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

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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.

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Arizona Mountain Biking Trails – Grading the Governments

Phoenix Mountains Preserve - Piestewa Entrance...
The city of Phoenix is pretty solid when it comes to maintaining its mountain biking trails. (Photo credit: Al_HikesAZ)

THIS POST IS BADLY OUTDATED. I WILL REFRESH IT AT SOME POINT IN THE FUTURE. PLEASE READ THIS ONLY AS A SNAPSHOT OF VALLEY MOUNTAIN BIKING IN 2013. THANKS!

Awhile back, I graded a bunch of my local Arizona mountain biking trails. Now I want to turn the focus to the local governments that plan, build and maintain trails in the metro Phoenix area. So I guess I’m not just grading cities – the Maricopa County government is also responsible for a good chunk of trail, along with the State Land Department.

Now that we’ve agreed to put semantics aside, let’s fill out the report cards.

Arizona (state government) – C
The State Land Department is responsible for a good hunk of singletrack in North Scottsdale. These mountain biking trails, known as the Pima & Dynamite trails, are the work of a few generations of off-road motorcyclists. Call that a blessing and a curse: The trails wouldn’t be there otherwise, but folks who are heavy on the throttle make a mess.

And the state doesn’t do much to help. State workers signed many of the routes, which is nice. But the trailhead box that says "Maps – Please Take One" is often empty. Many of the trails could use maintenance. Technically, you need a permit to use the trails -- and state officials make it hard as possible to get a permit. It’s 2013, yet you can’t get a permit online.

Arizona mountain biking - pima and dynamite
Notice the deep, sandy scree and the bike it caught? Bad trail building.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park – D
There are lots of mountain biking trails in this 19,000-acre park, both in the Competitive Loop area and the rest of the park. Call it just short of 50 miles total -- none of which mountain bikers love. It’s hard to believe the same designer responsible for the Comp Track at McDowell Mountain Regional Park is responsible for this sandy, flowless mess.

How dire is the situation? A bunch of rogues built Fantasy Island North Singletrack, their own bike trails southwest of the park. And did a far better job than their government-sanctioned brethren.

Goodyear – C
Goodyear has no mountain biking trails of its very own. Maricopa County manages the Estrella trails, and the Fantasy Island North Singletrack network is on private land, where volunteers plan, build, maintain and manage. If the Goodyear city government had a lick of sense, it would offer a fair market price for the FINS land: If it ever becomes more profitable for the developer to sell the land, it’s gone – guaranteed. Goodyear could be heroes for outdoor lovers of several stripes if it ponied up.

On the plus side, the West Valley Trail Alliance posted on its Facebook page that Goodyear has in its hands a proposal for a bike park; the plan includes dual slalom, skills and pump track areas along with a little something for the kiddies. Watch Goodyear take a giant leap forward in grade if it okays the project.

arizona mountain biking fantasy island north fins
The city of Goodyear didn’t build FINS – but they should tap the experts who did.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park – A
A pump track, a competitive track, singletrack trails for all skill levels – there’s not much missing from this gem of a county park. A few years ago, there were whispers about a flow trail. Nothing has come of it yet. But be patient. This is the park that gave Arizona its first pump track on public land and the first land manager-sanctioned night rides. The staff also adds new amenities often, from bathrooms to new trails.

The 15-mile Pemberton and the 9-mile Long Loop are the park’s biggest slabs of trail. But there are connectors galore, and ample opportunity for fun. And there’s no local mountain bike venue that hosts more race events. There’s a good reason for that. This is desert-flavored Arizona mountain biking in all its variety.

Phoenix – B
South Mountain Park and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve are both in city jurisdiction. That means Phoenix can claim the National Trail, Mormon Trail, Desert Classic Trail and Trail 100. Oh, and the center-of-the-city mountain bike oasis of Papago Park where so many local riders got their start. Not too shabby, Phoenix! The city has also added some new tails on the west side of South Mountain in recent years.

McDowell Mountain Arizona mountain biking
The newly rerouted bit of the Pemberton Trail has some nice new rock scenery.

But, it lags on some of the newer features more progressive organizations embrace. Like a pump track – ample room for one at Papago or South Mountain, but I guess there’s too little funds or initiative.

Scottsdale – D
This is a city that just doesn’t know how to build a mountain biking trail. Every trail it builds is fine for hiking. But its planners can’t seem to build a cool trail system that will make the city a destination for mountain bikers. Case in point? The new trails that snake away from the soon-to-be-opened Brown’s Ranch Trailhead. Too wide, too slick on the surface, no berms, terrible in the corners.

The slightly older trails in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve also thrill few mountain bikers. They’re OK just for being there. But riders from other parts of the Valley don’t make a point to visit.

Tempe – D
There are not many trails in Tempe’s jurisdiction, just the southern parts of Papago Park. It’s almost a good thing it doesn’t have more: Its idea of trail improvements include widening trails and lining them with rugby ball-sized rocks (which never stay put, by the way).

Tempe park crews also made a hash of putting in a pedestrian walkway, which screwed up the routing for the 12 Hours in the Papago race -- a very cool and unusual epic mountain bike race square in the middle of a major city. It could also find space for a pump track if it had the wherewithal. And only the outcry of local mountain bikers saved an ad hoc dirt jump area from getting flattened.

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SixSixOne Helmet Review

SixSixOne Recon MTB Helmet, SixSixOne helmet
A close look at my SixSixOne Recon mountain bike helmet, sans visor.

A week before I picked up a SixSixOne helmet, I really hadn’t heard of this new-to-me mountain bike company. But then, I rarely think about my helmet much. Ride after ride, I plop it on my head and go.

Until that one day when I realize that the straps are crusted so thick with salt from evaporated sweat that they barely bend anymore. Then I take a look at the pads and realize they’re so squished that they don’t offer much comfort or safety. Finally, I start to see all the nicks and scrapes.

That’s when it’s time for a new helmet. I started to do a little research at the bike shops – I’ve worn a Giro mountain bike helmet of one variety or another for years. They’ve been great, but I have a soft spot for up-and-coming companies.

I found a few interesting helmets out there. The POC Trabec helmet from Sweden has a modern look to it. And POC also claims its design dissipates shock over a wide section of the helmet. The prices start at $150, which is a bit steep. I know, I know – it’s only my head. But one thing I’ve found is that extra money doesn’t always equal more protection. I also didn’t see any at local bike shops.

If you’re helmet looks like this, it’s time for a new one. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had visions of the Trabec in my head when I stumbled across the
SixSixOne 2012 Recon Wired XC/Trail Bicycle Helmet
at one of the local bike shops. And I always like getting a first-hand look at something. I liked the very solid look of the retention system that dials the SixSixOne helmet firmly to the head. And the shape fit my head well, which is always something to consider. It was about $100 at my local shop; you can also find a SixSixOne helmet online if your local bike shops don’t carry them.

So far, I have a handful of rides with my SixSixOne helmet. It hasn’t had to lay its life on the line for me. But saving you from crashes isn’t the only reason to wear a mountain bike helmet. For me, they’re great for keeping the intense sun off my head – and the protect my from flora that encroaches on the trail. The SixSixOne Recon has been more than capable – all while fitting well and being reasonable priced. My only change was to take the visor off, which is pretty standard with every one of mountain bike helmets. I took a ride with it first just to see if it would be any different, but no dice. Off it came.

If it’s time for you to get a new mountain bike helmet, check your local and online bike shops for a SixSixOne helmet.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

 

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Scottsdale’s New Mountain Biking Trails – First Impression

This pretty spot is, unfortunately, a dead end in the trails "redesigned" by the City of Scottsdale.
This pretty spot is, unfortunately, a dead end in the trails “redesigned” by the City of Scottsdale.

I’m not used to being confused while mountain biking near the Pima & Dynamite trails in Scottsdale. But today? Flumoxed, mixed up, mystified. Like “watching Vanilla Sky” puzzled.

I mean, these are the Pima & Dynamite trails, but not as local mountain bikers know them. It’s almost like Disney’s Imagineers came out, erased the existing trails … and then slapped up their own vision of what mountain bike trails should be.

But nope, it’s not Disney: It’s the city of Scottsdale. I read about the new trails on a divisive thread on mtbr.com. I kind of forgot about the thread. Then I blunder across an unfamiliar trail and think, “oooooh, yeah …” I see a lot of interesting things on this ride. The biggest impressions, though, are the thoughtless destruction of existing mountain biking trails – and new trails built with no thought for flow or logical direction.

A case study in the wrong way to close a trail. Way to go, Scottsdale!
A case study in the wrong way to close a trail. Way to go, Scottsdale!

There are right ways to close mountain biking trails to be reclaimed into the natural environment. Look at the photo to see what Scottsdale did: Ripping into the earth with heavy equipment, and then peppering the trail alignment with wood, bits of cactus and whatever else happens to be around. One heavy monsoon storm, and guess where this will go? If you guessed “right into the new trail,” congratulations! You’re smarter than the Scottsdale officials who signed off on this travesty. I would bet Scottsdale didn’t get any input from the experts at the International Mountain Bicycling Association, either.

Notice the deep, sandy scree and the bike it caught? Bad trail building.
Notice the deep, sandy scree and the bike it caught? Bad trail building.

Alright, onto the second point: “Flow” is an elusive characteristic. What does it mean? Well, if you build a mountain biking (or multi-user) trail that required riders to be on their brake levers constantly, your trail doesn’t have flow. If you have so much sand that riders expect to see The Hoff sunbathing, your trail doesn’t have any flow. The new trails are wide and usually off-camber i the turns. There’s not a berm to be found. There’s too much loose scree on top that can make for some hairy situations. The only good thing? The trails have a bit more traction in many spots, which should be fairly friendly for singlespeed riders … or at least the strictly-OK singlespeeders (like me). One rider said on MTBR.com “However, I kept thinking of anti depressants when riding them. All the highs and lows are taken out.”

A mystery trail through a bunch of fox tails. Kind of cool.
A mystery trail through a bunch of fox tails. Kind of cool.

Look, building good trails is hard. I don’t have any answers. And clearly, Scottsdale doesn’t, either. The next time city officials want to build some new trails, they should look to the best trails in the region: Talk to Rand Hubbell at McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Get some input from the West Valley Trail Alliance. The city of Phoenix mountain biking trails are also far ahead of Scottsdale. These trails will never be a destination, nor sought after as a venue for mountain bike events.

In other bad news:

  • Riders can’t park along Dynamite Boulevard anymore because of the road-widening project. I parked at a Chase Bank about a mile east of Pima.
  • The trails are unsigned, so it’s hard to know where you’ll wind up.
  • The city is also splashing out on a huge trailhead with parking. Yay, more pavement!
My ride route. New bits are in the northeast. The new trailhead is the dangly bit hanging from the south.
My ride route. New bits are in the northeast. The new trailhead is the dangly bit hanging from the south. Looks like sea horse, doesn’t it?

My bottom line: The people responsible for the changes deserve a good whack upside the head with a stainless-steel soup ladle. But I’ll keep my ladle in the drawer if they at least think about getting some help before they build/modify trails without proper adult supervision.

A spy shot of the new trailhead under construction.
A spy shot of the new trailhead under construction.
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Arizona Mountain Bike Trail Profile: FINS

FINS scenery, mountain bike trail
A look at the Fantasy Island North Singletrack terrain.

I hate comparing anything to Fight Club – especially a mountain bike trail. But I have no choice with the Fantasy Island North Singletrack, aka FINS, which is a great Arizona mountain bike trail.

I first wrote about FINS for Mountain Flyer magazine back in 2009. During my first ride there, I met a couple of other riders. Turns out, they were two of the two trail-building honchos responsible for the network. Read the story for the history – I’d rather focus on the here and now. I’ll just say our conversation spawned the story for Mountain Flyer. I’ve often wondered if they still would’ve agreed to the interview in retrospect: I’ve heard little from them since. So there’s not much talking about Fantasy Island North Singletrack outside the trail builders and local riders. Even the website for the group responsible is … um, a bit inscrutable.

This past weekend, I checked out what’s happened since my last visit when it totaled about 12 miles. The answer? Plenty! Here are my takeaways for anyone who wonders about an overlooked mountain bike trail.

FINS Trailhead, mountain bike trail
The FINS FINS Trailhead – be sure to drop some bucks into the kitty!

FINS is Built for Bikes

Horses aren’t allowed on Fantasy Island North Singletrack. Hikers? Yes, but there are certain trails the builders request that hikers avoid. What we have here are twisty, turny, windy trails. Don’t shut your brain off. Brake before the turns, check yo’self and all that – the next corner or dip is never far away.

All this adds up to a mountain bike trail that’s made for mountain biking. There’s always something happening, and never a dull stretch of trail.

Something for Every Skill Level

Let’s say you’re not a mountain biker yet. But you plan to buy a mountain bike after work and hit the trail tomorrow. If you live near Fantasy Island North Singletrack, you can go from “barely able to stay upright” to “total badass.” There are smooth, groomed places to get your flow on without taxing your skills or legs. And then there are steep, nasty climbs. Bermed corners. Jumps. Steep descents with tight switchbacks. Even a freakin’ mountain bike teeter-totter! And when you can clean the entire mountain bike trail, get a singlespeed and repeat.

FINS Boneyard, mountain bike trail
“I’ve got a bone to pick with you!”

One Feature Needed

I spent a few hours trying to ride as many Fantasy Island North Singletrack trails as possible, with few repeats. I was able to put in about 17 miles, though I probably could’ve gotten another four miles.

I did more backtracking than I’d prefer. If it’s even remotely possible, I’d love to see an outside loop running 12-15 miles added to the mountain bike trail network. Not easy, I know. But worth considering.

More From These Geniuses

This is a quality mountain bike trail network, not only in fun factor – they appear to be sustainable, too. I admit that some of the steep, switchbacked sections will probably need careful maintenance.

But the rest? So well done. I saw little in the way of erosion. If I were a public land manager interested in improving the trails I manage, I would contact the Fantasy Island North Singletrack crew and hook them up with a paid gig.

FINS from North Star, mountain bike trail
North Star is the high point of FINS.

There is serious knowledge in these trails – just witness the awesomeness of Kimurel’s Hurl, two-tenths of a mile of mountain bike bobsledding! (Check the video and watch for Suicide Squirrel.) McDowell Mountain Regional Park officials have publicly mentioned a flow trail – well, I’d say the FINS team could nail it On.The.Head. Sign ’em up! And if I managed Estrella Mountain Regional Park, I’d pay them good money to work some magic on the currently tragic, sand-choked, no-flow-havin’ mess called the Competitive Track.

An elevation profile and my GPS tracks, mountain bike trail
An elevation profile and my GPS tracks.

Pitch in

Some people who care have swung their shovels and other implements to make this mountain bike trail what it is. They even provide printed maps, as if the permanent maps posted throughout the trail network aren’t enough. Don’t live in the neighborhood? Too strapped for time? Pitch a few bucks into the handy cash receptacle at the trailhead. They deserve it.

The Maricopa County Parks system charges $6 per carload to enter and use the trails. Make of that what you will.

How to Get to Fantasy Island North Singletrack: Go south on Estrella Mountain Parkway from Interstate 10. Continue until you enter the Estrella Mountain Ranch community, and watch for Westar Drive. Head west, and park at either Westar Elementary School (NOT during school hours) or at the trailhead less than a mile up the road.

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X-Fusion 29er Fork – Slide 29 Gear Review -UPDATED

The group-think that can plague mountain bike culture led me to the new X-Fusion 29er fork. Many riders think you have to ride a 29er; you have to be on Strava. And of course, you absolutely must ride a RockFoxZocchi. (SCROLL TO BOTTOM FOR AN UPDATE)

Which is ridiculous. There are great alternatives out there, and I’ve uncovered one of the best deals in mountain bike forks in the X-Fusion Shox Slide 29 RL2.

Why Be Different?

So, why not skip the X-fusion 29er fork and just get a Fox? Fox makes great mountain bike forks. I’ve ridden a Fox Float R for six years and had it rebuilt once.

Well, the cheapest Fox fork I could find was $600 – more than I wanted to lay out for building my Raleigh XXIX frame into a belt-drive singlespeed mountain bike. You can pick up an X-Fusion 29er fork for about $400 – a great deal for a mountain bike fork. That’s enough extra clams to get a GoPro Helmet Hero so you can make bad mountain bike videos.

A side view of the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2 on my Raleigh XXIX, X-fusion 29er
A side view of the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2 on my Raleigh XXIX

Setting Up the X-fusion 29er 

I have a good home shop. But no headset press. I turned to a local shop for installation. Good thing, too – the tapered steerer tube combined awkwardly with the Cane Creek headset I planned to use. There was friction while turning the handlebar, and we couldn’t adjust it out. The shop staff put in a Chris King NoThreadSet as an experiment. The result? No friction. A bigger hit in the wallet. But I at least wound up with a cool gold headset.

I guessed at air pressure based on the manual’s 50-150 PSI range. I put it at 100, figuring it might be slightly soft. Did I do the whole bike geek "put a zip tie on the stanchion tube and get on the bike and see if it sags 20 percent into its travel"? Hell, no. The bike stand isn’t real life. Make an educated guess. Take your mountain bike for a ride. Bring a shock pump. Fork blows through its travel? Add some air. You bounce around like a Ping-Pong ball on ice? Let some air out. Done.

Let’s Ride!

On my first ride aboard the newly built Raleigh XXIX, I had questions. Do I have the Gates Carbon Drive Dialed in? Did I install the Stan’s tubeless conversion right? And will this crazy X-Fusion 29er fork detonate into a thousand pieces?

X-Fusion-BIKE Mag Ad, X-fusion 29er

Eight rides in, I’m alive. Looking forward to my next ride. Happy that I didn’t shell out 30 percent more moolah for -- a difference in performance that’s indistinguishable from my Fox FLOAT R. The 100 pounds of air pressure was on the money. I backed off a click on the rebound damping, and the fork was dialed.

Oil marks on the stanchion tubes tell me I’m getting a lot of the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL’s 100mm of travel (it also comes in 80- and 120-mm). But no harsh bottoming. No wiggly steering performance. What’s not to like?

Niggles and Nitpicks

The Slide 29 emits a conspicuous hiss when I smack it into a square-edged obstacle. It reminds me a bit of air-sprung shocks of an earlier era that were notorious for the hiss (Old-timers will remember  "Amp-physema"). But my air pressure checks show no noticeable drop in air pressure. So the air is staying put.

Also, the Slide 29 stanchion tubes attract gunk more than my Fox Float R. That might mean seals with a sloppier tolerance. Or I could be a fork hypochondriac.

The decals will look thrashed in a few months. I’ll probably wind up peeling them off, rubbing the residue off and winding up with a Spinal Tap "how much more black could it be?" look.

Where Do They Go Now?

After just short of two months, I like my X-Fusion 29er fork a lot. I hope I still like it as much after six months – if I do, I’ll say "Buy without Reservations". It looks good now, but time will tell. Right now, I ride my Raleigh XXIX and come home happy. That’s what it’s all about.

A close-up of the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2, X-fusion 29er
A close-up of the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2

The hard part is in X-Fusion’s court. It has to make a case with bike manufacturers’ product manager to get spec’d on bikes. They need to make a performance case and a business case. With the brand loyalty and economic power of Fox, Rock Shox et al, that could be difficult.

X-FUSION 29er UPDATE NOV. 9, 2013

A problem cropped up with my X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2. Here’s what I sent to X-Fusion:

Hi there. I’ve been riding a Slide 29 RL2 since February. It’s been a great fork, but I have a problem and wanted to see what you’d recommend. 

Here’s the situation: I did some work on my brakes yesterday, and had to remove the caliper from the threaded mount on the fork. The problem occurred when I re-installed the caliper. As I was tightening one of the bolts, I felt it something give and I could tell that somehow the threads had stripped. I removed the bolt and sure enough had some metal come out. Before I started tightening, I had the bolt lined up properly and there was no unusual resistance that would indicate cross-threading. 
If this info helps, I was using an old set of Hayes 9 hydraulic discs. I’ve also attached some photos. Do you have any advice that can get this fork back on the trail?
X-Fusion replied with advice to use a longer bolt on the affected mount. That’s a workable solution since only a few millimeters of thread are damaged. If more of the threads were trashed, we’d be in real trouble. The mounts are molded into the fork’s lowers, unlike the mounts on my Rock Shox fork (its mounts bolt to the lowers). So if this problem gets worse, I’m looking at a new set of lowers. Not really ideal. My guess is that the molded lowers let X-Fusion keep the price a bit lower. But it might be worth a few extra clams to have removable mounts.
Oh, and X-Fusion responded to my question within hours. I deducted points for the molded-in mounts on the Slide 29 RL2 (a factor I hadn’t considered before). But the company earned points back for being responsive.
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Raleigh XXIX, Belt Drive, X-Fusion – A Few Thoughts

Raleigh XXIX, singlespeed, belt drive, McDowell Mountain Regional Park
An awesome new bike, my favorite local trails … what’s not to love?

Something about this bike that makes me a happy, friendly rider. I realize it as I greet a mountain biker headed the opposite way. Every time I ride this thing, I get so chipper that I’d say "hello" to a rattlesnake.

It’s more than "New Bike Syndrome." I’ve had plenty of new mountain bikes, and there’s something different here.

Maybe it’s the Gates Carbon Drive; I’ve wanted to try one for years. I salivated when I first saw the Raleigh XXIX with its belt drive. And hey! Wouldn’t you know it? That’s pretty much what I’m riding. I found a Raleigh XXIX stripped of all its parts at a local shop. They also had its belt drive bits lying about; I took those home, too (and ordered a new fork – more on that later).

Seven rides into life as a belt-drive singlespeeder, and I’ve had no problems. Haven’t touched a shop rag or a bottle of lube. Every bit of power I put to the pedals goes to the rear wheel. In just more than a month, I see a difference in my abilities.

And that belt drive. Many a mountain biker scoffs about it: "Is it really that hard to maintain a chain?" No. It’s not. But any extra work is a barrier – a barrier that can make it easier to say "You know, I’m tired and don’t feel like getting my bike ready. I’ll ride tomorrow." Maybe that never happens to you. But it does to me. And the belt drive is, as Forrest Gump says, one less thing. It’s also light and reliable, though the rider bears some responsibility for dialing it in right. By the way, you don’t have to be a mountain biker to ride a belt drive – they’re popular with the commuting crowd, too.

Hmm, what else about this bike makes me such a cheery nutjob? The X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2 suspension fork. I love the Fox FLOAT on my Santa Cruz Superlight. But those things are expensive! For about $400, the Slide 29 does everything my FLOAT does. And even something it can’t – it locks out.

On the trail, the Slide 29 works hard. Square-edged hits make it hiss a bit. But it steers where I point it. It makes short work of stuff in the trail. It didn’t cost me an arm and a leg.

 

X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2
A close look at one of the X-factors of my Raleigh XXIX – the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2.

So we have a steel hardtail belt drive with a cool fork. Oh, and it’s a 29er, a novelty for me. If you’re a 26er holdout and expect me to say the Raleigh XXIX handles like a porker, sorry. It just doesn’t. And it rips through fast corners. The combination of hardtail and singlespeed pairs well with the 29er wheel; the big wheels softer the ride and preserve your precious momentum. I’m still not convinced 29er wheels are a must for every mountain bike (or mountain biker), though.

Speaking of wheels, I ordered some WTB Frequency i23 rims built on SRAM 9.0 hubs and added a Stan’s tubeless conversion. The wheels seem durable, but the Stan’s wheelset on my Santa Cruz Superlight spoils me. The bearings roll like nothing else, and the SRAM hubs don’t compete. The WTB Frequency i23 rims, though, look like they can take a flogging from a heavy-riding mountain biker. So far, they have.

Other bits: A gold Chris King NoThreadSet. An old set of Hayes Nine hydraulic disc brakes. A Shimano SLX crank, Answer carbon handlebar, Thomson seatpost and an excellent WTB Vigo saddle. Some people complained that the Raleigh XXIX looks goofy with its World War II graphics. Hmph. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching Black Sheep Squadron, but I like it.

There’s really only one thing I’d change: the top tube. I’m 6’2 with a 34-inch inseam. When I stand over the top tube of the XL frame, there’s flesh-to-metal contact (feel free to chuckle and infer whatever you wish). Raleigh could make a nifty bend in the top tube like my XL Santa Cruz Superlight. Boom. Problem solved.

Chris King headset aside, there’s nothing fancy here -- but each part is an upgrade from a regular Raleigh XXIX. It all adds up to a bike that’s one big chunk of fun to ride.

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First Ride on “New” Mountain Bike Trail – with video

McDowell mountain bike
The newly rerouted bit of the Pemberton Trail has some nice new rock scenery.

Nothing gets me as excited quite like a new mountain bike trail. Or even a re-routing of an old favorite trail.

Ever since McDowell Mountain Regional Park announced that crews had re-routed a bit of its 15+-mile Pemberton (aka Trail B) loop, I’ve been eager to see what it’s all about. I purposely avoided reading up on exactly what would change – I also love surprises.

Here’s what you need to know:

    • The McDowell Mountain Regional Park managers made the best change possible: They took the trail away from a sandy service road on the north side of the park and cut some new doubletrack (it ain’t singletrack, but it’s no Jeep road, either) See the end of the post for video.
    • Racers who will participate in the Fat Tire 40 should be stoked. This makes the worst portion of the course quite a bit more fun. I expect racers will be a touch faster without the sandy slog.
    • The new bit of trail is about 15 minutes long at my leisurely but experienced speed. At some point, it reconnects to the original trail. I’m not sure where because it was a sneaky transition.
    • The extra twists and turns should add a bit to the trail’s original mileage.
wandering justin mtb
Hey, it’s me!

The new bit of trail is not some sort of mind-blowing singletrack experience that will inspire epic heavy metal songs. So why am I excited? Because it makes a favorite local trail about 20 percent better. And that’s nothing any rider should take for granted.

It’s also a nice signal of intent from the McDowell Mountain Regional Park staff. They continue to seek ways to make the park’s experience even better for mountain bikers. Consider some other first for the park: the first competitive race loops, the first official night rides and the first pump track on Arizona government lands. In the future, I suspect you’ll see a flow trail open.

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Cool Content – Great Finds from Other Blogs

see http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immagine:Suba...
You probably won’t see canons in Thunder Bay … but who knows? http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immagine:Subacquea.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the first time I’ve published a post that’s just about other content. I plan to do it more -- maybe once every two weeks. There’s a chance I could wind up doing it more as I find more content.

Alright, I’ve done "innerduced" it enough. Onto my first-ever Cool Content Crypt!

First up is Diving for Shipwrecks at the Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary. Rutger, one of the people at BookYourDive.com, introduced himself to me a few months ago and wrote a terrific post about his introduction to SCUBA diving. These days, Rutger is a PADI-certified dive instructor who loves getting newcomers into SCUBA diving. This post about checking out shipwrecks in the Great Lakes is a great motivation. This adventure is an awesome answer to "so, what did you do on your vacation (or make that "holiday" for my friends in other countries --)?"

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Night Mountain Biking – McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Darkness settles on the land …

Mountain biking in the moonlight is back: McDowell Mountain Regional Park once again has its night mountain bike rides going for the summer. The May 25 ride was the second of the season, and the first of the year for me. As always, it was a treat to be out there at this excellent park with other mountain bikers after sunset.

I had a few things occur to me as I rode. I pass these along as some food for thought. Make of them what you will.

1. I saw plenty of riders with their lights fired up even before the sun dropped below the horizon. Don’t do that – save your batteries for when you need them.

2. My budget light system is adequate for night mountain biking. But I basked in the glow of people laying out 1,500 lumens. I stayed behind slower riders a few times just to light-swipe them.

3. Speaking of that budget system – two of my three batteries conked out prematurely. Fortunately, I got an early start and finished before the last light flamed out. I considered tagging along with other mountain bikers in case I lost it.

Getting some lean into a corner.

4. You’ll run into all sorts of cool people at the trail. And I don’t mean me! I bumped into Bill from Adventure Bicycle Company, the very same awesome shop where I once sold bikes and spun wrenches. He solved my lighting woes with a shiny new NiteRider system.

5. I didn’t spot many creatures -- just a few bunnies and mice. No tarantulas this time! At McDowell Mountain Regional Park, you can sometimes even spot desert tortoises or snakes. Fun!

6. There was a stiff wind coming out of the west, which made for a slow slog on the climbs On the back side, though, a body my size is like having a sail!

7. The mountain biking community has one awesome advocate in Rand Hubbell, the supervisor of McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Mountain bikers talked him into being the first government park to offer an organized night ride – and he’s never looked back. He always looks for new features to add, and he drops good words for mountain bikers to other government officials so they’ll recognize s for the awesome economic boon that we are.

Saguaros in the sunset.

8. The Pemberton Trail at McDowell Mountain Regional Park is perfect for night mountain biking – rippin’ fast fun, not too technical, a good length for some exercise. Mountain bikers of any caliber will have fun … especially at night.

9. A big thank-you to Fountain Hills Bikes for the brats and hot dogs.

10. I don’t know who was responsible for the huge TV screen that played Adam Sandler’s Oscar-winner "The Waterboy," but thanks! That added some post-ride fun.

11. I lost one of my new gloves. But sometimes, you have to look on the bright side … it gave me a chance to tweet this funny:

Justin Schmid ‏@wandering_j

@MCParks That ride was a Thriller, and I got Bad about keeping track of the gloves and Beat It before I knew what happened.

Phoenix Mountain Biking : Grading the Trails

phoenix mountain biking
Cruising the red rocks at Papago Park. (Photo by N. Scott Trimble)

[January 2021: This post about Phoenix mountain biking is pretty old. We’ve had a lot going on trail-wise since this was published 9 years ago. Expect an update soon!]

Phoenix mountain biking offers any rider some hard choices. There’s no shortage of great mountain bike trails. A few years ago, I published a list of my favorite trails. Now it’s time to refresh it with some new info. Things change – so my old list may not be as much help anymore.

I’ll list all the Phoenix mountain biking spots I ride regularly and give them a grade. The letter grade reflects trail quality, amenities, traffic and all that good stuff. I’ll make extra notes about location – it’s a bit unfair for some great trails to get dinged for being a bit further away.

This list is NOT complete. If I don’t mention your favorite Phoenix mountain biking, I welcome you to add it in the comments. Click the links in each section for a more in-depth look at the trails.

Black Canyon Trail

Barely close enough to the Valley for this Phoenix mountain biking list. But I can’t let a nationally recognized mountain bike trail go ignored. The southern reaches start off flat and firm. Go north, and the action gets steep. All told, this is supposed to stretch way far north. I’ve heard Prescott and beyond. Far northwest of Phoenix. Grade: B+

Phoenix mountain biking
I have a long history with Trail 100 and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.

Deem Hills

A new bit of mountain biking fun out in the West Side, right in view of the I-17 freeway. Your ride will start with a hard slog to the top of a mesa. That’s where the fun singletrack lives. Great flow up there once you get up that grunt of a climb. Grade: B-

Fantasy Island North Singletrack

Named for the famous bit of State Trust Land in Tucson. This was built on private land a few years ago – miraculously, the land owners haven’t closed it. Tight, twisty and turny. Only one really long climb, but lots of rolling terrain. Far out to the southwest, but still right for a Phoenix mountain biking list. Grade: A

Gold Canyon

Just did my first ride here in May 2012 since it’s a new addition to Phoenix mountain biking. Well-designed singletrack – tight turns, steep chutes, quite a few technical bits. Some of the best scenery around since it’s right near the foot of the Superstition Mountains. Far to the southeast. Grade: B+

Mountain biking near phoenix
The sort of riding you’ll find at McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

Hawes Loop

An East Valley favorite. There’s quite a bit of road riding involved. But the downhill sections have great flow. You’ll need to check your speed. If you head a bit north, the terrain will get steeper and more technical. Dead east of Phoenix. Grade: B

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Pack lunch: You’ll find more than 50 miles of singletrack mountain biking. There’s the Competitive Track, the Pemberton Loop and numerous off-shoots – plus a pump track! Home to some of the best races. Northeast of the Valley, north of Fountain Hills. To me, it’s the gold standard in Phoenix mountain biking. Grade: A

Papago Park

Lots going on here, all just moments for Sky Harbor International Airport. Fast groovy singletrack; gets more technical as you head south. Some short power climbs to get your heart going. Home to the informal STP races. Grade: B

Mountain biking near phoenix
A little Pima and Dynamite fun.

Phoenix Mountain Preserve

Well more than 30 miles of mountain biking near Phoenix. Trail 100 is the out-and-back backbone of this mountain bike trail system. Lots of off-shoots. The far east and west portions are the most fun, with the middle third fairly bleak and rocky without much flow. Great Phoenix mountain biking 15 minutes north of Sky Harbor. Grade: B

Pima and Dynamite

A nearly-uncountable amount of singletrack, most of it on State Trust Land. Wild and wooly undulations, with a high likelihood of wildlife encounters. Gets more technical the further northeast you ride. North Scottsdale. Grade: A

South Mountain

The Desert Classic gets a lot of love, but the really technical mountain biking is up on the Mormon and National loops. Plenty of offshoots no matter where you go. Lots of rattlesnakes in the spring. These trails get a lot of use – check yourself. Grade: B+

On the Mountain Bike Trail – Random Photo

"Why didn't anyone tell me butt is so big?" (photo by Lorne Trezise FrozenMotionPhotos)

I never expected anyone to snap a photo of me on my mountain bike quite like this. Nobody told me that the white stripe on my (I thought) uber-cool Italian jersey made it look like I’m rolling in a filled-up pair of Huggies. Well, now I have to decide whether to wear that thing again!

Oh, well. I suppose it’s less jarring than taking my laps in a Borat-style slingshot thong.

Mountain Biker Attitudes Could Use Some Work

Fountain Hills, McDowell Meltdown, 2011, MBAA
Racing with a smile.

A summer ride in Arizona – it’s usually like being roasted alive. But on this one, I had some nice cloud cover. It was cool, with a slight breeze. Nothing could bring me down.

Well, except for my mountain biking brethren and their exceptionally bad trail manners.

I cannot fathom why so many mountain bikers these days are so surly and self-centered on the trail. On this given Sunday, I encountered a few riders who didn’t realize that the uphill rider has the right of way. And there were a handful of others who couldn’t be bothered to return a greeting. Look, you always say hello to other trail users unless you’re panting too hard. End of story.

Maybe a lot has changed since I learned to be a mountain biker back in the early 90s. Notice what I said? "Learned to be a mountain biker" and "learned to mountain bike" are two different things.

I already had an idea of how to brake, shift, pedal and pick a line by the time I started riding with a classmate at Arizona State University. But he was more experienced, and took the lead. I noticed that he always rode with a smile. Most times, he’d stop to scratch a hiker’s dog between the ears. He’d always, always, always, greet other trail users – especially riders.

He never told me to do the same. He was just a good guy to ride with, and I figured that was part of his formula. I made it part of my formula, too. Make it part of your ride, and I promise the trails will be a better place.

Portland: Bike Friendly, But Where’s the Mountain Bike Scene?

Johnson Creek Portland Oregon
Bicyclist get bridges of their own in Portland. (Photo by Finetooth via Wikimedia Commons)

Singletracks.com has an interesting post called “8 Bike Culture Observations from Portland, OR.”

All its points ring true to me from my recent visit to Portland. The bike-friendly culture starts right at the airport – there’s a repair area where your can break your bike down for flying, or put it back together … and then ride home. How incredibly progressive!

I can also confirm that bicycle infrastructure is extensive. Public bike art? I honestly don’t care about that.

It’s really surprising that mountain bikes are, as Singletracks.com says, such an afterthought. The shops I visited were primarily geared toward road biking. And I noticed a preponderance of big brands. I didn’t see any really cool, independent brands with a strong appearance. I figured Portland’s local, DIY flavor would carry over to the cycling scene. I hoped to lay my eyes on some cool custom steel … and maybe some titanium.

It’s very likely I just didn’t stumble onto it. I’ll bet it’s out there … but the odds of walking into exactly the right place are slimmer than I hoped.

So if you know Portland, I’d love to hear about the lesser-known shops where you discover and ogle the more unusual brands.

Gear Test: Giro Xen Gloves

24 Hours in the Old Pueblo Justin Schmid
Notice the always-reliable Fox gloves.

I love Giro bike helmets. Even its less-expensive models are beyond reproach.

This track record had me pretty excited about trying out its Giro Xen gloves. I picked some up at South Mountain Cycles in Ahwatukee, Ariz., in December of 2009. Since then, I’ve been able to test two pairs and have some strong opinions about them.

They had a lot to offer: full fingers (nice for cooler temperatures), lack of bulk, nice fit. And they looked cool with a swirly gray-and-black urban camouflage pattern. The hook-and-loop fasteners were a bit odd, wrapping counterclockwise around the wrist. But that seemed to be the only major deviation from convention. They were reasonably priced at $30.

Giro Xen
It didn't take long to start poking holes in the Xen.

Unfortunately, they’re also the flimsiest gloves I’ve ever owned. Within four months, stitching on the palm of the right glove started coming unraveled. I couldn’t find my receipt, but Giro was accommodating enough to send a new pair. They arrived for the hot summer riding. I split my time between the Xen gloves and an old pair of Fox half-finger gloves.

The palm started unraveling, too.

Despite a fairly light workout, the newer pair developed problems. By December, the left glove’s index finger developed a pinhole. By December, my finger was poking all the way through.

My Fox gloves, on the other hand, are so old that I can’t even remember buying them. Age and heavy use have made them crusty and skanky – even after a thorough tumble in the wash machine. But they are still in one piece.

That makes my next glove purchase a no-brainer: I’ll get another pair of Fox gloves. Unfortunately, Giro’s gloves are nowhere near a match for the excellence of its helmets.

The Xen gloves DO look cool, though.

Best of Arizona – Pima & Dynamite Trail Network

gila monster, wandering justin, arizona
A gila monster!

I almost don’t notice it. But the slow, wiggling movement catches my eye. A splotch of black and orange among shades of brown.

Yes! It’s a gila monster!

Thirty years of living in Arizona, and this is only the second one I’ve seen in the wild.

This is exactly what makes the trail network near Pima and Dynamite in Scottsdale one of the city’s best outdoor activities. You can rip through more than 50 miles of great trails. You can enjoy stark-but-beautiful high-desert scenery.

And you can come face-to-face with wildlife. Here at Pima & Dynamite, I’ve seen more than just this gila monster. Add to the list rattlesnakes, juvenile bald eagles, chuckwallas, jackrabbits and coyotes.

pima and dynamite, mountain biking, wandering justin, arizona
The entire area is riddle with trails.

About my pebbly, leathery gila monster friend: He moves slowly, but quickly enough to get away. I get a bit of video on my Fuji XP-10 (a nice complement to my handlebar-mounted Helmet Hero) before he scurries under a bush. He is venomous, but too shy and slow to be of much danger. The encounter puts a grin on my face for the rest of the day.

Ripping through a tight corners. Short bursts of power to muscle my way up climbs. Flying up and down rolling sections of trail -- these are all great. But a glimpse of nature puts an extra shine on the day.

santa cruza superlight, pima & dynamite, mountain biking, arizona, adventure bicycle company, wandering justin
Fully loaded for a day at Pima & Dynamite.

Speed, excitement and fitness are great reasons to ride. But so is seeing the bigger world around you. There are few better places to bring it all together.

About Pima & Dynamite

  • Most of the trails are on Arizona State Trust Land. You need a permit to legally use the area. Check the State Land Department website for more information.
  • A map helps. And Dale Wiggins is a map master. Check out his offering for Pima & Dynamite.
  • Park at the intersection of Pima Road and Dynamite Boulevard. I usually park on Dynamite just off the westbound lane.
Another example of the crazy wildlife you'll find at Pima & Dynamite.

Best of British Columbia – Vancouver Island & Victoria

The Transmission Forbidden trail. Awesome forest, eh? Photo courtesy of MtnBikingGirl.com.

Here’s the second post in the Best of British Columbia series. Extra-special thanks to Teresa from MtnBikingGirl.com for the super Vancouver Island advice! Missed the first post? Well, then, go back and read it.

Justin’s Quick Hits

I only got a quick day excursion to Vancouver Island, but I can definitely say it has the best brewery I found during my visit. The scenery is pretty spectacular, and the ferry ride from Vancouver is a novelty for desert folks like me. Victoria is a really walkable city that actually reminds me of a shrunken-down Brisbane, Australia – well, with a much cooler climate. But it has that same healthy, friendly, scenic elements. A bit touristy, but it’s too pleasant a city to hold that against it. The bus ride from the ferry dock to the city is also really pleasant. I was able to get out for a quick boat tour with a crazy marine biologist, which was tons of fun. I spotted some seals and even plucked some fresh seaweed out of the ocean and chomped on it. Good times!

But you’re hear for mountain biking, right? Over to you, Teresa!

Teresa Tells It All

Lots of riding over here! To drive Vancouver Island from Victoria, at the south end, to Port Hardy, at the north end, takes approximately 7 hours and almost every community has their own set of trails. If you do plan on coming over this way, you’ll definitely need a car and a few days to really get a taste of it.

Cabin Fever (photo from Teresa at MtnBikingGirl.com)

To get over here you’ll need to take a ferry. Ferry routes and schedules can be found on the BC Ferries website. I recommend buying a CirclePac which allows you to include the Sunshine Coast route at a discounted rate.

Here are my top picks for riding on Vancouver Island:

Victoria – The main place to ride is an area called Hartland (aka The Dump). There are trails here to suit every level of rider and the trails are marked like ski trails with green – easiest, blue – intermediate, black – hardest. You can find trail maps at the local bike shops but if you want to take a peek of what’s available, I found this one online.

Sooke – Located 30 minutes from downtown Victoria, Sooke is a real gem. I recently rode the Harbourview Trails there for the first time last month and I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner! When you head up the fireroad there’s a series of fun, flowy XC trails but if you continue on up the road to a trail named "FM Radio" you’ll be treated to stunning views of the Sooke Harbour from the top of Mount Quimper. I should forewarn you, this is a 45 minute trek from the road and you’ll come across a couple of sections that are "hike-a-bike". It may seem like a long trek up, but the downhill is worth it! Recommended for advanced XC riders.

Cumberland – Part of the Comox Valley and day 1 of the 2011 BC Bike Race, this is where I live and is approximately 3 hours north of Victoria. We are spoiled with our network of trails here. Not all Cumberland trails are marked so you’ll need to buy a map from one of the local bike shops or if your budget allows, hire a guide. There are also some great trails on Forbidden Plateau. You can ride up the fire road to get to the trails here but most of the locals shuttle (it’s a long, dusty ride on a well travelled road). For more information and to view trail maps, go to cvmtb.com.

Campbell River – Campbell River is approximately 45 minutes north of the Comox Valley and will be day 2 of the 2011 BC Bike Race. The best riding here is in the Snowden Forest which boasts over 100 km’s of trails. Most of these trails are for the intermediate to advanced rider, but there are some easier trails as well. I recommend talking to one of the local bike shops (Swicked Cycle is on the way) for trail recommendations and a trail map. With such a large network of trails, it’s easy to get lost.

If you want to continue along the BC Bike Race route, the next stop is Powell River…

Powell River – To get here you need to take a ferry from Comox (this is where the CirclePac I mentioned above comes in handy), which takes approximately 1 hour 20 minutes. Powell River is one of the newer mountain bike destinations, and I have only ridden here once before and the trail network has really expanded. The trails used for the BC Bike Race are on the Bike Powell River site and for futher information I would recommend contacting someone at Bike Powell River directly.

Sunshine Coast – There isn’t much information online about the Sunshine Coast trails, however one trail that I know they’ve really put a lot of work into is the Suncoaster, which is a 33 km trail that was designed to take people from ferry to ferry on trails and back roads. It’s also one of the trails that the BC Bike Race follows. Other trails worth checking out here are the Ruby Lake Trails. And as always, I highly recommend talking to the local bike shops to get the real scoop and find out trail conditions, etc.

The ferry out of Langdale will bring you back to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver.

Scenes from Arizona – White Tank Whirlwind

2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Ryan Waldron is stoked to be racing (Men Cat 1, 30-39)

I had a good excuse for not racing the White Tank Whirlwind – the previous weekend, I suffered through a rainy, windy Kona Bikes 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo.

Yeah, yeah … I know some people did both. But hey, they were probably all pro racers. And someone has to take pictures, right? So here are some of my favorites from the race. I have a bunch of others, too – I showed up kind of late (10:30 a.m.), so if you’re a Cat 2 or 3 woman, you’re probably out of luck. But feel free to drop me a line if you’re hoping I snapped a shot of you.

You can also read my race recap at Examiner.com.

Framed by the cactus.
Railing the corner
Grinding up a short climb.
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
The fast guys duke it out in the pro class.
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Watch for the competition.
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Jane Pearson rides to victory - women's marathon category.
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Pro Rider Rebecca Gross
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Look out, Gene Simmons - Nathan Lentz (Cat 3, 30-39) is coming to take your job.
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Channing Morrison of Adventure Bicycle Company races to victory (Men's Cat 2, 19-29)
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
A men's marathon racer on a very slick handmade bike from Form Cycles in Sedona.
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Need an attitude adjustment? Women's Cat 2 (40+) racer Krista Gibson says handlebar streamers will do the trick.

Racing is a Gas at Old Pueblo

Here’s a little funny from the Kona Bikes 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo:

I’m riding along on my first lap of Sunday morning. A guy passes me and gives me a friendly hello. A few moments later, he’s pulled over digging in his pack. He pulls something out, opens it, and starts munching.

"Snack time!" I yell at him.

He catches back up to me a moment later, and he launches into a Ricky Bobby-esque spiel (aided by a very Texan accent) about his snack: Honey Stinger waffles.

"They’re like two crispy waffles with a bit of honey between ‘em," he says (further reminding me of Ricky Bobby talking about a crepe suzette). "They’re delish. Know what I’m talkin’ about?"

I tell him I do indeed know what he is talkin’ about, though I haven’t yet tried them – but I do know and love Honey Stinger gels and protein bars.

Here’s the kicker: He passes me again. When he’s about 75 feet away, he lets out a sonorous, cheek-slapping fart that nearly blows the chamois out of of his shorts. You know it’s a monster when you can hear it over the hum of fat tires on hardpack and the whistle of the wind.

This, of course, makes me start laughing. He issues a sheepish "sorry," not realizing that I consider flatus the height of humor.

Definitely my best on-the-trail encounter during the race. I have to wonder if his team was sponsored by Honey Stinger -- or should I say Honey Stinker?