Mountain Biking in Alabama

On a beautiful Sunday morning in west Alabama I decided to ventured out to Lake Lurleen State Park for a mountain bike ride. It was the first time I’ve been able to check out the local mountain biking scene since I have arrived in Dixie. To my surprise, I discovered the mountain biking scene is alive and well in this area. Well, to be fair, it not real mountain biking, but it trail riding nonetheless. It not what I’m used too in Tennessee, North Carolina, etc., but Lake Lurleen did kicked my butt riding the Tashka Trail. Lake Lurleen totals 23.47 miles of trails. You could spend a few hours riding and enjoying the natural high your body produces during high intensity fun time. (I don’t call cycling exercise, I call it play time or fun time.) I think Tuscaloosa County and I will get along fine since there a decent mountain biking paradise just down the road from I’m living!

Many thanks to West Alabama Mountain Biking Association and Druid City Cycling, and any other organization(s) that may have been involved with trail building in Tuscaloosa.

Happy pedaling.

Cycling Shoes

I was curious about this: why would anyone pay $450 for a pair of cycling shoes? Yeah, I understand there a lot of high dollar products in our hobby, but what does a pair of shoes do that warrant such high premium price? I’ve been wearing my shoes since 2010 with no sign of tear..(I paid $85 for it due to a discount by purchasing pedal and a new bike.)  I personally rather spend $450 on a new hydraulic brake set. My shoes and socks are both breathable to prevent moisture/sweat from soaking my feet. I’m not trying to knock on Sidi or anyone who purchases it, I just can’t seem to justified spending $450 on a pair of shoes whose only job is to prevent moisture build up, keep your feet in the shoes, and keep the cleats attached to the shoes. This is the product I’m referring too: http://www.sidiamerica.com/sidi/mountain/drako_blk.html I wonder if it just the currency exchange rate that causes such high price? Even then, it’s still pretty darn pricey in local currency. (If I’m not mistaken, this is an Italian based company. Thus, they want to be paid in the local currency, assuming it Euro, Euro is usually appreciated to the U.S. Dollar.)

Anyway, I feel, in our hobby, that there is a fine line between getting what we paid for and being a bunch of nuts. 🙂 Ha!

Memorable Crash

Yesterday, I was riding bikes on a new trail that has been recently built and opened for mountain biking at a local state park. I nearly went over the handlebars after coming off a rock. Thank goodness I didn’t touch the front brake or I would have had been paying a handsome flesh tax. The reason I didn’t touch the front brake was because of experience, an experience I will never forget if only I could remember what happened.

Picture it, it was a hot July day in 2010 at a wonderful slice of paradise called Tanasi located on the bank of the Ocoee River in Southeastern Tennessee. A couple of months earlier, I met a group of guys at the local state park that were always riding bikes there at time I ride. So, I got to know them and started riding with them and then they invited me to this wonderful paradise for a weekend of camping and 50-100 miles of epic bike riding. There was three of us including me, a fourth one would arrive later that night and ride with us the next day. We arrived to Thunderock Campground in the Cherokee National Forest (Tanasi is part of the Cherokee National Forest) and set up camp. After setting up camp we started loading up on nutrition and water, then prepared the bike for at least 25 miles before dark. And we planned to ride at dark with some powerful lights. Since I have never been here, I was giving a map and a laminated post card with the route for this evening ride in-case we got separated. We rode and we rode, I never got separated from my two riding partners until my rear derailleur decided it wasn’t up for the task. I was having some technical issues with a key component and it was causing the chain to jump all over the cassettes, and one of the guys, we call him Bike Doctor, he had tools on him and we made some adjustments and rode on.  We will call the other guy Goatman, so we all continued riding and I rode some incredible trails such as the Quartz Loop which was amazing, it had cairn stones stacked all along the trails.

Anyway, fast forward to the final 1.5 miles of the evening ride. Goatman and Bike Doctor stopped at the trail head of Thunder Rock Express to give me some friendly advice and warnings. Apparently this trail is 1.5 miles of solid downhill with some nasty placed rocks and humps. They decided to take the lead and I will follow. The first few minutes I’m like this isn’t too bad and once I passed an opening section it was game on. The trail quickly started living up to its billing and I tried to control my speed. After a sharp banked turn, I picked up some considerable speed and then it all happened. I went over a hump and I must have landed on my front wheel with rear wheel off the ground, then proceed to squeezed the front brake. I actually have no recollection of touching the front brakes, hint the reason in the first paragraph I wish I could remember. Something stopped my front wheel, it could have been the brake, a badly placed stump, or whatever. After the front wheel stopped, I FLEW at least 4 yards over the handlebars and hit my head on ground first, then my shoulder caught the ground and I proceed to slide and roll forward on the ground until I was sitting on my ass. (I did say a few cuss words while I was airborne, but that didn’t really help soften the blow of the ground.) As I sat there my head was spinning and hurting; my shoulder was in pain and I couldn’t even move it. My head felt concussed and I knew this because I have suffered a concussion for 3 weeks before. I thought my shoulder was broken or something because I couldn’t even move it. My arm was shredded to pieces as I was bleeding and covered in dirt.  After 15 minutes my head quit spinning enough for me get on bike and roll back to campsite, as I did this my two riding partners came to the rescued. They had been sitting at the end of trail for few minutes and thought something was wrong when I didn’t arrived in a timely manner. I told them all what happened and we roll back to campsite and did some first-aid. My arm was ripped to shred, my hip was also cut up and in pain, I could barely move my shoulder, my head was hurting. I loaded up on over-the-counter pain pills and cleaned the wounds up. We also cancelled the night ride and relaxed under the full moon of a warm summer night.

I didn’t sleep at all that night due to the pain on my entire left side of my body, it was just too uncomfortable. The next morning I was asked if I could do another 20 some miles to other side of Tanasi on a section known as Brush Creek. I got on my bike and had regained movements of my shoulder but the pain still linger and my head was no longer hurting. I proceed to ride 24 miles that second day and at the end of the ride my pains were no longer lingering due to the adrenaline, so I think? I packed my tent up and went home after that ride and soaked in hot bath for 3 days on an ibuprofen binge.

0702002015 yaaaa

The above is pictures of my helmet after the crash and my bandaged wound on the second day.

Introducing My Steed

This is my steed in all of her glory:

Steed

It’s a 2009 Haro Shift R7. Haro does not make this frame anymore, so it’s kind of special. Ha! It’s a shame because the geometry of this frame is nicely done, in my opinion. When I’m sitting in the saddle my arms feel relaxed rather than tightly stretched out. Also the geometry gives me the perfect position feel while riding compared to my hardtail bike.

Component list:

Front Derailleur SRAM X-9
Rear Derailleur SRAM X-0
Shifters SRAM X-7
Brakes Hayes Stroker Ryde (Hydraulic)
Crank Set Truvativ Firex
Wheels Ritchey OCR Disc
Tires Kenda Nevegal
Pedals Crank Brothers Candy
Rear Shock Rock Shox Monarch 3.0
Fork Marzocchi Bomber 44

In case you’re wondering, the big green thing on my crank set is just a bash guard made by Raceface. I took the big ring off my crank set, which means my bike is now 18 speeds rather than 27 speeds. I did it out of boredom and it was cheaper than purchasing a 2×10 drive train. I have upgrade plans available for this bike, but I just haven’t got around to it and also weighting an option of buying a 29ner.

Trust Your Bike

One of my bike riding partner has a saying, “we’ll ride our trusty steeds to glory.” I have ridden my steed with pride and great confidence in its ability as well as mine. Every hardcore riders will tell you that you HAVE to trust your bike. For me, it was as if an aluminum frame birthed out of my private region and became part of my body. Within a month of purchasing my bike, I’ve become at one with my bike. I know its limitation, its shifting prowess, its braking power, the tires ability to stick to the trail, and most of all my mind knows how to hardness the bike’s prowess for epic bike rides.For nearly two years my bike didn’t have a single component failure and then my luck turned.

On a joy ride one day this past summer I started noticing my rear shock was not rebounding back to its original position after it absorb a bump on the trail. So, I checked the air pressure and it was pretty darn low, it needs to be at 95-100psi for my skinny butt to achieve a 20-25% sag,  so I added some more air back to the appropriate level for my riding style. The next day it failed to rebound and I did the air check process all over. That when I noticed a valve has broken and has been leaking air, majorly. I took the rear shock off the frame and take it to the local bike hospital to see one of the best bike doctor in this area. I still had a manufacturer’s warranty on the shock, so a few days later I get a new part and the doctor performed a successful operation. I went back on the trails with my bike and it was as if it was never injured. Fast forward to yesterday, I was riding hard at my local stomping ground and noticed the handlebars getting closer to my body. I looked down to my rear shock and it had sagged more than it was suppose too. I get off the bike press down and it rebounded back to normal, odd. So, I ride on back to the car and noticed my skinny butt was sinking to the ground and the bike felt as if it was going collapse and make a sandwich out of me. (if you have a full-suspension bike, you’ll understand this.) For those of you that don’t, the best I can tell you is the shock is what holds the bike up, without the shock the bike folds.

I checked the air in the shock and the PSI WAS 45!!! It lost nearly 50psi from last time I put air in it which was the day the shock left the bike hospital. I’m losing air, again. I’m not convinced entirely that it an equipment failure, but could have just lost air over the last few months just like your tire loses air. This entire situation is starting to mess with my mind and confidence in the shock. I feel I will be rolling down a bumpy trail and lose air entirely and the bike fold up and send me to a human hospital for a lot of stitches and broken bones. Stay tune for how this situation unfolds over the next few days as I troubleshoot the reason behind the leakage.

Cold Weather Layering

Cold weather shouldn’t be an excuse for not enjoying nature. Clothing manufacturers has dedicated years of work perfecting amazing clothes for cold weather activities. Take advantage of some overly priced products to enjoy your favorite outdoor activity.  For cold weather cycling, I try not to not go ape shit with the layers. Too much layers make you sweat profusely! normally wear long sleeve Under Armour as top base layer; I have two different long sleeves that varies in thickness. It’s a great luxury having different thickness of long sleeves to choose from depending on how much heat is absent that day. I do have a thin windproof rain jacket I will use for windy days. In fact, the other day I had on the thick Under Armour and the rain jacket for a 45 degree ride and I got SUPER HOT. My sleeve was soaking up my sweat!!! Windproof rain jacket makes an awesome layer to block wind, but make sure you’re able breath your inside to prevent moisture build up.  I only own one pair of tight pant with crotch padding to wear while mountain biking.(I need to get a new pair or two!) I’ll throw in a thick long wool sock to keep my toe and ankle warm. I have this: http://www.backcountry.com/backcountry-goat-sleeve for my head. It so thin it will fit comfortable between helmet and the head. It not very warm, but it does prevent cold air from chapping up my face. If it’s really cold, I have a fleece balaclava that keeps me warm and fits comfortably under the helmet. As for your hands, windproof gloves works really well and long as you can move your digits to shift, brakes, etc., you’re golden.

For backpacking/hiking, I use lot of same clothes I wear biking minus the pant with crotch padding. I have a blend of poly/wool for my leg and wear nylon pants over it. I always avoid cotton at all cost because it absorb moisture. Wool, polyester, and nylon are golden since they shed moisture well, and still keep you plenty warm. The reason I keep saying you need to be able shed moisture is because in the winter, if your body is covered in moisture the cold air+moisture on your body= potential hypothermic situation. I always carry two sets of warm clothes for winter backpacking trips. One to wear while hiking and the other for when I set up camp. I wear the thinner layers when hiking to prevent myself from getting hot but my jacket is always on a standby in my backpack if it gets cold and windy. When I setup camp I’ll shed  the thin layers off in exchange for thicker layers, and then put on my insulated jacket to keep all my heat trap in my body. After change of clothes I break my sleeping bag out and start puffing it up (it keeps you warm due to loft) and get the insulated pad blown up. After I do these activities, I’ll start building a fire, cook a hot meal, have a hot beverage, then enjoy the starlit skies if the weather cooperate. The bottom line is, cold weather activities can be enjoyable with proper clothes. I hope this post give you guys ideas on how to manage your body’s temperature during cold weather activities, and get outside to enjoy nature during her coldest season!

Fall Mountain Biking

Fall mountain biking could hands down be the most gorgeous season to ride bikes. The cooler weather and scenery fall brings to our mountains can make a pleasant ride for all riders. However, it’s not all peaches and cream riding bikes in the fall. If you’re riding somewhere new, leaves covered trail can be your worst enemy. Especially if you cannot follow the trail line or unknown to you there are big rocks, nasty roots, etc., underneath the leaves that could make you endo. (Paying your flesh tax by going over the handlebars) If you’re riding in a new place where park rangers or local bike club has blown the leaves off the trail, be sure to thank them. A lot of experience riders can follow or read the trails very well. My biggest difficulty when riding in the fall at a place I’m familiar with is maintaining control of my bike. Riding on leaves is almost the same as riding on ice! Countless of times I nearly lost control so bad that I could have broken my shoulder, cracked a rib, another concussion, broken arm, or worse, damage my bike! I have pedals where my feet are “clipped” into the pedals to prevent me from losing cadence from bouncing off roots, rocks, etc. Most people that see my pedals says it a “death trap” but really it’s fairly easy to “unclip” otherwise I would have suffered all of the injuries above. I actually came down a hill at a moderate speed and made a sharp turn and barely tapped my brakes on a leave covered trail, then the bike just slid out from under me and I unclipped in a nanosecond. As I put my foot down, I nearly twisted my ankle in the process. Fall mountain biking definitely keeps you on your toes. Not only you have difficulty maintaining control of the bike on sharp turns, but climbing can be a chore. I’ve lost traction countless of times on steep climbs due to the leaves providing virtually no traction. Either that or I just don’t weight enough to keep the bike glue to the trails, or both!