Your First 24 Hour Team Race

March 4, 2009 by  
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24 hour moab mountain bike race 300x210 Your First 24 Hour Team RaceSo you have been racing your mountain bike for a while and now you are thinking of venturing into 24 hour racing in a team format. I would definitely recommend it—it is a lot of fun. But there are some steps you can take to make it a better experience.

  1. Make sure you and the rest of your team have the same expectations. There is nothing worse than not being “on the same page” as another on your team. Whether you are doing it for fun, trying to win it, or somewhere in between, it is important to ensure that everyone has similar expectations. Then no one will be disappointed.
  2. Know the course—that means pre-ride it. You can look at a course all you want on a map and study its profile, but it is always different when you are actually riding. In 24 hour racing it is really important to know that crazy turn, obstacle, and the unexpected before you are racing. One of the worse things that can happen is calling it quits because you got taken out by the course. Pre-riding is especially important if there is the potential for your first lap to be a night lap. Ride the course.
  3. Eat your food. You have to eat because your team is counting on you. Make sure you have a wide variety food— real food and race food because you never know when your digestive system will decide that it is only going to tolerate X. If you don’t have X, you are screwed. Racing food—gels, bars, drinks—tend to be easier to digest and still provide the needed energy. Electrolyte supplement are also a really good idea.
  4. Get good lights. There are a lot of things you can skimp. Generic cereal, brand X jeans, but you get what you pay for with lights. They are expensive, but coming from a frugal person (ie cheapskate) you want to pony up for something decent. You may not need the lightest weight or the quickest charging lights, but you want something good—HID or a high lumen LED. I would also recommend a dual set up—handle bars and helmet. This lets you see what is in front of you and ahead of you at all times. Also set these up the night before just in case you get the transition lap (light to night). It is hard to know where you want your lights aimed when it is light out. And if you can practice your night riding, you will be better for it.
  5. Bring your spare parts. If you have a spare part, bring it. You never know what you or someone else is going to need. Make sure you bring the basics—brake pads, tubes, tires (yes, tires not just tubes), chain or extra links, etc.  Read more

Top 3 Exercises for Explosive Gate Starts

February 13, 2009 by  
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mountain bike gate start 300x225 Top 3 Exercises for Explosive Gate StartsOne of the most frequent questions that I get from riders around the country is “what are the best exercises for gate starts?” Apparently a lot of people are looking for the “magic exercises” that will make a big difference in their perceived weakness out of the gate and/ or the few strokes immediately afterwards. First off, if you are looking for just one exercise to cover most biking ills I would have to recommend the deadlift, as a properly performed deadlift will target most of the areas aggressive MTB racers are lacking in and most are very weak in this lift.

However, this exercise is a must for every MTB rider and not necessarily specific to gate starts. Since off-season training is upon us I decided to reveal my Top 3 Exercises for Explosive Gate Starts. I think that anyone with a gate start at the beginning of the race (like you DH and 4X riders) will find these exercises extremely useful as a part of their strength training program.

First, you’ll quickly notice that there is not a leg press to be seen on the list. With few exceptions (injury being the only one I can think of right now) the leg press should never be used in an MTB strength training program. Sitting down and bracing your back against the seat back of the leg press will artificially strengthen the core. You are only as strong as your weakest link, which is usually the core’s ability to act as a platform to create strength from. By taking your core out of the equation as the weak link (as the leg press does) you create false strength, or strength that you can not use on the bike. Since you can not brace your back against something on your bike, the leg press should be avoided if you are serious about your strength program maximizing your riding potential.

1. Banded Deadlift –This exercise is indispensable in your quest to build an explosive gate start. A more advanced form of the regular deadlift, this requires the use of strength bands. These thick rubber bands are not the same as the rubber tubing you see in most gyms and are designed to add several hundred pounds at the lockout point of the lift.

By attaching the strength bands to the bar and doing a deadlift you will maximally overload the full range of motion, especially the top half, as well as really forcing yourself to accelerate and explode in order to overcome the stretching bands. If you watch a great gate start you will notice that the rider basically performs a ¼ deadlift action, throwing his hips out in an explosive manner. This action requires extremely explosive hips and few exercises can match the specific nature of this movement and its requirements like the banded deadlift.  Read more

Roll Faster

February 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Tips

I typically run Kenda Nevegal tires because of their strong gripping characteristics ideal for tight switch backs.  I ride in terrain that varies quite a bit so these are my “all-purpose” tires.  When rolling through mud the Nevegals maintain their traction and gripping abilities while also cleaning themselves out quickly through puddles or dry terrain.  With any tire with an aggressive and bold tread comes rolling resistance.

When terrain was dry and hard I felt the tread pattern was actually holding me back and slowing me down, yet they still provided the sense of security when cornering.  I wanted to be able to decrease the rolling resistence without sacrificing much traction.  My mission was clear…I contacted Kenda.

The Solution

I connected with Jim at Kenda and he and I hashed out some ideas.  We decided it’d make sense to run a Nevegal in the front and a Small Block 8 tire in the rear.

The Outcome

After a few rides utilizing the Small Block 8 I’m able to provide some good feedback.  Running a Nevegal in the front helped stabilize steering and maintained the integrity when cornering as it paved the way for the Small Block 8′s that seemed to want to go faster and faster.  It did indeed enable me to roll faster.  Read more

The Ultimate Mountain Bike Tire Guide

January 17, 2009 by  
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Anyone who has been involved with Mountain Bikes for some time knows that tires can be one of the most confusing and controversial topics.  Some say this tread is faster but others say that.   Some say a softer compound is better here but someone else disagrees.   I’ve talked to a lot of people, rode on a lot of tires and finally I am ready to write THE ULTIMATE TIRE GUIDE!

First I just want to get this out of the way.  The biggest compromise between different tires is that of traction/rolling resistance.  Greater traction generally means a slower but more controllable ride.  Less traction means you will fly off hard terrain but can easily loose control, slide out, or loose traction on loose terrain.

Kevlar or Wire Bead

kenda small block eight mountain bike tires 300x225 The Ultimate Mountain Bike Tire Guide First if you don’t already know there are two types of beads, Kevlar (also called folding) and Wire.  A wire bead means a heavier tire and in general a tire that is more difficult to install and remove.  The first time or two you have to install or remove your Kevlar beaded tire you may be in for a struggle.  They are sized small initially because the beads will stretch slightly over time.  This is by no means the rule as different manufacturers and models of tire will be larger or smaller bead diameters (slightly) but the general rule is Kevlar is lighter and eventually easier to manipulate.

Kevlar Belted Tires

Some MTB tires have Kevlar belts underneath the tread.  This means they have more resistance to thorns and other objects trying to penetrate the tire.  If you are having problems with punctures look for a Kevlar belted tire, it can help.

Tubeless Specific Tires

slime mountain bike tubeless tire sealant 300x300 The Ultimate Mountain Bike Tire Guide Tubeless tires are specifically made for tubeless setups, but you can run them with tubes if you want.  Many standard tires have small holes from manufacturing that will leak if they are ran tubeless (unless you use sealant).  Tubeless tires are made to eliminate these small leaks and usually feature thicker tread and sidewalls.  This is to decrease the chance of a puncture or tear since a tear in a tubeless tire can really screw up your day.  For those of you who do not know the benefits of tubeless, it offers slightly less rotating weight and better traction.  Tubeless tires really hook up with the trail!

Threads per Inch (TPI)

You may have noticed a measurement called TPI when you’re checking out tires at the shop.  The general rule is a greater TPI means a thinner walled tire that will be lighter and have less rolling resistance.  However, these tires will be easier to puncture or tear.

Tread Compound

There are soft compounds, medium compounds and hard compounds.  Kenda has their Stick-e compound that has made them famous.  There is no real measurement that manufacturers do to tell you how soft or hard their tire is.  The easiest way to check is to squeeze a knob between your fingernails and see how much give it has.  Or you can grab a knob and try to move it back and forth.  A softer compound will have more flex.  On the trail a harder compound translates to better energy transfer in optimum conditions.  Kenda has some of the softest compound tires on the market, and because of it, they can be a bit sluggish on hard pack.  But softer compound tires are great for rock, sand, mud, loose dirt and pretty muck everything else besides hard pack.  Choose a tire based on the terrain you will be riding on.  Another thing to note is the size of the knobs will affect their flexibility.  In other words a softer compound tire with big knobs will be stiffer and have better performance on hardpack while a tire with smaller knobs and the same compound will be slower on hard pack but perform better on rock and in the loose stuff.  Read more

Dirt School DVD Teaches Mountain Bikers How to Improve Their Skills

January 9, 2009 by  
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dirt school dvd cover the mountain bike technique film 210x300 Dirt School DVD Teaches Mountain Bikers How to Improve Their SkillsScottish national downhiller Chris Ball opened Dirt School in 2007 after realizing that there was no company currently offering mountain bikers coaching from someone who has been there, done that, and still racing.  The company holds classes aimed towards improving skills for downhill, xc, and freeride.  In addition, private classes are also offered.

Offering a fresh take on How-To films the DVD shows you the steps required to execute and master certain techniques.  Highlighted in the films are excerpts form the school’s lessons providing an easy way to “watch and learn”.  There are blue, red, and black level trails included for progression.  The DVD will help you ride with more confidence and attempt new feats.

Watch the trailer below.

Filming takes place at Glentress and Innerleithen trail centers located in Scotland.

Riders interested in purchasing the DVD can do so for £17.99 GBP by clicking here.

How Tight Are Your Hubs?

January 7, 2009 by  
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parts of a bicycle hub 2 How Tight Are Your Hubs?

So I’m a pretty young guy, but I’ve been working on bikes for a little while. The other day I was doing a major tune-up on a customer,s bike and noticed the hubs, something which I usually only check in passing, were so tight you could feel the bearings. This was a relatively new bike too, so I checked a few others and noticed the same thing. It was then I realized the importance of checking your hubs, something I know that most mechanics usually don’t look at.

parts of a bicycle hub 300x248 How Tight Are Your Hubs? Hubs are just assumed to be fine…No play good to go, but over tightened hubs mean more resistance and faster bearing and cup wear. I always learned to tighten hubs just to the point where they have no play. However Mr. Hobbs from Park Tools says to leave a tiny amount of play in the hub, but when the wheel is tightened in the frame the extra pressure should remove this play. (Always check it) He also says if you do not leave any play in hubs they are too tight. I have tried this with varied results. Depending on the bike, sometimes no matter how little play I leave in the hub, I still end up with play when the wheel is tightened in the dropouts, so use your own discretion.

Anyway here is what to look for. When you turn the axle it should be smooth, but moving the axle back and forth should not result in a knocking feeling or at least on a very slight movement that should be corrected when the wheel is tightened in the dropouts. If you turn the axle and feel bumps, almost like notches, that means the hub is way too tight! Sometimes the easiest way to check for play is with the wheel still on the bike. Hold the bike off the ground and try to move the wheel side to side feeling for any knocking. Rotate the wheel half a rotation and try it again. If there is nothing that means the hub is fine or too tight. You will have to remove the wheel in order to determine how tight it is.

tightening bicycle hub How Tight Are Your Hubs? The process of actually loosening or tightening the hub is fairly straight forward. You need thin wrenches called cone wrenches to access the thin nuts on the wheel. Most bike shops should sell these or you can just let you local shop do the work for you.  Each side has two nuts. The inner nut puts pressure directly on the bearing while the outer nut keeps the inner nut locked in place. To loosen or tighten the hub you will need to loosen the outer nut on one side of the hub first. Pick a side, put one cone wrench on the inner, one on the outer and loosen. Now you can loosen or tighten the inner nut to change the pressure on the bearings. When you’re finished adjusting the pressure, tighten the outer nut back down while using a wrench to make sure the inner not is not tightened as well. If you do not do this you can end up tightening the hub by tightening the outer nut.

And there you have it, the secret of hubs.

Determining Correct Tire Pressure

December 28, 2008 by  
Filed under Tips

tire pressure rock on ledge Determining Correct Tire PressureTire pressure is the single best thing that a biker can do to improve the performance of their bicycle without having to spend any money.  Identifying the proper tire pressure for your bike will enable you to have more control when riding.  A tire with too low of pressure will make it harder to pedal/ride as well as increase your chances of getting a flat.  Tire pressure that is too high can make for a very rough and bumpy ride and will make it hard to navigate and have control over the terrain.

There is no standard for tire pressure as many factors must be taken in consideration when determining the proper tire pressure for a ride.  These factors include; weight and personal preference of the rider and the condition and terrain of the trail.

Most tire manufacturers will indicate a recommended tire pressure somewhere on the wall of the tire.  We suggest starting with the recommended tire pressure and then altering tire pressure based on the factors discussed above.

topeak smarthead digital air tire pressure guage 300x300 Determining Correct Tire PressureStart with the recommended tire pressure and take the bike for a ride to test your tire pressure setting.  A good indication of too high of tire pressure is if you notice that the bike does not grip well on turns or you find that the bike tends to bounce off of obstacles on the trail.  If you notice this happening drop tire pressure in increments of 5 psi in both tires.  Continue to do so until you find a tire pressure that is ideal.

Low tire pressure means more effort is needed and a higher tire pressure requires less effort.  This is called rolling resistance.  A tire with little rolling resistance will roll fast, but depending on conditions it could mean a loss in control and poor traction.

While determining the proper tire pressure it is important to be consistent with the tire pump and gauge used as psi readings may vary from one pump or gauge to another.

Everyone has their own opinion on tire pressure. It is important to keep in mind that proper tire pressure depends on several factors and therefore what one rider might recommend to another doesn’t mean it is the optimal tire pressure for that rider. Test your tires at various pressures and in different riding conditions and trail terrain to help get a feel for what tire pressure to use at various times.

Derailleur Hanger Alignment

December 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Tips

In the early days of index shifting when the first systems were 6,7, and 8 speeds, derailleur hanger alignment was important, but not crucial to shifting. Due to the wider spacing between cogs, the derailleur hanger could be bent slightly, and the derailleur might still shift reasonably well. However, with the new 9 speed mountain bike cassettes (10 and now 11 speed for road), proper derailleur hanger alignment is absolutely imperative. Even a slight deviation of the hanger can cause incorrect shifting, and also cause the derailleur to shift into the spokes of the wheel, or jam the chain between the cassette and frame.

Whenever I build a new bicycle, I always check the derailleur hanger for alignment. Without fail, they are slightly bent (or worse) every single time. This cannot be avoided due to the initial fabrication of most frames, transportation, etc. A common mistake made by riders is to think, “I just bought a new hanger, so I will bolt it on and it will be straight.” The logic seems correct, but this does not take into account the fact that surface of the frame where the new hanger attaches is not necessarily aligned (usually it isn’t).

derailleur hanger alignment 300x300 Derailleur Hanger AlignmentThe replaceable derailleur hanger is a relatively new item, but it has saved many frames from the junkyard. In a crash, if the derailleur is near the smallest cogs, the derailleur will become bent severely – causing the hanger to become bent in the process. The replaceable hanger is designed to bend easily or break off in the event of a crash. Steel frames without a replaceable hanger can usually be bent back, unless the threaded hole has become elongated from an extreme bend. Aluminum will fatigue and fail after only a few cycles of bending. In the event that a non-replaceable derailleur hanger on an aluminum frame is bent, extreme care is required when it is aligned. There is a high likelihood that it will snap. Regardless, the hanger will be weakened, and will be more likely to bend in the future.

To achieve proper hanger alignment, a derailleur hanger alignment gauge is used. Using the rear wheel of the bicycle as a reference, the gauge is used to bend the hanger so that the hanger is in the same plane as the wheel. This is not rocket science, but it does take practice to prevent breaking the hanger. Due to the cost of the tool, it is probably best to have the alignment checked by a qualified shop when there is an issue with shifting, or after a crash.

Passing on Hills

November 12, 2008 by  
Filed under Tips

I have a great ride twice a week, usually weekends, at Cherry Creek State Park in South Denver. There is a loop that goes around the outside of the park. You can ride on the inside of the loop, but when you get to the backside, there is a reservoir earthen wall that forces you to ride around on the outside of it. Here’s a map of the ride.

It is about a 15-mile loop, more or less, and I usually manage to make it around the loop in 75 minutes. There are about 2 miles of trail and about 13 miles of pavement or cement sidewalk. The ride has 2 big hills: The first is about an 8% grade for about a mile and the second is about a 6% grade dropping to a 4% grade for about 2.5 miles. This second hill, averaging 10 MPH, takes about 15 minutes for me to get up it on my 35 pound mountain bike.

This second hill is really the focus of this week’s story. If you look back at the Map, listed above, this hill is on the outside of the earthen dam, along route 225. It starts at the North, and about the halfway point, going to the West, you hit the nadir and then you have your long uphill climb. It’s a great hill for interval training and I’ve seen some real rock stars take that hill at 20 mph all the way to the western part of the earthen dam. They were on road bikes; mountain biker stars can take that hill at around 14-15 mph.

This past Saturday, as I hit the nadir, I steeled myself for the long ride up. I was passed at the start by a couple on new mountain bikes. The woman, a young blond, in her early twenties, weighing 120 pounds, with a helmet threaded blond pony tail, waving in the wind, passed me with about 6 inches to spare. It always amazes me that people would pass that close to me with a 6 foot wide concrete walkway to ride on and never say a thing: The male, a little bit older, did say: “on your left” and then gave me about a foot clear passage. That was appreciated.

Within the first half mile, this couple had a 50-yard lead on me. I was thinking there was no way I was going to catch them as we moved up the hill. They were too aggressive, too strong, and they were half my age. Then I noticed a few things: 1. They were peddling at a high gear. Their feet were moving at roughly half the RPM’s than I usually cycle at. 2. They were wearing sneakers, not bike shoes. 3. Their bike’s seats were lower than they should have been; resulting in a lunging pedaling motion.

mountain biker climbing 295x300 Passing on HillsI remembered the story of the Tortoise and the Hare and thought to myself, that if I stayed in form, I could catch them by the top of the hill. I knew a few things about climbing: 1. Keeping your RPM’s up (around 60) gives you a smoother ride and doesn’t burn out your muscles; adjust gearing to the slope of the hill. 2. Wearing bike shoes, which are hard soled, is a more direct transfer of energy to the pedals, verses sneakers that lose energy when they flex on every down pedal. Proper seat height, custom fitted for your height and bike results in a much more efficient pedaling motion. Bike shoes can give you a direct energy efficiency estimated at 3-5%.

Over the next mile, it was all I could do to stay close to the jackrabbitting couple. I stayed at 60 RPM’s and I resisted the urge to just go all out. On the second mile, I started to creep closer and closer. I saw the blond glance back at me and she redoubled her efforts; but she was laboring, still in a high gear and she finally stood up to get her leverage working for her.

At the end of the second mile, I was still feeling strong and I passed the gentleman and had the blond in my sights. I stayed in form; kept adjusting my gearing for the magical 60 RPM, in a comfortable cadence. With two hundred yards to go, I quite easily passed her and politely said: “On your left” and blew past her. I could hear her grunting and then, when I got to the light at the top of the hill, glanced back and she was stopped; bent over, exhausted.

My buddy Jeff, an avid mountain biker, who races in Winterpark, told me that you win races on the hills, where you break their spirit. There is a reason Lance Armstrong won 7 tours in a row; he won them in the mountains.

See you on the trails.

Trip Hints for the Weekend Warrior

November 8, 2008 by  
Filed under Tips

Every weekend warrior loves the chance to plan a trip to a unique location and break out of their riding routine. Last weekend, I had the chance to take a group of eight guys out of Atlanta up to Currahee Mountain to bike the Frady Branch trail system for 20+ miles of riding, deep in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Leading a mountain biking outing is a ton of fun, but also entails a lot of responsibility. Whether you’re meeting a few friends at a new hot spot or taking a big group to a destination, there are some helpful guidelines that will make things go more smoothly.

Take some initiative and do some planning:
Nothing sucks more than driving multiple hours to a place only to be turned around because you didn’t check to make sure the location was open for business. The following are all reasons that I have been turned away from entering a wilderness or recreational area that I otherwise would have been able to enjoy:

  • Trail work: the place was shutdown for the week due to maintenance.
  • Fire: Forest fires were in the area and they had not been letting people in for some time
  • Hunting season: The trail shared a section with a National Wildlife Area and was closed for hunting season
  • Bear Kill: A bear had made a kill (not human) in the vicinity and the ranger’s policy was to quarantine the area for one month until they moved on.

Any one of these situations could have been averted if I had simply picked up the phone and called the National Forest service, local ranger, or area bike shop. And I wouldn’t have wasted a weekend or a tank of gas for nothing.

In this case, I learned from my past mistakes and called up the local ranger who explained that, while it was hunting season, the area would be open. However, he did suggest that we not venture off the main section of trails. He also jokingly suggested we wear construction neon orange. After convincing myself he was kidding, I concurred it was an acceptable risk.

currahee mountain bike trail damaged rear rim 300x225 Trip Hints for the Weekend Warrior

Sometimes bad stuff happens on the trail. Plan for what you can control and try not to sweat the rest. Even when your rear rim looks like this...

Be prepared for the worst
The card -carrying, neckerchief-wearing Boy Scout would tell you to always be prepared. A more pessimistic attitude is that Murphy’s Law will be in effect. I just always make the assumption that most people will ignore the former and get slammed by the latter. That’s why it never hurts to be a little over prepared. Sunny forecast? Pack the rain gear anyway. Toss a couple Cliff bars, a first aid kit and more than the typical maintenance supplies in the car, just in case. Inevitably, someone forgets a helmet or water and it’s nice to have a spare.

On this trip, I expected the morning to be much colder than the forecast had predicted on account of being in the mountains. I brought along an extra set of gloves and hat that I very much appreciated having while we tried to warm up after we arrived.

currahee mountain bike trail making a game plan 300x225 Trip Hints for the Weekend Warrior

Making a game plan and make sure everyone knows what it is. The bigger the group, the higher probability for error.

Make a game plan before you get on the trail
Are there people of different skill levels in the group? Is there a way to divide up and meet back up? What is the rendezvous time? Where will you wait for people to meet/catch up? All these things should be discussed before you clip in and start twisting down the trail. A five minute discussion before you start can save hours of frustration later. Our group had a spectrum of skill levels and rather than take a homogenized path we decided we stay together for awhile and then break into smaller groups. I printed out maps for everyone beforehand and passed them out that morning. We agreed to break at every major intersection to keep everyone together until we split up.

Have fun and don’t sweat the things you can’t control
Even with the maps and directions, part of our group still got turned around in the maze of trails and got stuck going the wrong way up a mountain until a nice man with a machete pointed them back in the right direction. We also had one guy blow out a tire and rim, single-handedly converting his bike to a unicycle. We just laughed it off and dealt with it. There was really no other option. We took lots of pictures and spent a lot of time agreeing that we’d rather be doing this than pushing our lawn mowers.

For weekend warriors, like myself, the occasional trips are beacons on our calendars and are anticipated like Christmas to a 10 year-old. Sprinkling in a bit of preparation and smart principles go a long way to insuring that the waiting and salivating was all worth it.


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