Archive for March, 2010

Mountain Biking in Florida: Haile’s Trails and the OMBA Fat Tire Fest

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Younger rider in the Haile's Trails Race

Younger rider in the Haile's Trails Race

The first three weeks of March have been pretty good for mountain bikers in Florida. The Southeast Regional Champinship Series (SERC) kicked off on March 14th at Haile’s Trails near Gainesville, and the OMBA Fat Tire Fest was this past weekend at the Santos Trailhead near Ocala.

Conditions couldn’t have been better for SERC. Temperatures in the mid-70′s with blue skies and a dry track made an already fast course even faster.

Haile’s is quintisential Florida racing, a rocky and sandy trail diving in and out of an old quarry and up and over old tailings overgrown with oaks and palmettos. Roots: penty. Rocks: plenty. Tight, nasty switchbacks: plenty. But since there’s not much extended climbing the approximate 6 mile laps go quickly.

Haile’s is a private course only open twice a year for races, so it’s a must attend event for Sunshine State cyclists. Dropping into the quarries is one of the most technical descents you’ll find in the state: a fast, steep drop over washed out, washboarded surface of babyhead rocks…one of the drops even has a hairpin switchback at the bottom that morphs into a quick steep drop. It takes nerves coming down: easing into the brakes the bike only seems to pick up speed. But you do slow down and do make the turn.

We did manage to keep the Strackacobra jersey pristine, but the riding gloves were another story. Who knew they could get ripped apart on the top by an errant vine? And then the blood dried making painful to take off.

The OMBA Fat Tire Fest started this past Friday and went until Sunday. We went out on Saturday morning early to train (forgetting the fest was going on) and were stoked when we saw the vendor tents out.

After a cold early morning of riding (temps in the 40s before 9am) down to Landbridge via the Spider Kingdom, then an hours worth of technical work in the Vortex, we hit the bike demos.

The new 2010 Trek Top Fuel (oclv carbon) was nice. It was a bit out of control down the trail (in a good way), a bit like a mustang you’re trying to break. It was fast and responsive. I rode the 18″ model (large size), and due to the seat tube height–which wouldn’t go any lower–my center of balance was a bit high and I couldn’t quite settle in the way I would like. But it was a massively fun and lively bike anyway, and it wasn’t even the most high-end model (Deore XT drivetrain, shifters and brakes). The tires were a new Bontrager RL model that looked a lot like a shaved-down version on Maxxis’ Larsen TT’s, and they were very good tires (when was the last time you heard good things about Bonti tires?) and the rims were Bonti RL as well. The bike sported Fox front and rear suspension and a carbon handlebar.

The 2010 Specialized Epic (medium, all carbon) sported Spec’s brain rear suspension and a Spec front suspension as well. The brain kind of “clunked” everytime it activate…it worked just fine but it was a little distracting. I currently ride a (by mountain bike standards) ancient 2006 Stumpjumper (large): the cockpit of the new medium Epic and my old large Stumpy were super compatible, it was like just jumping on a lighter model of the same bike.

Maybe it’s the rider and not the bike, but as such I think I’ve pushed a Specialized bike as fast as I can push it. It certainly is lighter than my current model buy my perception was that I couldn’t go as fast as I could on the Trek. It just felt like my old bike but a shade more responsive. It probably has more to do with the cockpit of the Trek (and later, the Giant Anthem) being more compatible to my riding style than any deficiency on the part of the Epic. The Epics are winning races all over the world, and my Stumpy has been such an outstandingly well-built bike, it will be sad to leave Specialized behind.

The Epic sported SRAM X-O drivetrain and shifters, which I have heard great things about and grew to hate for the half hour I was riding the bike. I really love the Big Ring and SRAM X-O has no Big Ring. So to go as fast you essentially have to pedal a lot faster in essentially the middle ring. Not sure what all the excitement was about.

And then came the Giant Anthem XT (carbon). Like the Trek, the Giant took me a few minutes to settle into…wasn’t even sure I liked it at first. The carbon body was a beautiful candy apple red with white stripes (moving away from the white frames with blue letters), but the rest was really bare bones. A standard black aluminum handlebar that looked like something off an old Mongoose. Deore XT drivetrain, brakes and shifters. Rock Shox Race Team front suspension with Fox rear shock. Nothing about this bike seemed like it would be special.

But special it was. Compared to what I’d ridden earlier in the day the Giant Anthem XT was like a lightning bolt. Fast. Responsive. It climbed the short technical stuff and even seemed to surge forward as it pointed uphill. I have never had an experience like that on a mountain bike. And while it is not road bike fast it gives you a glimpse of the day when mountain bikes will be just as light and fast. Wow, what a ride. I rode a large version of the XT and while it seemed a tad big it cornered beautifully as well.

Mountain Biking in Florida: The Racing Season Begins

Friday, March 12th, 2010

The racing season in the Southeast is about to begin with the Southeast Regional Championships kicking off this Sunday at Haile’s Trails in Gainesville.

It’s been a rough winter. Battling colds through the entire winter from Christmas through March. Bailing out of three field tests before gutting through the fourth with a splitting migraine. A bad wreck, landing on the back and having a CO2 inflator get jammed into my kidneys.

Yet I am so excited about pinning on a number as the season is about to start.

Some new races in the Southeast this year: Huntsville, Alabama and Winder, Georgia, and The Chicksaw Trace Classic is back in the SERC. Ducktown and Tsali (along with Winder) are part of this year’s U.S. Cup as well as the SERC. Bump N Grind, the best race in the Southeast, is not a USA Cycling event except as a Pro event, which is run on a completely different course during the weekend.

With no national races this year at Vermont’s Mt. Snow or Windham in New York, it will be a year to stay closer to home…and save some money.

My 2006 Stumpjumper “SVVC” will be heading into it’s 5th full season racing. To quote Rich Dillen in a recent issue of Dirt Rag:

“I have been impacted by the recession or whatever the pundits are calling it today. There was a time when I had disposable income, and I usually disposed of it by entering expensive endurance races, and buying expensive bike parts to replace the expensive bike parts that I destroyed at all the expensive endurance races…I’m now facing the real possibility of a very truncated 2010 racing “season.”

Now, with a day job as a Real Estate Broker, this rider has been in the gun sights of the economy since 2006. So I guess that means I’m a gamer for having made it this far.

And ever the optomist, and as the head of Strackacobra racing, with Windham hosting a UCI World Cup event in August we may end up there anyway, just to check it out.

One thing we did this winter was stay creative. Strackacobra has some great new designs including Trikeathlete and Throwing Objects Prohibited.

Looks to be a fun year! See you at Haile’s Trails this Sunday!