Archive for the ‘Mountain Biking Alabama’ Category

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

It’s Not the Speed, It’s the Sudden Stops: Bump N Grind 2011

Friday, June 10th, 2011

by Sean Hess (

So I take the hole shot and I’m out in front. This is surprising because I’ve never been in the lead before. Ever.

Through the first mile I wait for the inevitable. But no rider passes me. Hmmm. Through the second mile I’m thinking, “Hey, I can do this.” I’m hitting my corners right, I’m controling the pace and it seems so easy.

Staged up for Bump N Grind 2011

Staged up for Bump N Grind 2011

So on the last hard left before the dam I hit a soft patch of sand and the front wheel goes out from under me like it was wet moss, and all of a sudden I’m at the back of the group. It’s the old rider’s maxim: it’s not the speed, it’s the sudden stops.

I burn every match in my undersized pack to get back to the main group. And yeah, I’m picking off riders but I’m burning through fuel like Charlie Sheen burns through good will.

On the flat that links the two sections I make my last effort. What I don’t know is that back at the main group the attacks are starting. So I’m trying to catch a group that is now going even faster. So I hit the wall and I’ve got the whole rest of the course in front of me. The climb, Blood Rock, that miserable section they tacked on last year. And I suffer, oh how I suffer.

But that’s just cycling. And I can die happy now: I just led, and controlled, a race.

It feels good at the front.

Bump N Grind: the Course for 2011.

First of all the good: the start is awesome (and not just because I led it).

Remember racing through crowds of startled pedestrians at the beach? That is no more.

Basically the course curls left just past the pavement and takes a new stretch of singletrack through the woods on the opposite side of the lake. Then over the dam, through the woods, a short link of pavement to more singletrack, and then across the road to the traditional singletrack start.

Now the bad: the finish.

The not-ready-for-primetime singletrack that was tacked on to the finish last year was back. With a year of seasoning it was in much better condition, dry, and ridable. But it was still…blah. How else can you describe it, it’s a bummer trail.

Partly it’s the trail, singletrack and unremarkable singletrack at that. But mostly its the placement.

Look, you’ve just ridden 20 odd miles. You’ve climbed the the crest of the mountain and survived the lightning fast, technical descent. And you are rewarded with…pointless extra distance.

BUMP can be justifiably proud of the extra trail that they’ve built. And it’s understandable that they want to show it off in their showcase event. But it’s killing the race.

It used to be that you attacked on the climb, held the competition off on the descent, and then opened the throttle on the remaining single track. It was a real race.

Now there’s no need to attack, or bomb Blood Rock, because there’s so much distance tacked on anybody can catch up.

This race used to be the one can’t miss event in the South. This new finish is just killing it. The course just doesn’t have the same cachet.

Crazy Food in Birmingham.

This year I’ve been on a Chinese and Thai kick before races, and this led me to Mr. Chen’s.

Mr. Chen’s is supposedly the most authentic (and best) Chinese restaurant in Birmingham. And it must have been because there were two tables of ten in there speaking fluent Chinese mixed with English.

So I look at the menu and, not having a great knowledge of Chinese menus, I ordered something called Crispy Salted Shrimp. Probably some type of shrimp over rice with vegetables, right?

Oh, no. This was deep fried, skin on, tail on, head on shrimp. Over a bed of cilantro and chopped jalepenos. If I could pick two ingredients never to eat raw and one way never to prepare shrimp, this was it.

Not wanting to insult my hosts I suffered through it. I could tell it was expertly prepared and the shrimp were good, even though I couldn’t get over I was eating the heads and all. And it turned my stomach pretty bad.

BUT, I led the race the next day. My personal anti-meal turned out to be some sort of mysterious rocket fuel. The question is, can I get through the experience one more time?

I’ll have to ask Bruce Banner.

Mountain Bike Racing: Bump N Grind 2010, Oak Mtn. State Park

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Riders at the Turn N Burn Mountain Bike Race at Bump N Grind 2010

Riders at the Turn N Burn Mountain Bike Race at Bump N Grind 2010

Bump N Grind may be the best overall mountain bike race in the Southeast, if not one of the best in the country, and the course is one of the best anywhere.

If you’re a climber you’ve got a chance, if you’re a descender you’ve got a chance, if you’re a generalist you’ve got a chance…there’s something for everyone.

The course starts on winding up-and-down singletrack, leads to a long, 2-mile (?) climb on a sketchy jeep road, then drops down the mountain on ultra-fast and technical singletrack, highlighted by a section called “Blood Rock.”

Then more singletrack for the last 5-odd miles to the end.

This year Bump N Grind added a short track race on Saturday called the “Turn N Burn.” The “Turn” was a surprise 360 the riders had to do on their bikes before hitting the trail, the “Burn” the pain of climbing a nasty hill midway through the 1.6 mile course.

Bump N Grind was great again this year. The volunteers were top notch, the organization was top notch, and the course (except for the last three miles) was top notch.

Three miles of new trail were added to the end of the race this year…but this three mile section was not ready for prime time yet. It was new and raw, muddy (it was in the bottoms) with flat turns and included 5 or so log hucks…about 5 more than on the rest of the course. Log hucks are what you see on some county park’s .8 mile mountain bike “trail,” not at the end of a national level race. Ditch the hucks or go back to the original finish I say. Better yet, put this section at the front to shake out the pack.

Otherwise, a great race that only gets better year after year.

This year we ended up overtraining for the event. A fifth place start turned into a ninth place holding action that stumbled into a 13th place finish. Oh well, there’s always next year.

Eating on the Mountain Bike Trail.

Last year our journey to Oak Mountain took us to Milo’s Hamburgers in nearby Birmingham, which we pronounced the “Worst Burger in America, and the Worst Fries, Too.”

This year we tried out two more burger joints, Jack’s and Hamburger Heaven, with varying results.

We actually tried the hot dogs at Jack’s, which were passable and you know, just not that memorable. Run of the mill fast-food hot dogs. The fries, however, were nasty and on the same level as Milo’s, covered in a hunter-orange fluorescent seasoned salt coating that made them unfit for human consumption, in my opinion.

At Hamburger Heaven at least they didn’t kill the fries…no seasoned salt here, but the fries were rubbery and otherwise uninteresting. The hamburger, while not bad like Milo’s, had many of the same poor qualities, as if it were a distant cousin of the food served by the Roach Coaches that trolled the factory parking lots at lunch break in my formative days. When I actually got a bite of the burger by itself, without the mystery condiments they put on it wasn’t half bad. And the chocolate shake was decent but not memorable. But an actual hamburger heaven the place ain’t.

Mountain Bike Racing: The Tire Eater in Huntsville (Monte Sano), SERC 5, 2010

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Racing for Charley

Racing for Charley

Well, the idea was to race at Huntsville this weekend and then hit Oak Mountain State Park in Birmingham on the way home to Florida. Oak Mountain is the home to the Bump N Grind and the course is notorious for eating tires, so we brought a tubeless setup along to try out.

Turns out we didn’t need to go to Birmingham after all: Monte Sano in Huntsville was just as much a tire eater as Oak Mountain!

Pulling up in the parking lot for the race Sunday morning we could hear Goneriding’s Dave really stressing the need to bring extra tubes, tire levers, etc. So we switched out the front to tubeless…we were going to get an unplanned, live-fire test. We had to stay tubed in the rear (that could be a terrible pun) because the tire we originally picked had some issues setting up. Not wanting to change cassettes and try to set up a new tubeless wheel right before the race had us going tubed in the back.

So 25 minutes in to the race, in third or fourth place, we jumped a rock, landed on another rock that looked like a maul laid face up, and heard that unforgiving hiss of a tire blowing.

“Please be the front, please be the front!”

Nope, it was the tubed tire in the rear. So we lost our position but we finished the race and did make up a lot of time. And the tube on the rear held because we really took care to watch the lines and let the wheels dance more over the rocks for the rest of the race. Not easy to do on a 9.4 mile course (2 laps) that was essentially 2/3rds rock garden!

Monte Sano was a great venue and we only touched a small portion of the available trails during the race. Would love to come back here again.

On a final note, we were racing for the friend of a friend, Charley, a rider who lost his battle with cancer this past week. We placed his photo on the raceplate so he could have one more fast mountain ride.

See some photos from this year’s SERC race at Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville.

Bump N Grind 15: Strackacobra Survives Blood Rock and the Mid-Season Blahs

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

Survive is about all you can do in the middle of a long mountain bike racing season.
Training started way back in October. The first race was in February at the 12 Hours of Santos and the season won’t end until the U.S. Cup Finals in Las Vegas in September. And then we jump right back into the Florida State Series that starts in the fall.
So it was bound to happen. Call it a lack of motivation or just the mid-season blahs, but we positively stunk up the first few miles of the Bump N Grind in Birmingham, Alabama. We couldn’t find speed if we were looking under the hood of a hemi Charger.
It got better, and everything clicked into place by the time we hit the first flat jeep road. We really started passing people at that point and then continued a torrid pace through the singletrack, up the long climb, and then positively railed the descent past Blood Rock and down the mountain.
But we dug a hole too deep and finished with the same placement as last year, and with a slightly slower time. It’s frustrating, but most times it’s all you need to get motivated again, put on a clean cycling jersey and hit the trails like a fury.
Bump N Grind XV
Bump N Grind just gets better every year. The “Bump” is the Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers and they put on the one “can’t miss” race in the Southeast. The course is excellent and start times are notoriously punctual. The volunteers all act like professionals, and the riders are taken care of with good directions and neutral water on the course, and food and music afterward. There’s also plenty of great swag.
The Trail and Blood Rock
The race trail for the sport and expert classes is a 17-mile loop consisting of mostly singletrack with a long climb up a scree-filled jeep road and a crazy fast technical descent. The descent is highlighted by “Blood Rock”, a series of short rocky stair steps that twist from side to side. If you stand at the bottom the line is really easy to see. But when you’re flying downhill in hot pursuit of the next rider, mistakes are easy to make and thus there were a few riders that needed patched. After Blood Rock it still takes awhile to get to the bottom, and since it’s all singletrack, it’s wickedly, deliciously fun.
We hung around to watch the women’s Pro XCT race before we had to clear out and get on the road home. Both groups of pros had a 6.3 mile course with multiple laps, missing the Blood Rock section but getting most of the descent.
The cyclocross champ Katie Compton was racing for Sho-Air, and the Luna Chicks were there, and the dreamy Willow Koerber as well. Ah, Willow.
The ladies group turned the first lap in 20 minutes. That’s fast.
Eating While in Birmingham
Taziki’s Greek Fare on Don Baker Parkway is this years winner. We found the place last year after Birmingham riders raved about the Chicken Penne Pasta, a heaping plate of cycling calories marinated in balsamic vinaigrette. It was just as good this year, and the baklava was like pure cycling rocket fuel.
Cyclists Suck Salt and America’s Worst Hamburger.
It was good that Taziki’s was so good because Milo’s was soooo bad.
Milo’s is supposed to have one of the best hamburgers in Birmingham. While the texture was very good and the cheese was melted just right, Milo’s may serve the worst hamburger in America.
When we were kids we used to go down to the convenience store and get these hamburgers prepackaged in plastic and then heated in a microwave. They were disgusting but edible and we were kids eating on the curb and thought it was haute cuisine.
Milo’s was worse. I would say it was like eating dog food, but I’ve never had dog food, and for all I know Alpo might be tasty and thus better than Milo’s.
Even the fries were bad. Like the burger they were cooked just right with a wonderful texture, but they were coated in a neon orange powder that made them look like giant cheetos. This coating was pure brine so eating them was like eating a neon colored salt lick. Let me tell you something, when a cyclist who just finished a race tells you something is too salty, it’s too salty. Cyclists have been known to order a large McDonald’s fries after a race just to suck the salt off each individual fry. When your fries are too salty for that customer, when you put your fries in an aquarium and even a dolphin can’t swim in it, you need to dial back the sodium chloride.