Monday, January 20, 2014

The SCORR Website is Up and Running

The Sarasota County Off Road Riders have been leading rides, building trails and hosting races for the past three years but now they are legit, online that is. In addition to their Facebook Page, you can get ample information about them on their New Website! The website displays photo galleries from their many events which include pub rides, night riding and the 3rd Annual Piggy's Revenge Off Road Challenge. There are also links to area bike shops, bike clubs and contact information. Plus music videos!

If you have ever wondered about the joy of mountain biking or if you are traveling to Sarasota County, this site is an easy jumping off point for exploring new trails or trying a new hobby. Exciting things are happening in Sarasota County and now the door has been opened for everyone to come inside.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Thrills and Spills at Piggy's Revenge 2014

It was a day of thrills and spills at the 2014 Piggy's Revenge mountain bike endurance race. On January 12th, the Sarasota County Off Road Riders (SCORR) hosted their 3rd annual adventure ride. Riders were able to choose 20,40 or 60 mile routes through the vast reaches of the T. Mabry Carlton Reserve. This year a combination of online registration and enthusiastic promotion drove the largest ever crowd to this little slice of natural heaven in Venice, Florida.

73 participants of all ages gathered at the starting line and broke off in two separate groups. The first group started with a neutral procession lead out by SCORR President Eric Claussen. After an easy mile to get everyone warmed up, the race began.

Piggy's Revenge is unique for many reasons. Being non-sanctioned means that the normal racing ethic is a bit more relaxed. People come to enjoy an adventure, to challenge themselves, to ride with friends, to visit a new park. On this day they enjoyed the full beauty of the Carlton Reserve. They followed double track trails through miles of pine forest and sped down dirt roads in full view of wildlife and wetlands. Twists and turns through grasslands were followed by the excitement of shredding down SCORR's own newly developed singletrack.

While the weather played in their favor, the pigs did not. One rider summed it up nicely, "I never had anything against pigs until today when I ran into the holes they make. Now I know why it's called Piggy's Revenge." The pigs had been out in full force the night before so riders had to watch out for the occasional trail ruts. These sudden pig holes can send a rider over the bars. Luckily no one reported any injuries.

The 40 and 60 mile racing was fast and furious especially for the first 13 miles. Groups of racers stayed within eye shot of each other on the stretches but flowed single file through the woods. The 20 mile riders set a more reasonable pace, enjoying the sun and scenery while keeping the rubber side down.

As for the victors, the 40 mile honors went to Timothy Reifschneider of Nokomis. Riding a singlespeed Tim started out at a measured pace for the first 5 miles but then conquered the rough stuff like a champion, slowing inching away from the rest of the field. Tim is the rider on the right in the picture above.

The 60 mile race had men's and women's classes. The fastest men were part of a team who traveled from Gainesville, Florida known as Cycle Logic. They started with four guys on the long course but two were having a strong day. In the end 1st place went to Rob Robins and 2nd went to Jayson O'Mahoney. They completed the course in just under five hours. You can see their picture at the top of this article.

The ladies 60 also benefited from a team effort. A duo representing Cycling Concepts had traveled all the way down from Connecticut to take the ladies class. Karen Franzen and Donna Davis shared the title of victor. You can see them in the picture above.

Personal Note: It was my first time taking part in this event by entering the 40 mile race. Despite having competed in cross country mountain bike races in the past, I had never before completed anything longer than 27 miles. After a couple weeks of training, including visiting the park and practicing parts of the course, I felt ready.

I started out slowly with the tactic of always staying in the right gear for a given type of terrain. I never pushed harder than what was needed because my strength had to last. It was also important to maintain expectations, in a race this long it never goes perfectly. I paced behind some more experienced riders to stay steady but my chain fell off on the singletrack. I lost a granola bar while trying to eat on the bike, I lost the arrows for a good five minutes before reorienting myself and almost ran over a snake. Despite all the pain and stumbling I finished in 4 hours even, a full hour faster than I anticipated. It was an amazing journey. - Alex H

Praise for Piggy's Revenge!

"One of the best rides we've ever attended! Trails well marked and very diverse. The food was outstanding! We'll definitely be back next year! Thank you!" - Heidi Nelson

"Had a great time today with Scorr Rider at Piggy's Revenge . Thanks to all of the volunteers who helped make this event happen." - Dana Neri

"Thanks for a great ride today. Great to have single track in SRQ!" - Sue Lee

"What a beautiful day and one of the nicest 40 mile rides I have completed. All of you that worked hard to put on this event should feel good. It was appreciated! Look forward to next year." - Mike Vanderkord

On every level the event was a complete success. Volunteers were staged throughout the race to make sure the riders stayed on track at critical junctions. Finishers were greeted with cheers from the crowd at the pavilion and then treated to hot, homemade sausage with tables of food and coolers full of cold drinks. Every participant who pre-registered received a Piggy's Revenge t-shirt to signify their accomplishment.

My lovely wife Terri B was on hand taking photos which are all available on Facebook:

To learn more about SCORR or see pictures from the event visit them on Facebook:

 Click here to see Alex's complete library

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Top 5 Mountain Bike Magazines

Before internet videos became the craze, there were only two ways to explore the trails. The first and best way was to get on your bike and ride. Clad in safety pads or spandex shorts astride a steel or aluminum steed you would shred, spin and discover the world with your only confines being the exertion of your muscles and the fierce beauty of nature. The second way to explore was found in mountain bike magazines. It was here that you could learn about bold adventures in far away places or see results from the big races and learn the details about new technology and products. Full color photos told tales of guts, glory and inspiration for anyone desiring a good read of their favorite pastime.

So how does one determine which to read? Mountain bike magazines come in different styles with different attitudes and intentions. Some talk directly to their audience while others demonstrate a flashy display full of shiny frames and smiling celebrity riders. In preparation for this article I have endeavored to thumb through thousands of glossy pages to pin down the five magazines that deserve your well earned dollars. Hundreds of hours of reading and tons of fan feedback have been taken into account. I carried these books around with me. They were stacked in the gym, the car, at work, in every room of the house and for weeks on end I never stopped reading. I also conversed with some of the magazines to measure their responses.

The final result was less surprising than you might imagine, the top five have done a good job of creating a quality product suitable to their specific market. It was a tough process but each part was considered and evaluated based on the following merits - literary content, visual imagery, responsiveness, popularity and reviews. Now let's take a look at each to see who stood out and why.

Literary Content - This is where stories come to life, where the observations and experiences of columnists, contributors and editors turn words into meaning and emotion. For example, have you ever read an article that made you say, "Holy Sh*#! This is about my riding life!" I had that experience with a recent article in Switchback Magazine. It was the kind of story that summed up decades of life experience in five pages of prose. Props to Switchback, Dirt Rag and Bike Magazine for regularly publishing stories of this type.

Dirt Rag also deserves props for being the only one to feature fiction on their pages as part of a yearly literature contest. These contests turn readers into published writers who often win impressive awards. In addition DR brings light to trail access issues which are a pivotal part of our sport. If you prefer the other side of the pond Mountain Bike Rider (MBR) and Dirt Magazine educate and inform from a Eurocentric point of view. MBR uses a colorful blurb format to stack their pages with nutrition tips, bike hacks and how to's, including full color stories and maps. Dirt Magazine gets props for assembling the best coverage of Downhill racing and the rising Enduro scene.

They say the history of boxing is defined by the heavyweight division. Well, the history of mountain biking has been defined by the progression of West Coast and North Shore riding. Bike and Dirt Rag have contributed significantly to this important genre for years but most recently it has been Freehub which has provided never before told stories of the struggles behind the shovels. Add to that a meaningful look into the lives of celebrity athletes and they have truly raised the bar on content.

Visual Imagery - With snapshots, cartoons, artwork and landscapes, photographers have captured our shred with their shutters and artists have redefined our dreams with their imaginations. While many of the published pics are virtually interchangeable, one magazine with a remarkable vision is Freehub. This coffee table sized mag is brimming with award winning photography from Paris Gore and gallery worthy cover art by Jeff Boyes. They inch ahead of the competition in a field full of worthy adversaries.

Among the worthy is Dirt Rag whose full color drawings both cover and internal are utterly unforgettable. They allow us to see mountain biking from an otherworldly perspective. Once again, Dirt Rag dares to be different. However, the largest mag with the biggest pictures is Decline. Not only do they fill the pages with amazing panoramas, they have also been daring in their approach. One issue was published in full 3D and came with the glasses so readers could see the bikes jumping right off the page.

It would be a crime not to mention the online versions of these magazines. Most every mag has one but International Mountain Bike Magazine (IMB) and Decline have web versions that are both easily accessible and FREE! These include videos on their pages that relate to the story or advertisement thus making each read an interactive experience. I suspect we will see much more of this in the future.

Responsiveness - Mountain bike magazines pride themselves on being "Community Driven," the voice of the rider, a type of "Mountain Bike Forum" where everyone has a say. However, which magazines are actually listening? I made attempts to contact several of these magazines for the sake of this article. I did not pester them like a journalist would, I simply sent them a message or e-mail like a typical reader. The differences in response were dramatic. For now, I'll give you the positive results.

I received responses from Dirt, Freehub and Mountain Bike Action but the best respondents were MBR and Bike Magazine. Mountain Bike Rider Magazine (MBR) is enthusiastic about their product and was happy to share their numbers. They launched in England in 1988 and started with trail riders but have expanded their audience to a circulation of 23,000 with about 10,000 subscriptions. "What we try to do is combine great photos and inspiring features with serious, critical testing," said their Editor. Despite their UK focus MBR has more than enough content to benefit riders here in the states.

As for Bike Magazine, not only did their Online Editor reply to my inquiry within the hour, he was incredibly helpful in providing a vision for their product. I was also happy to see that in their Letters to the Editor section, Bike had apologized for a poorly picked article they had published. They thanked the readers for their feedback and promised to do a better job. You never see that kind of earnest responsibility anymore. They should be commended for it.

Popularity - Some magazines are wealthier than others, some have a wider reach or more newsstand availability but which has the most passionate followers? I put up an informal poll on the IMBA Facebook group knowing that I would get a cross section of readers. Three magazines immediately dived into the lead - Dirt Rag, Mountain Bike Action and Bike Magazine drove the numbers. All others fell to the wayside, stuck in single digits. It was a telling, though unscientific, slice of info.

Facebook popularity tells a similar tale. MBA leads the pack with 230,000 likes, Dirt Magazine takes second with over 180,000 and Singletrack Magazine took third with 160,000. If anything, these numbers are an indicator of the level of social media savvy or focus possessed by the company in question.

Reviews - Almost every magazine conducts reviews of some type. Whether it be bikes, products, trails or events, any expression of value is a kind of review. I'm not a big enough bike geek to tell which magazines know more than any other. What I did notice is that some have better reputations or more notable stories that readers refer to on a regular basis.

At the top of the list is the "Shootout," a regular feature in Mountain Bike Action where bikes are put head to head against each other with a handful of riders on varying terrain to make a judgement. The Shootout has become the industry standard for measuring performance and it is cited more often than any other feature in any mountain bike magazine.

As for reputation, Dirt Rag is often given kudos for their long testing period and thorough examinations. MBR, Switchback and Dirt Magazine should be applauded for their honesty and frankness. However, the big guns come out only once a year. That is when Bike Magazine puts out its Bible of Bike Tests which highlights dozens of products in one sought after issue. Decline also has a yearly review issue that focuses on longer travel bikes. Both are worthy of a read even if your not in the market for a new bike.

The Top 5 - Now that you've read the analysis, it's time for the breakdown. These five have been picked both for their contributions and their trajectory. Each is worthy of being on top but it is the little details that determine greatness. Enjoy.

#5 Dirt Magazine

Dirt caters proudly to the race oriented crowd. Those who love Freeride, Enduro, Downhill and Dirt Jump are served and respected by this magazine. They are deeply bike park focused and on top of the European scene. They employ the voices of elite riders who use their own words to speak about the issues of the day. Being early adopters of the growing sport of Enduro suggests that their audience might grow right along with it.

Personal Note: It took me several days to read one issue of Dirt. I kept learning new things and felt the need to let each sink in before moving forward. The magazine continually surprised me with its diversity of voices. Dirt has a high shelf price but their content is totally worth it.

#4 Freehub Magazine

Freehub Magazine - Freehub is a relatively new magazine based out of Washington State with a strong focus on the west coast and Canada. This magazine is built on behind the shovel stories, comprehensive trail analysis and celebrity rider interviews. These are especially noteworthy when bordered by award winning photography from Paris Gore and gallery worthy cover art by Jeff Boyes. Freehub is an over sized seasonal book with articles so beautifully structured that your non-mountain biking friends will want to read them. Be sure to leave it on your coffee table when you have company over and see what happens.

Personal Note: Freehub is my new baby. I love this magazine with an inappropriate zeal. I get lost in its articles and itch for each new issue. If it's still around in another ten years I see it reaching the top of the list.

#3 Bike Magazine

Bike Magazine - Based out of California, Bike Magazine has had a long and celebrated career in the MTB world. They have been steaming steady for 20 years built on the strength of the trail ride and a sheer love of the bike. Their columns are personal and identifiable. Their stories are a mix of epic treks, historical throwbacks and trail expose's. Bike is a building block in the MTB community but the best argument for their mission was sent to me by 15 year Staff Editor Vernon Felton:

"Our goal is to tell the unheralded stories—to celebrate the kooks, the unknown trails, the unexplored story angles. It is the act of riding that matters. We’ve never cured cancer or made our readers fitter and faster, but I know we’ve persuaded some people to ditch their responsibilities in search of a little sweat, dirt and adventure. I call that success."

#2 Dirt Rag Magazine

After 25 years in business and with 22,000 subscriptions plus a pass along rate of 100,000 readers, Dirt Rag is easily one of the most recognizable of the MTB titles in America. Despite being based in the northeast, DR's readership is well balanced across the United States. The Rag has top notch writing reaching events both local and worldwide plus excellent photography and a reputation for staying on top of trail access issues. DR rates among the best in product and bike reviews. They also have one thing no other title has dared - a yearly Literature Contest. You get all of this for one of the lowest subscription rates in the business paired with the coolest cover art ever produced.

Personal Note: I lost my Dirtginity to Dirt Rag. They were my first. They published a letter of mine and later a short story. I enter the literature contest every year. I used to ride regularly with one of their columnists, the Old Coot Bill Boles. I will be forever loyal to the Rag.

#1 Mountain Bike Action Magazine

MBA is the King of Mountain Bike Magazines. They have the widest audience, the largest online following, the most cited articles and some of the best reviews in the business. Most importantly, this is the magazine that new riders start with. Why? MBA is bright, clean, visual and fun to read. They do not discriminate between types of riders. They are positive and encouraging. They champion the sport. In their pages you can learn about everything from DH racing to trail riding, from celebrity personalities to little known trail systems, from basic bike maintenance to advanced concepts and designs. MBA is professional in their presentation but often humorous in their approach. They have something for everyone.

Personal Note: MBA was more like my dealer. They got me hooked on bike porn. I would do anything to get a copy. If mountain biking is an addiction, MBA is a charismatic pusher who seems to genuinely like you, not just as a customer but as a friend.

Flat Tires

When you bury yourself in hundreds of magazines, you do appreciate all the good stuff but you also can't help but to notice the flaws. When you get bit by the same bug often enough, it really starts to bother. I knew I needed to speak up but I decided to save my criticisms for last. This pain and pun filled paragraph is meant to give the magazines a heads up on where they need to improve. Clench your teeth and squeeze the grips because it's all down hill from here.

* Hey Dirt Rag, you sullied the legacy of Missy Giove by not understanding the negative consequences of tabloid journalism. You later defended the interview! I can suddenly see why you've had 3 Editors in the last 5 years. * So the new GT Sensor is coming out in 2104? Really? One or two spelling mistakes can be overlooked but I read an issue of Switchback where there were grammatical errors in almost every article. Hey guys, it's called a proofreader, get one! * When you define your mission by all the things you're not, "We don't cover the race scene. We don't do shootouts." This negative boasting insults a huge swath of your potential audience. Bike magazine needs to knock that big ole chip off their shoulder. * Finally, Mountain Bike Actions Editor Jimmy Mac doesn't know what sarcasm sounds like. That is so heartbreaking. And still we Shred.

Disclaimer: No animals were harmed during the making of this story. Special thanks to: Walker "Christmas" Ranger (The Orange Cat), Moochy (The Brown Dog) and Mouse (The Raccoon).

 Click here to see Alex's complete library

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Are you Ready for a Real Florida Adventure?

In southwest Florida there a dozen and a half ways to enjoy the weather and the scenery while also getting in shape. From running and swimming to triathlons and mud runs, we have almost everything. When I say almost that is because there is one sport that has only just begun to gain traction in our part of the sunshine state. That sport is off road riding, otherwise known as mountain biking.

You might be asking, how can you mountain bike without mountains? Mountain bikes are built not merely for climbing and descending but more specifically for exploring. The knobby tires and plush suspension make it possible to go on journeys far from the pavement. It is only off road where you will experience the true beauty of southwest Florida's nature and see the vast array of amazing animals up close and personal. Off road riding allows you to have a real Florida adventure.

Where can you go for these types of adventures? A trail building group named SCORR (Sarasota County Off Road Riders) has built a mountain bike specific trail system in Venice at the T.Mabry Carlton Reserve park. These new trails consist of 4+ miles of fun, twisty singletrack which is connected to 80 miles of long established fire roads.

SCORR gathers every Tuesday night, and sometimes on the weekends, for group rides around the park. These rides break up into smaller groups for varying abilities and speeds. They always warmly welcome new people to join them. However, if you already enjoy spending time riding off road you might want to visit their yearly event - The Piggy's Revenge Off Road Challenge.

Piggy's Revenge is a mountain bike race/ride designed for most skill levels with challenges set at 20, 40 and 60 mile lengths. This event allows riders to explore a huge swath of the Carlton Reserve in one fun filled day. The variety of trails includes the new singletrack plus many miles of doubletrack, fire roads, dirt roads and some shorter stretches of rough terrain. You can see pictures of many of these trails in my recent Facebook album entitled, 'Exploring the Carlton.'

The three different lengths will all be marked out with arrows and should be very easy to follow. All riders will travel the first 15 miles together, the 40 and 60 mile riders will continue for another 11 miles before the final split. There will be a rest stop around mile 26 and there are bail out points along the way.

For those who participate there will be homemade sausages hot off the grill and custom t-shirts to mark their accomplishment. The top male and female who complete the 60 mile route will earn Piggy's Revenge trophies as seen in the photo at the start of this article. Remember you get to pick your route - 20, 40 or 60 miles. Map routes are available for preview.

Piggy's Revenge takes place on Sunday, January 12th, 2014 at 8am. This is the 2nd annual gathering of this event and anyone can be a part of it but you must sign up online at the link below.

Complete rules and maps here: Piggy's Revenge 2014

Online Registration here: Piggy's Revenge -