5 Ways To Get The Most Out Of The Off Season

I guess we’re getting just about to that point of the year. The days get shorter, the group rides start to taper off, and the last of the gran fondos and event rides are just about over. For racers, the last road races of the season should be in a week or two.

For many, it means taking some well-deserved time off. For most though, it means it’s time to start thinking about the off-season.

Now don’t let the term “off-season” fool you—this is the best time of year for riding. But to rest, recover, and come back stronger next year, follow these simple tips for the rest of this year.

 

1. Long Steady Distance (LSD)

This fall, ride longer and slower than you normally would. This is the time of year for sprawling weekend rides in the little ring. And when we say steady, we mean slow and steady. Take it conversation-pace easy, ride with a buddy, and have a good time.

Why: During the high season of cycling most riders concentrate on high intensity work, which is great for building strength, but often neglect the slow burn work that builds aerobic capacity. LSD riding during the fall and winter will help you build a good aerobic base for the spring.

long steady distance

Fall and winter are the time for slow, steady, meandering rides to take in the scenery, enjoy a mid-ride conversation, and build an aerobic base

 

2. Mix It Up

During the fall we normally introduce more rest days into our week. Normally we ride 5-6 days a week during the summer, but usually reduce it to just 3 or 4 during the fall, with half of those being mountain bike or ‘cross rides.

Why: Letting your body and mind rest by riding fewer days and mixing up the type of riding you do is incredibly important. The rest days give your body time to recover and rebuild, while varying up your riding routine helps prevent mental burnout.

mix it up

Mixing in some mountain biking can be a good way to keep from mentally burning out

 

3. Get Stronger

Run. Lift weights. Do core work. In short, try to work out the muscles you don’t use much during cycling.

Why: Cycling is a single plane exercise that only works a few muscles in specific directions. Running, lifting weights, and core work can help strengthen muscles, tendons and ligaments to help prevent injury.

*If it’s been a few years since you last ran or lifted, go easy until your tendons, ligaments and muscles can adapt. Most cyclists are very aerobically fit, which means when they start running or lifting they can easily injure themselves by trying to do too much too soon.

For running start out easy with a half a mile once a week to start, then build in .5 mile increments from there.

For weight lifting we recommend consulting a personal trainer before you start. It’s worth the $30 or $40 it costs for a session if it avoids a more costly injury later from using too much weight or improper form.

Running and lifting weights can help you get in shape for 'cross season and make you more injury resistant next year

Running and lifting weights can help you get in shape for ‘cross season and make you more injury resistant next year

4. Stretch It Out

Last weekend we pulled the yoga mat out of the closet and started going to our traditional off-season classes again. With darker days coming, this is a great time to start doing some yoga or pilates that can help lengthen tight muscles, reducing the chance of injury and the inflammation that builds up after months or riding.

Why: Cycling can be very hard on muscles, and when overworked they often respond by shortening and forming adhesions and muscles knots. Dynamic lengthening exercises like yoga and pilates help safely stretch out those muscles, helping to reduce back, neck and shoulder pain, and make you more flexible, which also makes you more resistant to injury.

yoga

Yoga and pilates are good ways to get more limber to help avoid injury

 

5. Mix In Intensity

We know we just said to go easy through the fall and winter. But make sure you’re doing the occasional high intensity ride that really pushes up your heart rate and makes you work hard. Try doing a hard intervals ride or a difficult trainer session once a week or once every other week.

Why: Low intensity is a good thing for recovery, but too much of it can lead to detraining, which is where you begin to loose fitness. Studies show that by doing occasional high intensity training, you can preserve your peak fitness by up to 15 weeks. Think of it as kind of like occasionally starting the engine on a car that’s been put away for the winter.

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Long and slow distance is the name of the game– but don’t forget to get some high intensity work in too

Eddie’s 100 Mile Mountain Bike Race Prep

Eddy and his steed

Eddie and his steed

This fall some of our home office employees will be pushing their cycling skills to the limit. The first up is Eddie, a data analyst in our marketing department. Eddie is superfast on a mountain bike (or really just any kind of bike), and has been orienting his training and riding all year around completing the Shenandoah Mountain 100 bike race this coming coming weekend.

Course profile for The Shenandoah Mountain 100 bike race

Course profile for The Shenandoah Mountain 100 bike race

The ride starts in Harrisonburg, VA (where another employee will attempt another big ride later in September). Shenandoah is one of the toughest mountain bike races on the East Coast. Covering a mix of dirt, trail, gravel and pavement, the Shenandoah 100 features a massive amount of climbing, tough terrain, and plenty of challenges.

Unfortunately for Eddie, nobody else in our office has done this ride before, so he’s had to figure out how to equip and provision himself on his own. We think he’s got it pretty well dialed in though.

Check out what he’ll be using for the ride.

 

The Bike

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Eddie’s heavily customized Diamondback Overdrive Carbon Expert is race ready and looking good

 

Frame:

Diamondback Overdrive Carbon Expert

Probably my favorite bike that I own, it is a super lightweight carbon hardtail with 29” wheels. It is an excellent cross country bike, light enough for both long climbs and nimble enough for fast, technical descents.

Eddy has certainly put the Overdrive Carbon Expert through it's paces

Eddie has certainly put the Overdrive Carbon Expert through it’s paces

Components/Drivetrain:

Shimano XT brakes and drivetrain with Race Face Next SL crank

Shimano’s XT disc brakes provide firm, consistent stopping power, even in wet conditions and XT drivetrain gives durable, consistent shifting. The clutch derailleur ensures that the chain will stay on even through the roughest descents. The Next SL crankset is light and strong, perfect for a light cross country race bike.

Shimano XT hydraulic brakes and 1x10 drivetrain

Shimano XT hydraulic brakes and 1×10 drivetrain

Raceface Next SL crank with Raceface Narrow Wide chainring

Raceface Next SL crank with Raceface Narrow Wide chainring

Gearing:

1×10 setup: 36 tooth Race Face Narrow/Wide chainring, 11-34 cassette with e*thirteen 40 tooth extended range cog

I swapped out the 17 tooth cog on my XT cassette for a 40 tooth e*thirteen extended range cog to widen my range of gears for both going up and down.

The e*thriteen 40T extended range cog should give Eddy plenty of gearing for the steepest parts of the course

The e*thriteen 40T extended range cog should give Eddie plenty of gearing for the steepest parts of the course

Wheels:

Easton EA70

These are great wheels. They are durable, light, and will provide plenty of comfort over the 100 mile ride.

Tires:

Schwalbe Racing Ralph Tubeless with Snake Skin protection, (2.35” front, 2.25” rear)

I’ll be putting on some fresh rubber for the race and Racing Ralphs are really the only XC tires that I run. They are light, fast, and provide plenty of traction through corners. The wider 2.35” front provides more traction in the corners and the thinner 2.25” rear helps reduce rolling resistance. The snakeskin provides extra protection for the back country trails at a minimal weight penalty. I run them tubeless with 19 PSI in the front and 20 PSI in the rear.

Easton EA70 wheels are a good mix of durability and light weight. The Racing Ralph tires provide plenty of traction.

Easton EA70 wheels are a good mix of durability and light weight. The Racing Ralph tires provide plenty of traction.

EQUIPMENT

Shoes:

Giro Privateer

They aren’t the lightest or the stiffest cross country race shoes, but they are incredibly comfortable and on a 100 mile race, comfort is king. They also provide enough traction for any sections, such as creeks or steep, wet switchbacks where walking is the best option.

The Giro Privateer provides all-day comfort on the bike...and while walking

The Giro Privateer provides all-day comfort on the bike…and while walking

Socks:

DeFeet Wooleator

For a 100 mile MTB race, wool socks are the only option. With creek crossings, possible rain, and sticky heat, the Wooleators will keep my feet dry and cool. I’m planning to pack a second pair in case I need to swap at the midway point.

DeFeet Wooleater socks will dry quickly and help prevent hot spots

DeFeet Wooleater socks will dry quickly and help prevent hot spots

Kit:

Pearl Izumi Elite Team – Performance Exclusive

This is easily the most comfortable kit I own, and as with shoes, comfort is king. The Performance Bike logos will also let me rep my team colors throughout the race.

Comfortable, breathable, and reps the team colors

Comfortable, breathable, and reps the team colors

Helmet:

Lazer Z1

Lightweight, comfortable and super ventilated, this helmet was made for climbing…so it should be in its element out there.

The Z1 is one of the best new helmets out there. To find out more, check out our review below.

The Z1 is one of the best new helmets out there. To find out more, check out our review below.

Read our review of the Z1 here

Sunglasses:

Scattante Exhale – with Clear Lenses

The glasses are super comfortable and the clear lenses provide plenty of trail visibility, even in rainy conditions. They also store comfortably in my helmet in case I decide to ride without them.

The Scattante Exhale glasses come with multiple lenses to suit your needs

The Scattante Exhale glasses come with multiple lenses to suit your needs

Tools:

-2 tubes

-Spin Doctor Rescue 16 Multi Tool

- Minipump

- Garmin Edge 810 GPS

The biggest concern will be flats, even with plenty of Stan’s Tire Sealant in my tires, so I’m packing two spare tubes. My Spin Doctor Rescue 16 provides all the tools I need for trail-side repairs including a chain breaker and hex wrenches ranging from 2mm to 8mm. The Garmin will help with pacing and planning as I’ll be able to see my distance and average speed throughout the race.

The Spin Doctor Rescue 16 tool has pretty much everything you need to get out of a jam

The Spin Doctor Rescue 16 tool has pretty much everything you need to get out of a jam

Food:

- Peanut butter, banana, bacon sandwich

- 2 sleeves caffeinated Clif Shot Bloks

- 1 Kramp Krusher salt chews

- 1 bottle of plain water

- 1 Bottle Water with Hammer Gel (2 parts water, 1 part Hammer Gel)

This will be my on-the bike food for the first 40 miles, but the course includes 6 aid stations stocked with plenty of food and water, so I’ll be able to restock and refuel throughout the race.

Mixed with water, Hammer Gel gives you all the energy you need for a long day in the saddle

Mixed with water, Hammer Gel gives you all the energy you need for a long day in the saddle

Drop Bags:

The race allows two one gallon zip lock drop bags to be sent to any checkpoints on the course. I’m going to go with just one, sent to the 75 mile station. The coffee will give me the extra kick I need to push through the last 25 miles. In case it rains, I want to be able to swap out for dry socks and gloves. Also, no one is allowed past the 75 mile mark after 4:20 PM unless they have lights, so just in case I’m running behind schedule, I’ll have a lightweight, super bright light to help see the course.

Poc Index Flow gloves will help give Eddy's hands and arms some relief after 75 miles of hard riding

Poc Index Flow gloves will help give Eddie’s hands and arms some relief after 75 miles of hard riding

 

First Look: 2014 Charge Cooker SS 29er Mountain Bike

When we unboxed the Charge Cooker SS mountain bike, everyone had something to say.

Mostly, folks wanted to start customizing it right away. Here were some of the initial reactions:

  • I want to turn it into a monster bike with drop bars!
  • You’ve got to find some chrome grips and bits to match that frame finish.
  • I could totally ride that to work.
  • No horizontal drop outs? OH! It has an eccentric bottom bracket. Nice.
  • I could always use another mountain bike. Do you need that right now? Can I have it?

Clearly, everyone was excited about the possibilities that the Cooker SS presented, but at first blush, it had plenty to offer right out of the box.

About the Frame

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The 2014 Charge Cooker SS Mountain Bike

The first thing that we noticed was the matching frame and fork finish. The Tange steel-butted chromoly tubes feature a gorgeous, polished finish, an eccentric bottom bracket and stainless steel hardware. For some perspective, Tange steel is custom drawn and has a titanium-like feel: lively, comfortable and forgiving thanks to its road vibration dampening properties. It is formed using Tange’s 90 years of experience in manufacturing steel tubes. It has a high level of strength, responsiveness and stiffness. The Cooker SS fit, in conjuction with a more aggressive frame geometry and a wide, 9-degree sweptback flattop handlebar, translates into a body-forward, confident riding position to handle plenty of aggressive trail obstacles.

About the Drivetrain & Brakes

Charge chose versatile 32-tooth to 18-tooth cog gearing. The Truvativ E400 crankset features a chainguard for added chain security. It is easily customizable by adding your favorite 4-bolt ring or single-speed cog.

About Tires & Clearance

Like most 29ers today, the Cooker SS featured a set of hydraulic disc brakes with 180/160mm rotors. Given the lighter duties of a rigid single-speed bike, that is more power than will be required by most riders; a definite bonus in our minds.Finally, terrain can vary widely, depending on where you live, and where you love to ride. The Cooker SS comes with a great set of Maxxis Aspen tires. They are ideal for fast-and-furious trails, where low rolling resistance and less dig is required. However, if you prefer something beefier, the Cooker SS has plenty of tire clearance. Personally, we love the Forte Pisgah tires for their bite, durability and versatility.

Our Two Cents

In conclusion, if you’re in the market for an eye-catching single-speed 29er, the British designed 2014 Charge Cooker SS offers plenty of performance right out of the box, plus the ability to be customized to your hearts content.

Ridden and Reviewed: Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 Carbon Hardtail Mountain Bike

Race-ready with the Fuji SLM

Our coworker Eddie getting ready to race with the Fuji SLM

We first had an opportunity to throw a leg over the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 at the Outdoor Dirt Demo. It was hot off the presses at the time and was something like the 48th bike claiming to be “The Ultimate Bike Ever Made” that we’d seen that day. By this point in the afternoon though, we needed to see some proof in the pudding. You can’t imagine our surprise when after a couple of laps the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 turned out to be our favorite bike of the day.

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About The Bike:

The Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 is a 29″ carbon fiber hardtail bike that’s tailor made for the XC and racing markets. Reading over the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 parts spec, there’s a lot to be impressed by. This is a carbon fiber hardtail that’s dripping with XTR. XTR shifters and derailleurs, sure. But brakes? Cassette? Chain? This bike is decked out in Shimano’s highest level of racing components with only the carbon Oval M600 Crankset breaking the pattern. Why would Fuji decide to pass on Shimano’s crankset? As anyone who has recently spec’d a mountain bike will tell you, Shimano doesn’t make their XTR crankset with a true PF30 spindle. You can get an adapter for the Hollowtech II spindle, but if you truly want to take advantage of the increased stiffness afforded to you by the SLM’s PF30 bottom bracket, a crankset like the Oval M600 is going to deliver.

The Oval M600 crankset gives you the benefits of a 30mm axle spindle

The Oval M600 crankset gives you the benefits of a 30mm axle spindle

The next area that the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 excels in is the frame. Rather than trying to pass off some lesser carbon fiber as the next big thing, Fuji actually uses the next big thing. C15 super-light high-modulus carbon outfitted with internal shift cable routing, the aforementioned PF30 bottom bracket, a tapered headtube and wide 142x12mm dropouts. This makes for one of the lightest hardtail frames available while also providing stiffness to spare. The bike darts uphill so fast you will leave your friends in the dust.

Fuji also offers Fuji SLM 29er 1.3, 2.1, and 2.3 to make it easy for riders to find the 29″ hardtail to fit their needs and skill levels

The (almost) full Shimano XTR group delivers pro-level performance

The (almost) full Shimano XTR group delivers pro-level performance

The Ride:

Enough about the components, let’s get to the riding! The very first experience we had on board the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 was one that would be repeated with nearly every ride: the tester riding the SLM 1.1 had to wait at the top of the climb for everyone else to catch up. The 29” wheels and knobby tires gave confidence to spare on the descents and it even held its own through moderate rock sections. Where this bike truly excels, however, is the climbing. You’ll float uphill as though the tires are filled with helium.

Another thing that became clear in the ride quality is that this bike was spec’d by someone who really rides and understands mountain bikes. A perfect example is the handlebar. Sure, it was probably picked out of Oval’s lineup for being the lightest bar they make at an amazing 185g. But that’s not all a bar is about. This bar is 710mm wide and has a 9 degree sweep giving the rider confident handling and a comfortable hand position.

Well spec'd parts, like the bars, give the bike an amazing ride feel

Well spec’d parts, like the bars, give the bike an amazing ride feel

The Verdict:

Thoughtful component choices and a finely tuned ride quality make this one of the finest hardtails we’ve ever ridden. This bike is for the rider who wants to squeeze every ounce of performance from his machine, who wants to win races, and who will settle for nothing but the best.  The XC racing bike snob will be as happy as the everyday trail warrior. They are all sweet perfection in mountain biking, balancing weight, comfort, and performance. If you’re thinking about buying a hardtail that you’ll never want to part with, look no further than the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1. The bike was so fast, that we all started arguing about who would get to use our demo model for the upcoming race season. Sitting atop the Fuji, our coworker Eddie rocketed straight to the top of the podium.

Most races on the SLM end only one way: the top of the podium

Most races on the SLM 1.1 end only one way: the top of the podium (#3 left early, it wasn’t just a two person race)

71 Reasons We Love Cycling

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It’s Valentine’s Day, which means we want to give a special shout-out to our sweethearts, waiting at home for us to take them out for a nice evening. We’re speaking, of course, about our bicycles.

Whether you’re young or old, a seasoned vet or shopping around for your first bike, you’ll agree that there’s a million reason to love cycling, but we probably can’t think of them all ourselves. So help us out, what do you love about riding?

Here were our Top 71 Reasons To Love Cycling

  1. Unwinding from a long day
  2. Spending time outside
  3. Nothing makes you tougher than riding in bad weather
  4. It makes your legs look ripped
  5. Going farther than you thought possible with your own power
  6. Getting to tell other people “I rode here”
  7. Earning the descent by climbing up first
  8. The first day of the year when you don’t need arm or knee warmers
  9. Those conversations you can only have during a long ride
  10. Feeling dog tired and completely happy
  11. Achieving personal bests on long climbs
  12. Post-ride beers
  13. Trying to turn your significant other into a cyclist (your results may vary)
  14. New Bike Day
  15. The feeling of triumph when you fix your first flat
  16. Those days when you get on the bike and just feel strong
  17. The taste of a fizzy, sugary drink at the finish line
  18. Long, lazy evening rides
  19. Battling the elements
  20. Knowing, in your head, you are a 5-time Paris-Roubaix winner
  21. Having a whole other set of clothes just for cycling
  22. The sound of cycling cleats on coffee shop floors
  23. Passing all the cars stuck in traffic on your way to work
  24. Falling in the rock garden, then going back and nailing it
  25. Letting yourself get lost, and discovering a new route you never knew existed
  26. The feeling of freshly shaved legs
  27. Pre-race jitters
  28. The Zen of Bike Washing
  29. Discovering a new favorite gel flavor (here’s to you chocolate ClifShot)
  30. Riding with no hands
  31. That feeling of flying when you hit the right line on a descent
  32. Unzipping your jersey on a climb
  33. Picking out your favorite bottles
  34. Meticulously unpacking and repacking your hydration pack
  35. Driving home with a muddy mountain bike
  36. The first time you perfectly wrap your handlebars
  37. Learning to unclip without tipping over
  38. Charity rides: doing something you love for a good cause
  39. Secretly watching Le Tour on your computer at work, then minimizing it real fast when your boss comes to your cube
  40. Coffee
  41. Having a shed full of tools Bob Vila doesn’t know about
  42. Seeing things you’d never notice in a car
  43. Sunsets
  44. The agony and the ecstasy
  45. Managing to put on your rain jacket without stopping
  46. Sitting on the top tube at a traffic light
  47. Railing the berm
  48. Vowing to race ‘cross next year
  49. Telling everyone who will listen that you could have gone pro if you’d started earlier
  50. Ride mileage that gets longer with every retelling
  51. Having a rapport with your mechanic
  52. Checking the weekend weather forecast on multiple apps
  53. Driving to the ride
  54. Riding to the ride
  55. Post-ride meals that taste like manna from heaven
  56. Because some of my best thoughts have come while riding a bike
  57. The open road or the perfect trail
  58. Freedom
  59. Meeting new friends
  60. Spending time alone
  61. Learning how to fix it yourself
  62. Sharing tips with a new cyclist
  63. Talking about the ride after the ride
  64. Wearing spandex in public
  65. Losing weight
  66. Getting up before dawn to go for a ride
  67. Chasing the sunset on your bike
  68. Spring Classics
  69. Watching the Tour
  70. Zero emissions
  71. No gas, no parking fees, no insurance

And, of course, to find that perfect Valentine’s Day gift for the cyclist in your life (or your bike), you’ll find everything you need at Performancebike.com, or your nearest Performance Bicycle store.

Quick Fix: An Easy Way To Deal With Chain Slap

Mountain bikers and cyclocross riders alike will understand the difficulty of discovering chain slap marks on your beautiful new bicycle. Chain slap just happens. Especially in a sport like cyclocross where you’re tearing around dirt roads and through fields with no suspension to absorb the trail chatter. Here’s a quick fix to deal with chain slap.

Follow this quick and easy guide to get your bike all-ready to go off-road.

Note the slight grease marks on the chainstay. This is an indicator that the chain has come in contact with the stay and will eventually chip the paint off and possibly even damage the frame given enough time.

Note the slight grease marks on the chainstay. This is an indicator that the chain has come in contact with the stay and will eventually chip the paint off and possibly even damage the frame given enough time.

Step 1: find an old tube. We tend to keep a flat road tube or two around for this reason. If you don’t have one, ask around. Surely one of your riding partners has recently flatted.

Step 1: find an old tube. We tend to keep a flat road tube or two around for this reason. If you don’t have one, ask around. Surely one of your riding partners has recently flatted.

quick_fix_chainstay_03

Starting next to the valve stem, cut the tube.

Measure a length of tube about twice the length of the area of the chainstay you’re looking to protect.

Measure a length of tube about twice the length of the area of the chainstay you’re looking to protect.

Cut the tube again so now you have a piece of tube twice the length of the stay.

Cut the tube again so now you have a piece of tube twice the length of the stay.

Start by holding the tube onto the chainstay about an inch behind where you think the chain slap will start.

Start by holding the tube onto the chainstay about an inch behind where you think the chain slap will start.

Next, pass the tube around the stay (just like wrapping a drop handlebar) keeping tension on the tube.

Next, pass the tube around the stay (just like wrapping a drop handlebar) keeping tension on the tube.

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Keep tension on the tube as you pass it around the stay over and over so the tube just overlaps itself.

Keep going until you’re just short of the front derailleur cage, or just beyond where you think the chain will be impacting the stay.

Keep going until you’re just short of the front derailleur cage, or just beyond where you think the chain will be impacting the stay.

Back up just a hair and cut the tube at an angle.

Back up just a hair and cut the tube at an angle.

Finish it off with a little black electrical tape for a nice clean look.

Finish it off with a little black electrical tape for a nice clean look.

Ta-da! Now your chain is protected and you can feel good about recycling that old flat tube.

Ta-da! Now your chain is protected and you can feel good about recycling that old flat tube.

If this is just too much work for you or you don’t have access to any flat tubes, Lizard Skins makes a great ready-to-go chainstay wrap.

Is there anything else you’d like to see a quick and easy fix for? Ask us in the comments section below and we’ll add it to the list. Thanks!

How Do You Build a Mountain Bike Trail – Talking with Elevated Trail Design

Fresh new trails are the siren song for mountain bikers – when you hear about a new line or some sweet new singletrack, you have to go and check it out. So when we heard about a new section of trail being built, by professional trailbuilders, on our usual home office lunchtime loop (a 6 mile trail system in a local sustainable development) our ears perked up and we had to know more!

We rode by to check out the construction progress and meet the guys from Elevated Trail Design, otherwise known as Andrew Mueller and Peter Mills. Based out of the Carolinas and Boulder, Colorado, ETD creates trails that integrate unique trail features into the natural landscape while maintaining high standards of safety and sustainability. They offer a variety of natural surface and resurfaced trails for many types of clients, and their specialties include multi-use trails, mountain bike trails, backcountry hiking trails, and bike parks. With experience building both machine built and hand built trails and all types of mountain bike features, they take pride in being a rider-owned company, and strive to secure projects which allow them to build creative and progressive features.

With that in mind, we fired off some questions to Andrew to find out more about what goes into building great trails.

Andrew riding the new trails at Briar Chapel

Andrew riding the new trails at Briar Chapel

How did you get started building trails as a job?

I started building trails the same way a lot of pro trailbuilders do; by building illegal trails. I guess it started around age 12, when digging holes to build jumps (without permission, of course) in the neighborhood was just a good way to get out of our parent’s houses. After all, until you can drive, a bicycle is about the closest thing to freedom that a teenager can get. Spots came and went, jumps were built and torn down, but I knew by the time I was 18 that I loved building bike trails…I just didn’t know it could be a job. My desire to ride and build led me to Appalachian State University, where I studied Geographic Information Systems and Sustainable Development (you could argue that I minored in downhill mountain biking!). I took an internship my senior year at the newly-envisioned Rocky Knob bike park in Boone, NC. We worked alongside a trail contractor, both working on the trails and then mapping them. It all pretty much fell into place from there; I got a job working for a trail company, met Peter Mills, and realized that we should be doing this on our own. We knew that if we wanted to build the unique features and trails that were in our heads, we had to go legit, and Elevated Trail Design was born.

What does it take to design & build a great trail?

I think design is huge.  So much of a trail’s potential comes from its design. Our first step is looking at maps and exploring. I want to know where all the rocks are, find the cool trees, and learn the layout of the terrain before we drop the first flag for the line. The next thing is drainage; you have to understand how water is going to behave if you want to build something that lasts. The last thing is experience. I think what sets Peter and myself apart as bike-specific builders is our diverse backgrounds as riders. We’ve ridden so many different types of trail and terrain that we have a unique vision for what mountain biking should be. We understand how trails evolve beneath knobby tires and how to prepare for that. It’s fun to think back to a fun section you rode in some other place and envision how we can replicate that experience where the users might not expect it.

Pump track built by Elevated Trail Design

Pump track built by Elevated Trail Design

What do you use to build trails?

The tools really depend on the project. A lot of people think pro trailbuilders just drive through the woods with a bulldozer and build some boring trail, but we really try to work with the client to build what he or she wants. We do machine built and handbuilt trails, and I think there are a lot of great things about both.  Nothing beats the artistic quality and minimalist traits of a handbuilt trail, but there are also situations where a machine can build better product in less time. I can confidently say that learning how to build trail with an excavator has made me much better at handbuilt trail and vice versa. For handbuilt trails, we start with chainsaws and blowers, then remove organics and cut the trail with trail tools (Rogue Hoes, Mcleods), then touch up with rakes and loppers. For machine built trail, we only use mini excavators.  The excavator is the ultimate do it all trail machine; we can use it to build minimal trail with rocks and roots, or we can build big dirt features that make places like Whistler famous. Either way, separation of materials is key…it’s all about keeping as much of the good mineral dirt on the trail and discarding the waste materials in a clean fashion.

Technical section at Briar Chapel

Technical section at Briar Chapel

What’s your favorite place to ride?

I’ve ridden a lot of great places, but for this question, I think I have to stick with my roots. I learned to ride in Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina, and I still have to say it’s my favorite. I love the rugged trails there and the remote feel that they have. I hope that people see that we try to pay tribute to the rocks, roots, and rhododendron of Pisgah even though we’re trying to build sustainable trails and also make a living. Peter would probably tell you his favorite places to ride are Whistler Mountain Bike Park or any nice big dirt jumps. I think that’s what makes us a great team; we draw from different mountain bike experiences and put them all into a totally unique product.

What’s a favorite project that you’ve worked on?

It’s hard to pick just one, but believe it or not, I have to mention a hiking trail here. Last spring we did a 1.5 mile “face-lift” on part of NC’s Mountains-to-Sea trail near Boone, NC. It was called the Boone Fork Trail and it involved hiking into a remote drainage each day to build a huge variety of trail features. We did excavator trail, hand-built, rock armoring, and ladders with local timber, all on one job. Just working in that beautiful setting; with huge hardwoods and cascading rapids all around us every day, made that job really memorable.

New trail in Briar Chapel

New trail in Briar Chapel

What would be your ideal trail?

I like variety in my trails. My favorite trails mix new-school mountain bike trail building with natural terrain. I love a trail when you are smashing through some crazy rocks but there’s a perfect berm at the bottom to hold your speed into the next section. I love turns; if I’m riding in a straight line I better be hitting a nice jump or some roots and rocks, otherwise I’ll be bored! I also love trails that descend through different zones and environments, making you feel like you’re experiencing the forest and having a blast in a way a hiker could never understand.

And of course, near to our hearts, how would you describe the trail you just built at Briar Chapel?

Briar Chapel was just an all-around great project for us. It was a design/build, so it allowed us to show off our full vision and potential as trailbuilders.  We tried to maximize the terrain in every way possible, striving to show people that you can have a rugged and fun mountain bike experience even in a suburban, residential setting. What that vision resulted in is a huge variety of building and riding styles packed into a small amount of trail. We built flowy berms and rollers, tight singletrack, rock gardens, stuff that’s clearly machine-built, stuff that people will think is handbuilt, and stuff that actually is handbuilt.  We were calling it the party trail while we built it; it makes you just want to do lap after lap. If people come there and ride our trail two or three times in different directions, we accomplished our goal [note for locals: please check trail conditions before riding – the new section of trail may not be open yet due to weather].

Peter having fun in Moab, Utah

Peter having fun in Moab, Utah

2013 Year in Review – From Cyclocross Worlds to How to Climb

While we’re already looking ahead at 2014, but as we close out 2013 we wanted to take a moment to look back at some of the best stories and posts that we’ve shared throughout the year – we’ve got even more planned for the coming year, so stay tuned!

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Real Advice: Commuting by Bike

Our coworker Aaron’s story of his 20 mile commute struck a chord with many of you out there – check out the comments for tales from fellow commuters.

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Fuji Pro Bikes at the 2013 Amgen Tour of California

In May we were lucky enough to catch a few stages of the Tour of California, where we got an up-close look at 2 very different professional rider’s Fuji bikes.

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Event Recap: 2013 UCI Cyclo-Cross Worlds

Of course we weren’t going to miss seeing the very first Cyclocross World Championship held on US soil – we summed up the craziness in this post from a very chilly and wet Louisville, Kentucky.

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Cycling First Aid Essentials – What to Pack

We don’t like to think about, but riding bikes means that sometimes we’re going to crash. Our first aid essentials for cyclists post covers the basics of what to carry to be prepared.

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Our Take: 10-Speed vs. 11-Speed

If there’s one post that generated much heated discussion, it was definitely our take on the 10 vs. 11-speed debate – you might be surprised by what we have to say!

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Real Advice: How to Lock Your Bike

There aren’t many worse feelings than having a bike stolen – our Real Advice column breaks down a robust locking strategy to make sure that it won’t happen to you next time.

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Real Advice: An Intro to Climbing

If there’s one thing that most of us would like to do better, it’s learning how to improve our climbing skill – it turns out that it’s not as hard as you think.

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Real Advice: Weight Loss

One of the great side effects of a love for cycling is being able to maintain a healthy weight – but another one of our Real Advice posts covered some straightforward tactics to help you keep the pounds off.

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Real Advice: Wheels

Another great conundrum of cycling – what upgrade provides the best bang for the buck? It’s no secret – we think that it’s all about the wheels.

The Scattante CFR Race

Product Profiles: The Scattante CFR LE and Scattante CFR Race

Finally, we profiled some great gear this year as well – including the latest iteration of our always popular Scattante line of road bikes.

1, 2, or 3: How Many MTB Chainrings Do You Need?

We’ve gotten a lot of questions from our customers lately about all the different drivetrain options available for mountain bikes. To help answer your questions, we turned to our in-house expert: Mark (some of you might recognize Mark and his mustache from our videos).

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Mark knows a thing or two about mountain bikes

If you are in the market for a new mountain bike or a new drivetrain for an existing mountain bike, then the crankset and gearing options can seem overwhelming and a little confusing. Triple crankset, a double, or just rolling with a single ring…which is the right one for you? Why would you choose one chainring over three or two? Can more actually be less? Let’s take a look at the options and when it comes time to upgrade, you will have a better sense of what will work best for you and why.

For years the traditional mountain bike drivetrain consisted of a triple (3 chainrings) crankset paired with a cassette (or freewheel) that has grown from 6 to as many as 11 cogs. Fast forward to now and you still have the triple (3x) crankset option, but you also have double cranksets with 2 chainrings (2x) as well as single cranksets with just one chainring (1x). 

This FSA triple crankset offers plenty of gearing options

The TripleEarly mountain bikes used whatever components were available at the time, and at that time it was primarily touring components. The wide range of a triple crankset was also necessary because the bikes were quite heavy when compared to today’s standards and the low range was needed to get those klunkers up the hills. Over time cassette ratios were refined and the gearing on triple cranksets became more compact, with smaller jumps between the 3 chainrings. Most current triple mountain bike cranksets have gearing in the 22/32/42t, 24/32/42t, or 22/32/44t range. A triple crankset typically offers the broadest range of gears, and depending on your specific needs it may be the best option for you. Good examples for using a triple would be large changes in elevation on your trails, riding to the trailhead via the road, or the desire to have a low gear that you can “spin” up the hills with.

This double crankset from Shimano offers a wide spread of gearing and reduced weight

The DoubleBefore double cranksets were embraced by component manufacturers, many riders would ditch one of the chainrings from their triple cranksets. Some people removed the large chainring to gain some ground clearance and because they didn’t need the tall gear that it offered, while others would get rid of the small ring because their terrain wasn’t hilly enough to dictate a gear that low – or they were just strong enough to do without it. Either way it was a compromise and the rider was losing some of the wide range that a triple crankset offered. When 10-speed cassettes were introduced to mountain bike drivetrains, double crankset gearing was optimized and the gear range was expanded to rival that of a triple drivetrain. The 2×10 speed drivetrain offers reduced weight, optimized front shifting, and a minimal compromise on overall gear range. Now that there are options at most price levels, a 2x drivetrain would be a great choice for anyone looking to shed some weight from their bike without giving up much in terms of versatility.

SRAM’s XX1 and X01 systems feature only one chainring and an 11-speed cassette with a huge gearing range

The SingleJust as riders were removing a chainring from their triple cranks, some were going a step further and removing the inner and outer ring and just keeping the middle ring. The reasons were numerous – further weight reduction by getting rid of the front shifter and derailleur, simplifying the drivetrain, and reducing some of the redundancy that comes with multiple chainrings. But like the early 2x adopters, they were compromising the versatility of their mountain bikes. Folks without much elevation change could get by with it, but the reduction at the high and low end of the gear range was significant. Another challenge of a 1x drivetrain is chain retention. Without the front derailleur to help keep the chain in place you need some sort of chain device to manage chain drop. It can be as simple as a road or cross style “chain watcher” if your trails are fairly smooth, but faster, rougher trails require a full-on chainguide to keep the chain on the chainring. The Race Face Narrow Wide chainring design eliminates the need for a chainguide with 1x setup, but you are still left with what could be a less than desirable gear range.

Then came the 1×11 mountain bike drivetrain. Pioneered by SRAM, the 1×11 drivetrain offered the widest gear range for a cassette (10-42t), a narrow/wide chainring tooth profile to manage chain retention, and a rear derailleur with a clutch mechanism that also assisted with chain management by keeping more tension on the chain. This ushered in a 1x option for people actually riding in the mountains and significantly reduced the weight, friction, and noise of the drivetrain. The one caveat at present with the 1×11 drivetrain is cost – the technology is new and hasn’t trickled down to the lower price levels. If you aren’t overly concerned with the cost, there is a viable option for riders seeking a 1x drivetrain who don’t want to limit where they can ride.

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of how the mountain bike drivetrain has evolved over time, the available options, and why you might choose one over another.  If you ride in extremely hilly terrain a 3x drivetrain may serve you well without breaking the bank. If you are a stronger rider who wants better front shifting performance and less weight, you may opt for a 2x drivetrain. Or if you want the ultimate in light weight, less clutter, and smooth shifting check out a 1×11 drivetrain. Thanks for reading and enjoy the ride!

Wordless Wednesday

Diamondback Bicycles pro rider Kelly McGarry taking second place in the 2013 Red Bull Rampage with a backflip over a 72-foot-long canyon gap (the first place run wasn’t too bad either, as GT Bicycles rider Kyle Strait took the win with a suicide no-hander).

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