Friday, May 22, 2015

SixSixOne MTB Shoes: Old vs New

You only have three contacts points with your bike - your hands, your butt and your feet. Let's face it, your feet are the most important. They carry most of your weight, maintain your balance and provide propulsion. Your feet can rescue you when facing an imminent crash. What you put on your feet is crucial. The right shoes can quite literally save your life.

I ride and race on a small budget (Even with sponsors) so I use platform pedals. To get the most out of my flats I wear shoes appropriate to the task. Enter the SixSixOne Filter. The Filter is a skate style flat bottom shoe that has a hidden opening on the sole should you want to use it as clipless. The reason I love this shoe is that it is a tank. It can handle a serious beating. When my old ones finally showed their years, I ordered a brand new pair.

For the sake of disclosure I am a SixSixOne sponsored athlete. However, they did not ask me to write this article. In fact, the reason I wanted to be associated with this company was because I am so happy with the quality of their products. That includes their shoes.

Before we dive into the pretty new pair, let's talk about the old ones. When I started mountain biking I didn't have any shoes. I rode MTB and later BMX in my beloved hiking boots (You can read that story here). They were a little big and could get in the way but I simply couldn't afford anything else. One day I was searching through Craigslist when I found a pair of SixSixOne flat soled shoes. The guy was selling them for $12. in part because he had really small feet. Luckily they fit me.

These 661 shoes were perfect for platform pedals. They stuck to the pins and never slid off. They were also tough, protecting my feet in crashes and during bad weather. They held true for three years and through some brutal conditions: mud, rain, gravel, grass. Even now they are still usable despite smelling pretty bad. I did things with these shoes that you should never do. They have been in the washing machine and dryer half a dozen times. They skidded on the BMX track, sloshed through creeks, scratched by thorns and were buried in deep sand. The color faded and the sole slowly wore away but otherwise they were bulletproof.

Time for an unpopular rant. I'm one of those stubborn riders who never bought into clipless cheating. I believe it to be the product of group think and hyped marketing with inconclusive proof that it improves your riding. I don't buy the theory that being attached to the bike suddenly makes you a more efficient or more effective cyclist. Recent tests have brought the supposedly huge difference between power and pedal strokes into question. Most people use them as a bike hack, a way to skip past learning valuable riding skills.

Despite being expensive they are also dangerous. There is plenty of proof that when clipped in you can suffer terribly in an accident. There are countless examples of people falling over in traffic, tipping off the edge of a cliff or going OTB with the bike dangling from their feet. I have seen career ending crashes with my own eyes that would have been far less damaging if the person wasn't attached to the bike.

Is the entire professional peloton wrong? No, they are professionals, the rest of us are not. Amateurs buy into many of these products for the sake of emulating the pros. The awkward truth is that the professionals can do many things that we will never be able to do on a bike. Just deal with it. Anyway, this conversation has been going on for a while and it will continue for a long time to come or until someone invents a better product. These are my opinions and not those of SixSixOne.

The differences between the old and new shoes are few and far between. If it ain't broke don't fix it. SixSixOne designed a brilliant product. It does what it is supposed to, so why change it? The fit is basically the same. The tread pattern is the same. The fold over velcro lace protector is roughly the same. The sole is very stiff, maybe too stiff for some riders but I think that is the key to their longevity. They do flex over time becoming better with age and usage. They are a little lighter and a little taller. I had to adjust my seat height because of the extra quarter inch of rubber under my feet. The fit is snug even though I ordered a larger size than previously.

More than anything they are way better looking. No one ever noticed or asked about my old pair but on the first ride with these new ones, people commented that they are sharp and stylish.

As for their durability, only time will tell. Thus far I have taken them on half a dozen rides. The only telling moment so far was during a dirt time trial in the rain where my feet got very wet. The next day I blasted the shoes with a hose and left them out in the sun to dry. In a few hours they were good as new. I will update this article with future adventures to tell you how they perform.

To get your own pair of 661 Filter shoes visit their website:

If you enjoyed this article be sure to check out my book Twisted Trails

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Timmy's Lightning Swamp Time Trial

The summer weather in Florida can be fickle. The forecast for most days is a combination of hot, bright sunshine with the occasional thunderstorm. These summer storms can come from any direction: north, south, east or west, shifting course without notice. They can can be small, lasting only a few minutes and producing little more than a sun shower. They can also slam down an epic deluge of golf ball sized drops from a black swirling void of thunder, lightning and tornadoes. The dilemma is that you can never quite tell what you are about to face.

On May 14th, 2015, Tim Reifschneider planned out one of his legendary time trials to be held at the Carlton Reserve in Venice, FL. Tim is the creator of the long standing Tempo & Timmy's Time Trial Series which was done in association with the now closed Tempo bike shop. While these free time trials are done without advertising or even much notice they can get rather large. The peak attendance came during the summer of 2012 when 80 riders took part in an event held on Honore road in Sarasota. However, on this particular day in May the weather threw us a curve ball.

On that Thursday a long narrow storm crept north up the coast drenching the towns of Englewood, Venice and Nokomis with so much rain that the roads were flooded. Drivers had to slow down to 20mph or stop altogether. It appeared as if the time trial, scheduled for an hour later, was certain to be cancelled. However, if one were to travel fifteen minutes east of the storm the skies were clear and the roads were dry. Due to what appeared to be a wash out, the time trial was erroneously called off.

Not to be denied it was rescheduled for the following Tuesday. Here again the rain was sneaking around, peaking out behind the trees, dropping spot showers and taunting with mild rumbles. This time these weather threats were up against a resolute crowd. Riders gathered at Sleeping Turtle parking area and waited for the showers to pass. The storm remained implacable. It swirled in a circle promising only to sit right where it was. A vast red blotch on the radar churned in place waiting for victims. Timmy made the decision to have the riders drive their cars directly to the trail head to check the conditions. Everyone was informed but only a handful of cars arrived.

Under the cover of light rain and thunder with a few flashes of lightning, Timmy took a quick lap of the course and decided it was a little wet but good to go. By this time the numbers had dwindled to only 5 riders willing to take on the task. Timmy described the 10.25 mile route where significant turns were marked with large green arrows on the ground. After a fairly thorough explanation it was time to line up and blast off.

Riders started with one minute separations. Since I chose the first position I can give you my take on how the race proceeded. Ready? Set? Go! With my gears set easily on the second ring I kicked off with a high cadence into BoldlyGo. The numerous roots were slippery as expected but there was only a slight drizzle from the thick puffy clouds that hung low overhead. The first two sections of trail were surprisingly fast as the rain had hardened some of the sandy areas. I saw the green arrows just before the wooden bridge so I banked left onto the doubletrack and jumped to the big ring. This was the long haul to the picnic table where I'd jump back into the section we call Churchhill Downs.

After crossing the doubletrack into the deeper woods that where was it got really interesting. It is one thing to race a trail that you have ridden a hundred times but to race in these conditions was a unique experience. The drizzle was gone and suddenly the sun returned. I remember a brief smile coming to my face as I was thinking that we had beaten the storm. It tried to keep us from racing but our determination proved to be too strong and the weather gave up. Then my smile disappeared as I rounded a corner right into a five inch deep puddle that was ten feet long. It was the first of many that would drench our bodies and splatter our clothes. From there I would cross the creek, tackle the rollers and pin it through the pines.

Instead of turning in to the last section of singletrack, the green arrow pointed me down the grassy doubletrack towards the red trail intersection. It was at this point that I was amazed that no one had yet passed me. Granted I was feeling great, my lungs were open, my legs pumping away. However I knew who I was up against. Having been in this position before I was waiting for Eric Latimer, the lead mechanic from Real Bikes Venice and one of the areas fastest off road riders, to eventually pass me. You can imagine my surprise when he didn't catch up until I was more than halfway up the Red trail which was three quarters into the race. "On your Left Al," He zipped by on his CX bike slicing through more of those long, deep puddles. I managed to keep him in sight down the Red Trail and onto the South Powerlines, beyond that he handily took the win.

The powerlines was where I hit the wall. There was just enough water to make the dirt squishy and slow, there were just enough puddles to kill your cadence and a slight headwind added that extra obstacle. Most of the way down I pushed as hard as I could but knew that if there was one place someone might make up time against me, it was here. As I was about to turn off I looked behind to see a rider wearing an orange shirt gaining time.

Now it was doubletrack all the way back on the Red Trail. Here I finally remembered a focus trick where you count to twenty, stand up and sprint, then count again. It picked up my speed but as I came out of a dark muddy section the orange shirt flew by. It was Mark Lerch. He was making great time on his new Giant MTB. I did what I could to catch up but that man has legs. Mark finished 2nd and I came in a few seconds later in 3rd. Kicking back at the pavilion we hung out for a couple minutes when Jeff Finch pulled through. That was the race but there was a problem, we were missing a rider.

The fifth and final man, Kevin, had gone off course. He called Timmy to ask for directions. Well, four out of five ain't bad. Kevin found his way back in no time. In all it was fun race on a well thought out course with some wacky weather to boot. The summer rains usually ruin much of our riding so you have to fight a little harder to make these races happen. This one was certainly worth the effort. If nothing else we have some great pictures posted and a hell of a story to brag about. After all, how often do you get to start a race under a flash of lightning and end it in the sun?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Mountain Bike Book Earns National Recognition

On May 17th the National Indie Excellence Book Awards announced their 2015 recipients. These awards were created to recognize and celebrate excellence in independent book publishing. This  prestigious National award, based in Los Angeles  is open to all English language books in print from small, medium, university, self and independently publishers.

The National Indie Excellence Awards exists to help establish independent publishing as a strong and proud facet of the publishing industry. Recognizing authors that put their heart and soul into their work, the NIEA is proud to be a champion of self-publishers and small and independent presses that go the extra mile to produce books of excellence in every aspect. Awarded since 2007, the NIEA competition is judged by independent experts from all aspects of the indie book industry, including publishers, writers, editors, book cover designers and professional copywriters.”

Winners and Finalists are determined based on “Overall excellence of presentation in addition to the writing." The top Finalist in a crowded short story category was the book Twisted Trails by Alex Hutchinson.

About the Book: Twisted Trails is a collection of short stories that captures intimate scenarios about mountain bikers both in competition and off the beaten path. It explores different disciplines of the sport while weaving a thread that connects characters across the country. Twisted Trails describes mountain biking as a world where exploration and suffering are a deliberate way of life. Rich and poor, male and female, the brave and the timid of all ages bond while astride knobby tires. In these morality tales the compassion with which mountain bikers treat each other represents the highest aspirations of humanity. Who could have imagined that hand carved paths and non-motorized vehicles would develop into a community of remarkable individuals? Readers agree that it makes you want to get out there and ride.

About the Author: Alex Hutchinson was born and raised in southeastern Massachusetts. He started writing at the age of 12 after being published in a Middle School poetry book. At 35 he started mountain biking, competing in more than 100 races. Over the years he worked with trails groups like NEMBA (The New England Mountain Bike Association) and more recently SCORR (Sarasota County Off Road Riders). He promotes the annual gravel grinder known as Piggy's Revenge. His cycling articles have appeared in NEMBA Singletracks and Dirt Rag Magazine. He lives with his wife Terri in Englewood, Florida.

Twisted Trails is available in both Kindle and Paperback.

Get your copy now!

 Kindle for $3.99       Paperback for $7.99

Twisted Trails is available worldwide. Click the following links for your country:

Friday, May 1, 2015

Bike Review: 2014 Raleigh Talus 29er

I have only ever tested a handful of 29ers. I generally found them to be more stable, aggressive on technical downhills with laid out geometry that felt race focused. While that sense of balance and control left a positive impression, I have never been able to afford such a beast. However, I will get to race one. Bicycles International of Venice and Luksha Reconstruction noticed my recent boost in name recognition, mostly due to the popularity of my book Twisted Trails. Then I told them about my ambitious racing schedule so they decided to sponsor me for the 2015 season. What I needed most was a bike good enough for cross country racing and gravel grinders. It didn't have to be a world beater but it had to stand a step above my now beat up Trek Four Series. Admittedly, that would be an easy task.

"What kind of bikes do you see at the races?" asked Jason Luksha, owner of Luksha Reconstruction. While the trends have been fluctuating over the years between 26, 27.5 and 29, I have mostly seen 29ers at recent events. My guess is that the big spenders are usually on top of the trend line so the rest of us grab whatever wheel size has recently trickled down to a reasonable price range. One company taking advantage of that trickle is Raleigh.

Raleigh is one of the oldest bike companies in the world. They started in the late 1880's making motorcycles and three wheelers in cooperation with Reliant. They got their name because their shop sat on Raleigh Street in Nottingham, England. Yes, that Nottingham, the one legendary for its connection to Sherwood Forrest. Insert Robin Hood joke here. They tweaked bicycle designs for a hundred years before the Huffy Corporation purchased the rights in 1982. That is when Raleigh USA started pumping out mass produced bikes in the states. This is when most Americans got their hands on one. However, the company's stability fell into question as ownership changed hands several times over the next 30 years. During those decades their bikes and reputation dwindled.

It was most recently purchased by the Dutch group Accell who also owns Lapierre and Ghost bicycle brands. Accell focuses exclusively on bicycle manufacturing. Their expertise has put Raleigh back on the shelves with a higher level of quality and more availability. What does this mean for the average cyclist? It means Raleigh is making a comeback and they have something to prove.

Now let's talk about my race bike. The 2014 Raleigh Talus Sport is a mid level XC focused ride meant to capitalize on a stretched geometry that centers between 29 inch wheels. The bike shop put on some generic 2.25 tires adequate to the task coupled with an excellent WTB Pure V saddle while the Wellgo Magnesium pedals are my own. All three were more appropriate than the parts that came stock. After the swaps there are still some solid components on this beast.

I say beast because that is what it feels like. My Trek 4300 has a 19.5 inch top tube, very big. The Talus makes it look like a medium. This 29er is tall, long, beefy and yet it is almost 10 pounds lighter at about 24pds. It has a 6061 Aluminum frame, Suntour XCT 100mm fork and Shimano Acera gears. Nothing particularly special until you need to halt. Promax Decipher Hydro brakes with 160mm discs demonstrate a serious commitment towards stopping power. Plus you get an FSA headset with 680 or 700mm wide handlebars for definitive handling.

My first ride was a real test of this bike's capabilities. Another highlight of my new sponsorship deal is that I'm helping with the monthly group rides as part of the Bicycles International MTB Recon Team. We meet up once a month and travel to a trail system for a day of riding, food and beer. The first meeting was in Alva just outside of Fort Myers. Alva is home to the Caloosahatchee park maintained by the Mudcutters Trail Group.

I won't even attempt to remember all of the trail names in part because I was going too fast to read the signs. While the group had riders of all skill levels, I wanted to push this beast and so stayed near the front keeping pace with the rapid riders. Alva has a little bit of everything - flat hardpack with sudden rollovers, banked berms and tricky roots with the occasional sharp corner. The brief section known as The Far East is a must for any serious shredder, it is also where I had the most fun.

The Raleigh was ready for the task. I had little trouble keeping up, all the while making minor adjustments to compensate for the size of the bike. I leaned less in the turns, shifted quickly on the sudden uphills and held true on the off camber roll downs. The brakes were fantastic, no slippage. We rode the entire park, end to the end, and never once did the bike slide, bounce off line or even clip a tree. When you consider that this was my first time on these trails, you have to call that a solid performance. You could give credit to the rider but I'm quite sure my Trek would have struggled mightily on these obstacles whereas the Talus generally ate them up.

The next test for this Hulking monster was my own local CX practice course. This mile long ride contains soft dirt, sharp sandy corners, deliberate swerving sections and foot high logs. The goal is to ride an all out sprint for a full lap then take a break and go again. Lap after lap strengthens your legs, lungs and confidence. On my CXSS it would take about 9 minutes to complete a circuit but today was a revelation in speed.

I got in about 7.5 miles worth of warm-up which included some small hill repeats before attempting the CX course. Once out on the loop I was blazing through the trails and grass. My worries about it being too wide to pass between the barriers was unfounded. I had to dig in a little to cut tight the quicksand like corners but it never lost traction. The deeper dirt dragged down my pace but staying in a low gear I spun like a madman creating compressed lines. I clocked each lap and saw a progression of effort as the Hulk managed to finish in a record time of 7 minutes flat.

While I can't give you a full breakdown of the bike until I race it (Coming soon), I can tell you a few things that are noteworthy. First, the brakes are awesome. Congrats to Promax on this design. The Decipher's are quick and reliable with easy to grab levers. During one ride there was young kid on steel bike coming at me around a blind curve. I saw him at the last second, tapped my rear brake and power skidded out of the way, avoiding a possible crash. Second, the Altus/Acera gear set is merely acceptable. It clicks up easily one gear at a time but requires a firmer push to downshift which usually drops a few gears at a time. This is a perfectly reasonable compromise considering that the bike usually retails for about one thousand dollars.

The Raleigh Talus 29er Sport appears to have the makings of an all around race/trail bike but without the crazy price. There is more for me to learn when I take it to the races so return to this blog for upcoming stories. In the meantime you might want to take another look at what Raleigh has to offer. Visit their website to see the full line or if you live in Southwest Florida swing by the shop.

Update: I took the Talus to the 2015 Florida Cup / XC Championships. The shifting worked well enough and the large tires did eat up the terrain but I started to notice little flaws. The fork lacks a sweet spot. Either it bottoms out too easy or firms up to strictly. I'll keep toying with it but you can't expect much from a spring loaded fork. Also, I struggled on sharp corners again. This might be a matter of getting used to the geometry, further racing will answer that question. This was only the first test and in many ways it was inconclusive.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

50 Miles on a Singlespeed Fat Bike

The word Epic gets overused a lot these days. Much like the word Awesome, we tend to label things as Epic that don't even come close to the definition or even the spirit from whence it came. Epic refers to that which is heroic, grand or monumental. It usually involves a gripping adventure, a powerful expression of willpower and an unforgettable outcome. With this firmly in mind I think it is safe to say that the Tour de Picayune has become one of Florida's Epic races.

The Tour takes place in Picayune Strand State Forrest, an area made up of 78,000 acres of former swampland. The history of this area is fascinating. Starting in the 1940's it was logged for cypress trees. When the trees were gone they filled in the land to make pastures. In the 1960's the Gulf American Land Corporation purchased 57,000 acres to build "Golden Gate Estates," which was to be the largest subdivision in America. Here is where it all went sour. Golden Gate Estates turned out to be nothing more than a land scam. The roads and canals were built but they never constructed a single home. The property flooded each summer making residential housing nearly impossible. The project was abandoned. Years later some of the neglected roads were used as landing strips for drug planes coming in from South America.

In 1985 the "Save our Everglades" program acquired funds from the federal government to purchase acreage from the 17,000 owners. By 2006 the program was completed and the reclaimed land became Picayune Strand State Forrest. The race itself is only a few years old with new sections of trail being built each season. The winner's prize is called the "Durrwalker" cup which is named after Senior Forester Sonja Durrwachter whose tireless efforts in land acquisition made it possible for this enormous tract of land to eventually be opened for recreational use.

I had attempted this event in 2014, fully intending to complete the full 50 mile version. Under an unforgiving sun and stuck in unforgiving sand, I underestimated the difficulty of the task. I had the wrong tires, the wrong fuel and not nearly enough patience. The Tour de Picayune is deceptively arduous requiring a combination of technical riding skills, endurance and brute force leg power. If you don't have a good bit of everything on the big day, it will break you down. My first attempt ended in failure. I only completed the 28 mile lap while suffering from heat exhaustion. Learning from many mistakes, this time I was determined to redeem myself.

The first mistake was my ride. I needed to something that could handle sugar sand. Luckily the Everglades Edge ECO Tours company rents bikes inside the park. I was told to visit the Edge headquarters, an outdoor lovers dream hangout. This oversized swamp shack has a wide roof, electricity, a full mechanics room and a collection of boats and bikes. I was told to pick a bike that fit me and get to the starting line.

My steed was to be a large Surly Pugsley. This dark grey, fully rigid fat bike came complete with intimidating bar ends and a thudbuster seat post. It was a little long for me as I had to reach for those handlebars but with 4 inch wide tires and a high bottom bracket it was built for the job. Having never ridden a fat bike before, especially a single speed, I knew I was in for a grand occasion. This was going to be an Epic redemption or an Epic fail. Either way, I was going for broke.

The weather was perfect. Wispy clouds and a cool breeze relaxed the throng of riders who had gathered on Miller Road at the start line. Everyone signed their entry forms, paid the fee and got a map of the route. The map included color coded trails and emergency numbers. After a quick bit of instructions from organizers Chris and Janneke, riders took their positions and started the race. Far less than a sprint, they knew that there was a long way to go so the pace was nominal. One unlucky girl dropped her chain on the starting line. She quickly fixed it and caught up with the pack.

The singletrack was labeled with colors - green, yellow, orange and red. The markings included small circle signs on select pinewoods to keep riders on course and large painted arrows on the ground to indicate meaningful turns. You did have to keep your eyes both on the tricky tracks and the tagged trees or you might miss a step. Last year I had to use the map many times to make sure I was going the right way but this year's markings were vastly superior. If you got lost this year, it was your own damn fault.

The green singletrack came first. While it started slow, snaking a long chain of riders who were pedaling tire to tire, it stretched out the moment we hit the first dirt crossroad. It was there I heard a whisper behind me. Two men were teasing about my chosen ride, "Well, at least we're not stuck on a fully rigid, single speed fat bike. That would suck." I turned as they nodded playfully. One guy smiled and said, "No offense, I love my gears." They pulled ahead on the dirt road but once into the next section of Green singletrack I caught back up to them and noticed that the long grass was getting tangled in those gears they love so much. When we reached the next dirt road they had to pull off to fix their bikes while I sped on by.

Barreling through the singletrack was quite fun. The paths were narrow, passing through fields of grass in between palm trees and palmetto bushes. The occasional sharp turn would send a careless rider off course. Thanks to the fat bikes ability to plow through any obstacle, I caught up to another trio of riders. I talked to them for a half mile or so but felt the need for speed and eventually buzzed on. Racing the Pugsley was like steering a rocket truck through a stock car track. The smaller bikes were more nimble where as I just broke through the lines like an unstoppable force. During the first 10 miles of singletrack I passed nine people with a big smile on my face.

For part of that stretch I had been pacing back and forth with another rider. We kept each other in check and maintained a steady rate until it was time to eat. Last year I skipped by the SAG stops merely relying on what I had brought with me, big mistake. The first aid station was a welcome rest as it came 15 miles into the first lap. Just knowing that you were more than halfway through the big loop felt like progress.

Refreshed from the rest we sped down abandoned roads and into the first section of sugar sand. Again the Pugsley got to shine. The wide tires and low gearing allowed me to pedal right down the middle of the road whereas skinnier tires had to find a harder bank to keep moving. The guy I was riding with said that spinning in this sand was like climbing hills, it sucked away your energy.

From there we turned to more singletrack but this one was distinctly different from any other. Most of Picayune is what I call "Dead Everglades," meaning that during the winter it looks dried up, like a land that lost its soul. However, there are places where you can see, smell and feel the old Everglades. Places where you rolled atop black mud while breathing cool, musty air. These sections of trail twisted and turned through deep green tunnels of thick woods that felt more like jungle. They breathed forth a promise that man's sins against nature would be remedied in time. A promise that the old Everglades would return.

The second aid station was manned by the man himself, race director Wes Wilkins. Myself and two others riders talked with him as we enjoyed grapes, bananas, Gatorade and water then set off for the final stretch of the first loop. Leaving the aid station there is a sign that reads "Snake Pit, 5 miles or so..." Signs like this were strategically placed on course to give a sense of hope, you might be far from the finish but it was coming, eventually.

After a half dozen more miles of gravel roads, sugar sand and singletrack I made it back to the Snake Pit. This was where you either finished the race or started your second lap. To give you an idea of how hard this year's race was, two former 50 mile finishers had already dropped out. They might have been smart to do so because this year the second lap was built on a mountain of hardship. It would be a monstrous challenge. After eating a cookie and downing a fizzy drink it was time to face the killer sands.

I plodded down the Panther path (Yellow trail) and really started to struggle. A rider named Andrew had decided to do a second lap, the music blaring from his backpack gave me a good idea of where he was. He was kind enough to give me a bottle of water when my triceps started to cramp up. Between my tricep cramps and the now regular stops to stretch I was facing the full pains of this journey. At one point Andrew looked at his cyclo-computer and assured me that we were at mile 35, there were only 15 to go. If I had to stop every mile in order to make it through, I would do it.

In 2014 riders were subjected to the killer sands on the first lap. In my opinion, that was the easier burden. This year hitting the endless grit on the second lap was far harder. Bereft of strength, lacking stamina and facing a stubborn headwind left me with nothing. I was a plodding, gasping fool desperate to move inches at a time. If you have ever had a nightmare where quicksand was taking you down and nothing you did mattered, that was the Picayune curse. That is what made this race far more difficult than any other I have ever faced. My only respite were the fat tires of the Pugsley. It allowed me to sit atop those granules and slowly spin my way out of hell.

The end for me came 7 hours after it had begun. I was vindicated by completing the 50 mile course even managing a 9th place finish. Not bad when you consider the truckload of talent that came in before me. Bill Quinsey, last years winner, had managed to retain his title. A feat that has never been done before. Andrew Holland established himself as a top contender, no doubt we'll be seeing his skills again.

The Snake Pit campground was the perfect ending for an amazing day. Beer was on tap, food cooking on the grill and a gathering of finishers applauding anyone who was courageous enough to tackle this challenge. The Tour de Picayune is truly an Epic race. There are many people who can ride 50 miles but not like this, not when the earth itself tries to swallow your will. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life and I will never forget it.

The most telling quote came from a new rider who was finishing his first lap. He got off his bike to limp under a tree branch and then asked my wife how far it was to the finish. She said it's just around the corner. He replied, "Thank god! I have no idea how people can do two laps of this."

If you enjoyed this article be sure to get my book of mountain bike stories, Twisted Trails.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A MTB Race for those who Don't Race

There is nothing that a mountain biker likes more than a proper sufferfest, except maybe drinking beer, or that could just be me. On March 22nd, 2015 Gone Riding, Florida's premiere mountain bike racing organization, put on the first event of the South Eastern Regional Championship series or SERC. It was held at Hailes Trails in Newberry, Florida and as promised it was worthy of sweat and tears.

What is SERC? This regional cross country race series appears to center around the state of Georgia which is odd because Georgia already has their own race series. However, SERC casts a wider net reaching into the states of North & South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida. It's a perfect in-between for those who can't afford the longer travel of the U.S. Cup series. It also closely matches the typical start of the racing season. No matter the reason you latch onto SERC, more racing means more options for everyone.

This year the SERC season started in Newberry, Florida sort of. There is no exact address so I zoomed in on Google maps and came up with one of my own. Since I'm working hard to promote my new book Twisted Trails, this seemed like the place to be. I had heard a lot about Haile's Trails and the consensus was built on ruggedness, clearly aimed at the hard core riders. This was confirmed the moment we arrived at 10:30am on Sunday morning. The first person I ran into said "You need to pre-ride the course. It's very rough. Prepare to suffer." He wasn't kidding.

These trails are not normally open to the public. In fact you have to pay a small parking fee when you first enter. Hailes is built on the grounds of a rock quarry with spectacular views plus it sits adjacent to a supercross track. You could certainly ride this singletrack on a dirt bike, the extra power would come in handy. How would my flatlander legs do amid such adversity, it was time to find out.

Practice, motivation, fitness, sure I had some of those but as for luck, not so much. My last two XC races ended abruptly. One to an asthma attack and the second to a crash. This time I hoped things might be different and they were, right up until I started the race. My first pedal push off the line caused my gear to jump off the middle ring. I started spinning and up shifted through the gears but by then my age group had a huge lead. I pushed to catch them on the first climb but then my gears decided they didn't want to downshift. Hardly half a mile into the race and I was already out of contention.

I spent the first half of the race trying to anticipate the inclines so I could kick into gear far ahead of when it was needed. The truth is that you need a decent bike, or at least workable gears, to take on this kind of rapidly changing terrain. By the second lap I had accepted the inevitable and simply enjoyed what amounted to a very challenging trail ride.


What kind of terrain am I talking about? Hailes has a surprising number of hills. I was repeatedly saying, "Are you kidding me?" I approached a face, banked then climbed higher, banked again and climbed even higher! Being a native New Englander and seeing all these hills, I kept being reminded of where I came from. However, for those who have never been to the vast green of the northeast I'll use other Florida trails for comparison.

It has tight technical sections on rolling singletrack with blind corners similar to Boyette. It has deep, dark holes in the earth that appear to go on forever similar to the heart of Croom. It has beautiful cliffs overlooking cyan water that you won't see anywhere else. It has the biggest, steepest, off camber climbs that I have ever endured in Florida. The race promoters went out of their way to make sure that every ascent/descent was included so you had better bring your small ring and a healthy pair of lungs. It turns out that I hadn't brought either.


Racing at Haile's Trails is a once or twice a year thing so you've got to grab that chance. Forget winning or losing, forget worrying about your cadence or Strava segments. This one is worthy on so many other levels. It will challenge your technical skills, your desire to conquer the steeps and it will test your heart at the same time that it captures it. Isn't that what we all want, trails that you fall in love with while they make you gasp?

Granted you can only ride these trails during the races but so what? Get a one day license, pay your race fee and follow the crowd. These might be the best mountain bike trails in Florida. Despite my terrible performance I had a blast. I recommend that anyone who loves riding needs to give Haile's a try.

Photo Gallery - SERC #1 2015 (Mostly Cat 3)

If you enjoyed this story be sure to check out my book - Twisted Trails.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The End of Unknown Trails

The world often changes without us noticing right away. Hindsight is the lens through which we identify when something new had started. Only then do we appreciate its significance. Many years ago in New England I was exploring the woods in an area that was somewhat off the grid. I heard a rumor that people used to ride mountain bikes there so I wanted to look for signs of old trails.

After several trips I finally stumbled upon what can only be described as an illegally built freeride park. It was full of high jumps, wild rollers, daredevil skinnies and a ten foot high wooden berm. It had long since been abandoned with no sign as to who the builders were or if they would ever come back. The nails had rusted, the wood had grayed and cracked. The story of how it all came into being might be lost forever. That was the world before Strava.

The internet has changed the way we shop, date and do business. It has also changed the way we ride. Or more specifically, it has changed where we ride. It used to be that in order to discover new trails you would have to explore endlessly. You would often chase bad directions, ghosts of paths past or rumors of new construction. You could also hit the local bike shop and find a guide but still that meant being reliant on other people. That would be fine if not for the fact that other people can be quirky and complicated or merely time consuming. You just want to go for a ride.

Now you simply visit You look up the name of the town or the trail and in seconds a map appears with much the information that you need. You learn who has ridden there, how fast and long the ride can be plus you can follow the map on your GPS so as to avoid getting lost. While Strava has been criticized as the App for speed junkies who throw down bone rattling times, it has also developed a very important function that benefits everyone. A trail, no matter how well manicured, will never be properly appreciated until it is on Strava because this is the ultimate way of advertising the whereabouts of active trails. This service has become the blinking neon sign that reads "Ride Here!"

It was with this in mind that the Sarasota County Off Road Riders (SCORR) put together a "Strava Party" on March 15th, 2015 at Myakka State Forrest. The idea was to introduce the public to the Palmetto Trail Loop, a newly designed route that SCORR had built, and to record electronic times that would mark the place for future users. 25 riders attended the event, many with the required technology. After a brief speech to explain the terrain everyone set off for the first 7 mile loop.

The Palmetto Trail starts at the East River Road parking area and can be accessed any time of year with a $2. parking fee. It was completed in 2014 and deemed as a place that stays relatively dry while the summer rains flood other parks. SCORR volunteers put numerous hours into crafting a swerving path that crosses and touches a double track giving riders bail out points. The riding is appropriate for the beginner level but it does have its share of technical spots.

The "Strava Party" was a success! Most riders enjoyed two laps of the Palmetto Loop while many of them recorded times. The King was Don Pence with 37:42 and the Queen was Sierra Stafford with 49:31. Many others took top rewards in the smaller segments. Afterwards they gathered back at the trailhead for a cookout.

In the past it could have taken years for the reputation of this trail to leak out to new riders. People might have lived within minutes of the park and not known that it contained singletrack but thanks to this brilliant technology, any rider, anywhere in the world can go online to seek it out. Hopefully with the expanded use of social mapping systems like Strava, we'll never have to lose another trail to obscurity.

Be sure to check out the following links on Strava and give this trail a try.

If you enjoyed this story be sure to check out my book of mountain bike tales, Twisted Trails.