Thursday, July 26, 2012

BMX Lessons for Mountain Bikers

Over the course of one winter I went from a 45 pound Downhill rig known as Red Frankenstein to a 25 pound Clayborn 20" BMX bike. You would think that the many lessons I learned racing Mountain Bikes would carry over onto the BMX track but they didn't. In fact, it turned out to work the other way around.

Mountain Biking, with its 26 inch wheels, full suspension set-ups, hydraulic disc brakes and so forth can act collectively as a cheaters combination of tools. Sitting on thousands of dollars of advanced technology allows the rider to forego many of the basic lessons which are needed to become a skilled rider. This is why I had to start all over again when I moved down to the small bikes. Luckily I have survived the initiation and can tell the tales of what I have discovered.

Balance: Bikers of all types pride themselves on their ability to balance on a bike. It's the first thing you learn as a little kid, it's the act you extend when you ride your first wheelie. On the Mountain Bikes it is necessary for any rock garden or skinny bridge.

I assumed that I had good balance until I first tried the gate at a BMX track. This is where the art of the track stand was created. Your front tire barely touches the metal gate as you rise in perfect balance waiting for the timed snap that starts the race. You spend so much time in this position that your ability stay upright without hardly moving becomes almost magical, like a circus act performing for the crowd.

After mastering the stand up gate I have returned to a Mountain Bike and brought this amazing balance with me. It brings with a confidence infusion when navigating awkward obstacles at slow speeds.

Jumping: From your first makeshift wooden jump in the driveway to the four foot drop ramp at the Highland Mountain Bike Park skills center, we as riders love to go airborne. In Mountain biking you leave the ground off every log ride, rock launch or designed drop on the trail. When practicing and racing downhill I hit jumps and drops that measure as high as four feet off the ground but did I know what I was doing?

The BMX track is crafted with the intention that you will be lifted in the air whether you like it or not. There is no maybe when it comes to jumping. With this being an imperative skill, you start to learn how to lift, control your bike in the air and most importantly you learn how not to jump. These skills carry over especially well in downhill racing where a rider often needs to stay closer to the ground in order to maximize speed.

After spending 18 months hitting lips on a bike with no suspension, suddenly the more forgiving shocks and tires of a Mountain bike become an easy and fun platform for flying off or over just about anything.

The Swiss Army Knife: I could go through each individual skill - manualing, pumping, cornering, sprinting, pedaling within a tight group and thrusting the bike across the finish line. The point should be pretty apparent. In Mountain Biking we tend to depend on our machines to do a chunk of the work for us thus allowing us to be a little lazier when it comes to handling. 

Having moved from XC to DH to BMX, I feel like I have gone backwards through biking the process to return to the roots I never had. As I wrote in an Editorial for the Bog Dogs Race Report, BMX skills are the starting point for many amazing athletes. It is the gateway sport that builds better bike riders.

I would recommend to anyone who loves Mountain Biking that they should try BMX Racing. I will warn you that it is not an easy transition but the benefits of developing those missing basics will transform you into a far more confident cyclist.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tempo Cyclery Time Trial

What better way to break in my new Mountain Bike than to jump right into a fun race. Sarasota bike shop Tempo Cyclery holds a monthly Time Trial for their customers. The TT is free (Except for a few beers for the timer) and the atmosphere is friendly to all types of riders. Good thing too because I was the only person who showed up on a full blown Mountain Bike.

After digging out my old gear I realized that I was lacking the appropriate details. My only MTB jersey is long sleeve (A tad hot in 90 degree weather) and all of my gloves are full finger so I decided to go without. My bike doesn't have a water bottle cage so I stuffed one in my back pocket only to later realize that it was a twist off cap. Can you tell that I've been off the bike for 20 months?

We all met in the parking lot near Geckos restaurant on Clark road and then rode our bikes to the starting point at the corner of Honore and Palmer Ranch parkway. Here the sidewalk corner slowly filled up with cyclists eventually reaching 79 in total. Each person got a name tag complete with a number to put on their helmet and then riders left the start in 30 second increments.

 While my preparation was short sighted, I was happy to discover that my fitness was not. Granted I made the same mistakes that I always make but this time I was aware them. I sprinted off the line, shifted into my second highest gear and lowered my elbows onto the handlebars. Within the first mile I caught and passed my one minute leader but around the second mile I hit the wall and had to slow down.

Every few minutes a real time trialist would whip past me on a 15 pound bike, some of them did so with encouraging words. I spent the first 5 miles reaching optimum heartrate and catching my wind. Once I the hit the turn around at Route 681 the techniques started to make sense. I would click up a gear and drop down onto my bars to pound out some speed until I nearly reached my red line. Then I'd sit up, lower my gear and spin out the pain. Once this became a rhythm I started picking up speed.

By the time I saw the finish ahead I was thriving on adrenaline and seriously hauling butt. I got compliments of from several people who were surprised to see that I completed the race on such a large bike. "You got twice the workout on that thing."

However I wasn't the only non-traditional cyclist in the race. Pro BMXer Eli Weiss showed up for some cross training and hammered out a good time, "I'm pumped to go again!" He said with a big smile on his face. Eli averaged 21mph and topped out at 28mph.

Afterwards a large group of riders went to Geckos for a few drinks and some good food but I headed home to watch 'So You Think You Can Dance' with my lovely wife. The race was a blast, such a good way to test your cardio and prepare for future endeavors. I managed to complete the 10 mile race in 38:09. I will definitely be attending the next one in August except I might have to bring my wife and our camera.

Monday, July 16, 2012

2011 Trek 4300 Mountain Bike

After one solid year of being without a Mountain Bike, I was starting to lose my mind. Granted I have been shredding on two wheels but it was on a much smaller 20" BMX. Don't get me wrong I love BMX racing and while it does fulfill my desire for competition, it doesn't help my desire for exploration.

So, with little money but great desire I searched every corner of the internet for a good deal. When my lovely wife suggested I grab a cheap Walmart bike I could feel the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, there are some lines one never crosses.

My brother Kevin made the same suggestion but only after a friend of his had a minor breakthrough. The friend had bought a Genesis 29er for about $200. at Walmart. He then changed the fork for a Rock Shox and had a bike shop fine tune it. He had since survived several rocky rides in Massasoit State Park in Taunton, Massachusetts. 

I studied the Genesis 29er carefully. I hunted it down, sat on one in the store, played with the gears and really considered the possibility. I would be able to do local off road rides and long street rides but the sheer weight of the bike (38 pounds) would make it a tank on climbs. This was clearly the best that Walmart had to offer but I just couldn't do it.

My desire is to keep up with the crowd in group rides, climb without getting a hernia and change gears without swearing. I guess trust is the real issue. Either that or I'm trying to convince my readers that I'm not a bike snob. Anyways, the search is over I bought a Mountain Bike.

I had tested a Specialized HardRock and a Giant Talon 29er but they were both heavy with slacker geometry, just not the ride I was looking for. That's when I met my new friends at Sarasota Cycle gave me a great deal on a Trek 4300. The most important aspects were fulfilled and first among them was affordability.

The Trek 4300 is reasonable all around: Spinner fork with 100mm travel, Shimano derailleurs with Bontrager wheels, tires and handlebars. The Tektro V-Brakes would have been a NO GO if I were still riding in New England but here in Florida it is flatter and there is a little less trail trash so I can probably get away with it.

Thus my prohibition of Walmart bikes continues. Even in a moment of financial weakness I could not, would not contribute to the evil empire. Just kidding but seriously I'm glad my money went to a real bike shop. Now, if I can just stop staring at the bike long enough to take it off the roof of my car. After all, it's so pretty.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Superstitious Nonsense

Drenched but Happy
I have never believed that Friday the 13th brings bad luck. Nothing terrible of any note has happened to me on that particular date. Perhaps I'm immune because I was born on Thursday the 12th. Who knows? Anyway, on this Friday the 13th I was all excited because Peddlers Bike Shop put a seat post adjuster on Terri's cruiser. This meant that I could hike up the seat and go for semi off-road bike ride.

Even though the sun was shining on my house there was a distant rumble, the sound of a low rolling storm. Looking out the front window I could see the darkening clouds in the distance. However, I was determined to go on my trail ride.

Challenging the shadows I set off at a blistering pace. The trail head was 1.5 miles away and easily reachable. Once in the woods the pure joy of the riding took over. This was my small escape from the world. Nothing beats the scent of the woods that fills your lungs as you shred through hardpack covered in pine needles. This is what I have missed over the past year. One solid year, that is how long I have been without a Mountain bike.

Don't get me wrong, I love BMX but there are big differences. A BMX track is a social place, an athletic arena where competitors come to battle. The Mountain Bike trail is a sanctuary for the soul, it is a haven where one can convene with nature at any speed.

In the woods, just past the 2 mile mark I feel the first drop of rain. As any Floridian knows, when it rains here, it rains hard. Within 30 seconds I was getting nailed by a torrential downpour. The rain drops were huge, they hit with an impact and frequency that made it difficult to see.

By the time I made it out of the woods the rain was at full force. Thunder shook the sidewalk beneath me and I could feel the electric flecks of lightning as they ripped across the sky. I stood up on the pedals and powered my way through a wall of water, across the street and down the lane towards home.

For some people being caught in a rain storm on Friday the 13th might seem like bad luck but I disagree. I was drenched but also exhilarated. My heart was beating madly and there was huge smile on face the entire time. That was a great workout. I can't wait to do it again!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Building a Solid Foundation

When I returned to Mountain biking at 35 years old my fitness level was terrible. I was 25 pounds overweight and struggling with Bronchitis. Through Mountain Bike riding, training and racing I lost the weight and got in top form but I started having problems with my lower back.

At 37 when I started BMX Racing the same problem came up. My lower back just couldn't handle the workload of working, riding, training and racing. My back pain affected my outcomes, forcing me to miss more than one event.

I let the excuses rule for a short while. You know them - old age, genetic predispositions, Physical limitations  - the lies we tell ourselves when life seems too hard. Yet I couldn't deny that there were others older than me who managed to keep their bodies strong, healthy and competitive even into their sixties. There had to be a common sense answer. I looked through the literature to find out what was available and came upon Foundation Training.

This is the system used by Lance Armstrong and Matthew McConaughey to keep fantastic fitness despite the demands of their professions. Created by Dr. Eric Goodman, Foundation training is a series of exercises that condition the posterior chain of muscles for a more well rounded core.

The principles matched my needs so I bought the DVD, learned the exercises and started following the workout routines. It has only been a few weeks but you immediately feel a difference in the targeted muscles. My posture both on and off the bike has been positively affected.

This summer I'm focusing on building a stronger back and core using this system. I'll keep you all updated as to the results. Hopefully we'll be able to see a difference in upcoming races this fall.

If you want to check out Foundation Training here is their website: