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Friday, August 30, 2013

Ain't No Mountain High Enough

Ego: 1, Jamie: 0.

Yesterday was the last Short Track race at Jackson Park, and it couldn't have been a more perfect setting.  Close to seventy people gathered on a hillside on a gorgeous evening to watch children and categories 1-3 get rugged and dirty around a challenging trail in the back woods.  For the last week or two, I had it in mind that I would buck up and do the last race of the season.  I recognized my fears diminishing when going out on the trails more and more, and having fully recovered from last week's triathlon, I was ready for another adrenaline-soaked event.  

So the day before I did a few run-throughs of the loop around the park. I've gotten significantly better at coasting, keeping only two fingers on the front brake instead of four.  Everything was fine until I got to THE hill. I had fallen on that hill before when going down it, but had no idea the challenge it would present going up. As soon as I rounded the sharp bend leading directly into the climb, I'd be able to push my wheels just four feet up before the power was extinguished by the rocky dunes. I turned my bike around to start the hill over again, beginning further back so I had room to switch gears. Got up two feet further before my back wheel slipped into a deep rut causing all momentum to stop.  Five more tries at this.  Yet every time my momentum tanked and I had to run the bike up. The ego deflation after falling once and failing to clear that giant hill for the sixth time in a row was so profound, my mind made itself up to not participate in the race the next day.
(Is that a pedal imprint?)
Gnot gnarly enough!!
I attended the race the next day as spectator and videographer instead of contender in the Cat 3 group. (My partner, Paul Songy, came out to film as well. You can watch our finished product here!)
My reasons for not going through with it were that I wasn't technically ready yet since I had to stop and walk my bike up the hill every time. My thought was, why would they include such a grueling hill as part of the race if it wasn't exclusive to people who call themselves "MTB fanatics"? So imagine the velocity my stomach and pride dropped when I went to that hill to film the cat-3 racers and saw almost everyone walking/running their bikes up the hill. I totally could have raced. 

People, listen to me: Your ego. Will. Destroy you. Not massive, rocky, steep hills. Your pride is the number one reason you will not improve. And this goes for all skill sets. 

A'ight, we're moving past this -- let's stare fear in the face and learn how the hell one can master mountains like a Woodruff or a Cogburn!!

it's power, baby.

Last time I talked about wheel sizes and how, mechanically, a 29 is better for rolling over those larger obstacles than a 26.  One of the trickiest parts to maintaining a steady cadence up a rock-strewn climb is having enough power to propel you over each of those jagged bumps and still having the strength to carry yourself and the bike upward.  A low gear will only leave you spinning in place, so shift up to a harder gear. It gives you that extra wattage to groove over the bumps.  What you don't want to do, though, is shift in mid-climb. Be aware of what's coming. 

Won't matter what gear you're in, though, if you don't know how to use those leg muscles.  There's a thoroughbred in each of us waiting to be unleashed, and certain positioning allows you to milk those legs for all they're worth.  Look ahead: are you going to be going up a hill for some time? It may be in your best interest to stay seated to avoid knee pain. Hunker your body down to lower your center of gravity, keep those elbows bent to maintain traction on the front wheel, and lift your quads as though you were trying to bring your knees to the handlebars.  

Sometimes you need that extra boost, though, especially if you're trying to pull ahead to catch the rider in front of you. Personally I wouldn't recommend trying to stand on an uphill technical climb if you're just beginning, since the back wheel won't have enough weight to secure it from sliding all over the place.  But standing with your tailbone hovering just over the saddle's nose can really give you that extra somethin-somethin when you're ready to improve your speed.

Here's a short video with some more tips. This guy gets it. "Momentum is key" but traction is the name of the game.

as with anything else worth doing...

...practice makes perfect.  If you're just beginning to realize how exhilarating it is to ride, then understand too how much more thrilling it will be once you are able to clear those stop-you-in-your-tracks hills. Round up a group of cyclists who are better than you and watch what they do.  Almost every mtb rider I've come in contact with will practically trip over themselves to share their life lessons with you.  So don't be afraid to ask! 

Or if you're riding solo most of the time, just remember to work on the technique of shifting your body weight forward and maintaining a steady rpm. And always, always, always LOOK AHEAD to be ready to make a gear shift in time. Work on building those leg muscles up, on and off the saddle. Here are some helpful workouts for when you're training indoors.  And if you want to get more tips on how to become a better climber in general, look no further than Active's Guide to Climbing Hills.  It also is really helpful to understand the mechanics of your particular bike before you hop on the trails, instead of relying solely on trial-by-error.  Bike Radar wrote up a tidy guide to mountain bike gears if you need a refresher.

That's all the humility I have for today.  Take lesson for the week: If it wasn't challenging, it wouldn't be fun.  Keep facing those fears and you'll be gangbusters.  Check back next week for more trial and error adventures!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Excuse Me While I Brush My Shoulders Off

Now, I realize this post isn't about mountain biking per se, but if I don't brag just a little about this latest accomplishment, I'll drown in my own self-depreciating thoughts. It was this girl's second triathlon, and my first on-road race! God, was this intense! So much powerful energy felt from everyone in attendance. The race was a 200 yard pool swim, a 17.5 mile bike ride, and 3.5 mile run, both up GRUELING hills in Fletcher, NC.  Had so much fun doing it, though! Boyfriend Reed was amazing for waking up at 6:30 am with me just to be my videographer.  And I wouldn't have slash couldn't have done this tri if it weren't for Sycamore Cycles in Hendersonville, Y'all are the greatest. :)

I came in 48th out of 75! Not worth saying I was first in my age category because...well, I was the only one in that category. The best time was one hour and 14 minutes. Mine was 1:48:14. I got room to grow, yet.

This is the closest I will ever get to "vlogging" (video-blogging), so enjoy it while it lasts.
(or, hey, if you'd rather see me suffer instead of reading it eloquently put later on through written text, let me know! Maybe it could be a regular thing...?)

LPC Triathlon, 2013 from Jamie Martina on Vimeo.

Next up on my racing calendar is the Short Track in Hendersonville. The competitions are 20- and 30-minute rides around the trails in Jackson Park for category 1, 2, and 3 racers, as well as a race in the beginning for the hardcore kiddos! I did a short video on one of them from last month that you can see here.

THEN it's triathlon #2! September 14th, Mountain Medley is happening again. My first time doing a triathlon was this race last year and it was SO MUCH FUN. The run is on-road and on relatively flat ground, the mountain bike ride is on some pretty rugged trails in Camp Green Cove, and the swim couldn't be nested in a more scenic place. I'm doing the Olympic distance (800 meter swim, 10K MTB ride & 10K run) or there's a shorter race with those distances halved. I caaaaan't wait to school my time from last year. Look out for more on that event in the coming weeks!

Thanks for reading and watching!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Big Wheels Keep on Turning

Well, it's been another week of riding, and I've pinpointed my greatest problems so far:

1.) Scared of steep, rocky terrain (Unfortunately, this is typically the reason people ride mountain bikes: for the adrenaline, for the freedom! I, however, usually don't enjoy the sensation of urine in my bike shorts. So I feel like I'm already at a disadvantage);
2.)  Tires lock when I'm coming off of a steep hill, most likely due to my white-knuckling both brakes so hard, they touch the handlebars;
3.)  Biking back up that steep, rocky terrain is THE WORST. Afraid there's no other cure to this besides getting out on the trails as much as possible. *Sigh*

But it occurs to me that a reason for these fears, aside from inexperience and a fear of breaking a limb, might have something to do with the wheel size.

"Come again?"

I briefly mentioned in my first post that the first bike I am testing is Giant's Talon 27.5 4. This is Giant's leap into a new frontier, crossing the agility of a 26 with the stability of a 29. Maybe you're reading this saying, "What in god's name are you talking about. 26-what?" (Though apparently everyone already knows the difference of a 26 and 29...? I wasn't lying when I said I'm starting at the very beginning.)  You'll hear a lot of numbers thrown around among cyclists. Frame size, wheel size, proper tire pressure (psi), tire width and diameter, list goes on.  So when it was suggested that I should test a "twenty-seven five", I gave an inquisitive dog look.  Turns out this number is the first descriptor when choosing a bike: the size of the wheel. So this week I'm taking a closer look at wheel sizes and why there are size wars on so many MTB sites.*

(*Don't take my advice as the final word on the subject. The header of this blog is hopefully a clear indicator that all my advice comes strictly from my own blundering experience or the fury of someone else's forum responses. I'm just skimming the surface of basic points of fact. If you want a more impassioned opinion, talk to a bike mechanic. That's their job.)

Before Giant's release this year, an adult rider's only options were between a 26- or a 29-inch-wheel.  The choice was originally no choice - the first mountain bikes were all 26ers. Now you find a war of the wheels in forums and in-shop bickering over which size is the Ultimate way to ride. Well, all that nonsense doesn't apply here. This is to give you basic understanding of which size works best in which situation, and then you can take these nuggets of knowledge and do more research on your own.

This is the largest of the now three wheel sizes offered for both mountain and road bikes.  A bigger wheel is best for rolling over those rotted branches or rocks, and the larger tire has more tread because it makes more contact with the ground.  There's something called an "attack angle," which equates to the ease of maneuvering the bike upward over obstacles.  The larger the wheel, the higher the attack angle, or, the smoother the bike feels going over bumps. This creates a more comfortable ride for your arms and backside. A tall or normal- to heavier-set person might also see more merit in riding this because the height and geometry of a 29er frame is more accommodating to their stature.

The only real trade-off between a 29-er and one of its smaller counterparts is that the heavier weight limits a rider's ability to accelerate up hills - or so they say.  If you're goal is to become a contender as a single track racer or to be more efficient on technical rides, then it will take more energy to carry that bike up a hill. BUT. Once the bike is efficiently moving, the larger size will sustain that momentum and help you make that climb.

While you don't see as many 26ers on the single track as much, "enduro" (down-hill racers) prefer this size. Because it's great for crashing down a hill at suicide speeds! But we'll talk specifically hills at a later time.  The 26er is lightweight and agile. The perfect size for those who really want to "feel" the trail. The thing most people say about the 26 is that it is harder to handle on technical ascents (meaning climbs like this), and it takes a lot more strength to get perpetual momentum rolling.  But the shorter frame takes weight off the front, making it easier to control the front wheel, and the dodging a lot more invigorating.

The 27.5 is Giant's compromise between the other two sizes.  Their logic is that the 27.5 is lighter and gives you more flexibility than the 29. Yet the circumference is still larger enough for the propulsion of the wheel to carry you over obstacles easily.  So you get the ease of acceleration from the larger wheel size, yet the nimbleness of a 26 in the lighter frame.

Now, I am not in the business of promoting one brand over another, but Giant was the only brand available to me in that size. And since this is the only thing I have tested so far, most of my perspective comes from how this bike affected my experiences.  So a little attention paid to the Talon 27.5 is warranted here.

(Giant compares the weight, efficiency, and control of the 27.5 to that of the 26 and the 29 on their website if you want to get more charts. However if you want a less biased comparison, look no further than PinkBike's test runs.)

What I like most about the 27.5 is the traction it gives you without compromising agility. I feel I would have capsized a LOT more had I been riding a 26. (Twice, I can handle.) It had momentum when going up moderate technical hills, and it's "sticky" when turning sharp corners. A rider would still need to have really terrific balance on this size, though, just as you would need on a 29 since the wide tire makes crevices difficult to navigate around.

The point Giant seems to be making is that you can have your cake and eat it too. Er, or have your hills and eat dirt too....I guess?

So let's review: When choosing which wheel size is optimal for your situation, consider type of terrain, your height/weight, and in what capacity you will be riding (for leisure? Competitively?). Forget trends - go with what makes you feel comfortable. And definitely talk to your local bike shop. Or do as I have begun doing, and be a shop rat. It's amazing how much wisdom you can pick up by just hanging out in a shop for an hour and listening to the mechanics heckle each other in the background. Everyone needs a hobby - loitering can be yours!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Best Way to Start is to Start

Friends at Sycamore Cycles are letting me test some bikes of different sizes and styles so I have a firm grasp on the kind of bike I would want. My current mode of transit is a '73 Schwinn single speed, which is a total babe but unfortunately won't make it down a mountain in one piece.  So they started me off on Giant's ground-shakin', brand-spankin' new Talon 27.5 4, because it offers a unique compromise between the usual 26 or 29-inch wheel bikes, but ahhhhhhh --- I'm getting ahead of myself. First, a little introduction is in order.

My first time barreling down the side of a mountain was in a triathlon (my first tri as well, incidentally). When thirty other people are cascading around you like a pack of gazelles, you don't really have the opportunity to get off your bike and take five deep breaths before making the next downhill plunge. So that was a fun 'finish or die' experience.

Second time was half a year later with a friend who was a very proficient rider, and who hugged turns like a rope swing wrapping around a tree.. I made it through unscathed, with a false sense of competency of the sport. ("I'm not dead after doing this?? Then I MUST be a natural!")

But the truth is, I am terrified for this venture. Not just of harming myself or my bike, but of the bicycling culture. I mean, put yourself in an outsider's shoes: Cyclists appear to live in this almighty, exclusive club of adrenaline addicts who trade jargon that's a cross between engineers and Sesame Street. But in reality, they're as human as everyone else. They've just put more time in at being awesome.

"You -- you don't know what a derailleur is?"
And my god is it rare to find bike shop owners who don't squint at your innocent, nervous blinks if you're a self-proclaimed novice and a female! That's why I'm so grateful for the guys at Sycamore. They understand that not everyone is where they are in bicycling expertise, and they meet you on your level. They have given me confidence that I can learn the lingo if I make the effort. And here I offer you that opportunity to do the same.

This blog is for the beginners, the nervous, and the interested ignorants who have always wanted to start riding but were too afraid to ask the experts. I'll post about wheel sizes, describe different types of brakes, types of frames best suited for women and men, how to do minor fixes yourself, etc. If there's a particular question you have, shoot me a message and I'll do my best to answer it!

So here I go, stepping into the fray, with no option of turning back.  Stay tuned for some fun and failure. I assure you, Dear Readers, there will be plenty accounts of both.