Archive for June 18th, 2012

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.

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