Triangle Fat Tire Festival + Mountain Bike Demo Day

We’ve got big news if you live in the Triangle Area (near our home town of Chapel Hill, NC).  We’re heading to the Triangle Fat Tire Festival, home of the 6 BC Endurance Race, and we’re bringing some sweet bikes along to test out.  In addition to the great events put on by the local Triangle Off-Road Cyclists group to keep the whole family occupied, plus a great 6 hour mountain bike race on the trails of Briar Chapel to test your skills and stamina (don’t worry, you can also race as a team or just do a 3 hour version), there will also be a chance to test-ride and ogle an array of cool new bikes!

Of course we’ll be bringing along 2011 versions of our exclusive Access line of 29″ mountain bikes (including some samples of our hot new Access Stealth Carbon 29″ mountain bikes–you will want one of these), but we’re also bringing along some friends with their new rides.  

Fuji Bikes will be in full effect with samples of their new lightweight carbon cyclocross ride, the Altamira CX, along with their totally redesigned full-suspension Outland 29er mountain bike.

Legendary company Breezer Bikes will also be there, showing off their gorgeous new Cloud 9 29″ hardtail (it’s almost too good looking to get dirty!)

Still not enough for you?  Well, you can also expect to see mountain bike star Eric Carter and the rest of the GT Bicycles Good Times Tour rolling into town, with a demo fleet of Carbon Forces, Marathons and Zaskars, along with aluminum Zaskar and Sensor 9rs (plus who knows what else in tow)!

So if you are around our area on Saturday, October 16th, and are interested in bikes, then the Triangle Fat Tire Festival is where you want to be.  Sign up to race the endurance race (you even get a post-race meal with your entry fee) or just show up to check out the festivities and all the new bikes.  We hope to see you there!

Pisgah MTB Stage Race – Stage 5

Finally, the fifth and final stage of the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race was upon us.  Our route for the day was the same as day 3 from last year, but that was about all that was the same!  Instead of wet and freezing temps, we were greeted with another beautiful day in western North Carolina, with clear skies and temperature ranging from 60 up to 85 degrees (no chance of snow on Laurel Mountain this year)! As you can see in the Google Earth map generated from my Garmin Edge 500, we had another big loop in store for us, with many stream crossings, the highest point of the race, and one of the gnarliest downhills thrown in for good measure:

But before we started, as promised, here’s a shot of Chris and I (David) with one of the famous white squirrels of Brevard!  OK, maybe the sneakers give it away, but that’s just a guy in a (somewhat tattered) squirrel suit.

The final stage started with a controlled roll-out, with police escort, onto the road that leads out of Pisgah Forest from our daily start/finish site at the base of Black Mountain.  We even got to stop traffic at an intersection (but the people of Brevard were exceedingly polite about the whole event, but perhaps they were just utterly perplexed by the sight of 50-odd spandex clad mountain bikers rolling down the road)!  Once we turned onto the main highway leading north, towards our first singletrack of the day, I tried to stay tucked in with the lead group as long as I could, but faded off the back on the first big hill (the first 4 days were really catching up with me).  Chris dropped back and we pacelined the rest of the paved miles until our turnoff onto the first big fire road climb of the day.

Soon enough we hit singletrack, a fun rolling stretch along Turkeypen Gap, before we dropped down to a creekside trail.  We waded through the chilly water many times  as the trail zig-zagged back and forth across the stream.  The first crossing was the deepest, but it was only about knee-high this year:

Since I had my GoPro HD Hero helmet cam ready to go, I made a little compilation of the stream crossing action, to give you a feel for the experience:

Once we finished the lowland stretch of stream crossings, the trail pointed ever upward and we started the long climb to the top of Laurel Mountain.  As I said, it was a beautiful day, so attempting this climb without blinding snow made it eminently more enjoyable, but it was still a hard slog.  We are definitely not elite level mountain bikers by any means, so riding for 5 straight days for over 5 hours was really starting to wear me down.  Even what would normally be fast and fun singletrack just became a matter of survival.

But battle on we did, pushing our bikes up Laurel Mountain when we had to (well, everyone had to at some point, as it was ridiculously steep)!  Once at the top, the view was amazing, but we soon had out hands full with the descent off of Pilot Mountain.  Rocky hairpin switchbacks greeted us for miles as we plunged downward–we needed every suspension advantage from our GT Sensor 9rs to get down in one piece.  Here I am navigating the “humvee” section near the bottom of Pilot Mountain:

After some paved road connectors, it was back onto the Avery Creek Trail for one last hurrah of Pisgah singletrack.

After one last fire road climb, and a last time pushing up over Black Mountain, we got to enjoy the 4 mile downhill that ended every day during the race!  Final stats for stage 5: 41.48 miles, 9,127 feet of elevation gained and a time of 6 hours and 43 minutes.  If we look a little wiped-out in the photo below, now you know why:

All that was left was to enjoy the post-race festivities.  But, wouldn’t you know it, on the way there we actually saw a real, live white squirrel!  I actually forced Chris to turn the van around so I could go back and get photographic evidence this time.  Cute little guys, aren’t they:

The closing ceremonies were held at the Brevard Music Center campus, where there was plenty of room for vendor booths and activities for young and old (from a kids’ race to a pie-eating contest):

Here’s a cool cut-away view of the internals of an Industry Nine freehub body, on display at their booth–they’re based near Asheville, NC and make some fantastic wheelsets:

Finally it was time for awards.  Once again we were only able to finish 5th in the team classification, but at least that meant we made the final podium (OK, technically we were standing on the ground).  To see a list of all the winners, check out Cycling News for their final breakdown (pro Jeremiah Bishop took the overall title once again).  Our final tally after all 5 stages: 173.50 miles and 39,621 feet of elevation in 28 hours 9 minutes (but who’s counting).  To see more from the race, check out the photo album on our Facebook page or go to our Youtube page (plus Thom from Cycling Dirt also logged some great coverage as he raced).

The Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race was again an epic challenge of endurance and willpower–definitely the hardest test on a mountain bike that I’ve ever tried.  Chris and I survived the race more than anything else, but it was still a blast.  We had no major problems with either man or machine (unless you count my sore legs), and our GT Sensor 9r mountain bikes performed great throughout all 5 days.  We’ll post more detailed reviews of our equipment in the next couple of weeks, to give you a few tips about what we discovered by pushing our gear to the limit (and hopefully let you know how you can get a GT Sensor 9r of your very own, while supporting Hans Rey’s great Wheels for Life charity).

But we’ll finish up this post with a few words from the race organizer, Todd Branham, talking about this year’s race, and what he has in store for next year.  Knowing Todd, it will definitely be an adventure!

Pisgah MTB Stage Race – Stage 4

Todd Branham is one fantastic race director.  When he says he’s going to put together one of the toughest stage races in the world, he means it.  When he says that the winners are truly going to have earned their prizes, he means it.  When he says that tomorrow’s stage is going to be easier than today’s, he is lying.  Big time.

Stage 4 was just like many of the other stages.  It started with a brutal climb and covered some of the East Coast’s most technical trail networks.  The difference was that there weren’t fire road sections connecting one part to another.  No, this stage was about 95% single track, which means that we had a tremendously slow average speed and took a mental drubbing to boot.

Before the stage started, everything was fine.  Here’s David signing in, as was our morning ritual:

Then the gun went off and we started out by riding the finishing stretch of each days’ stage backwards – straight up Black Mountain.

After pedaling uphill for about 30 minutes, the trail really kicked skyward and we were forced off our GT Sensor 9rs (along with everyone else).

Up, up and away we went, to start what became the longest stretch between aid stations we had all week (over 2 and a half hours).  David drained his Camelbak.  Then we worked together to drain mine as well.  By the time we came down the “stairs” to the first aid station we realized we were in for one long day.

We then had to tackle Squirrel Gap backwards (relative to the direction we rode it during stage 2).  This was so mentally taxing that at one point, I fell off of the side of the trail, quite literally.  Luckily, David was there to pull my bike back up onto the trail so I could climb back up myself (there was a bit of a drop).

About the only way to find inspiration out on the trails was to have 2 guys screaming and ringing cowbells in your ear, and luckily 2 local residents obliged on what they called “Hell Hill” (a nasty little climb that you had to power through if you didn’t want an earful from the cowbell-ringers):

After a mere 7 hours and 30 minutes we crossed the finish line (since we rode “only” 38.27 miles today, that gave us a scintillating 5.1 mph average speed).  Many riders behind us missed cut-off times on this stage and everyone agreed that it was the most physically and mentally challenging stage of the race so far.

How do you recover from something like that?  Well, for starters, we split an XL “party size” pizza with numerous toppings and washed it down with Fat Tire Ale.

Follow up dinner by watching a podium presentation and a movie.  Here Jeremiah Bishop takes top honors for winning the stage (in a mere 4 hours and 15 minutes).

Following the podium presentation, we watched Ride the Divide, a documentary about the ultra-endurance Tour Divide Race (it runs from Canada to Mexico) which features 7-time champion & Chapel Hill native Matt Lee, seen below introducing the movie:

Over 10,000 feet of climbing and about 10,000 calories of pizza consumption lead to another great night’s sleep at our campsite with dreams (nightmares?) of Laurel Mountain running through our heads.

Pisgah MTB Stage Race – Stage 3

Our intrepid racers David and Chris (as you’ll recall, David works in Marketing, while Chris is in our Bikes division) are safely back in the office after their adventure at the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race, and they’ve picked up where they left off last week with recaps of their long days in the saddle.  Today Chris offers up his take on Stage 3, which included the famed Farlow Gap descent:

Stage 3 of the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race had us up early to catch a shuttle to the start at a campground a few miles away from our normal departure point at the base of the Black Mountain descent.  As you can see by the map below, our return route to the finish line wasn’t exactly a straight line (things in Pisgah never are!):

But everything was well-organized and there were plenty of trailers on-hand that were specifically designed to carry bicycles.  This way none of our fancy-pants bikes would end up with more scratches on them than we would later inflict upon them as we descended down the infamous Farlow Gap (last year we missed out on this bit of trail because it was covered in ice–what a difference a year and about 40 degrees makes!)

Once all of the bikes were safely stowed, we piled into waiting passenger vans and headed out!

Here are David and Alex Hawkins, another rider from our company hometown of Chapel Hill, NC who made the trip to the mountains to race (and Alex ended up winning his 40+ division overall!)

As tom-foolery and pre-race banter filled the back of the vans, our loyal volunteers drove us to our remote starting location where Todd (the race organizer) had another surprise in store for us: somersaults.  Not content to simply start us on a grueling mountain bike stage with a stream crossing about 100 yards in, we had to first perform a somersault (or cart-wheel) in a designated area, then run and find our bikes.  Despite virtually no training in this area of mountain biking, we succeeded and were on our way (with surprisingly no injuries sustained).

The trail eventually took us to the dreaded Farlow Gap where we found a rocky descent the likes of which we had never seen before.  It all culminated in a series of stream crossings like the one below.  We saddled up and jumped the streams of course.

Just kidding.

But what’s the fun of telling you about the riding, when I can show you a sampling of the sweet trails we got to ride this day (shot with our GoPro HD HERO camera).  So while there was a lot of fire road to slog through on this stage, plus quite a few sections of singletrack that we had to walk in order to avoid something catastrophic, we were usually amply rewarded with miles of some of the best trails that you can find anywhere in the world:

The one constant through all of the varied and difficult terrain was the high spirits of the volunteers.  At each aid station (there were 3 per stage) we were treated like kings.  As we rolled up to the tent, they would rush towards us asking if there was anything we needed while retrieving our aid station bags (which we packed to send ahead) and filling our Camelbaks for us.  It was sweet luxury after hours in the saddle to have food waiting for us and more than a little positive attitude to raise our spirits.

While this was a long day, we had no idea that the next day would be even longer and that we would appreciate the aid stations more than ever.  Still, with an elevation profile like this one it’s no wonder we slept like babies that night.

Totals for the day: 43.34 miles, 8,823 ft of elevation gained, and 6 hours 40 minutes on the bike (I think the pro winner, Jeremiah Bishop, finished up in around 4 hours or so).

Pisgah MTB Stage Race – Stage 2

Another day down at the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race. Today was hailed as the “Queen Stage” and it certainly lived up to that moniker. We rode 38.24 miles and climbed 8,912 feet!  Here I (David) am trying to stay upright on a side-slope & rooty trail (most of the pictures are of me, since Chris was usually way ahead of me and had time to set up camera shots)!

The tree branches grabbed at our arms constantly as we battled our way across Squirrel Gap. The trail has been called “half-track” because it’s not wide enough to justify the name “single track”.  But at least the weather was perfect this year, instead of last year when this stage was cold, wet, and generally miserable (made especially so since I broke one of my pedals halfway through the stage).  Here I am battling through the foliage (I’m right in the middle, hiding Where’s Waldo-style):

Fire roads served to ferry us from one section of trail to another all day. This sounds like a pleasant break from the brutal single track, but in fact Todd (the race promoter) uses the technical ease of the fire roads to get away with making them 7+ mile climbs. Below you can see me suffering up climb number three (today).  You may also notice the odd protuberance from the top of my helmet–that’s our GoPro HD Helmet Hero camera, which we used to shoot some cool footage from the stage today (we’ll post a movie on our Youtube channel soon):

Our closest rivals (with whom we are engaged in a fierce competition for who gets to be last place in the team competition) Tom and Karen were celebrating a wedding anniversary today. Here Karen showcases her trademark good humor and optimism on top of Black Mountain, despite having just gone through a half hour of hike-a-bike (and calling it hike-a-bike really doesn’t do it justice):

We had to push our bikes a quite a bit today, but small consolation was the view from the top on the way to the Black Mountain descent.  Here we are posing with our GT Sensor 9rs, which we put through quite the workout today:

We finished the stage today in 5 hours 44 minutes, an improvement of an hour and half over last year!  Here’s a map of the stage, showing the out-and-back course:

And here’s the elevation profile (those last peaks are the hike-a-bike sections, leading to that final ripping descent off Black Mountain):

We’ll be up early tomorrow to catch the shuttle to the start of Stage 3, which includes the fearsome Farlow Gap (although Todd says it has an overblown reputation, as the hard part is only about 100 yards of rock ledge dropoffs… onto more rocks).

Pisgah MTB Stage Race – Stage 1

Monday evening David and I (Christopher) packed up our bags and headed to Brevard, North Carolina where we would set up camp and get a good night’s rest in preparation for today’s big first stage of the 2010 Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race.  We rented a van for the drive since we have a tendency to overpack (why not bring 2 spare bikes, and extra wheels, spare tires, and…well, you get the point):

This morning came early as we were up with the sunrise in order to make up breakfast and drive to the start of the stage (although the temp would warm up nicely, it was chilly early in the morning).

This was the only stage we will have to drive to and thank goodness! The drive was rough! There was over 6 miles of gravel road that apparently doesn’t see too much care and our rental van was barely up to the challenge (it sounded like someone threw a handful of quarters into a clothes dryer).

None the worse for wear, we arrived at the start with plenty of time to sign in and get warmed up. The finish line was at the beautiful Blue Moon on Pinnacle Peak, which had a spectacular view:

Another cool feature of the race was that we all had to sign in before the stage (like they do in the Tour de France).  Here I am signing in, getting as close to Jeremiah Bishop as I would all day!

 

Here we are, ready to go, in our Performance team kits, next to our GT Sensor 9rs:

 

Stage 1 was touted as the easiest of the 5 stages. We started by all rolling out for a neutral (not racing) 7 mile ride to the start line (mostly downhill). Then as a surprise we faced a Le Mans start (which is where you have to run and pick up your bike, always an amusing sight at a bike race) before facing “Dupont Forest’s rockiest terrain”. The stage consisted of a 12 mile climb (with brief glorious downhill sections) to take us back up to the finish line. The highlight of the day was David flying headfirst into a deep stream crossing–he took the race promoter’s word seriously when he said that everything on the stage was rideable! Someone was actually on the scene taking a video, so we will post it as soon as we find out who it was filming.  The battle was hard fought but in the end, we weren’t last!

 

Waiting for us at the finish line was a field full of happy participants and very nice lunches (Jeremiah Bishop won the stage, of course, in a close fought battle–or so we’re told!)

 

As we sat and ate we pondered what tomorrow would bring. Today was an hour and a half of very difficult trail. Tomorrow will bring more than three times that. Should be fun!

 

Final stats for the day: 12.16 miles and 2,540 feet of vertical gain:

 

On the road to Pisgah with GT Sensor 9rs

David and Chris are packing up today to head out to the Land of the White Squirrel (that’s Brevard, NC) for the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race (which starts Tuesday, Sept. 14).  But before they left they wanted to share a few thoughts on their ride for the week of racing, the exclusive GT Sensor 9r mountain bike.  Just in case you’ve forgotten, David works in our Marketing department (although you may remember him from his on-the-scene posts from this year’s Tour de France), while Chris works in our Bikes department, making sure that all of our stores have the right mountain bikes in stock.  Here’s David talking about his experiences on the GT Sensor 9r:

We’ve only been riding the GT Sensor 9rs for a few weeks, but it really has been a eye-opening experience for me.  Stepping up from a 26″ full-suspension bike to this 29″ design has been fantastic, especially since the GT Sensor 9r has 120mm of rock-solid Fox suspension front and rear.  Just taking the bike out of the box, I really liked the whole look, from the dark green paint job to the aggressive-looking top tube shape.

Of course we couldn’t resist throwing on a few upgrades while we had the chance.  Both Chris and I installed a Crank Brothers Joplin 4 seatpost, with remote, as it’s the perfect weapon to battle the variety of gnarly terrain ahead in Pisgah.  Chris then swapped out his components for a full Shimano XTR build, while I opted for an FSA crankset and cockpit with Avid Elixir CR disc brakes, plus a SRAM X.O rear derailleur/X.9 shifters combination (and of course Ergon GP1 grips).

So how does it ride?  Well, I’m a big fan!  I love how the 29″ wheels roll over technical sections of the trail, and GT’s Independent Drivetrain suspension design does a great job of isolating pedaling-induced suspension feedback.  Plus, I really like having 120mm of suspension to bail me out when the trail gets nasty.  In short, it should be a great ride for the long days in the saddle on the super-technical trails of the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race.

The only thing I don’t know if it will help me with is in trying to catch a glimpse of one of the elusive white squirrels of Brevard! I swear I saw one last year, but Chris still doesn’t believe me!

2010 Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race

After a brutal test last year at the inaugural Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race, David and Chris are out to prove that they haven’t learned their lesson. On September 14th they will return to Brevard, NC to once again test their mettle  over five days on some of the most difficult terrain this planet has to offer (in the fabled Pisgah Forest).

The 2010 Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race is a whole day longer than last year, plus features over 9000 feet of climbing and between 35-40 miles per day…  except for Stage 1.  So this first stage must be a nice way to ease into the race then, right?  Try again – it’s a 7 mile “warmup” descent followed by a 12 mile hill climb with 2000 feet of elevation gain.  This is Pisgah after all.

Chris and David Cresting Laurel Mountain in the 2009 race

There may not be any snow in the forecast this year, but there will still be plenty of epic singletrack, gnarly downhills, and, of course, stream crossings to keep things challenging.  Since this fantastic event takes place in our proverbial “backyard”, we’re sending David and Chris back to the race to report on the experience and meet the fun-loving folks who like to test themselves with this kind of adventure (definitely post a comment if you are headed to the race).

GT Sensor 9er Mountain Bike

Once again, David and Chris will be torture-testing one of the GT bicycles that we carry, and what better steed than the brand new GT Sensor 9r Mountain Bike.  With a thru-axle front fork, 120mm of travel and 29″ wheels, the GT Sensor 9er is the perfect bike for the rugged Pisgah trails.

But we also want use the attention from the race to raise money for a very good cause – Wheels For Life, the nonprofit organization started by mountain biking legend Hans Rey to provide bikes for people in developing countries (to help them get to work, school or medical care).  To this end we’re going to auction off one of the same brand new GT Sensor 9ers that David and Chris will be riding during the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race (but if you win the auction you’ll get one in the size of your choice, of course), with all of the proceeds going directly to Wheels for Life.  So you can read all about David and Chris’ adventure, then bid on a brand new GT Sensor 9er that you can use to create your own adventures, all while supporting a great cause.

In addition to amateur riders, like our team, there will also be a number of pros at the race dueling it out for the richest cash purse of any mountain bike stage race in the US.  On the women’s side of things, mountain biking Olympian Susan Haywood will be back defending her win from last year against Carey Lowery, who would love to be one step higher on the podium this time.  In the men’s race, Colby Pearce will be there showing people that he can handle his bike even when he’s not riding in banked circles (he’s a track rider who went to the last Olympic Games); Evan Plews is an experienced mountain bike racer who would probably crush most of the field riding singlespeed; and it looks like multiple-time national champion Jeremiah Bishop will be back to defend his title from last year’s stage race (you may have seen Jeremiah placing 5th in the fabled Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race or winning the Breck Epic and Trans-Sylvania Epic stage races earlier this year!)

So look for updates from David and Chris as they get ready for their racing adventure, plus posts and pictures live from Pisgah with highlights of the week’s action.  Our team will give their insight into what it’s like to race in a stage race like this, and hopefully inspire you to get out there and tackle your own epic adventure!

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