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What Is It With Some Mountain Bike Riders Today?!

What is it with some mountain bikers these days? In the early days of mountain bike riding only intrepid people who were self-reliant and had a sense of adventure got into mountain biking. Now people full of fear are entering the sport (and we are trying helping them overcome those fears) and after a year or so of riding they are changing the sport. They are trying to make the trails easier to ride, “All trails should be able to be ridden by all riders.”, was posted on one of our facebook posts this spring. Another rider wrote, “if the trail has advanced features (like roots and rocks) it should be signed and have a “squirrel catcher (mtb speak for a tough move that only someone skilled enough to ride the trail can do, keeping the “squirrels” from venturing further) ” on all entrances to the trail so only experts ride it.” He went on to say, “in reality all trails should have easier go-around options on the tough sections”. What on earth makes someone feel this way?!  Many of these trails are 20-50 years old and they are way out in the woods. Who exactly is going to spend their days fixing these trails that aren’t broken? How do you make a go-around when there if a cliff going up on one side of you and cliff going down on the other?  You know what we called those trails in 1993 while riding on our fully rigid mountain bikes? “Trails”, we didn’t call them beginner, intermediate or expert, we just called them trails. You know what we did if we got to a section we could not ride? We tried it once or twice and if we failed to clear it we simply walked over it and then continued our ride. We called these sections “challenges” or “hike a bikes” they were simply part of being out on a narrow trail 10-500 miles from town. We didn’t get angry at the trail when we couldn’t make something, we didn’t call our local trail sanitizers and say, “please come make a go-around for the rock on Seven Bridges trail” and have them come out and take every “challenge” out of the trail. We laughed, yelled or screamed but we were smart enough to get off and walk before putting ourselves in danger (and sometimes our egos were bigger than our skills and we got hurt, mountain biking can be dangerous when you exceed your skill level!) we used “common sense”. Sometimes we even turned around, “that trail is too tough!” was heard more than once. Then a friend would ride it and tell us how great it was and we would give it another try.

Again, we love helping riders improve and some of our students are much better riders and racers than we are and some aren’t as good, who cares, it isn’t a contest, it is mountain biking. Doesn’t “mountain biking” make you think of nature while “road biking” conjures up images of pavement? Is nature safe and manicured or is nature harsh and rough?  Believe me famous mountain biking destinations like, Moab, Bootleg Canyon, Durango, Sedona, Squamish and Whistler are harsh and rough in places.  Doesn’t “mountain biking” sound tougher than “road biking”? Are mountains smooth and soft or jagged and gnarly? Don’t get me wrong, I love the sweet beginner trails that are being built. Many of them flow so well even “expert riders” enjoy them. Keep building sweet beginner trails, they help grow the sport and get more people riding “mountain bikes”. Even people who formerly thought mountain biking was dangerous and not for them are starting to ride. This is great, except, mountain biking is dangerous, it involves riding a bike in the mountains (remember, mountain are jagged and gnarly)! Many trails, especially older and harder to reach trails are not manicured, they are wild. All mountain bikers can ride these trails just the less skilled are going to walk many sections. At that point they can choose to not ride that trail again or challenge themselves to improve, not dumb down the trail! I would love to be able to score a goal playing ice hockey but they are not going to make the hockey goals as big as soccer goals so I can do it! They are going to make me earn my goal scoring skills, the same way they did, with good coaching and lots of deliberate practice! Heck, I might even feel good about myself. I might feel like I faced a challenge and overcame it! Aren’t growth, learning and pushing your personal limits things that make you feel good? Ski racers didn’t dumb down the slopes, they educated themselves, trained hard and they actually ice down their race courses to make them harder! There are still beginner trails for their fans, foes, friends and family but there are trails them too!

When did we get so soft? We meaning the “US”, have you ever ridden in Canada? In Quebec and British Colombia the local trails are so hard many pro cross country racers from the US could not ride them. You know what they call these super hard trails in Canada, “trails”. They rode some of these trails 20 years ago on hardtails and they ride them now on their full-suspension bikes. Some trails were built more recently and are even harder, designed to challenge riders on their “cheater” 4-6” travel bikes.  In Canada (like in the US in the early 1990s) they know some sections are harder than others so they walk the hard sections until they learn to ride them. That is part of mountain biking.

Get out and ride and challenge yourself to improve!

 

Mountain Bikes = Passion, Adventure and Challenge!

Here’s to the passionate ones! Those of you like Jackie and Dante Harmony who gladly live out of a van and occasional hotel room for half the year so you can challenge yourself and chase your dreams of World Cup glory. Whether you are a surfer chasing good swells around the world, a snowboarder living on ramen noodles and caffeine as you chase your dream of making the US Team, a climber living down by the river in your Subaru wagon so you can wake up and scale a tougher wall or a parent (also a lawyer/ and volunteer soccer coach) who still sleeps in a tent on non-soccer weekends so you can ride one more day in Moab you are a friend of mine.

 

Challenge, like crossing a raging creek in January!

As I agonize over which house to buy in Tempe (the really cool little zen like house that is going to stretch my budget or the nice but boring house that is a great deal) I have to laugh at all the energy, time and stress I am spending worrying about something that really doesn’t matter! My house doesn’t bring me joy nor does it define me, it is simply a place to rest, recover, store my stuff (that is a whole ‘nother rant) and prepare for my next adventure in. I grew up in a 1,200 square foot house with only 1.5 baths! While four people using the same shower every morning was a struggle we managed to get by just fine. Of the thousands of great memories I have from growing up none of them were limited by that house and none could have been enhanced if we had grown up in a 7,000 square foot custom home (although skateboarding through a 7,000 sqf home at 12 would have been fun!).

 

A whole crew of dirt bags riding the best trail in Moab

Life is so much better with passion and challenge than simply trying to get by. We (mountain bikers) are fortunate to have found something that we love so much that we will give up the “necessities” that so many people can’t do without to chase our passion. Next to spending quality time with my family and loved ones the happiest, most rewarding and most fun times of my life have been spent out there, often on the edge, not in front of a TV set.

A big thank you to all the dirt bag* mountain bikers, skiers, snowboarders, surfers, river rats, skaters and climbers that I have met along the way! It is easy to get caught up in our culture of more, bigger, better, NOW when it is constantly in your face. Thankfully, when my priorities get a little askew, it seems like there is always a soul brother or sister there to remind me that life isn’t about “things”. For those I have met along the way thanks for living the dream and helping me keep perspective.

In short, go for a ride, or hike, or climb, get out and enjoy yourself. Spend less time worrying and more time living!

*”Dirt Bag” is an affectionate term used by my friends

Mountain Bike Great Fall/Winter/Spring Destinations

Mountain Bike Destinations, Great Fall/Winter/Spring

As someone who spends 12 months a year traveling the world coaching mountain biking, mountain biking and racing I have my favorite spots! I will start with the continental United States and deep winter (Mid-December through Feb.). When 90% of the country is freezing there are a few spots I love to ride in.

The number 1 spot 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). They don’t have daylight savings  time in Arizona 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 the coldest month of the year, January)  and sunny. If it does rain it just makes for better riding as the rain makes the mountain bike trails tacky and fast.

Coaching World Champ Ross Schnell at South Mountain, Jan. 2010

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 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.

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.

Sport Loop at McDowell, Jan. 2010 Camp

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 3 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 and late winter riding (Mid-November through December and mid-February 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!

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).

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!