Archive for the ‘Mountain Biking Haile’s Trails’ Category

SERC / US Cup East #1 at Hailes Trails: Swatted By The Hand of God

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

by Sean Hess, Team Rider and Manager for Strackacobra

A Normal Race To Start…

Hailes Trail Grandmasters 2012

The grandmasters take off at Hailes Trails

I was running 10th or 11th by end of lap 2 and closing the gap on the guy in front of me. I was closing on him on every climb but couldn’t close all the way. I kept after his wheel but he kept getting away due to better handling skills on the corners and drops.

I really didn’t have a lot of top end speed for the race, which is normal so early in the season. But I was recovering well, so I figured on the last lap I could go all in and move up as far as possible.

Swatted By The Hand Of God

So I’m just starting the final lap, and on one of short hills and one of the steepest pitches in the race…for some reason that’s when a pro decides to pass me.

Look, I’m good with the pros passing. They are generally so cool so gracious about it–and they give you heads up when they are coming through–but on this pitch, on that line?

So I get bumped and I lose my chain and pedal because I’m still on the pitch. And I get off and fix it, then get back on, somehow manage to close on my target rider and another pro decides to pass me on on my line on another short steep pitch…

The pro purse was five deep…maybe this guy thought he still was in the running. I don’t know.

So I lose the pedal again time and have to run to the top of the hill.

I go on to lose a pedal two more times on the easy tech sections in the rock garden—because I’m pretty distracted by now and just a bit pissed.

Now I have to work to get back to my target rider, and somehow, I manage to catch and close on him. Again.

I come around a buttonhook corner and my front wheel goes out from under me on some oak leaves (“Florida brown ice”) and I crash.


I get up, dust off, and charge on. After the first quarry drop, I can see my target rider ahead of me on the climb and I’m making some time back on him because he’s not doing so good at this point.

I drop into my low gear, middle chainring, and the chain goes right into the spokes. Are you kidding me?

Actually my first thought was “Andy Schleck.”

Then, appropos of nothing the chain shoots past the little chainring when I try and fix it and goes into chain suck mode. Fix it I do, but to make matters worse, the crash and now the chain allow four riders to pass me.

The rest of the lap? Well I got the four positions back before the chain went into the spokes again!

The third lap was literally like, as soon as I made that strong effort to close the gap on my target, I was swatted by The Hand Of God right off the course.

You can’t make this stuff up. In 7 seasons of racing I have never put a chain into the spokes. No problems in practice, warm ups, or in the first two laps under the same conditons.

The moral? If God wants you in 15th place, you will be in 15th place!

The Silver Lining

Specialized had a free massage tent set up for the riders after the race. A big shout out to massage therapist Catherine Daas for bringing life back into tired legs!

SERC #1: Haile’s Trails 2011

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

by Sean Hess (

The Wretched Ones at Hailes Trails

The Wretched Ones at Hailes Trails

You know you’re racing right when you’re half way through the race and you’ve resolved to quit the sport.
Your lungs are on fire, your throat is caked with dust and your legs are screaming in pain.

“Why am I doing this?” you think to yourself. “This is supposed to be fun?”

But the pain passes and you realize that when you’re going so hard it hurts you’re doing it right.

Haile’s Trails is a course that can dish out the pain. It’s a fast course with lots of short steep climbs with lots of short, sinister descents. And roots. And lots and lots of hairpin corners, mostly flat, that take patience and moxy to rail. It’s a course where you pedal constantly and there’s no time to rest.

The usually ultra hot weather at Hailes stayed away this year: that was the one break riders got. Still, it was a tough race. As I was drying down after I thought the Les Miserables (“the Wretched Ones”) towel was an apropos comment.

Congrats to Goneriding for putting on another great race. See the start of the white wave in the video below.

To see race photos of the white wave go to the Strackacobra Flickr page.

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!

Mountain Bike Racing: The Haile’s Trail Time Trial

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

A post or so back I wrote that racing in Florida in September is a bit like being baked to death slowly in an oven.

I’ll have to amend that: when in rains all day it’s a bit like being steamed to death. It was so humid I should have raced in water wings.

But it was a time trial, so you can go as fast as you want without holding back. And mud always makes it fun as hell.

This was the first race in the 2009 Florida State Series at Haile’s Trails near Newberry (Gainesville), Florida. It’s a private trail so you only get to see it once or twice a year during the races. And it’s a short, exceedingly technical trail (it winds up and down old phosphate quarries), with lots of ups and downs, rooty climbs and rocky descents, so it’s always popular with racers.

For the TT they cut off the first mile of trail because it was just too slick to ride after a days rains leaving the last four miles of the course. But there was still plenty of steep, slick hills and two places I had to run the bike instead of ride it.

141 riders went off. I was number 60 so I sat for a full hour. But it gave me time to rest, hydrate and bullshit with the other riders. It was raced by category but as an open event, so two 19-year olds that started 1 and 2 minutes behind caught me…a third young buck didn’t catch my 40-year old butt and I’ll take that as a win!

Strackacobra’s Review of the Maxxis High Roller and The Florida State MTB Series is About to Start!

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

New Look for

Okay, first of all, I hope you’re enjoying the newer, cleaner look of our website. It was fun putting together and now we have time to do the fun stuff, which is dreaming up more cool designs.

The racing season ended for us in July at Nationals in Colorado. Initially we were scheduled to run the U.S. Cup at Mt. Snow and the Cup Shootout in Vegas, but scheduling and the economy intervened. Well they canceled the race in Vegas, that too!

Maxxis High Roller

As such we yanked off our beloved Maxxis Larsen TT racing tires and threw on some of those not-ready-for-primetime tires we accumulated over the season, in this case the Maxxis High Roller. We bought the High Roller for one race specifically: the Bump N Grind in Birmingham, Alabama. Even though the Larsen TT has survived three of the nastiest downhills anywhere: SolVista, Mt. Snow, and Tanasi, it double flatted three times during the Bump N Grind practices.

For a replacement it came down to the Maxxis Ignitor and the High Roller. Though it was published as a lighter tire than the Ignitor (1.95) we were worried that the High Roller’s size (2.10) would add rolling friction, and make it slower. And it performed okay at the Bump N Grind under practically perfect conditions…nothing special but it didn’t let us down either.

Now we’re back to off-season practices and it’s been humid and wet here in Florida, and the High Roller just can’t handle the wet. It’s a pretty strange design with only every other tread providing a thrust surface. The other tread just fills space. The trouble is, when it’s even a little wet out and a tire needs all the grip it can get, it spins out. To be fair, it’s not advertised as a wet tire, but you know, why not have everything touching the trail providing forward motion?

Omigosh the Florida State MTB Series is Starting Already

The Florida Series starts September 12 and 13 at Haile’s Trails just outside Gainesville. Do you know what it’s like racing in Florida in September? Like racing in a f*cking oven, that’s what! They have a single-lap time trial on Saturday we may do instead of the Sunday race, but we’ll have to miss an Ocala Mountain Bike Association work day (good karma builder) and possibly some of the Ohio State-USC game. Doesn’t anybody check a schedule anymore?

We’ve been racing since February and our bodies are beaten and still need a little time off. As such we’ve always used the Florida Series for training and tune up. Just wish they would start in October when it gets a little cooler.

HAILE YES! SERC #1 Mountain bike race at Haile’s Trails in Gainesville

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

The Haile’s Trails course is a usually a shit-ton of fun and this time was no exception.

Haile’s is a short 5.5 mile mountain bike course that drops into two quarries and climbs over a dozen of the short, maddeningly steep hills that central Florida is famous for. In between is twisty singletrack which gives the course its wonderful flow. If you’re afraid of heights you may not like riding that rock gardens that skirt the edge of one of the quarries…it looks like about an 100-foot drop from where I was standing.

Haile’s Trails took over as the spring opener in the Southeast Regional Championship Series (SERC) after Razorback closed in late 2007. It’s only open for a spring and fall race (it’s a private course) so there’s always a good turnout. While the course location is given as Gainesville, it’s actually several miles west at the crossroads known as Haile, thus the name.

Blue skies and 75 degrees with a slight breeze made for great race conditions. The course was a shade sandy in a few of the early turns but firmed up after the first section of singletrack. The course was run counter-clockwise this time with a few changes in the transitions…two new, steep drops and some changes in the approaches to some of the climbs.

Strackacobra overheard one of the other riders commenting that it was the most difficult Florida course he ever raced. The thing is, conditions for the Haile’s mtb race are usually much worse. The last two times we raced at Haile’s the temperature was in the high 80′s with a heat index and humidity in the high 90′s…kinda like pedaling as hard as you can in a sauna while breathing through gauze. No one ever begged to be put out of their misery after a race, but that’s because all the struggling riders were too far gone to beg. They just lay there on the ground, still clipped in, baking in the sun. You didn’t just need to change water bottles after every lap, you needed a fresh change of clothing too…if you’re cycling jersey wasn’t drenched in sweat it was drenched from dumping water over your head.

And those of us in the know remember that Razorback was worse. So thank heavens for small favors. Though we all really, really miss Razorback.

Trek Demo on Saturday. Trek was out at Haile’s for Saturday practice and Strackacobra got to demo some of their new offerings. As all the Top Fuels were out on the course we tried the EX trail bike. The EX was super plush on the drops, soaked up the curves like a pro, and absolutely couldn’t climb like we’d like it to. We thought it might be rider fatigue so we took it around a second time and yep, it’s not a great climber. A few things: it might have been suspension set up and/or tire setup so we’re not ready to write the bike off yet. We typically like to ride with rear shocks pumped into the 200′s for a firm ride…the Trek was set somewhere near 110 for riders in the 150 lb range. They’ll be back again for the Fat Tire Festival at Santos in a few weeks so we’ll give it another shot. And we’ll get a run on the Top Fuels.

Post Practice Lunch.The most wonderful thing in a cyclist’s monk-like existence is the day prior to a race when you get to eat like a pig. We hit Harvest Thyme in downtown Gainesville and discovered a great sandwich called the Alachua Club Wrap…turkey, ham, pineapple, melted montery jack and cheddar cheeses with veggies all rolled in a sundried tomato wrap. They had me at “pineapple.” The only downer was we didn’t realize they had fountain drinks before we ordered the Snapple.

Then we went a few blocks south for a second lunch at Louis Lunch at 436 SE 2nd Street. Louis’ is a dump but it makes a great burger, small and crusty with cheese that just oozes over the meat. You’re eating it and thinking, “not sure why everybody thinks this is such a great burger,” but afterwards it’s strangely satisfying, like a Wendy’s double stack.