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Singlespeed Mountain Biking (finally!)

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Since our ride was cut short on Saturday, Dave and I met at Brown County again on Sunday, to try again. This time, we had a successful ride. I took very few photos, and most of the ones I did take didn’t turn out very well. Once again, it was hot and humid and my camera lens seemed to be eternally fogged up. That, and my camera wasn’t as accessible as it usually is, when I ride on the road.

We started out by riding the North Tower Loop, a good choice as it’s a fairly easy trail, with mostly gradual climbs and only moderate technical challenges. It’s the main trail I rode when I was first learning how to ride trails, so it also served as a good way of learning how to ride a singlespeed on the the trails.

Frankly, it took me quite a while to find my groove. The climbs required a different rhythm from what I’m used to, and the on downhills I had to go extra slow because my brakes weren’t operating at 100% capacity. Try as I might, I could not get them adjusted quite right. My rear brake in particular just didn’t have much stopping power. So, on the downhills, I had to keep my speed down. If I got going too fast, I would have had a hard time stopping.

Since I’m used to riding a front-suspension 29er on the trails, the rigid singlespeed was quite an adjustment. But after a while, I discovered that these trails just aren’t that rough, so I only really missed the suspension when I had to ride over a log or a rock, when normally, it would soak up some of the bumps. In terms of gearing, a few times I felt like the gearing was a little too high. But, there were times when it was just right. Some rolling hills in particular were a lot of fun as I made better use of momentum than I normally would. When I did find the flow of the trails, it was a blast.

After the North Tower Loop, we stopped for a brief break on the connector trail, which is a wider, flat trail that takes you back to the Aynes Loop and beyond. On the singlespeed, I found myself out of breath more often, since I couldn’t switch to a lower gear and spin up the hills. Thankfully, there were very few sections on this trail that were very steep. Most climbs were gradual enough to be quite doable (actually, they were ALL doable, just some more than others).

After that, we had the hardest climb of the ride, up part of the Aynes Loop, counter-clockwise. This is the easier way up Aynes, I think, but it’s still a long climb, and I have to say, it was pretty damn difficult, without any lower gears. Hard enough that I almost … almost had to stop to catch my breath partway up. But I made it.

Finally, we got to the Green Valley Trail, which Dave and I had only partially ridden before, when it was still a work in progress. I was so excited to ride it in its entirety.

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I really can’t say enough good things about this trail. It might become my favorite trail in the park. It has some wonderful flowing downhills, tricky but fun climbs, and enough technical challenges to keep you on your toes, including a few that test the limits of my ability, but not a single thing that’s unridable. And the scenery is great, from ridgetop views to creekside and back again, frequent views of other parts of the trail from across a ravine, and even glimpses of a lake.

By this time I had found my stride on the singlespeed, and while as I said, I was slow on the downhills (not due to gearing, really, due to braking limitations) I felt faster on the climbs, at times. In fact, I did better on some of the more technical sections than I had on my 29er before! I was pretty surprised by that development, but in this case, I had no choice but to just tackle some of the tricky parts, rather than getting into some stupid-low gear and approaching at too low a speed.

The photo below illustrates one really fun part. You come down a hill, then reach a creek in the bottom. The trail crosses the creek on some rocks, and there’s a twisty, narrow trail on the other side, which you use to climb up away from the creek. I almost stalled on a short, steep section here, but I managed to keep rolling. It was a blast.

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The Green Valley Trail also has a significant amount of climbing. A couple of different times, I stopped at the top of a hill to catch my breath, especially since the day was heating up. I really had to slog up some sections and I found the barend sections of my handlebars quite helpful for this.

All in all, it was a great ride. Only about 10 miles, but 10 miles of hilly singletrack, on a rigid singlespeed, gave me quite a workout. It was incredibly fun, and I can’t wait to get out on the trails again.

Ridus Interruptus

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

I made a few more tweaks to The Beast, including throwing knobby tires on it, to ready it for mountain biking. Saturday, Dave and I met at Brown County State Park to hit the trails.

We rolled out, and I was excited to be back on the trails for only the second time this year, and I felt good, and strong, and the bike felt pretty good, too. I was anxious to see how the bike would do in its new setup. It quickly became obvious that it handles a lot differently from what I’m used to, and that it would take some time to get used to it. It was a warm and extremely humid morning, so much so that my camera lens fogged up and I couldn’t get it to clear up.

The first technical challenge of the day involved a short, but steep, eroded climb with a nasty root at the top. I picked up some speed to help myself clear it. I hit the root pretty hard, and my tire bounced a bit. I didn’t exactly crash, but I sort of fell, and I laid the bike down. When I got back up, I took stock of the situation. I wasn’t hurt at all, except a small bump on the leg. But then I looked in my handlebars, and was shocked at what I saw. These photos are from Dave … ┬ámy camera lens was still fogged up.

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We were less than a mile into the woods, and my handlebars were severely bent. My ride was over. Actually, it’s probably a good thing that this happened right away, rather than deep in the woods.

Dave snapped this shot of my contemplating my bars … or pouting, perhaps.

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Dave walked back to the trailhead with me. As we were walking back, Dave said, “Talk about ridus interruptus!” — thereby naming this post.┬áDave grabbed his earbuds and headed back out. I drove home. Later, he sent me this shot of a great switchback from the Green Valley trail, to let me know what I was missing. Damn!

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So, I was pretty frustrated. I drove home. Once there, I ate some lunch, and then I decided to put the bars from my old mountain bike on The Beast. Within three hours, I was fed, the “new” bars were installed and wrapped, and I was riding once again, this time closer to home.

The Beast was hilarious on paved roads, with knobby tires. It sounded like a helicopter going down the road. I like to imagine that it must be sort of like a mini Pugsley, in that the tires seem oversized relative to the frame.

I explored some nearby parks, covering some familiar ground, and some new trails I found. Sadly my GPS crapped out on me, so I don’t have a map of my exploration. Alas.

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Here, you can see my new/old bars. I used these for many years, and they usually work well for me.

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I can’t get over the carving in this log — perfect for a singlespeed ride!

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T’he Beast looks menacing, from a low angle.

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So far, everything had been pretty flat and easy. I found some additional trails off the beaten path and explored. Some parts were wide open, like the photo below, while others were overgrown and not maintained … it was like bushwhacking, on a bike (bikewhacking)?

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I practiced some skills like log-hopping, riding over rocks and roots, etc. These trails were tame enough to be ridable, but technical enough to give the bike a good shakedown ride. I learned that climbing on the singlespeed really requires a wide handlebar. The ends of this bar worked perfectly for this, and in fact I could have spent most of the ride holding onto them instead, except that I can’t reach the brake levers from there. I wonder if I could move the levers to the outer portions of the bar, or something.

At one point, I came out of the woods and had a nice view of the gazebo at this park. From the gazebo, you can’t tell the trail is even there.

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More bikewhacking …

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So, despite the fact that my original plans were foiled, I had a good ride, and these bars are definitely better than the ones I had on there before. I haven’t decided yet if they’re staying or not. My first real offroad ride on the Beast in singlespeed form was illuminating, and a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it was quite hot, and just as humid, later in the day. I was really cooking. I’m glad I rode anyway.

Once I was sure the Beast was doing well, I contacted Dave and we decided to try again at Brown County on Sunday. More on that soon!

 

A singlespeed and a lensbaby

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I went for a ride on the singlespeed after work, and took my DSLR with my new lensbaby along for the ride. Here are some shots from my brief ride.

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