Trek Fuel 9.8 ex with 27.5 plus tires

The Most Confidence Inspiring Mountain Bike (most fun too!)

Whether you consider yourself an expert, a beginner or somewhere in between the must fun and safe bike will have some the same important  characteristics. Even if you are a serious cross country racer wouldn’t a bike that made steep and technical descents feel less steep and technical (without any sacrifices, i.e. extra weight, poor climbing, slower rolling) be a huge advantage?!
For some reason many bike shops tend to send  riders (especially those new to the sport) out on bikes that are very unforgiving and confidence crushers, as well as bordering on dangerous. They feel the fun and confidence inspiring bikes are only for aggressive riders, not beginners or less aggressive riders. This is odd because if a really skilled rider needs a confidence inspiring bike to feel as comfortable as possible it MUST be more important for a beginner! For the last 17 years I have been scared and sadden by students who have been sold the wrong Kool Aid, the show up on hardtails and short travel bikes with mid-90′s geometry that scares the heck out of me! And I spent 18 years racing downhill in the pro class! If those bikes scare me, they must really scare less skilled riders but how would they know?
Less skilled riders don’t know how much easier, safer and MORE FUN these bikes are because they often haven’t ridden them. They think of the bike shop employees who recommend the 90′s XC geometry bike as experts, which they are, on knowing the geometry, components, prices, etc on about 15 bikes from 2-4 bike companies, that is an amazing amount of info they have to keep track of! My expertise, what I spent the last 22 years of my life doing, studying, learning and teaching is how to ride at your best and what will help you ride at your best, a completely different set of skills from a bike shop employee. Some bike shops and employees do understand, a great example is the crew at All Mountain Cyclery in Boulder City, NV, many Moab bike shop employees and I hope hundreds more!
My view is this, when someone is learning a new sport they want the equipment that will make them the safest and give them the most confidence. For mountain biking this is a 27.5 plus, full suspension bike with a slack head angle (67.5 or less), long reach measurement, dropper post, short stem (35-60mm) and wide bars bars (750mm-820mm). This bike will inspire confidence and be much more fun to ride than a hardtail as well as being safer. Great examples of this are the Pivot Switchblade, Trek Fuel 9.8 27.5 plus and Santa Cruz Hightower.
Trek Fuel 9.8 ex with 27.5 plus tires

Trek Fuel 9.8 ex with 27.5 plus tires

Hardtails are great for challenging yourself but tough to learn on as pretty much everything is harder on a hardtail and mistakes are punished harshly. A full suspension bike is much more forgiving and will often save you from a crashing after making a mistake (it won’t keep from realizing you made the mistake, you will still learn from the mistake you simply won’t be harmed by your mistake.
Why is the bike I mentioned above safer and more confidence inspiring? I will break it down piece by piece.
Plus size tires give you much more control as their tall sidewalls allow for lower tire pressures which conforms to the ground better (on a small root or rock much of the tire will be contacting the ground instead of being on top of the root or rock) this also dampens your ride, smoothing out the trail a bit and it creates a much larger contact patch putting more rubber on the ground giving you much better traction.
A slack head angle (67,5 degrees or less) puts your front wheel out in front of you more than a steep head angle bike, giving you more stability and acting as a lever making it much harder for the rear to lift unexpectedly and therefore making it harder to endo than on a steeper head angle bike. Hills just feel less steep with a slacker head angle. You will need better body position for climbing with a slack head angle but I teach that and it is somewhat intuitive. Most downhill race bikes have 61-63 degree head angles for these reasons.
Santa Cruz Hightower with 29" tires (like the Trek and Pivot it can run both 29 and 27.5 plus)

Santa Cruz Hightower with 29″ tires (like the Trek and Pivot it can run both 29 and 27.5 plus)

A long reach measurement (compare your reach to the Pivot Switch Blade or Trek Fuel 9.8, they have excellent reach measurements) gives you a bigger sweet spot to be in balance and allows you to run a short stem without feeling cramped. In other words, the shorter your reach measurement the harder it is stay centered and neutral on the bike, hit the slightest bump and your weight can get too far forward. There is a great article on Pinkbike about designing the XXL Santa Cruz V 10 (same size as a Pivot or Canfield Brothers XL, Santa Cruz bikes are notoriously short which is why they made an xxl for a rider who is 6’3″) for Greg Minnaar that covers this in detail.
Short stems make it easier to get and stay in proper body position (centered on the bike with all your weight on the pedals and in a neutral position), corner with much more precision (as it is a short lever) and manual easier (by keeping your arms bent instead of stretched out). Contrary to popular belief they climb better too, way less twitchy!
Wide bars give you much more control, stability, open your chest for breathing and help “put” you in correct body position. More control and stability comes from more leverage to resist the bars twisting (right or left) when hitting a root or rock. As an experiment do a push up with the outside of your hands about 24″ apart and think about trying resist someone from knocking you over to the side. Then do a push up with your hands 32″ apart and think about the same thing. Your are much more stable with a wide platform than a narrow platform!
Pivot Switchblade w/ 27.5 plus tires

Pivot Switchblade w/ 27.5 plus tires

Dropper posts are the best device ever invented for mountain biking! On a descent you can not achieve a centered, neutral, in balance and in control position with your seat at climbing height, you must lower your seat to get in this position. However, you do need the seat at proper height for climbing or you will use a huge amount of power and damage your knees. Dropper posts allow the best of both words, nice high seat for climbing and power and a low seat so you can stay centered and neutral while descending! All without stopping, getting off your bike and making that adjustment before and after every descent.
Not only are 27.5 plus bikes with the “aggressive” geometry I’ve mentioned great for learning they are great for riders like me (really aggressive former downhill racers) I love mine! They also climb fine!
Now many shops will say a bike like I described is for “aggressive riders” and they are right, that is who the bike was designed for. The interesting thing is, if a really good, confident aggressive ride NEEDS that geometry to feel comfortable and ride their best, then a beginner must REALLY need that geometry as they aren’t as good or confident. These bikes (and similar ones) are the most confidence inspiring mountain bikes on the market, for ALL riders. They are not necessarily the fastest or lightest but, boy, they sure are fun to ride!

 

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My Favorite Winter Mountain Biking Destinations

Great Winter Mountain Biking Destinations

As someone who spends 12 months a year traveling the world coaching mountain biking, mountain biking and racing I have my favorite spots! When 90% of the US is freezing there are a few spots I love to ride in.

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Photo from the Harkville forest trail!

My new favorite winter riding spot is the well named Garden Route in the  Western Cape of South Africa! There are mountains popping up right out of the Indian Ocean and riding along the cliffs above the ocean (Harkville Forest).  Knysna and George are the two biggest cities in the area (George as an airport) and there great riding in George, Knysna and in between the two at the Garden Route Trail Park,  www.gardenroutetrailpark.com . Did I mention that if you are coming from anywhere in Europe or the US that it is an incredibly inexpensive country  to stay, travel and dine in! Their infrastructure is surprisingly robust with great cell reception, good roads, nice airports and it is an English speaking country (as well as 8-9 other languages but almost everyone speaks English). There is much to do off the bike too, surfing (one world class surf break just outside of George and the famous Jeffreys Bay less than two hours away), photo safaris, hiking, shopping (inexpensive!), paddle boarding, bunge jumping, fine dining, sport fishing and just good old sight seeing.

 

Winter Mountain Biking Destinations

Sweet flowing Singletrack at the Garden Route Trail Park!

 

The number 1 spot in the US is actually Phoenix, AZ! Before you judge let me tell you about mountain biking in Phoenix, it is incredible. Phoenix is by far the best big city in the country for mountain biking. In Phoenix (not off in distant suburbs) are two great riding areas and one pretty decent mountain biking area. When you add in the suburbs, Scottsdale, Mesa, Cave Creek, Glendale and Black Canyon you could ride for over a month and never repeat a trail (but that would be lame because the trails are so good you will want to repeat them). Arizona is the furthest West sate in the Mountain Time Zone so the sun sets a 5:30 on the shortest days of the year and the winter weather is amazing, warm (mid 60′s are the average high temps in January the coldest month of the year! )  and sunny. If it does rain it just makes for better riding as the rain makes the mountain bike trails tacky and fast.

South Mountain has downhill worthy trails as well as miles of smiles xc trails.

We will start with South Mountain. At over 16,000 acres (for comparison Vail Resort is the largest single mountain ski resort in the US at 5,289 acres) and over a thousand vertical feet it has great trails for advanced beginners to pros. South Mountain is my favorite place to ride in Phoenix as it has some of the rockiest, most challenging trails in the country that always keep me on my toes. They claim 51 miles of trails but I bet there are double that if you include the super challenging ones like Old Man Trail.  Despite being in the city of Phoenix South Mountain is never that crowded as Phoenix does seem to the most outdoorsy city (this mountain would be mobbed if it was in Denver or Salt Lake City). South Mountain also has great views in all directions and cool cacti everywhere.

Next is the Dreamy Draw/Trail 100/Camel Back/Phoenix Mountain Preserve area (locals will use any of those 4 names to describe the area). Although not as big as South Mountain the terrain is pretty similar with fun, flowy, flatter trails and very steep and technical trails. A very fun and underrated area to ride.

Right between Phoenix and Tempe is Papago Park which doesn’t have the elevation or size of the other parks but has some fun flowy trails scattered about as well as a little free-ride jump area.

Mesa, AZ (an Eastern Suburb of Phoenix) just built a great bike park and is home to two great trail areas, Hawes and Usery Pass. Pass Mountain Trail in Usery Pass park his one of my favorite trails in the state! Fun singletrack and gorgeous views!

Pass Mountain Trail!

 

For great camping and fun advanced beginner/intermediate trails check out McDowell Park. There is $6 day use fee but the trail head has a shower! The main mountain bike focus trails are short loops with a lot of fun corners and dips. Not as challenging as South Mountain but very fun if you crank the speed up a bit. They also have trails that can be linked to form epic rides including the punishing Quadruple Bypass ride that some sadistic locals enjoy.

North of Phoenix off of I-17 is the Black Canyon Trail which has several trail heads and will one day go from Flagstaff to Tucson. It has quite a few fun sections all not far from I-17.

My number 2 Spot for deep winter mountain biking is a tie between Tucson, AZ and Sedona, AZ.  Tuscon has warmer weather and better night life while Sedona has a lifetime of great trails and incredible scenery but colder weather (usually about 10 degrees colder than Phoenix or Tucson). Both Tuscon and Sedona are also less than 2 hours from Phoenix making it easy to hit all three in a week.

My number 4 spot for deep winter mountain biking in the continental US is Boulder City, NV. Boulder City has the famous Bootleg Canyon mountain bike park (known for it’s challenging downhill trails but it also has some fantastic cross country trails). Visit the most well stocked bike shop I have ever seen, All Mountain Cyclery for advice on trails to ride and any upgrades you are seeking. It is also 20 miles from the Las Vegas airport and 30ish miles from the great “Cottonwood Trails” Southwest of Vegas.

Joey Schusler railing a turn at Bootleg Canyon, March 2007 Camp

For late fall until spring riding (Mid-November through April) all of the above are great with Sedona and Boulder City warming up quite a bit.

Other favorite late fall and late winter destinations are Austin, TX, Albuquerque, NM, Saint George/Hurricane, UT and most of California.

Austin has friendly people, great music and really good trails. No huge elevation gains or losses but fun flowy trails at Walnut Creek (with a great pump track), one of the most technical trails I ever ridden at City Park and fun trails you can ride right from downtown in the Green Belt. Some famous road racer lives in Austin too!

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Albuquerque has trail options in many different environments. Check out White Mesa for cool desert canyon singletrack and Sandia Peak for high alpine wooded singletrack. Be sure to stop in Bike Works for local trail advice.

Saint George/Hurricane, UT is home to the famous Gooseberry Mesa Trail as well as many less famous but very fun trails. Great high desert riding from singletrack to Red Bull Rampage jumps and drops. Say hi to Quinten and DJ at Over The Edge in Hurricane and they can update you on trail conditions and recommend rides.

Although the late winter can be the rainy season in California there are good trails from San Diego all the way to Oregon there. Do some research online before heading out to California. My favorite areas inland San Diego (Nobel Canyon area), the Laguna Hills, the Santa Monica Mountains, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz (I haven’t explored much North of their yet).

The Southeast also has fun Fall/Winter/Spring Mountain Bike Destinations but on less grand a scale. There is great riding all over Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Louisiana. What they lack in elevation gain they make up for in fun corners, roots and rocks.

I have purposely left out a lot of great trails and areas near those above as we live in a big, beautiful country, go out and explore! If you have a favorite winter spot or two tell us about them!

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Mountain Biking The Whole Enchilada, Successfully

Mountain biking the Whole Enchilada (“WE” to save my fingers) is on many a rider’s “bucket list”, as it should be, it is one amazing ride! However, do the fact it is a “shuttle ride” and only approximately 27 miles long many people under estimate it. I want everyone to really enjoy this ride and avoid many of the mistakes riders make in tackling this ride.

Mountain biking the whole enchilada

Dave and I on top of the Burro Pass climb, 2008?

I have no idea what your fitness or skill level is but I just want to make sure you understand what you are getting into on this ride. :)

The WE is a long and very challenging ride! It takes great skill and great fitness. Every time I ride it I see people walking the first little rocky descent on the trail that takes you to the base of Burro Pass. This frightens me as the trail only gets much harder for the next 27 or so miles. It gets much steeper, rockier and rougher as well as having two tough climbs and a lot of short climbs, it is by no means downhill the whole way!

The first climb, about 10 minutes from where the shuttle drops you off starts at 10,300 feet and goes to 11,200 feet. That climb alone is more taxing than most entire mountain bike rides. Then the Burro Pass trail descent is steep! and ROUGH! This ride is unlike any ride most mountain bikers have done and probably 50% of riders attempting it are missing at least one vital component they need to finish, much less enjoy this ride.

Many people think (including me the first time I did this trail), “27 miles, I do that all the time! And this is a shuttle ride so it is mostly down hill!”. Well, a common saying in Moab is a mile in Moab equals two anywhere else and it is true. Moab is sandy and rocky, big, square edged rocks that are angled toward you. The pedaling is harder here as the sand and rocks rob your power and speed and the descending is rough also robbing your speed and fitness (your upper body will be as tired as your legs after this ride!).

Just past halfway at the famous view point. You start near the top of the La Sals behind you!

Just past halfway at the famous view point. You start near the top of the La Sals behind you!

Burro down (the original name of this ride) is best done by a skilled rider, who is very fit and on an “enduro” bike, all the steep sections are much easier on a bike with a slack head angle (67 degrees or less) wide bars (740-820mm) and a short stem (35mm to 60mm), a dropper post and at least 2.3, tubeless “trail tires” (with a thicker sidewall to resist cuts.punctures and pinch flats). Yes, people have done it on steep head angle hardtails but why? That’s like bringing a knife to a gun fight!

I’m not trying to scare you or act elitist but this ride no joke. It really scares me watching the unprepared and/or under skilled riders get off the shuttle and start this ride. Unless you are much fitter than me (which isn’t too hard to be these days!), the ride will take at minimum four hours but your “average rider” probably takes 6-8 hours to finish. Which means you also need a heavy pack with enough food and water for 4-8 hours of exercise in a hot, dry environment and enough clothing for the cold temps at 10,000-11,200 feet (where it could be snowing sideways). This fall we started at 2:30 pm (not the smartest thing we have ever done! ;) ) and started catching people from the 10:00 am shuttle less than halfway through the ride! When we finished we had passed many riders from the 8:00 am shuttle and they looked like Zombies, many were out of water and walking their bikes.

Mountain biking the Whole Enchilada

View from the start of Kokopelli

Now, if you are either really fit (able to do a 50 mile mtb ride), really skilled or hopefully both this is one of the best rides in the World. Honestly though, my skills are better than they have ever been but my fitness isn’t what it used to be (not because of my age but because I simply don’t train as hard as I used to) and this ride works me, I am hammered at the end. It worked me when I was really fit too, as I went faster, so. no matter what your fitness level is it will probably wear you out.

For most riders, starting a little lower than Burro Pass is a blessing! It is still really fun from Hazard (trail) down or Kokopelli down. If that turns out to be well within your fitness and ability then ride the WE a day or two later. The nice thing about these two options is they open earlier in the year and stay open later as they start lower.

If you prepare for this ride it is a blast! Make sure you are in shape enough to ride a 50 mile mtb ride and have the skills to ride steep, technical trails and enjoy your ride!