Archive for June, 2012

Jeckyl and Hyde At Bump N Grind: Being Two-Faced is a Good Thing

Friday, June 29th, 2012

by Sean Hess, Team Rider and Manager for Strackacobra. Visit me on Google+ .

Jeckyl and Hyde: The New Section and a New Race Layout

This year’s Bump N Grind race at Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, Alabama, featured a new section called Jeckyl and Hyde.

Simply put, it is an awesome section of trail. Think of a downhill pump track. Lots of rollers and not a lot of climbing. Not a huge number of banked corners, keeping it true to XC, but not many flat corners either and plenty of grip for your tires.

Sean Hess at the Bump N Grind

Strackacobra at the Bump N Grind

Jeckyl starts by splitting away above Blood Rock into some immediate, very technical rocky climbing before starting the descent through several switchbacking sections also loaded with rocks. The rocky sections are similar to the babyhead and rock sections on the Granby course at the 2009 US Nationals, if you’ve ever been on that course.

From there it becomes the smooth and sinewy pump track all the way to the bottom.

The one real challenge? As my coach Tristan Cowie said after the race, “That’s a long section.” You have to be in good physical shape to run Jeckyl and Hyde just because it is so long.

But it’s a perfect ending for the new race layout.

Racing as a cat-2, the race started in the new section around the lake then merged with the traditional Bump N Grind “red” course through the singletrack, up the long and rocky fireroad climb, and started its descent back down by entering at the (normal) Blood Rock entrance. The difference this year was that we took the split to Jeckyl and Hyde instead of taking Blood Rock down.

Blood Rock, Super D and the Expert Race Course

With a smile on my face I say it really and truly sucks to be cat-1 or pro at Bump N Grind.

Those poor souls started the race by climbing Jeckyl and Hyde, dropping down Blood Rock, doing the regular race course and then finishing up with Jeckyl and Hyde like the cat-2s. All I can say is that if Jeckyl and Hyde is a long descent, climbing it had to be misery.

This year Blood Rock was off the cat-2 loop but featured as a stand-alone for the Super D course. The race started at the top gate (where the paved road meets the fire road), and then dropped down Blood Rock, finishing at the paved road crossover.

Blood Rock is perfectly suited for Super D…it’s quick but highly technical XC. As a rider you try and set up for a corner only to notice that the buff, brown corner is actually a buff, brown rock that is going to throw you on your buff, brown butt if you hit it. So you constantly have to make adjustments flying across the scree. It is pure fun.

I raced it as my first ever Super D and finished 7th out of 14 in my age group of all cats. I threw my chain right at the top (backpedaled while shifting) took a few minutes to “lock in” after the distraction of dismounting to fix it, but still cleared the course. Like I said, pure fun.

I ran into several Florida riders I race against in SERC and we were talking about how great the combination of Jeckyl and Hyde along with Blood Rock…and nothing else…would be for something like the national Pro XCT series, usually held at ski resorts. A combination like that would mimic the ski resort courses…difficult, steep climbing from the start merging into a steep and technical downhill.

Not sure if it will happen, but it might bring back our World Cup level pros back to racing in the South.

On Passing and Being Passed

After the lakefront start I entered the regular “red” section of the Bump N Grind course running in 4th or 5th place in the cat-2 40′s. I was passing a lot of people not in my age group (or maybe in my age group…really hard to tell from behind), and I did it by simply yelling out “rider back” in an appropriate spot. The other riders may have moved a over a bit, but it was my job to accelerate through.

Somewhere on this section some yahoo in my own group started the “hey bud let me pass” chatter. So I moved ever so slightly to the side but I didn’t slack off my speed. And this dude wouldn’t pass.

This guy kept up the chatter, and he kept getting angrier. Like I said, I was getting over a bit, but I wasn’t dropping my speed either. Meanwhile, he’s following me as I pass through the other groups, some groups as big as four riders, in the same amount of space I was giving him.

Finally he yells out, “DUDE WHY YOU BLOCKING?” And I yell back “DUDE WHY CAN’T YOU PASS?”

I do not get up at 5 am every day to train and then drive over 500 miles to race, sleep on the ground in a tent and eat cold food, just to slow down so that The Rider Just In From the World in his moth-eaten Pearl Izumi shorts can have an easy pass in a competitive race.

Dude, where were you at the hole shot? Where were you at the dam crossing? Why can’t you pass me like I passed everyone else?

When we hit that long straight section bridging the two sections of singletrack he passed me along with one other rider in my group, dropping me to 6th place. That’s when I noticed he had moth holes in his shorts. Good riddance.

You know something, if I’m not at full throttle or am starting to fade then I get completely out of the way. Or I get out of the way at that inevitable moment during the really short lap races where the pros start coming through.

But when I’m going full throttle and you’re in my group, we call it racin’, and if you are relying on throwing a tantrum to get a better position, better just stay home.

See Strackacobra’s mountain themed T’s at Strackacobra.com

Fumbling Towards Ecstacy: The First Podium

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Sean Hessby Sean Hess, Team Rider and Manager for Strackacobra. Visit me on Google+ .

I grabbed my first ever podium at the US Cup East / SERC race earlier this year at the Tanasi Trails (Ocoee Whitewater Center) in Ducktown, Tennessee. Hooray!

Ducktown is arguably the hardest course on the circuit, with six miles of climbing per lap. You go straight up the mountain, take a bit of a break for some flowy singletrack, finish the climb to the top of the mountain, and then go straight back down really fast on some fireroad before hitting the fabled and supertechnical Thunder Rock Express.

On the podium, far right, at Ducktown.

On the podium, far right, at Ducktown.

I wanted to get some really consistent power on the climb. To achieve this I really studied the gear ratios in my 32 and 22 chainrings, so I could run the highest cadence in a particular ratio, and thus the highest speed.

I pretty much nailed it. I noticed right away that I could run a higher cadence in the 22 ring at a ratio of 1:1 and above. This higher cadence put all of the effort on my aerobic system and helped save my strength. It made climbing easy in the first lap, so much so that as I hit the “hard” grades (from year’s past) I would kind of look back and think, “Was that the really hard part, because I hardly noticed it.”

My power faded in the second and final lap. Even though I was keeping a consistent cadence all the way through the race I noticed I was running a lighter gear. I was six minutes slower in the second lap…other riders were dropping about three minutes, so I gave these other riders an extra three minutes to gain on or catch me. But I was able to hang on to the ragged edge and fifth place.

In the end it was the downhilling that saved me. On the gravel fireroad descent I was passing other riders (out of different classes). Normally I get passed or hold even on the fireroad descent. And it felt really easy. On Thunder Rock I ran really well, especially on the second lap where I got some of the time back I lost climbing.

I didn’t really know if they were going to stand five or three for the podium in my class, and I was too afraid to ask. So I dutifully stood there clapping for the other riders until they called my class and called my name. I had the pleasure to witness Dave Berger of Goneriding butcher my sponsor name “Strackacobra” for the first time.

I made sure I looked out and remembered it…it’s been a long time coming.

See Strackacobra’s mountain themed T’s at Strackacobra.com

Packing a Mountain Bike for Shipping

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Sean Hessby Sean Hess, Team Rider and Manager for Strackacobra

Packing a Mountain Bike for Shipping

Disclaimer: I don’t know if this is the most Emily Post way to pack a bike for shipping. But back in the day I was a sales manager for a major retailer, and if the guy assigned to build bikes didn’t show up, I was the guy that got to unpack and build the bikes. So I got an education on how bikes are packed.

Some riders call department store bikes “junk bikes.” Junk or not, they definitely weren’t built as hard or as strong as even an entry level mountain bike from one of the major bike manufacturers. The upshot is that if a junk bike, with its spotty welds and cheaper parts, can make it to the USA undamaged after being shipped across the Seven Seas, across the States jammed in a semi (and then thrown off the truck by a half-stoned stocker), I trust the same type of packing for my Stumpjumper.

I’m heading out to Utah and Idaho for US Mountain Bike Nationals this year, and it will be a lot cheaper and less stressful to ship my bike out than it will be to fly with it. I’m a little lucky because my inlaws live in Salt Lake City, so I have a known place to ship it to, instead of a hotel or bike shop I’m not familiar with.

The first thing I did was take off the pedals, and then I took off the front wheel and placed a pair of dimes as shims between the front brake pads…this way if you accidentally grab the front brakes you won’t have to re-tune the brakes when you build it up again at your destination. I also took a piece of plastic to put between the dropouts on the front fork so it wasn’t exposed…these come with the bikes when shipped and are commonly thrown away when the bikes are built…just go to your local bike shop or Wal Mart and they might have one lying around.

Then I took off the handlebars (at the handlebar clamp), turned the fork around, and used cable ties to strap the handlebar vertically to the fork. I strapped it loosely, and I wrapped everything in bubble wrap as I went along, starting with the front brake caliper.

Packing a mountain bike: handlebar with fork reversed.

Handlebar removed and strapped with fork reversed.

After this I went and put the bike in its shipping container to make sure it fit. Bikes ship with the rear wheel and tire installed. I had to deflate the rear tire…something I would do anyway at least partially…and the bike fit perfectly. The shipping container was a bike box from the local Wal Mart for a 26-inch beach bike, so it was a little wider than most bike boxes. You should be able to get a bike box from your local shop or a place that sells bikes like Wal Mart…they aren’t used for anything else and typically crushed for recycling after the bike is taken out.

I pulled the bike back out, put it on the stand, and then wrapped it in plastic bubble wrap. You can wrap the whole bike like I did in the photo, or you can wrap the individual parts…each crank, each tube, each part of the suspension, etc. The only thing I wrapped as individuals were the brake calipers and rear derailleur, which got extra attention. The seat is also removed and wrapped. Part of the reason you wrap everything in plastic is so it won’t get damaged, so it won’t get scratched, and so it won’t scratch anything else.

Packing a mountain bike for shipping: bike wrapped in plastic.

The bike wrapped in plastic.

Then I put the bike in the box.

Packing a mountain bike: the bike in the shipping box.

The bike bubble wrapped and in the box. I wrapped the seat post stem at the very end.

From there I staged all the things that were going to go into the box with the bike: a small box of tools for reassembling the bike along with two sets of pedals, extra cables, tubes, a floor pump, the front wheel packed in a bag, a backup front wheel loose (the backup rear wheel would not fit), extra tires, backup shoes, my helmet and glasses in their cases, camelbacks and some bottles. I was allowed 67 pounds, so I made good use of it, and it beat sending out this stuff seperately or having to pare it down to take with me on the plane.

The one thing I am taking on the plane are my shoes and a backup helmet and glasses. Racers who travel by plane all the time and routinely ship their bikes usually take their saddle and even pedals in their personal luggage, the rationale being that if the bike gets lost or is late arriving, they can borrow a bike and use their own saddle and pedals (as well as having their helment and shoes). But I’m a lot more worried about Delta losing my bags along with my seat post than the bike not arriving, or having a TSA officer look askance at my eggbeaters as I’m trying to get through airport security…so I decided to ship those out.

Taking the floor pump came from a lesson learned the hard way. Back in 2006 I flew out to race my first US Nationals in Sonoma, California, and I only took a little hand pump with me. Well, it was a long and hard effort getting those tires back up to pressure with a hand pump, so now the floor pump goes with me.

Packing the mountain bike to ship: staging the extras.

Staging the extras.

After things were staged I started putting them in. The floor pump first, wrapped in plastic, and forward towards the fork along with the seat and post. The small box of tools/pedals and the extra shoes underneath, the wheels, one on each side, boxes of new tubes on one side of the rear wheel with a small bag of used tubes on the other side, then on top, extra tires draped over the rear wheel, the helmet case over the center top tube, the camelbacks draped over the front stem, and the loose bottles in strategic locations to add extra padding. I also added an extra piece of corrugated cardboard between the race wheel (in its padded bag already) and the inside of the box at the hub.

The extra tires, helmet case and camelbacks were placed on top as extra padding in case the bike box is flipped upside down while shipping.

And last, I put the extra bubble wrap and an extra roll of shipping tape in the box so I won’t have to buy any when I ship it back.

Packing a mountain bike for shipping: just before sealing.

Ready to go. The tires, helmet case, and camelbacks provide padding on top in case the bike is flipped.

I hope this helps when you go traveling with your bike. Happy shipping!

See Strackacobra’s mountain themed T’s at Strackacobra.com!

Visit Sean at Google+

San Felasco Trail Conditions June 2012: Breaking The Cage

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Sean Hessby Sean Hess, Team Rider and Manager for Strackacobra

Well, it’s the last week before I ship the bike out to Nationals so I decided to get some downhill work in at San Felasco Hammock, just north of Gainesville, Florida.

The Meadow Trail at San Felasco

The Meadow Trail at San Felasco

San Felasco has some of the few downhill sections in Florida where you can get a bike up to speed before hitting some tight, techinical corners. There are plenty of downhill sections in Florida, but most are very short and very steep…the San Felasco drops have greater length so that, for a short period of time, you can get some cornering work done more like you see in the mountains.

Before You Practice, Don’t Wreck Your Bike

The last few weeks have seen some pretty heavy rains. As such there’s tree debris all over the trails.

And it rained overnight, too. Which meant the jeep roads through the grassy meadows I like to cut through were just loaded with dew (I was riding at 8 a.m.), and my feet were soaked by the time I hit the Tung Nut trail.

The grassy sections of Tung Nut were even rough: the feral pigs that live in the forest were using the trails as wallows, creating huge holes of torn up dirt.

Looking sideways at the cage, and the cage appears straight on!

Looking sideways at the cage, and the cage appears straight on!

In the corners the sand was wet and would shear away from the layer beneath if you railed it too hard (later in the day the sand dried out, becoming soft and grabbing your wheel).

So by the time I got to the singletrack I was soaked and dirty, and I hadn’t really started riding yet!

Then, while coasting down an easy, flat section of trail my tire picked up a rotted piece of tree limb and jammed it into the cassette.

I was really lucky. The tree limb didn’t get into the spokes and wreck the wheel. And I was able to clean the wood out of cassette with an allen key. But as the wood forced its way to the cassette it bent out the derailleur cage.

I was still able to shift but I lost the 11-gear on the cassette, and about halfway down there was just a little jumpiness in one of the gears. But for the Grace of God go I, I was still able to ride.

As it turns out the derailleur hanger and the derailleur itself may be bent. But I took it to the bike shop (Bicycles Etc in Jacksonville), and they got it shifting again with no new parts needed. Bless them!

The Conquistador Trail

The Conquistador section at San Felasco has the best section of downhills.

Conquistador goes up and down a ravine, so you get very fast, very sinewy descents with tighter, sometimes rocky corners at the bottom and then gutbuster climbs back up.

It’s not often you can huck rollers in Florida but this is the place for it. By the time I was finished riding I was not only having fun getting air beneath the bike at speed, but getting good speed through the corners as well. There were still a few too many times with too much brake, but what are you going to do?

I ride the trail in both directions during a session. After all, it’s not a trail built for beautiful riding as such, it’s a trail built so you can get better at riding.

Accessing Conquistador

Conquistador is accessed via an unmarked spur off Canebrake 8 (the trail itself isn’t marked until you reach the actual entrance).

Back in the day the entrance was easy to get to, right off Hammock Hub.

My guess is they moved the entrance because hikers were using it, and by moving it further back to Canebrake 8, only the people who were really looking for it could find it. It’s not a hidden trail, but putting the entrance off Canebrake makes it a much more intermediate distance to hike or ride to.

Hikers have always been allowed on the trail and, as far as I’m concerned, they are welcome on it.

However, it’s a purpose built mountain bike trail meant to test the skill of above-average riders. If you are going down one side of a steep descent, and another mountain bike rider is going down the other side heading into the same corner, chances are pretty good that you will hear each other, and see each other before you meet in the middle and crash in the turn.

Hikers on the other hand are quiet, don’t move fast, and can blend in. So if you are rocketing down a descent and meet a pedestrian on the trail, there’s a strong possibilty that you are going to crash unless you see them in time. More than likely you’re going to go off trail into a tree or endo to avoid hitting them.

In the past more and more frequently I was seeing couples in fannie packs out on Conquistador. Mostly it was while climbing but it was always a surprise. I remember thinking to myself, “What are you doing out here?” But, you know, I was always polite and said “Good morning.”

I just started riding San Felasco again this spring (since they moved the entrance), and I haven’t seen a hiker yet.

Just a hint to riders: the original entrance is still there and maintained, but it’s really hard to see unless you know where to look for it. And when it enters Conquistador it’s not marked either.

See Strackacobra’s mountain themed T’s at Strackacobra.com!

Visit Sean at Google+ .