Mid-November here in Minnesota is a good time of year to try riding some MTB obstacles that I’ve been avoiding. Why? It’s not too hot to armor up completely and I have all winter to heal should my lack of skill make me pay a price.
1. Riding down the big rock at the end of the wooden bridge in the X loop of the Lebanon Hills Mountain Bike Trail. It’s a steep drop, made trickier because the landing is the bridge over a 4-foot culvert with some rocks down below. I rode it just as it started to rain. It took me 4 attempts to clean it. 20-second vid:
Twice in the past week I did some sessioning with guys who wanted to depart from their usual ride-the-trails-as-fast-as-possible routine: fellow MORC members Chris Knight and David Starrs.
When they both made remarks during and after about how it was a completely foreign experience, it occurred to me to create a short video to show that sessioning a technical obstacle (in this case, a rock) typically involves a lot of failed attempts.
Many of the mountain bike trails in the Twin Cities area have harder B-lines (alternative routes through a section of a trail) that are fun to attempt in winter when they’re covered with snow.
I rode many of them at Lebanon Hills a couple of weeks ago and captured on video my rides on three of them: a wide and flat skinny in the X loop (success), the big bridge rock in the XX loop (success after 3 tries), and the rounded skinny in the intermediate out loop (all fails).
What have I learned in my winter rides so far this year? Fresh snow can be surprisingly grippy, even on rocks, as I blogged two years ago. Snow on wood is nearly always super slippery. My front suspension starts to gets sluggish at about 10 degrees F and is completely stiff at -10 F. The day I took this video it was about + 10 F and that’s what made the difference in my being able to get over the bridge rock this time, unlike back on Dec. 18 when it was -5 F. When I manual, I use my front suspension to aid with front wheel lift.
As for the repeat fails at the intermediate out loop log: an ice-covered log skinny is tough.
I met Caleb Wendel, co-owner of The Bike Shop in Houghton, Michigan that weekend and yesterday, he alerted me that the video he took of me riding the hamster wheel was now up on Vimeo:
As I wrote earlier, Ken and I figured out one way to ride the hamster wheel without putting your feet down: ride in fast and up as high as you can go without falling backwards; lock both brakes until the wheel starts to move, then pedal quarter turns with the same foot to keep the wheel moving; use your elbows against the hub and spokes as needed to keep your balance.
Of course I’m now itching to go back to Ray’s at least one more time before they close for the season and I’ve been thinking about how else the hamster wheel could be ridden. This video shows a Ray’s employee, Dave Barnett, riding the hamster wheel (some of it includes a helmet cam view). It appears as though he’s not pedaling at all, once the wheel starts to move, but rather just throws his body weight forward a few times (starting at the 23-second mark):
I’d like to try that approach, regardless. I’d also like to figure how to ride the hamster wheel perfectly clean, ie, no shoulder or elbow dabs against the hub and spokes. It would seem like hopping the bike left and right as needed to keep balanced might be a way to do that, though doing that at a steep angle while pedaling half turns seems daunting. I’ll report back next time I go but if anyone has ideas or experiences to share, please attach a comment.
Here’s a short video clip on how NOT to ride the hamster wheel:
I was initially shocked by the number of technical obstacles at Ray’s Indoor Bike Park in Milwaukee: dozens for novices, dozens for intermediates, dozens for experts. And the cool thing is that most of the obstacle lines that start out at a one level of difficulty end with a ‘safe’ next-level of difficulty. I say ‘safe’ because nothing bad is likely to happen if you don’t make it. For example, the skinnies might be too tough for your level of ability but they’re low to the ground so you go for it. This encourages riders to keep at it because you experience success at the start of an obstacle ‘line’ and maybe the middle but then you get a real challenge towards the end, all in a single attempt. Brilliant.
Above: The lines in the Novice section that end with ‘safe’ intermediate difficulty.
Above: The lines in the Sport/intermediate section that end with ‘safe’ expert difficulty.
This pretty much holds true for the spectacular Expert section, too, i.e., expert lines end with tougher challenges.
Ken Barker from Cedar Rapids, Iowa was there for the weekend with his son Will and buddy Adam Knutson. I first met Ken up at the Cuyuna Lakes MTB Trail System last summer when we both were riding over a big rock out in the middle of somewhere. As you can see from this 90-second video, Ken can do it all, even in his Sunday best sport coat and pigtail hat:
Ken and I figured out one way to ride the hamster wheel without putting your feet down: ride in fast and up as high as you can go without falling backwards; lock both brakes until the wheel starts to move, then pedal quarter turns with the same foot to keep the wheel moving; use your elbows against the hub and spokes as needed to keep your balance. Way fun. I’d like to be able to make it without any elbow dabs.
I saw one guy clean this skinny on Saturday but I didn’t get his name. Ken and I tried it dozens of times, only rarely making it past the highest part. I finally cleaned it once late in the day on Sunday. w00t!
On the far right of the Expert section are two lines constructed of rocks and logs. The left line is much skinnier, dips up and down, and is crooked and slippery. Ken and I tried it dozens of times, only rarely making it past the big stump on the left. Twice I made it to the last 3 feet (red arrow) but then fell off. Neither Ken or I ever made it but a guy from Iowa named TJ Davis (above right with his dad, Tom Davis) made it once. I guess I’ll have to go back.
The entire Lebanon Hills MTB Park will be closed most of the day on Friday August 10 until 3 PM as the Leb Dirt Bosses and Dakota County Parks staff prep for the opening of the new trailhead and skills/terrain park. The current parking lot will be closed and the new one (paved) opened for the first time. Access to all the trails at Leb will then be behind the new trailhead building.
South/adjacent to the trailhead building is the new skills/terrain park. I got a chance to pre-ride it a bit on Monday with the guy who constructed it, Tim Wegner, owner of Trail Source. (Last fall, I blogged about Tim and his contributions to mountain biking, as did Chance Glasford in his blog.) Dave Tait, one of the Leb Dirt Bosses, joined us for the photo/video shoot.
Above: Dave and Tim riding some of the separate beginner and intermediate level skinnies, rock sections, and logs.
All of the advanced rock sections have multiple lines. The series of photos above shows Tim (left) riding an intermediate line down the one side of the rock pile, Dave (center) riding an advanced line down the middle of the same pile, and me (right) riding up the pile.
Riding down these three rocks (above) is challenging because of the gaps between them. Weight back, wheelie, unweight, repeat. Dave made it look easy. Ride up the rocks for a bit less of a challenge.
The same rocks (above) can be criss-crossed in a variety of ways, intermediate-to-advanced. I predict they’ll be popular with intermediate level riders looking to advance their skills as the rocks 1) have round edges and 2) are surrounded by strategically-placed wood chips to soften the, um, unplanned landings.
This rock section (above) is considerably more difficult when ridden this direction because of the slight downward approach to the extremely narrow skinny of rocks in the middle. Dave was able to clean it a couple of times. The video (see below) of him riding it the other direction (easier) also shows the right-turn, then left-turn narrow wooden skinny approaching the rocks section.
Two other tough obstacles: 1) the skinny made of uneven upright logs (left photo above) has a couple of slight bends in it; and 2) the large round bolder in the middle of the field can be tackled from all directions, not all of them successfully (right photo) I discovered.
There are two connected bermed turns in the NW corner of the park. Beginners can take them slow but there’s room to get a good run at them if you want to go fast.
The south end of the park has three lines of rollers and jumps. Tim shows that you can have fun just riding down the them at various speeds; riders can pump and manual over them, too, of course. The back two runs end with two large berms.
Dave shows (photos above in the 50-second video below) that you have fun jumping there, too.
Earlier this week, after Dan gave me a tour of the fabulous trails at Red Wing’s Memorial Park, I got to play in his back yard. What a hoot. Like having a bit of Ray’s MTB Indoor Park right out your back door. A double teeter-totter even.
I had no trouble riding this narrow round log (left photo, above) when using the little cheater ramp. But going the other direction (center) was a quite a bit tougher because of the abrupt edge to the log. It’s definitely a plus to have soft green grass to land on when crashing (right).
After more than a few tries, I finally nailed it and Dan happened to capture it in this photo sequence. A small manual is required to get the front wheel up on the log, then a little unweighting of the rear wheel to help it gently roll up the face of the log. If the rear wheel hits the log too hard, it makes more difficult to keep your balance once you get up on the log. Then it’s a matter of pedaling the rest of the way with a singular focus on leaning the bike to stay straight, keeping your eyes way ahead. If you succumb to steering instead of leaning, you’re hosed.
If a skinny is any higher than 1 foot or so off the ground, don’t try it if you can’t bunny hop or wheelie drop. Learn those two things first so when you do feel you will slip or fall off the side, just bunnyhop or wheelie drop and ride away. If you can’t do this, you will endo (go over the bars) if your front wheel comes off…..and endoing is about the most unsafe thing to do.
Once I learn that, I’ll feel more confident riding the 3-4 ft high skinny at Murphy-Hanrehan.
I rode the all the trails in Elk River’s Hillside Park last Friday and I was stunned at how fun it was. The DirtWirx crew has packed a huge number of challenging technical areas into a twisty 7 miles of fast , switchback-infested singletrack.
The $4 daily fee is a bargain. I don’t understand why more city/county parks don’t charge a usage fee for mountain biking.
And to paraphrase what I wrote yesterday, while Elk River is about 90 minutes from Northfield, it’s very close to the mountain bike park at Elm Creek Park. So a day trip that consisted of a few hours at each park would be saaaaaweeet.
And guess what they’re building?
See the large slideshow (recommended) of 30 photos of Hillside’s technical obstacles (taken with my Android’s crappy camera) or SLOW CLICK this small slideshow:
And about halfway through the ride I met Tina, a most amazing sculpture by Sue Seeger:
Tina was created from an old stock car found here in the woods of Hillside Park. She took over 2 years to make, using my own time and supplies, and is for everyone who enjoys this park and trail.
Please be cool and help look out for her. Thanks — Sue Seeger.
More info and pics can be found by googling: suelandia — tina’s home
Two weeks ago I rode the trails at Elm Creek Park for the first time. It’s a new trail (June 2011) and relatively long (13+ miles). I think it’s the most picturesque park in the Twin Cities that I’ve ridden thus far.
The MORC review describes the character of its trails well:
At Elm Creek, you’ll ride through a variety of terrain from mature wooded tracks to open prairie areas . Flowing trails with small bumps and rises (designed to keep water off the trail) make sections of this trail feel like a pump track.
When I bring beginning and intermediate riders to Salem Hills and they ask me where they should go next, I’ll strongly recommend this park.
While Elm Creek is about 90 minutes from Northfield, it’s very close to Hillside Park in Elk River. So a day trip that consisted of a few hours at each park would be saaaaaweeet.
See the large slideshow (recommended) of 11 photos of the technical obstacles (taken with my Android’s crappy camera), or SLOW CLICK this small slideshow: