Thursday, May 22, 2014

Quickie

Two races down, 8-10 to go.

I had my second race of the season Mother's Day weekend. It was a small grassroots event that is in the third year and it's one I had been looking forwards too. One stage down a local's favorite trail and at 16-17mins, it's one of the longer stages of the year. Pedally, twisty, chunky, fast, loose, physical. Always a good test.

My result? 5th of 17. Not bad, but didn't feel that good either. It's still very early in the season and I'm not finding my race mentality. Gotta stay more amped up. Work in progress.

Sadly, there's no photos that I've come across from the event, which is a shame since it was the debut of our new jerseys. They've been a few months coming between finding the right fit, the design, having them made, etc...They turned out great and we're all proud to show them off.


In WIDER news, wide bars are awesome.

I rode 710mm bars last year and that was great. Never really had a problem until I used the 750mm bars than came on my Santa Cruz Bronson. Those made me nervous for a while. I was constantly afraid of clipping them on some form of difficult to move object. Once I forgot about that, I came to like them. But something wasn't feeling right. The bike still felt a little unstable or nervous and that rock-solid stability became what I missed the most about the 29er. I also decided I felt a little cramped on the bike at times and was dangerous thoughts...

With the three possible solutions being: longer stem (tried for a ride and didn't like that), new set of bars, or a new bike (a little drastic at this point, but that new Nomad...).


I ordered new bars. A fancy pair of Enve carbon DH bars at that. Then I took a hacksaw to my new, none-to-cheap carbon bars. 10mm from each side and now I've got a set of 780mm bars bolted to the bike. Two rides in and the change is huge. I love it. Bike is much more solid and I'm feeling more confident then ever. What I found really interesting is that I'm actually more comfortable in narrow areas, too. Perhaps just being more comfortable on the bike overall makes these squeezes less of a worry?

(A nice side benefit of the carbon is noticeably less feedback into the hands on rough terrain. Pretty amazing.)

In short, if you're feeling a bit odd on the bike, a bit cramped, a bit unstable, try wider bars. Or get a new bike with wider bars. That would be fun, too.

And here's a super cool video:





Monday, May 12, 2014

Enduro Cup Moab Recap

The Enduro Cup race in Moab, UT recently marked the start of my 2014 racing season and my entry to the pro ranks. The race took place on the upper trails of the Mag 7, which were used for both the Enduro Cup and Big Mountain Enduro last year.

The trails are fun to ride at a casual pace, but lose a lot of the appeal at race speed. They lack significant elevation change, get rougher the faster you go, lack much flow, and are hugely pedal intensive. (that makes the trails sound terrible, but really, they are quite fun to just go and ride) Think short track XC on longer travel bikes and lots of hurt. It feels as though a lot of effort is being laid down to not go fast.

Rough start to the morning
Racing is racing, however.

Noah Sears, MRP product/marketing guy. Their stuff works better than the coffee maker
4 Stages, each around 6-7mins and a total race time in the 24-28min range.

Eric Landis leaving the gate


Stage 1: Upper Bullrun

Super fun trail. Twisty and slow to open and fast. Too bad I was slow to get to pace. This was my worst stage of the race, by far. All the pre-race jitters left on the pedal to the start and I was feeling calm as the clock ticked down, but that calmness stayed with me through the stage. The fire never got enough stoke. Gotta work on getting into the state of relaxed fury! No major mistakes, just didn't go fast.

Noah Sears, MRP's product/marketing guy starting his season of "testing"
Stage 2: Middle Bullrun

A nice, short wait that gave enough time to recover but stay warm and I was off on stage 2. Being warmed up helped, as this was my best stage finish. A couple of small mistakes here and there, but nothing to complain about.

Stage 3: Arth's Corner

Enduro with an uphill start from the gate? Yep. The vast majority of the field was dreading this stage, knowing how painful it would be. Rough, pot-holed slick rock that kills any momentum. Lots of flat traversing and more than a few blind, uphill turns to completely bring me to a stop. Really wish I would have pre-ridden this one.

The uphill start to Stage 3
Stage 4: Great Escape

Great Escape is the stage I look forwards to riding. It's fun to ride and fun to race. Mostly down, fast, more techy stuff than the other trails, and just tends to have the flow that's lacking on the other trails. Some of the slickrock corners tend to be slick with sand, too. I learned looking right at the sand while you're in the middle of such a corner is a bad idea. On the bright side, I learned my knee pads worked perfectly....



By the race's end, I was 17th of 37 pros. My friend and teammate, Eric Landis, rode a great race earning him 7th and his first top 10 overall result.

While I accomplished my race goals of improving on my times from last year and not getting passed, I still felt a bit let down. Due to work and other responsibilities, I wasn't able to get any practice on the trails. That could have helped on a few of the sneaky turns and my overall mental game, as I just couldn't find that drive this weekend. It's a bit frustrating knowing I can do much better. Time to get to work.

Sara enjoying the view before an off-trail adventure (literary license in effect)
Eric and Porter
The 6 year old shredder


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Preparing for Launch

A long winter of focused training and lots of dreaming is about to meet reality.

The first races of the season are coming up with the Moab Enduro Cup on May 3 followed by the Gunny Enduro, here in Grand Junction, on May 10.

These races mark my entry to the pro ranks and I've got high hopes to improve upon last year. The stress and anxiety from wondering if I've trained right, have I done enough, am I ready, etc...haven't left my head in this week prior. Tire choices, suspension setup, nutrition. It's all ever present in my thoughts.

Just gotta beat my times from last season and not get caught.

Don't forget the fun. As much stress as a race brings, it truly is fun. I enjoy the focus, the questions, examining the details, the constant drive to get better.

To get better.

 
This is the reason for the hours spent on the trainer watching snow fall. The reason for passing on ski days, climbing days, friendly group rides. It is also the reason for recent session with mountain bike skills coach/guru Gene Hamilton.

Gene Hamilton, the owner/founder of Better Ride, was in town doing a 3 day skills clinic and Eric Landis managed to secure a short private session afterwards. Gene specializes in on the bike skills including looking ahead, cornering, climbing, pumping, and descending. He has coached a number of the sports top riders, including Greg Minnaar, Mitch Ropelato, and local hero Rad Ross Schnell, how to go faster with more control. The foundation of Better Ride are 3 day clinics that really hammer in the skills and drills needed to erase bad habits and form the correct habits.

Playing in the street
Knowing that I've never had any skills coaching and have a number of areas I'd like to improve on, the clinics were very appealing, but the timing hasn't been right. With races quickly approaching, a couple of last minute hours with Gene in a parking lot was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Gene asked us what exactly we wanted to focus on for the session, and after some back and forth banter, Eric and I agreed that cornering would be the day's topic.

What were we doing wrong and how do we work to improve the skill? What tricks does Gene have to empower us to take control?

It took about 3 minutes to figure out that I sucked at turning right. As in, wow, you need training wheels to turn right. After a laugh, 2.5 hours in an empty parking lot working on some basic drills, and some assigned homework (all punctuated with some great stories) we were on our way.

Evening pump work
Gene is a fantastic instructor. Even though he was admittedly exhausted from the weekend's camp and lack of sleep, he was super psyched to talk about and ride bikes. Many of the basics he teaches may not be overly exciting, but his stories and enthusiasm make them more than bearable. More importantly, his instruction is easily understood, executed, and remembered.

I've been working diligently on the drills and techniques that Gene taught and can say that after 2 weeks, I'm substantially more confident and comfortable on the bike in general,and specifically, with both left and right cornering. The evenly worn out side-knobs of my tires will attest to that. It's really quite amazing how much my ability has changed due to a 2.5 hour lesson. I can promise, that come this winter, I will be in one of his 3 day Better Ride clinics (I'd love to bring my wife, too). I can't even begin to imagine how much of a difference 3 full days of skills work will improve my riding.

If you want to improve your ability, spending the money for some quality instruction will make a much bigger difference than any new frame, shock, tires, fork, or whatever. Plus, you won't look like a joey flailing on a $7,000 bike. Gene is super cool and I'm feeling confident that his schooling will help me reach my season goals.

Eric railing
 The only thing I didn't like? The time was too short, went by to quickly, and I didn't get on the Better Ride band wagon sooner. Can't wait till next winter....