Tag Archives: Blankets Creek

Is It the Engine or the Equipment?

So I crashed on my mountain bike a few weeks ago and the damage to my knee totally took me out of the game (both physically and here on the blog).  No running, no riding, and with the slump in activity, even my swimming felt the hit.  But I’ve started PT and hope to fix my knee for good.  And then this situation came up and I felt it was certainly worth sharing…what do you think?

Lately I’ve started coming to the realization that it’s not always about the equipment but more about the engine behind it (i.e. me and you).  It’s interesting to me, because I’m coming at it from the perspective of someone who works with the newest cycling technology every day.  My job is to convince people that the newest cycling technology will make them better riders.  And I believe it will.  Mountain biking went from rigid clunkers to carbon full-suspension 29rs to DH bikes with more than 10″ of travel.  Road bikes started about as steel and since then have been made from aluminium, scandium, carbon fiber, heck even bamboo!

But the other day I got to ride a tricked out version of the aforementioned Santa Cruz Tallboy 29r owned by one of our regular customers.  This sub-25lb. bike had everything: Edge (now called  Enve) composite wheels, SRAM XX 2×10 drivetrain, carbon handlebars and a Rock Shox XX Sid fork.  Everything, that is, except clipless pedals.  That’s right; the guy who owned this bike worth over $5k (and that’s just at dealer cost) didn’t even clip in.  After years of riding, he’d just never gotten the hang of it.  But that didn’t stop him.  His regular circuit at Big Creek would turn my legs and lungs into a lump of jelly.

A few weeks ago, pre injury, I raced in the Big Creek Time Trial Series.  I felt alright about the time, it was slower than my 4 Ways time, but told myself that it could be better if I had a newer, lighter bike.  This was confirmed when a friend picked up my bike and called over to the officials, telling them to knock a few minutes off my time because of how heavy it is for a XC bike.  Later that same week, I was talking with one of the regular customers at our shop, mentioning my plans for a new bike.  He asked what my recent lap time was and looked at me in disbelief.  Even with his new bike that weighs four to five pounds less than mine, my slow time was two full minutes faster than his best lap time.

This caused my focus to change a bit.  Instead of worrying out when I’m finally going to scrape together enough cash for my new mountain bike, I’m going to focus on improving my body using the equipment currently in my possession.  Feeling sorry that I own a 35lb. XC bike – think of it as resistance training.  Still have a granny gear on my road bike – just means I need to hit up steeper hills.  Bum knee – more time to get back into swimming and rock climbing and build my upper body while I rehab the knee.


Who’s Afraid of the Dark? Not Me.

We’re stuck in a nasty pattern of rain followed by freeze/thaw conditions here in Atlanta, so I figured I’d write about an awesome ride I had recently.

The other month a group of friends decided to go for a night ride at Blankets Creek.  I have only been to Blankets with my current bike once and that was during the day.  So I was committing to ride unfamiliar trails at night with one small light source.  Great plan, wouldn’t you say?  My last experience with night riding ended after thirty minutes of frozen fingers and a leaky hydration pack (which turned to ice on my top tube in the 25 degree weather).  With images of frostbitten fingers dancing in my head, I purchased some winter gloves, wool socks and toe warmers.  Bikes loaded and batteries charged, we assembled in the parking lot, introduced those who didn’t know each other and set off toward the trailhead.

We headed out to the Dwelling Loop via Mosquito Loop, but my fingers were still getting cold.  Perhaps this was because I was wearing my old gloves since the new gloves were being used by one of the guys who had left his pair at home.  I had hoped that the slightly less cold weather would keep my fingers from feeling like they’d been beaten with an icy sledgehammer.  I quickly found that while I was fine on the uphill sections, working switchbacks and keeping my effort up, the faster flat and downhill sections allowed the night air to cut right through my gloves.  All the while, my buddy is telling me that he thinks his hands are starting to sweat because of my warm gloves.

But any riding is good riding, and there seriously isn’t a cooler sight than watching eight sets of lights snaking along a trail, blinking in between the trees.  It didn’t take long before my slightly over-squishy fork compressed fully on a hidden divot in the trail and I was riding an endo towards a tree.  As luck would have it, I slowly tumbled over into a soft hillside.  Everyone behind me got to enjoy the carnage as my light went from illuminating the trail in front of me to illuminating the trail directly beneath me.  Everyone in front of me caught the show too, since they’d stopped to let one guy puke and turned around at the sound of my rather surprised yelp.

Other than rolling down the hillside, all was going well until we were almost through with Dwelling, when I noticed that my light was getting dimmer.  As we entered the recently cut re-routed section, the brightness of my light had dwindled to that of a child’s night light.  I have never followed someone’s wheel so closely; not even in a crit race.  The constant elevation change and tight, densely wooded switchbacks meant that I took my memory and decision-making skills to their limit.  Every turn of the handlebars was accompanied by a momentary fear: was I turning at the right time, was there a tree just off the side of the singletrack waiting to snag my bike, was there a pothole in the trail that my buddy’s light didn’t quite illuminate while we were summiting the switchback I was about to ride from memory?

Soon we made our way back to the trailhead.  I swapped my bar-mounted light for a buddy’s helmet-mounted light and headed out to the Van Michael loop.  Wearing the helmet-mounted light, I paired up with one of the guys riding at my pace who was also using a handlebar-mounted light.  This turned out to work quite well because I was able to use his light to keep an eye on the trail in front of us while I pointed my light up the never-ending switchbacks of Van Michael.  Wouldn’t you know it, my light starts dying again.  I made it back to the mail trail, despite a last minute attempt on my life by the final obstacle on Van Michael, and again had to suck the wheel ahead of me to get back out to the car.  I’ll tell you one thing–it becomes much more difficult when you try to cross bridges you can’t see.

As we made our way back to our cars, I was pondering ways to convince my wife that a $200 light is a worthwhile investment so that I can continue to fling myself at barely visible objects in the middle of the night.

Act Three – In which I fall down and love it

Up to this point all of my riding had been on the road.  Then something amazing happened: my boss asked me if I wanted to go mountain biking at Blankets Creek with him.  I had borrowed a mountain bike once or twice during college and rode around on the cross-country running trails at the school, so I figured I could do this.

Turns out I could do it.  Or at least I managed not to be carried out of the woods by Search & Rescue.  But only barely.  I was riding an older rigid 26” Gary Fisher with clipless pedals.  I washed out my front end on several sections which resulted in a large hole in my shorts and a dark area on my right hip that has just now started to fade (some 14+ months later).  It was if some dark force had decided to taunt me throughout the entirety of the Van Michael Trail.  By the end though, I knew I was going to become a mountain biker if it killed me.  So I went out again the next day.  Luckily my boss took pity on me and installed a suspension fork on the Gary Fisher and we avoided the trail that decided to eat my hip twice.  I didn’t fall down the second time and my fate was sealed.  I was able to score an old GT full suspension bike from a friend who was moving out of the country and spent about $200 fixing it up (that’s with a bike shop discount and parts from my mechanic).  Since then I’ve regularly visited the trails in the Atlanta area and gotten better at keeping the rubber side down and the shiny side up.