of me, my deepest apologies).

Final Thoughts

I’ll sign up for 6 Hours in the Papago next year for sure. It was fun and well-supported, not to mention 10 minutes from my front door in the middle of a huge metro area. That’s an opportunity not to be missed.

CategoriesFitness

Phoenix Destroys Some of the Nation’s Best Urban Mountain Biking

NOTE: See the updates at the end of the post.

Congratulations, Phoenix. You’ve officially destroyed one of the nation’s best urban mountain biking areas. And you managed to do it on the down-low.

By the time I started mountain biking in 1992, the Papago Park trails were the gathering place for local riders looking for a quick post-work or -class ride. Whether you were new to the sport or one of the fastest racers around, Papago Park was there for you. It was up to the task of being a venue for everything from 12-hour races (edit: I had a case of 12-hour brain when I wrote this … 12 Hours in the Papago stayed in the Tempe and Scottsdale portions of Papago) to ad-hoc races

Phoenix destroys papago trails
That feeling when bureaucrats destroy something awesome in your city.

No longer. Here’s what I’ve been able to find out:

  • Most of the trails on the Phoenix side have been bladed from the singletrack mountain bikers love so much to an eight-foot-wide (just my eyeballed estimate) superhighway. The surface is unpaved and covered in loose pebbles. The berms in the corners are also gone, so forget about sustaining any sort of speed into a corner. In places, there are even slabs of concrete, presumably for drainage.
  • There appears to be no motive.
    Phoenix destroys papago trails
    It’s mountain biking, Jim – but not as we know it.

    No existing trail user benefits from this destruction. My only guess is that this is some bizarre, mishandled effort to improve the area’s

    Phoenix destroys papago trails
    This concrete drainage will not hold up well – as Phoenix could’ve found out if they consulted IMBA or some real trail builders.

    wheelchair accessibility. I could support that – but why destroy the existing asset for the majority of users when a separate wheelchair-accessible trail network is an option? UPDATE: I’ve seen some talk in the Facebook group referenced in a few paragraphs that this might be a way to lure more 5k trail races to Papago.

  • Rumors of Starbucks and other silly money-grab theme parkization (my new word) of Papago Park have been around for quite awhile now. It seems the public heard about this for so long that they stopped believing it, and didn’t monitor the situation closely enough. Notice that the trail destruction happened during the summer months, when most cyclists switch to road biking or head up north to cooler climates. There’s also no news coverage, with this being the closest mention to the topic. There was no signage explaining anything or asking for input.
  • I’m to blame. But so are you. So is every single mountain biker who may have knownabout this, and didn’t expend all energy possible to organizing the people who use and love these trails. This speaks to a need for a far more organized and engaged cycling community. I’d also really like to know what the International Mountain Bicycling Association would say about the quality and sustainability of the new pseudotrails.
  • It’s not too late. Seriously. A Facebook group has formed to mitigate the damage. And imagine if enough of us stand together and demand that Phoenix build new mountain bike specific trails. The business case is there if you look to the progressive thinking of McDowell Mountain Regional Park, which turned itself into a regional draw for cyclists by expanding its trail network. Then-Supervisor Rand Hubbell put McDowell Mountain Regional Park on the national mountain biking map – maybe someone equally intelligent at the city of Phoenix could do the same. Step One: Go find the people who hand-built the Fantasy Island North Singletrack and get them to work their magic at Papago. The result would be even better than the current – sorry, make that former – trails.

Let’s see how Phoenix handles this, and how it explains the lack of public notice. I’d also like to see how they analyzed the trail user groups to figure out whether this would actually benefit anyone.

SOME UPDATES

Ray Stern from the Phoenix New Times is following this situation. Expect balanced, well-researched reporting from him. It’s what he does. And while it’s great to have bloggers and social media users squawking, it’s a huge benefit to haves someone with the time and resources to dig into city documents and present other sides of the story. Not to mention using those resources to right the situation.

Ray’s found that at least one off-road wheelchair user really digs the revamped trail. And some other disabled trail users do, too, judging from the social media conversations. Meanwhile, I think too many mountain bikers are howling “tear it out and make it the way it was” and polishing their pitchforks. I favor a solution that would create something unprecedented: A venue that includes a resource for off-road wheelchair users to have fun and maybe even compete (sign me up as a race volunteer and trailbuilder, already!) and integrates a purpose-built, mountain bike-specific singletrack network. Given FINS and its amazing trail design and execution, this is possible with a minimum of resources. The biggest challenge is finding the political will. And jeez, mountain bikers … stand with disabled trail users, FFS.

CategoriesGearFitness

In Search of Good, Budget Mountain Bikes – Part 1

budget mountain bikes
Yes, this crazy-expensive bamboo bike is a real thing.

I might be the world’s weirdest mountain biker: I simply don’t care about super-expensive, shade-grown, organic, gluten-free artisan bikes. There are so many great $5,000 bikes that there’s no possible way to decide between them, even if you divide them into smaller categories – full-suspension, hardtail, steel, carbon fiber, titanium, bamboo (yes, that exists) or what have you. I simply don’t admire anyone’s ability to craft an excellent cost-is-barely-an-object mountain bike.

Instead, show me a $1,500 or less mountain bike that will make a discerning, experienced mountain biker nod in satisfaction. (I realize some people might still find that expensive. Sorry, but every hobby has a price. I realize you can probably find a used car for that price … but it won’t be as good at being a car as this bike should be at being a bike.)

budget mountain bikes
The Rocket 1 is a good-looking, for-real budget mountain bike. (photo borrowed from bikerumor.com)

This is going to be an ongoing project – to unearth cool, budget mountain bikes and major components that don’t cost a fortune -- gear that’s reasonably priced yet high-performance to stand out in this world of $1,000 wheelsets that the mainstream mountain bike media pushes in front of us. I’d love to test these items, if possible. If not, I’ll 1) evaluate the specs and give an opinion or 2) I’ll rely on guest contributors. If you have a budget-priced favorite bike or piece of gear, I want to hear from you. Now, you might love your cheap gear because you don’t know better; if that’s the case, you’re not the contributor I’m looking for. But if you convince me that you know your stuff and a budget items meets your standards, I’m in.

budget mountain bikes
Proof that not all gear needs to be needlessly expensive.

So let’s get this started with the Schwinn Rocket 1, which is priced right at $1,000.

What I Like

  • The frame geometry is aggressive and quick, perfect for real mountain biking. You’re getting a trail-capable bike in the Schwinn Rocket 1, not a paved-path cruiser dressed up to look all bad ass. Its dimensions are not very different from my Raleigh XXIX.
  • I also dig the 27.5 wheels. I have two mountain bikes, one with 26-inch wheels and one with 29ers. The Schwinn Rocket 1 and its 650b/27.5 wheels seems a very smart point right between the two, offering the quicker handling of a smaller wheel, but the smooth rolling of the bigger 29er.
  • Tubeless-ready wheels! At this price, that’s a really nice bonus. I also like that these are WTB rims, which I trust more than some of the no-name rims you’ll often see on many budget mountain bikes. And what’s the deal with tubeless wheels? Used with tire sealant, flats are pretty much a thing of the past. You can also use less tire pressure to increase traction and smooth the ride out. Maybe in a future discussion, we’ll dive into this more.
  • Lots of durable Shimano stuff on this bike. The Deore group is solid if not flashy. You can count on the hydraulic brakes to be awesome for the money, and the drivetrain is bound to perform well for a good, long time.
budget mountain bikes
My Raleigh XXIX started life below $1,000. Budget mountain bikes for the win!

What I’m Curious About

The fork is one of the most-important parts of any mountain bike. If you visit my garage, you’ll find a Rock Shox Recon Gold, an X-Fusion Slide 29 RL, an old Fox Vanilla and – I’m not kidding here – a Marzocchi Atom Bomb. They all work great. The Schwinn Rocket 1 sports an inexpensive Suntour XCR Air. Aside from the 27.5-inch wheels, this is the part of the Rocket that I’d be most interested in trying. Forks are getting crazy-expensive and extravagant. Could today’s budget fork batter the high-end fork of a few years ago? I’d like to find out, especially with my positive experience with the relatively unknown X-Fusion.

What Do You Say?

If you own and ride a Schwinn Rocket 1, let me know what you think of it. Same if you’ve just ridden one enough to get a feel for it. And hey, if you know of other cheap mountain bikes that can still get the job done, pitch in!

CategoriesGear

Review: Fotodiox Aftermarket GoPro Mounts

aftermarket GoPro mounts
Some of the aftermarket GoPro mounts from Fotodiox.

I’ve been on the hunt for aftermarket GoPro mounts. Every few months, I break one of the stock plastic mounts that come with the Helmet Hero cameras. I have a grab bag of spares, so it’s not the biggest deal.

But I really want to some tougher aftermarket GoPro mounts, preferably made from aluminum. I’ve found a few over the past year, and I recently thought I’d hit the jackpot when I ran across Fotodiox. The company has a laundry list of aftermarket GoPro parts, including aluminum extender arms. I ordered enough of its GoTough accessories to help me get creative with camera angles.

Now, Fotodiox doesn’t have a compact handlebar mount – so I stuck with using my K-Edge GO BIG (I’m tempted to say the K-EDGE stuff is overpriced. There’s just one little thing, though: It’s never, ever failed me.) mount for the handlebar and suspension fork.

What I’m about to tell you about the aftermarket GoPro mounts from Fotodiox pains me. I don’t want to say it because the Fotodiox crew is friendly on social media and ships promptly when you place an order.

But holy cow, I broke one of the GoTough extender arms within 30 seconds of riding on my local trail. On a hardtail singlespeed with a short-travel, lightweight, cross-country suspension fork. Less than 30 seconds.

The guy in American Pie lasted longer.

aftermarket gopro mounts
Broken already – the Fotodiox aftermarket GoPro mounts.

And I feel a bit bad hanging Fotodiox out to dry in these terms. But as friendly as they are on social media, they dropped the ball when I sent an email on May 13 outlining the problems I had with their GoTough extenders. I sent the same info to them via their email form, too. If a company doesn’t at least say "Hey, we got your message" after a few days, my goodwill melts. And I tried to be nice about it (see text of the letter).

So, why did the Fotodiox aftermarket GoPro mounts blow up?

Each GoTough arm is made from at least two pieces of aluminum – I’m guessing it’s cast since I don’t see the telltale signs of CNC machining. The pieces are held together with either two or four tiny machine screws.

I noticed problems from the moment I test-mounted some the GoTough extenders. There was wiggle in all of them; I found the screws when I started looking for the source of the play. I then tightened all the screws with small screwdrivers.

It seemed OK, so I went for a ride. I figured a milk run to a trail nearby would provide an adequate test. Everything was fine as I rode to the trail. It all went to hell when I went off-road.

The Fotodiox aftermarket GoPro mounts have other problems, too.

There’s a lot of space between the "knuckles" that connect the GoTough extensions to each other. This means I had to tighten the pieces so much that the aluminum crimped noticeably. If they were each as little as a quarter of a millimeter thicker, Fotodiox might solve this problem.

As for the other problem -- the extenders need to be one piece. Screwing them together is screwing them up. They won’t be able to withstand the pounding of mountain bike or extreme sports with such small-diameter screws with just about two millimeters of metal to bit into. It just won’t work.

I’ll update when/if Fotodiox responds to my email. I hope they have some ideas.

Enhanced by Zemanta
CategoriesAdventures

McDowell Sonoran Preserve Mountain Biking

A year has made a big difference for Scottsdale, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and its mountain bike trails. Back then, I took my first ride on its new trails near Brown’s Ranch Trailhead. And I had some harsh words.

Since then, the trailhead has opened. Most of the trails have some sort of signage. More trails appear to be under construction. And the ones that are open are setting in decently – meaning some of the loose crushed gravel has given way to the roll of fat tires.

What the McDowell Sonoran Preserve now has is a well-marked and growing trail network that is very scaleable. You can start as a complete beginner with short rides, and take on bigger challenges as your skills and fitness grow. And you can get a very satisfying ride without using the State Trust lands just to the west (you’re supposed to have a permit -- but I don’t know anyone who actually holds a permit.)

So far, so good.

McDowell Sonoran Preserve
A year has done a lot of good for trails near the Brown’s Ranch Trailhead on the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. But the text on those signs is way too small.

But here’s the big question: Is the McDowell Sonoran Preserve game to do what it takes to create world-class mountain bike trails within its borders? Will it take on the regional supremacy of McDowell Mountain Regional Park and its — what, 65-plus miles? — of singletrack? Its pump track, its race course, its amenities?

My bet is "no." I sense NIMBYism at work. My two cents: The people in the nearby million-dollar homes would go to pieces at the mere thought of anything like the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo — and the Mos Eisley Spaceport vibe of its 24-Hour Town — existing within their ZIP code.

That’s a shame. This terrain screams for a few additions that would turn the Brown’s Ranch area into a draw for weekend rides and national-level events. Here’s my wish list for this part of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve:

McDowell Sonoran Preserve
You won’t complain about the McDowell Sonoran Preserve scenery.

1. Add some Fantasy Island-style fun. Both trail networks bearing the Fantasy Island name have an unmatched sense of fun, from wooden ramps to teeter-totters to over-under trail junctions. Scottsdale could also incorporate some splits in the trail. They could accomplish two things: allow faster riders to pass, and also allow a more technical option for advanced riders.

2. Seriously, would a nicely bermed turn now and then be too much to ask? The trail designers either don’t ride, or they are doing everything possible to keep the speeds down. If you’re going to build mountain bike trails in Scottsdale, give them some fun flow!

3. Make the words on the signs bigger, and give it all some contrast. They’re nearly impossible to read without stopping.

4. Provide an online McDowell Sonoran Preserve trail map as good as the printed copy. And knock it off with downloadable PDFs for every little section of the preserve. It’s 2014 – there’s no reason a comprehensive trail map can’t live online.

McDowell Sonoran Preserve
A rattlesnake at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Remember, rattlesnakes will only bite you as a last resort. Enjoy them from a distance.

5. The $3.8 million Brown’s Ranch trailhead is needlessly fancy. It’s quite plush. The city could save some money with a more frugal approach. I can assure you that the buildings at McDowell Mountain Regional Park cost a lot less, and get the job done just as well. What Scottsdale did here is -- well, live up to the expectation many people have of Scottsdale — form over function. Spend more on the trail building and design, less on the gateway.

6. Take one of the nearby unimproved McDowell Sonoran Preserve trailheads and set it up as a race venue. I know certain people instrumental in the preserve’s development abhor the idea of people having fun on the trails rather than soaking in all the nature and history. I think city and McDowell Sonoran Preserve officials need to be smarter than that, and to be inclusive. The McDowell Sonoran Preserve trails could raise funds by drawing people for events. They’re just a few improvements away.

  • Teen injured on mountain bike rescued from Scottsdale trail
  • New trailhead opens at McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Enhanced by Zemanta
CategoriesGear

Your Opinion: The Best Hydration Packs

best hydration packs
My Camelbak is on its last leg. What should replace it?

I’m looking for your advice about the best hydration packs out there.

See, my Camelbak MULE is ratty and old. It’s salt-encrusted and engrodiated. It’s missing a zipper pull or two. The cat may have peed on it for all I know.

I’ve had it since it was among the best hydration packs out there. But a quick look at my local bike shop made me wonder if it’s not time to put the MULE out to pasture. Clearly, Camelbak is no longer the only legit choice. More than a few bike shop dudes around here talk up Osprey like it’s the greatest thing since the singlespeed 29er.

So, the guy who usually gives advice is turning to you: What do you think are the best hydration packs for long rides in hot weather? That means I need room for stuff like food and tools. I need 128 ounces. I’d also prefer a fairly neutral color – no purple, no salmon. Gimme greenish or tannish so when I hike, I can sneak around a bit.

Enhanced by Zemanta
CategoriesFitnessGear

Your Bike Frame – What it Says About You

bike frame
Muddy aluminum – the frame material of choice for the Average Joe.

I amazed a new mountain biker a few weeks ago. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t my riding that did it. It was a bit of trivia I shared – that you can actually buy a mountain bike frame made out of bamboo.

It’s a shocker for many, especially newer riders who think the old flavors of bike frames are aluminum and carbon fiber. I’ve made a list of bike frame materials I know about, and what they say about the people who ride them. Pitch in with your own in the comments!

Aluminum – You’re everyman, a card-carrying member of Average Joe’s Gymnasium rolling into work with Dockers and a pale blue shirt. Sticking out, making a statement? Not for you. Keep it real, keep it cheap, keep it real cheap. Your aluminum bike frame is common and functional. You won’t feel guilty about replacing it when the bell tolls for it.

bike frame
Bamboo – it looks cool. But not as cool as the rider thinks he is!

Carbon Fiber – Just put a revolving door on your garage: You’re going to ditch your carbon fiber frame soon – probably as soon as your brand of choice releases a new version that’s 21.2 grams lighter. You’re all about going fast. You don’t ride: You only train and race. When you go wild at parties (the few you get invited to), you share a bottle of Michelob Ultra with five friends.

Steel – Your bike sleeps beside you on your ratty futon You boast about how long your frame can last, about how any welder can fix it, how smooth it rides. You’ll shed tears when the $300 custom paintjob on your latest handmade, fillet-brazed wonder gets scratched. But you never bat an eye as your car drops parts in its wake while rattling down the freeway.

Titanium – Custom steel is not exclusive enough for you. So you tracked down a bearded Ukrainian recluse who used to weld ICBM fins to whip up a titanium bike frame for you -- back in 1993. You’re still riding it, and it looks just as good as the day you bought it. Too bad it doesn’t have disc brake tabs or suspension-adjusted geometry.

Bamboo – Well, hello, Mr. Fancy Pants! You’re bicycling’s Bono, cruising smugly on your very pricey, sustainably grown bike frame. You’re saving the world while oh-so-gently scorning those who lack the bank account to save the world like you do. You just better hope a panda doesn’t start munching your frame while you’re inside the local coffeehouse sipping a shade-grown, fair-trade caramel latte made with non-GMO soymilk.

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta
CategoriesFitness

Arizona High School Cycling League Has Plan to Interest More Girls

Getting more women involved in mountain bike racing is an old challenge. It’s plagued event organizers and the industry as long as the sport has been around. Now the new Arizona High School Cycling League is taking a shot at it. After its first race on Sept. 29, I noticed a huge difference in the number of boys versus girls. I asked Mike Perry, Arizona High School Cycling League executive director, via Facebook about how the league plans to get more female high school racers involved. His answers impress me, and they go beyond the usual “awareness” message that I’ve largely tuned out. Here’s his answer in its entirety. What do you think?

It really is a challenge to get more girls involved, and it’s front and center on our priorities. We’re coming at it from a few angles.

Arizona High School Cycling League
Junior varsity girls riders Nicole Linebaugh (103) and Christine Clark encouraged each other through the first Arizona High School Cycling League event.

1) We have been very intentional about the composition of the league leadership and board to ensure both are representative of our communities. That means having women (and minorities) in key positions. For example, our Chief Referee is female, our Registration Manage is hispanic and our Merchandise Manager is a hispanic female. 2) Team scoring at our races is co-ed, the highest placed four riders on a team, and must include at least one girl and one boy. That gets the boys’ / men’s attention knowing that they need to have girls on the team to be competitive in the team category. 3) We’re working with teams to ensure they have females coaches in their ranks. Teams in more established leagues have told us that they’ve experienced firsthand that girls are more likely to join, engage and remain active in the team when at least one of the coaches is a woman. Roughly 25% of the participants who have gone thru our coach licensing have been women. 4) We’re putting on girls-only skills clinics and other opportunities. It’ll come as no surprise that group dynamics change when boys and girls are together when learning. Generally boys already have the advantage of more time riding and they want to show off, both of which can be very intimidating to the girls. Pros Chloe Woodruff, Krista Park and Pua Mata have all done girls-only events for the league, and we’ll continue to work with them (and others).

We’ll continue to do more as we learn and evolve; like I said, it’s a priority for us.

Congrats to the Arizona High School Cycling League for a successful first event – and good luck to the league and all its racers. Be sure to check out my race report on Yahoo! Voices. You can also view the race results on the league website.

Enhanced by Zemanta
CategoriesFitness

Cost of Mountain Biking: What’s it Worth?

cost of mountain biking
Bikes, jerseys, miscellaneous gear … and the experience – irreplaceable.

There’s an endless number of ways to stay fit – and to stave off boredom. But to me, mountain biking is a blend of exercise and fun that is hard to beat, and I have nearly two decades of priceless memories and experiences to convince me.

But if I tried to put a price tag on each ride, what would I find? I crunched a few numbers to figure out the cost of mountain biking. I combined the cost of my gear (and its lifespan), the amount I ride, gas, food and park entries (when applicable). On the conservative side, that’s less than $7 per ride. Yes, seven bucks, or bones, or clams, or whatever you call them.

What does each ride get me? It varies. Some rides might be ho-hum. The very next one gets me a close encounter with a bald eagle or a gila monster. Yet another ride pushes me straight to my limits. Then I’ll do a 12-hour race as a solo rider, and face the choice of whether to go out for another lap as the day winds down.

Get involved in mountain biking, and you’ll drown in enthusiasm, oddly dressed people, camaraderie. You’ll see the bizarre, the sublime and the downright awesome. You’ll be baptized in energy drink, and eat the Clif Bar communion wafer. It’s not all a love-fest, I admit – there are plenty of jerks on mountain bikes. But they can’t spoil the experience for me.

Want to figure it out for yourself? Tally how much all the gear from your last ride set you back. Total the bike, the socks, the shorts, the energy gels, the gas to get there. Figure out how long you expect the big items to last, how many times you ride each year, and divide by the total. That’ll give you some idea of what your cost of mountain biking.

Feel free to post your per-ride cost of mountain biking. And answer this question: Why is your ride worth the price to you?

Enhanced by Zemanta
CategoriesAdventuresFitness

Flagstaff: Perfect Mountain Biking in Summer

mountain biking in summer
Finding the fun with some other riders at Schultz Creek.

Mountain biking in summer heat takes a lot out of people who live in Phoenix. A nice 20-mile ride in Flagstaff did wonders to get me back in a mountain bike sort of mood.

It was a bit of logistical challenge. Sarah wanted to go for a ride on her tri bike while I hit the trails. We had to find a place that allowed access to the best riding spots for us. I parked the car at the New Frontiers grocery store on Milton. That made it easy for her to get to Lake Mary Road, while I had a short road jaunt to Buffalo Park. From there, I had easy access to all sorts of trails.

I picked a nice grind up the Rocky Ridge Trail, which is part of the Arizona Trail stretching north to south throughout the entire state. From there, I connected to the Schultz Creek Trail.

mountain biking in summer
A handy GPS track to help you find the fun.

Last year, I didn’t even make it Flagstaff to go mountain biking in summer. So I didn’t see how the trail had fared since a fire closed the trail – I want to say that was in 2011. I don’t know how bad the damage was -- and my untrained eye could detect few signs of fire damage. Add that to a long time since my last ride, and I couldn’t spot huge differences. If you’re a local or just have a better memory than me, feel free to set me straight.

Regardless, Schultz Creek was once again a big beer stein full of fun. And not just on the way down. It’s an entertaining climb that lets you settle into a nice groove. It was even better for me when I latched onto a group to turn a trio into a quartet – I had a good chat with fellow Phoenicians Ian, Paul and Christian during the climb. I wish I could’ve gone further on my first jaunt mountain biking in summer without blistering heat.

As usual, there was intermittent cloudiness and even thunder. Par for the course when I go mountain biking in summer up in the pines. And a nice change from feeling beat down when I ride in Phoenix!

And it’s not exactly off-road riding, but I appreciate the Flagstaff urban trail system. It’s one big element in making Flagstaff a bike-friendly off-road Amsterdam. You can get to quite a few places on your bike without encountering cars for long stretches.

CategoriesfeaturedFitness

Boost Your Mountain Bike Cred – 6 Easy Steps

mountain bike cred (Photo credit: Malingering)
This guy’s beard would get him major mountain bike cred. (Photo credit: Malingering)

Mountain biking can make you look cool. You don’t even have to be fast or even good at it. Just learn which style buttons to push. Follow this advice and trick everyone into thinking you’re a mountain bike Bodhisattva.

Ride an unsuspended single-speed 29er – Who needs fancy gadgets to soften the ride? Just roll over everything with your big wheels. And gears? Forget ‘em. They’re noisy, heavy, finicky. The older and more battered your ride, the better. I promise not to tell anyone that your usual ride only goes as far as Starbucks. Your secret is safe with me.

Grow a great big bushy beard – Nothing enhances mountain bike cred like rampant facial hair. It confers wisdom … and the requisite lack of personal hygiene. You’re no wage slave – but a man of the mountains. Bonus points for adding dreadlocks to the equation.

Live in your vehicle … which should be cheaper than your bike – A ratty old VW Minibus is the gold standard, naturally. But if you can shoehorn your bike and other worldly possessions into into an AMC Gremlin, so much the better.

mountain bike cred
1974 AMC Gremlin – a fly hoopty to build your mountain bike cred. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Speak in silly mountain biker lingo – "Wicked" must be your standard adjective. Pair it with words like "gnar-gnar" and "shred." Hell, make up your own words. If other mountain bikers can’t understand what you say, they’ll think you’re that much more plugged in. Instant mountain bike cred bonus!

Claim orphan status – You’ll be far less cool if people know mom and dad still have you hooked up to the cash tap. Claim you never knew your parents (which might be true, from a certain point of view). Deny your country club, gated-community roots or prepare to be forever shackled with the "Trustafarian" label.

Wear a roadie-style cycling cap everywhere – Under your helmet, over your dreads, in the shower, to bed at night. You’ll get bonus points if it’s from a defunct team from the last days of some breakaway ex-Soviet republic.

I originally wrote this for the Trailsedge.com blog. Since that blog is now kaput, I figured it would be a travesty if I failed to give newer readers a look at this fun content.

  • Have we reached peak beard?
Enhanced by Zemanta
CategoriesAdventuresTravel

Prescott Mountain Bike Trails – A Mixed Bag

prescott mountain bike trails
My day on the Prescott Circle Trail was pretty muddy.

It’s been years since I last sampled the Prescott mountain bike trails. I’d been a camp counselor there one summer, but that seems like eons ago. A few things I noticed recently made me want to visit again: A news article that said "Prescott is powering its way onto the national mountain-biking map," and news of a trail circling the entire city that will be 50 miles long when it’s finished.

I dropped into Prescott in mid-July to sample the Prescott Circle Trail System. It was a perfect Sunday for mountain biking – clouds and intermittent drizzle! Balm for a sun-baked Phoenician’s soul. In a nutshell, the notion that Prescott is even remotely, tangentially close to being a national mountain bike destination is a combination of homerism and public relations spin from mountain bike event organizers. Prescott has stepped up its game, yes. Good. But it has a lot of work to do before it’s even playing the same sport as Flagstaff, much less in the same league.

prescott mountain bike trails
The Turley Trail is part of the Prescott Circle Trail.

Let’s break my ride down to show you what I mean. Be sure to watch the video at the end!

Find the Hidden Trailhead
I found a handy map on the City of Prescott website. I found a Prescott Great Circle Trail System trailhead and named it my starting point. I figured out how I could snake around the trails and wind up somewhere on the west side of the city before using streets and urban trails to return to my car.

Well, finding the trailhead was a bitch. The city considers this Prescott mountain bike trail a real asset, I suppose – but it’s not easy to find. Contrast that to Fountain Hills, where you start getting guidance to the trailhead four miles away. I found the Turley Trail buried in a neighborhood down a gated one-lane road. But hey, at least I found it.

Turning the Wheels

prescott mountain bike trails
The Turley Trail is here somewhere …


The first half-mile or so went pretty well. The Turley Trail dips, dives and weaves around with some short, steep power climbs. Not bad. Then, things got ugly.

What do I mean? Well, I lost track of all the fallen trees I carried my bike over. Portions of the Turley Trail have terrible drainage, while others have large chunks of rock protruding from the ground. It seems great for hiking – but for four miles, it’s utter, abject crap for mountain biking. If this is supposed to be part of a signature Prescott mountain bike trail network, it has to be better.

At one point, a mess of downed trees obliterates the trail. I backtracked a few times searching for the Turley Trail (watch for an area that looks like someone gave the forest a Brazilian wax job, and you’ll know navigational challenges are afoot).

prescott mountain bike trails
A cool spot along Trail 396 (I think)

I eventually connected to Forest Road 9854, which swoops downhill if you turn right. The rainfall made the trail a big slick, and coated my tires in mud. The tires passed the mud along to me and my bike. Kind of novel, really! Speaking of tires, skinny slick racing tires might not be your best bet. Consider a meatier tread when you hit these steeper, rockier Prescott mountain bike trails.

The forest road eventually meets up with the Senator Highway. And just across the two lanes of pavement -- you’ll find Trail 396.

The Real-Deal Prescott Mountain Bike Trails

Trail 396 and its offshoots are more-than-legit Prescott mountain bike trails.
Swooping turns, nice scenery, good trail markings. You’ll get that Luke Skywalker flying through Beggar’s Canyon feeling. The 396 will give you more than a few options. Stick with it, and watch for the turn to Trail 395. I took the 374 to the 373 – they dumped me off on White Spar Road with no sign of more trail. Had I picked the 395, I would’ve crossed White Spar Road and found the Prescott Circle Trail continue on the 941S.

prescott mountain bike trails
Finally, more “wheee!” and less woe on the Prescott Circle Trail.

That error cheated me out of a few more miles of singletrack. A sign saying "this way to the Prescott Circle Trail" would’ve been really nice, Prescott. And you know, it’s exactly the sort of thing a destination "on the national mountain-biking map" would have.

Slinking Back to Town
Alright, I didn’t find the 941S, and it was getting late. So I took White Spar Road back to town hoping to maybe catch another glimpse of trail. White Spar has no bike lane, by the way. Another strike against Prescott’s talk of being on the national mountain-biking map. I didn’t find any Prescott mountain bike trails as I headed back toward Whiskey Row.

prescott mountain bike trails
Who gave this part of the Turley Trail a Brazilian?

I recalled that Ironclad Bicycles was on White Spar. I stopped there hoping for directions to some easily accessible Prescott mountain bike trails. But its Sunday hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. – to late to drop in before your ride starts, to early to drop in after. So, kind of useless business hours for visiting mountain bikers.

I found a short urban trail system and a pump track. The urban trails are short, but the pump track was a bit of fun.

Eventually, I headed up Gurley to pedal back up to my car. On the roads.

Off the Bike
I made my inaugural stop at Granite Mountain Brewery, where I had a pretty good milk stout and a panini. As a homebrewer, I love small breweries. And the three-barrel setup here qualifies as small. But the staff wasn’t up for much beer small talk – or much talk of any sort (UPDATE: I made a visit in January 2014, and the food was better and the staff far more friendly. Don’t miss this place!). Still, it’s not as spastic as Prescott Brewing Company, though I’ll give props for its Chocopalypse porter.

Prescott Circle Trail
The Wild Iris coffeehouse is THE place to end a ride. Or start one …

My final stop was the Wild Iris coffeehouse, where I had a very nice shot of espresso and a cookie. The staff has a friendly attitude in addition to making good espresso – and it’s a soothing place to hang out. Some places just have that indefinable vibe -- and Wild Iris is one of them. It’s exactly the sort of place I want to hang out after a day on the Prescott mountain bike trails.

Prescott Mountain Bike Trails Bottom Line

Prescott has a lot of potential to be a better mountain bike destination. It’s definitely better than it used to be, and that is exactly its greatest enemy: comparing it to itself. The Prescott mountain bike trails are a mixed bag from stupid to sublime, even on the Prescott Circle Trail network. Prescott needs to connect the pieces, commit to consistent trail design and provide far-better signage. And it absolutely must resist the temptation of boastful hometown braggadocio that leads to undeserved hype.

I look forward to coming back and checking out more of the Prescott Circle Trail. When it’s complete, it should offer a lot of opportunity … but again, some sections need work.

Enhanced by Zemanta
CategoriesFitnessGear

Mountain Bike Upgrades – Beginner’s Help

mountain bike upgrades
Budget friendly, trail ready – the Airborne Goblin (Photo: twentynineinches.com).

One thing I notice about new mountain bikers: They can’t wait to make some mountain bike upgrades. They start salivating over new bits, from stems and derailleurs to suspension forks and wheelsets. I’ve seen this in a few online conversations lately.

But question Number One shouldn’t be “what’s the best upgrade to my mountain bike?” It should be “is this bike worth upgrading?” I’m going to use two different bikes as real-world examples to answer this question: The $600 Diamondback Overdrive (because a beginner I spoke to recently has one) and the $1,200 Airborne Goblin (a solid budget off-road racer).

Here are a few questions beginner mountain bikers should ask before splashing cash on mountain bike upgrades:

mountain bike upgrades
Clipless pedals – one of those great mountain bike upgrades you can swap between bikes. (Credit: PavanGPD)

1. Is this frame actually meant for off-road riding?

Some bikes look like mountain bikes. But they’re not really meant for off-road riding. They have the fat tires and stout-looking frames -- but the dimensions of the frame are all wrong. Instead of long top tubes and aggressive angles that allow quick handling and good power transfer, they have a high center of gravity and short wheelbase. I expected the Overdrive to be a faux-mountain bike based on its angles. Surprise! They’re not that different from the Goblin (View a few key specs here).
So, these bikes are close enough in design that either should give you true mountain bike handling characteristics.

mountain bike upgrades
If your suspension fork is your bike’s weak link, the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2 is the mountain bike upgrade for you.

2. Is this a high-quality frame?

Look, you can do all sorts of cool stuff to a Geo Metro to make it better, faster, cooler. But at the end of it all, you’re still stuck with a Geo Metro. Very few mountain bikes at the lower price points will have super high-quality frames. Both the Diamondback and the Airborne are made from 6000-series aluminum tubing. That’s all we know. I have no clue which frame factory produced these. The Airborne’s claimed frame weight is 4 pounds – decent, but not likely to inspire many epic heavy metal concept albums.

On this question, it’s a wash for either bike. I simply don’t have the information to say either frame is definitely better than the other. All things being equal, both seem worth some mountain bike upgrades. At the end of it all, though, I still don’t think upgrading the Diamondback bit-by-bit is a very cost-effective strategy.

3. How much of the original components do I need to replace?

Aside from the frame, the fork and wheels are some of the most important mountain bike upgrades. Let’s start with the Airborne: I’ve ridden for 20 years -- epic singletrack races, 12- and 24-hour races, all that stuff. The only thing I’d change immediately on the Airborne would be the wheelset and the saddle. Otherwise, it’s solid. The Rock Shox Reba fork is excellent, as are the SRAM drivetrain and the Avid Elixir 7 hydraulic disc brakes. The stem, handlebars and other minor bits are house-branded components – nothing fancy, but good enough.

On the other hand, I don’t even know where to start with the Diamondback. The fork, brakes and wheels are pretty bargain-basement. Let’s say I did all these mountain bike upgrades: $350 for an X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2; $250 for Avid Elixir 5 brakes; $250 for a decent but low-budget SRAM/WTB tubeless wheelset; $140 for decent tires for said wheelset; $70 for a Stan’s tubeless kit. That’s $950 in upgrades -- without touching the shifters, derailleurs or crankset. Another $200, and you’re in an entirely new bike.

4. OK, so how can I upgrade my mountain bike sensibly?

Tires, for sure. High-quality tires are lighter and give you a better ride. Also, consider clipless pedals and shoes – you can easily transfer those to your next bike when you’ve ridden your current bike to death. They’ll give more power to your pedal stroke and improve your handling.

At this point, the best upgrades will be off bike -- a quality helmet, good shorts, gloves, hydration gear and a tool kit. Get all that. Ride your current bike like crazy – determine its limitations, hone your skills and save your money for your next bike.

Diamondback Overdrive: $600
20-inch Large
Top-tube length – 24.5 inches
Head-tube angle/Seat-tube angle: 71/73

Airborne Goblin: $1,200
20-inch Large
TT – 24.4
Head-tube angle/Seat-tube angle: 71/74

Enhanced by Zemanta
CategoriesGear

Mountain Bike Reviews – Why They Suck

mountain bike review, x-fusion
The often-ignored X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2 gets some love on this site.

I hate mountain bike reviews. I hate them in magazines. I hate them on websites. And I double-dog hate them in podcasts.

But, but, but -- I do love quality mountain bike gear. I’m the target audience for mountain bike gear reviews. Why do I hate them so? Let’s count the reasons:

Most mountain bike reviews are less about gear and more about the author. Gear reviewers plunge into JargonVille to convince readers that they know their stuff. They spend valuable space saying "hey, I can use all sorts of barely comprehensible language. So I’m worthy of this gig, and you should believe me!" And many vomit up a bunch of marketing language from the manufacturer. The result? I skip most of the middle.

Those who write mountain bike reviews have lost all sense of perspective. I recently saw a review of a $600+ wheelset that the reviewer considers "mid-priced." And I’ve seen too many $3,000 bikes called "reasonably priced" lately. That’s a hefty bit of bucks, bones, clams or whatever you call them. But magazines and many websites are advertiser driven, so they have to do everything to convince advertisers that they can influence YOU, the reader, to spend spend spend. Part of the strategy? An ever-rising line of what’s considered a moderate price.

mountain bike reviews, Clarks Skeletal disc brakes.
Clarks Skeletal disc brakes – they deserve a flogging that the mainstream mountain bike media never delivered.

I haven’t run into a mountain bike review that tells me the bottom line: how Product X will make my ride better or make me better. Is this a product that a racer needs that just might make her edge that other person in the pro class, that one who’s just as good as she is? Or is this something that will make you sweat less about maintenance, and remove a barrier that might prevent you from squeezing in a ride each week? Or is this something that will make you able to ride in a new way that you haven’t been able to tap into yet? That’s what I want from the bottom line of mountain bike gear reviews.

Most of the better-known publications and sites play it safe with mountain bike reviews. They stick to the big, expensive items from the well-known manufacturers. I’ll give props to Mountain Flyer magazine here. Yes, it has many of the usual suspects. But I’ve also run into below-the-radar offerings like the Foundry Broadaxe and REEB Bicycles in its pages. I like that spirit of discovery, and more magazines and sites need to find those up-and-comers. (Hint: It’s no coincidence that some of those new players also spend less on advertising and have fewer products to send for review) But I’d also like to see more gear reviews from varied price points. And here’s a great example: Dirt Rag previewed a set of Clarks Skeletal disc brakes … and never delivered the full review (If you have evidence otherwise, send it my way – I never saw it). Why? Because magazines are afraid to publish bad mountain bike reviews – unlike me!

Here I am complaining about mountain bike reviews – and now here I am pitching in with my own solution: When I write reviews here, I will keep them free of ridiculous jargon. I will tell you whether it’s a luxury product or a true must-have. I will keep a sense of perspective. And I’ll try very hard to find products that everyone overlooks … and that offer a good value.

Enhanced by Zemanta