Monday, November 28, 2011

Everything you ever wanted to know about night/winter mountain biking in the midwest.

With hunting season, winter and a severe lack of daylight upon us, your riding opportunities can seem pretty limited.  Before you decide to spend the rest of winter zoned out playing marathon sessions of Modern Warfare 3 and eating cookies with your lame, non-riding buddies, get yourself a light system and get into the action. It's night riding season Boyeeee!

There is no other type of riding that compares to the surreal experience you get from slicing through the trees and over creek crossings in the dark. Trails, once familiar, now pose unknown challenges around every corner.

Riding at night can seem a little intimidating to solo riders that haven't ventured into the forest after dark. Luckily for you Fred, there are plenty of fun group night rides in which to participate.

St. Charles CountySLAGGORC, SLAMB and The Bike Stop Cafe all coordinate group night rides all year long. Tuesday night rides at Lost Valley, Saturday night rides at Bangert Island are just a couple of the local weekly rides that keep the sickness going all winter long. Check with your local land managers for areas that are open to night activities.

Group night rides are challenging and require a little bit more preparation than your usual daytime romp in the park. Showing up prepared and being aware of a few things can help you have a stress free and kick ass night ride.

When you plan to attend any group ride, (day or night) you should make sure you have familiarized yourself with the trail you will be riding by reading the trail description. If no description is available on the event page, good information for St. Louis trails can be found at GORC Trails

But, I don't want to get cold! Whaa Whaa Whaa...There is an old saying that says there is no bad weather, just bad gear. If you have unlimited funding for your outdoor recreation addiction, this is true but, expensive cold-weather specific riding gear can quickly drain your bank account while you're busy decking yourself out in the latest, greatest Gortex, Windstopper and breathable membrane coated Geektek jumpsuit. 

I don't want to spend this entire page talking about gear but here's a  few suggestions for winter gear that won't break the bank. 

Upper Body: Light to medium weight jacket with a windbreak outer shell. Long sleeve jersey/ shirt with a tee shirt under that. Wicking material is great but, is not mandatory. You are going to be surprised at how quickly your body warms up while pedaling. Most people will over dress and then find themselves removing a layer at the first stop. Savvy riders will be a little chilly before the ride begins and then warm up when the pedals start churning up the body heat. If you look like the Michelin man when you walk out the door, chances are, you're over dressed!

Lower Body: Thin to medium base layer/long underwear/ tights then either riding shorts, jeans or wind breaking running/ track pants and ankle wrap to keep it out of the chain.

Face/ Ears/ Hands and Feet. This is where I would put my money as I've found these areas are the toughest to keep toasty, especially the TOES! A thin beanie under the helmet, ski mask or balaclava is essential to maintaining body heat and keeping the ears warm. Long wool/ wicking or ski socks. Make sure they aren't so thick that they impede blood flow to your digits! Good quality, medium weight gloves. Ski gloves can be okay, but thick winter gloves make tickling the shifters tricky. I like to carry an extra pair of light weight gloves in my pack as I've found that most gloves seem to get moist from sweat which eventually makes your hands cold. It's a nice mid-ride treat to be able to put on a pair of dry gloves.
Some people will put on their riding shoes when they arrive. Newb mistake ALERT! I suggest you wear your cycling shoes as you drive to the trailhead. BLAST the car's heater on your feet to get those shoes warm and toasty before you even arrive. I've tested this method and my left foot always gets cold before my right foot. Why you ask? Because my right foot is closer to the vent. Go figure.

This next tip maybe a little controversial, so use it at your own risk. I like to fill my hydration bladder with HOT water for winter riding. Nothing will warm your core better than a shot of hot water on a cold day. Disclaimer! Some experts say that using hot water with some plastics may release toxins from the plastics into your drinking water.

Be Prepared! Make sure your pre-ride maintenance has been done before ride time! IE, check tire pressure, lube chain, etc.  I try to do all this before I leave the garage. It is no fun fiddling with bike prep in the dark while your riding buddies are geared up and considering leaving your unprepared ass behind. Plus this frees up time to slam that pre- ride brewsky and make fun of the guy with the backwards, white styrofoam helmet.

In addition to my normal bike lighting system, I always carry a headband hiking light as a back up in case I have any problems with my primary system.  This also comes in very handy when you're gearing up before a ride. It's much easier to use the hiking lamp for putting on wheels and getting your gear out of the vehicle than a cumbersome helmet mounted light, cord and battery pack.

 After you're geared up, take a few moments to ride the bike around the parking lot checking the brakes, shifters, suspension and overall feel of the bike to make sure you haven't overlooked anything.  Nothing takes the fun out of a group ride quicker than having to stop the whole gang because some newb had to stop and tweak their widgets and let air out of their tires.

Staging your position before the group rolls out can also make a group ride flow better. Night rides tend to keep moving as opposed to making frequent stops.  Fast riders who know the trail should make sure they are the first ones into the woods.  If you don't plan on hammering near the front or you are unfamiliar with the trail, you should be riding out near the end of the pack.

If you find yourself with a rider right on your back wheel, it is common courtesy to ask that rider if he wants to pass. If he does,  look for the first spot wide enough to pull off and announce your intention before you do.

Riding at night requires special attention. Things can get chaotic in a hurry when you have a bunch of hammerheads buzzing each others tires with limited visibility. In daylight, you can usually see around the rider in front of you and plan ahead for turns and obstacles. At night, when you are right on somebody's butt and they crash, all you are going to see is the blur of their jersey as you tumble over them and onto that jagged rock garden that took them out in the first place. Maybe if your lucky, you'll take a pedal to the ribs in the process!

Blinded by the light...When you are following another rider try to avoid focusing your headlights directly on the lead riders back or helmet. This usually causes the lead rider to see his own shadow, making it hard for them to see using their own lights. Giving extra space and pointing your lights either down or slightly to the side makes it easier for you and them to see the trail. 

Whenever you are using head mounted lights avoid pointing your lights directly at at the face of other riders, especially when you encounter oncoming riders on the trail. As a courtesy, you should turn off all your lights at rest stops. This not only saves your batteries, It helps other riders eyes stay adjusted and it keeps you from being an annoying goober.

 Well, I could probably go on and on but this blog is cutting into my night riding time. Put down your X-box, find yourself a group night ride and GO GET YA SOME! 

The MTBWhisperer

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cool Fall Riding Tips

Mild temperatures and autumn scenery makes fall the riding season of choice for a lot of recreational mountain bikers.  Here are some tips from the Bike Whisperer himself to keep you happily raging all season long.
 Riding on trails covered with leaves requires you to be on your game even more than any other time. These decomposing deposits are not only slippery, but rocks that you usually see and avoid, are now camouflaged just enough to knock you right off your line and right into that im-movable object next to the trail. IE TREE! Also, quick direction changes are not as easy on leaf covered trails. Staying loose and riding straight down the trail with proper body position is usually more effective than trying to pick your way around rocks that may or may not be there.

Finesse riding is where its at when it comes to raging over unpredictable surfaces. Nothing will send you into the sticks quicker than hitting a hidden rock while sitting on the seat with too much weight on the front wheel. The ideal position is, little or no weight on the seat, body positioned more towards the rear of the bike, arms relaxed and elbows slightly bent in the " attack" position is how you "float" over rocky, leaf covered terrain.

 The bike should be pushed out in front of you slightly. The idea is to let the bike move around beneath you without your weight being tossed around unexpectedly.
Also, try lowering the air pressure in your tires. I've seen riders struggle on the trails with fifty pounds of air in their tires. When we reduce the air pressure it's almost like they are a completely different rider. Thirty to forty pounds is a generally accepted range depending on rider weight and conditions. Lower pressure can vastly improve your traction in slick conditions. A slightly softer/ wider contact patch will also provide a little bit more give when you plow over those unseen, fist sized rocks that are hiding right below that thick layer of leaves.

 The trade off to running lower pressure is that your inner tubes may be more susceptible to pinch flats. This is why I first suggest improving your body position, IE " attack position" in addition to running lower pressures.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Passing the Torch -

October 1st, was the  IMBA's eighth annual Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day. Some 30,000 participants at over 300 local events brought the kids out to what is becoming one of my favorite biking events.
Our local event was held at Broemmelsiek Park in St. Charles County.

  This event was heavily supported and organized by St. Charles County ParksGORC,
 local and national shops, retailers and advocacy groups. Dozens of volunteers spent their day setting up the obstacle course, coaching the kids on technique and leading rides through the rolling hills of the park.

The kids got top notch level coaching from the GORC crew over the teeter totters, balance beams, progressive log crossings and ramps.

This is great opportunity to pass on the love of mountain biking to the next generation in a safe and friendly environment.
The turnout was great and the registration table was busy nearly every minute signing in anxious newb riders waiting to challenge themselves on the skills obstacles and the guided trail rides.

There was plenty of free give-a-ways to the participants including helmets, jerseys, gloves, backpacks, bottle cages, Clifbars and sticker kits.

 This was my 3rd consecutive year attending the event and my shop, The 2nd Street Bike Stop Cafe was a sponsor of the event. I spent the day basking in the sun, serving coffee to the parents, giving out stickers and tee shirts, prepping loaner bikes and leading rides for the kids. Thanks to Pam Kell and the others from The St. Louis Adventure Group who helped out with loaner bikes and the guided rides. Awesome job by everyone!
Four minute video of the safety and trail etiquette briefing before the kids get to hit the trails!

With the help of Sasha Petrosevich  from Team Seagal  I also had the Airborne Bicycles demo fleet on hand and the Delta Cyclocross bike was missing from it's mount most of the day. I even had one of the bigger kids take the 8" travel Taka out for a full lap in the woods with his friends. How often is it that a fourteen year old from urban St. Louis gets to ride a full on downhill race bike? Not very often!

Thanks to Airborne Bicycles for your generous support over the years. The kid loved every minute and he wants to come back and do it again as soon as possible.

I can't wait to do it again next year!
Thanx for reading!
Tony Caruso
The MTB Whisperer


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

MTB-POV Exclusive! ;) Shocking Bike Destruction!

Never Before Seen Footage!
Madman Matt Rips His Prized  Santa Cruz Blur In Half!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Alpine Shop's 2011 CastleWood Dirt Crits on July 14th

Amateur highlights from The Alpine Shop's 2011 CastleWood Dirt Crits on July 14th. Class B and C racing with a few spills. You might see yourself. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

First Group Ride on the Airborne Delta CX

MY FIRST GROUP ROAD RIDE in a long time...

 On a whim I dropped in on a thirty some-odd mile urban group ride through the Central West End in St. Louis. Out of twenty two riders, most were riding mid to high end, light weight, road specific mounts of the usual fare. Specs, Dales, Treks and Giants all on 18 to 25 mm skins. I've been dropped early on during a few road rides in the past and by the look of some of these guys in their race kits, I didn't expect this ride to be any different. I guess I may have looked a little out of place being the only rider on a CX bike with a camelback and NOT in Lycra. Oh well, I've taken a downhill bike on plenty of cross country rides and I'd rather be over equipped than under equipped.

Luckily the lead riders took it easy in the beginning and everybody was able to warm up to a good pace without having to over exert themselves. A few miles in, the pace kicked up a notch and I was in the big ring and pleasantly surprised how easily I was able to keep pace with the lead riders.

There is no shortage of "surface features" on the streets of St. Louis and the lead pack was calling out potholes, cracks, and gravel patches with regular frequency. Navigating through traffic on rough roads with a group of 20 plus riders has never been my cup of tea and this is where the Delta opens up a lot of route options. Where pure road bikes always stick to the smoothest pavement and have to avoid variances, the Delta lets you blast through dirty spots, hop over potholes and run up onto the sidewalk to pass slow riders and avoid tight traffic situations.

I was getting quite a few looks from the ride leaders as I blazed my own paths, in and out of traffic, up and down curbs and even through grass and gravel sections. A couple of guys commented on how they are considering a cyclocross bike as their next bike purchase. Hmmm? You don't say.

Pure road bikes might be at an advantage on perfectly smooth pavement but in the real world where rain grates and dirty shoulders are the norm, the Delta smacks them all down without even trying.


I was really starting to enjoy my equipment advantage over these road bikes at this point. With eight miles to go on this ride, the clouds opened up an absolute torential downpour ensued. Within seconds we were all completely soaked to the bone and everyone was scrambling to get back to their cars. Ok, I was having fun before with my out of bounds riding style, now it was time to drop these weenies and explore the upper limits of the Deltas street cred.

The Delta's BB30 bottom bracket provides a massive tube junction at the cranks and when saw the bike back and forth while ripping at the pedals there is absolutely no noticeable flex in this frame. Stiff as hell! With it's relaxed head angle, mechanical disc brakes and 32mm wide Ritchey Speedmax cross tires (aftermarket) taking the Delta CycloXrosser to an urban ride, is like taking a gun to a knife fight. While the other riders had to approach corners and braking sections with caution, I would clip out one foot as an outrigger, feather the disc brakes, carve my turn and then get back on the gas and up to speed in no time flat. A quick glance over my shoulder showed the rest of the group flailing around in the wetness, hoping to come out unscathed. Ha, I laughed! Pretty friggin awesome feeling! After this ride, the Delta has inspired so much confidence, I can't wait till my next road ride! Rock on Airborne!

Tony Caruso 
Airborne Flight Crew Test Rider

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The St. Louis Adventure Group Red White but not Blue Pub Crawl

Friday night, the start of Independence Day Weekend.
A large group of fun seekers gather for The St. Louis Adventure Group Red White but not Blue Pub Crawl. Crawling out from The Tower Grove Carousel.
Jodi and Rebecca looking fabulous.
The first leg of the ride was an excruciating 3/4 of a mile slog to the 1st stop, Colorado Bob's Ship of Fools.
Colorado Bob invites everyone up on his front porch for a classic group shot! Thanks Colorado Bob!
 Ah, shrimp shish kabobs and cold beverages, this crowd is getting a little antsy. Let's roll out!

The infamous Yellow Hotdog and her patriotic handler led the march to our next stop at Mollys in Soulard!

By now the heat and humidity had everyone soaked and ready to blitz the drink servers. Heat exhaustion quickly turned to brain freeze with Molly's awesome frozen rum and punch drinks!

I made a new friend at the bar!

 Our distinguished event hosts, Christine and John. Always a great time!
Photo Credit Cindy A.
Old Glory was flying high over the streets of south St. Louis. Neighbors yelled and cheered on our patriotic pedal powered parade. 
 I of course led the famous South Park cheer, America F*ck Yeah!
 Our last stop was at The Filling Station. Here there is vibrant, rich and diverse Kareoke scene that makes even the drunkest bar fly want to grab the mic and kick out their best version of Night Rangers Sister Christian.
 SLAG's own Adam blew the crowd away with an unexpected and nearly American Idol worthy rendition of Rock n Roll by Led Zeppelin.
Way to get the ladies excited Adam!
Unfortunately all great crawls eventually end with a brief case of memory loss and a heck of a hangover.