One Wheelin’

Well this is interesting. The big honking Jeffsy is more wheelie-able than the Mojo.

I know this because I spent a couple evenings this week playing around with wheelies, and today I achieved 15 pedal strokes. In a row! For reals!

For some reason, it’s a heck of a lot easier to keep this bike straight in a wheelie. Do the wider handlebars make a difference?

There were a lot of families at the school for baseball. I made a small child stare in amazement with a wheelie, and a grown adult wow with a stoppie. Bikes are fun you guys, y’all should play too!

I made no one react with a bunny hop, because I’m still terrible at them. I guess that why I practice.

One Bike To Rule Them All

I’ve neglected to document my new mountain bike.

It’s been 7 years since I got the Enduro. Mountain bike technology has advanced in leaps and bounds, and I decided it was time to upgrade. I also used this as a chance to simplify. I wanted a single mountain bike, one I could ride anywhere in the Bay Area. One bike to rule them all.

I spent months researching various options. I placed an order in January. It arrived in February. We assembled it in March. I’ve been riding it ever since.

I had intended to write about it after a few rides so I could document its differences from the Mojo and Enduro. But really what’s been happening is I’ve been collecting notes as I adjust the suspension every ride, and now I’m so many rides in that my new bike feels like an extension of my body like the Mojo did, and I can no longer do a fair comparison.

So… meet the 2019 YT Jeffsy 29 CF Pro Race, henceforth referred to as simply “the Jeffsy”.

It’s a big honking bike with big honking handlebars. It forces me to really get over the bars and lean the bike in corners. I feel so pro riding this thing!

This is also a wheel size upgrade for me. I first rode a 29er eight years ago, in Austin. The big wheels made me feel so confident I rode up a set of stairs on a whim. Interestingly, I don’t feel the same way this time around. I’ve actually had to relearn technical climbing. (But that could also be due to rust and a lack of bike fitness.)

Given all this bike, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to wheelie it. After playing around with it last weekend, I’m feeling pretty good about being able to pick up my wheelie practice on this rig.

I’ve even learned a new skill on it: stoppies!

Welcome to the family, Jeffsy.

Trek Dirt Series Mountain Bike Camp 2019

Dirt Series, take 3.

It’s been 8 years since my last camp. After the 2011 camp, I gained a lot of skills, rode a ton, did some races, and proceeded to ride very little for a few years.

I upgraded to a fancy new bike this year, and decided to shake out the rust with a clinic.

The format of the camp is still the same: skill sessions in the mornings and practice on the trails in the afternoons. Even though most of my sessions were review, I still got something out of each of them.

Straight Line Riding – I’m way more comfortable adjusting my balance on a plank now than I was before. The one surprise was when our instructor asked us to modulate our rear brake while pedaling for control. I’d never considered this combo and was skeptical at first, but then I tried it on a plank and it felt great! Super fascinating.

Downhill Dismount – I still remember my first Dirt Series where I learned the magic of dismounting behind the bike on a downhill. I haven’t needed it recently, and hadn’t tried it on my new bike. Buzz!! Hello, 29″ tires.

Slow Speed Drops – Basically pushing the front of the bike off a small drop. While I can do this easily, I couldn’t quite assemble all the instructions into how exactly our coach Lindsay wanted us to look until she talked about how Aaron Gwin’s head and torso remain perfectly still as his bike does goes full rodeo under him. With this in mind, I executed the next go around to spec. What drop?

High Speed Cornering – Attack position! Body forward, chest down, elbows up. Turn the head, torso, hips, knees; moon the outside corner. And then something totally new to me: Pedals level, not outside pedal down. Then something else totally new to me: inside straight arm relaxed, outside bent arm pushing down on the handlebar. Putting this one on my practice list.

Jumps – We worked on breaking my habit of landing rear wheel first, which had developed as a way of avoiding the dreaded endo. Coach Lindsay explained that this didn’t give you control, and if you had a choice, put your front wheel down first. After a couple rounds on the alligator ramp, she put a target for me to land my front wheel on. I adjusted my entry speed, trajectory, and pitch in-air, and stomped it. Holy cow!! I’d never even considered that I could target a landing that precisely, much less execute it.

Pumping Rollers – This is a skill session I’ve never done before. Coach Laurie did a great job of breaking down the arms, the legs, then putting them together. Keys to this? Attack position! Body forward, chest down, elbows up. Push forward and down with your arms after cresting the roller. Push forward and down with your legs close to the BOTTOM of the roller. Waaait… what? My mind was blown. I’ve literally been timing the leg push wrong all these years. I was fortunate enough to ride Endor in the afternoon after learning this, and holy cow, the rollers feel amazing when timed correctly.

Stoppies – This was not an official skills session, but one of the camp assistants was doing them for fun during lunch the first day. I mentioned this the second morning, and she showed me how to do them during lunch the second day. Hanging out with high school kids FTW!!!

A couple huge takeaways:

(1) Attack position! I’m not forward enough when I ride. Getting into attack position will let me turn better, pump better, Aaron Gwin better. The nice thing is, I’ve started noticing when I’m not forward enough on trail, and fixing it. I’m piloting the bike, not riding as a passenger.

(2) Deliberately doing something slow so you can break it down and learn exactly what it feels like to do it right. Following a perfect pace set by coach Laurie down Endor with zero pedaling and minimal braking felt so much better than going too fast, messing up, scrubbing speed, and pedaling to get going again.

I learned a couple new skills on my own while waiting in line during the morning sessions:

(a) Turning rear wheel lifts. Because I thought turning on its own was boring.

(b) One handed track stands. Because I track standed so much I needed a bigger challenge.

Using my inability to stand still to my advantage!

Current status: Trying to convince my Dirt Series friends to go to the Angel Fire camp this September.

Whistler! Bike Park Edition!

It’s been 15 years since my last (and first) visit to Whistler.

That trip was for snow. This trip was for dirt. Bike paarrrk!!

We got up super early two Saturdays ago, caught the first flight to Vancouver, grabbed some Tim Horton’s:

… hopped on a shuttle, and arrived at the village by 1 PM. It was early enough to gear up for an afternoon of riding, but it was sooo smokey from nearby wildfires I decided to save my lungs. Seriously, it was like we had landed in India all over again.

This turned out to be a great decision, because we had arrived at the tail end of Crankworx and it was time for Red Bull Joyride! It is by far my most favoritest Crankworx event.

Getting to watch Joyride in person was magical. And holy crap, I knew the jumps were big from watching it online all these years, but in person they’re HUUUUUGE. Watching Nicholi Rogatkin and Brett Rheeder throw down flawless superhuman tricks on that course brought tears to my eyes. Or maybe it was the smoke.

Naw, it was Joyride.

After Joyride I went to check out my rental rig, a 2018 Norco Aurum Carbon. I gave it a once over and asked for the baby coil (because I weigh nothing) plus some fresh tires for the next day. They did even better and put fresh brake pads on as well. The bike felt great when I picked it up the next morning.

To the bike park! The Aurum was my first ride on a full downhill bike. The last time I made a jump that big it was from my cross country Anthem to the Giant Reign, back in 2010. I remembered finding the slacker head angle awkward to maneuver. This time, however, I felt right at home. The Aurum was cushy, stable, and confidence inspiring. Was it me, or the bike? Probably both.

I spent my first day getting used to the new rig, and to trail conditions at Whistler. It was late into a very dry season, and everything was bumpy and dusty. My hands hurt by the middle of the day. When I took my gloves off at lunch, I’d lost a layer of every callus.

Conditions aside, this bike was rad! At speed, I could pump the bike and launch over swaths of rocks. Randomly playing around resulted in accidental manuals. I felt like a pro.

On day two, I focused on riding more technical trails, working my way down random black diamonds. The beauty of a downhill bike is you can point it down super steep chunk and it magically delivers you to the bottom upright and intact. Yes, there’s skill involved, but way less than would be required on a bike with a different geometry.

In the afternoon, I visited a midmountain skills area and made a couple GoPro videos. When I analyzed them later I didn’t like my midair body position. I decided to work on fixing it the next day.

Aaron spent day three with me on the flow trails, airing it out Crank It Up, C-More (Butts), and A-Line over and over. By the end of the day I was clearing most of jumps on Crank It Up and C-More. Yaaasssss!!

We also chased the trail photographers that day (they post a schedule), because where else are you gonna have a professional photographer sitting around with a fill flash setup waiting for you to ride by? They did not disappoint.

My jump disappointed, though. Gotta work on my steeze!

The food, like the photographer(s), did not disappoint. I’d be perfectly happy having Purebread every morning and Peaked Pies every night.

Finally, pics or I didn’t Whistler! Here I am doing my best inukshuk impression:

Manual One-Two

The other day, while watching random bike skills instructional videos on YouTube, I came across this guide to manuals:

I’ve watched quite a few videos on manuals and none of them have magically imbued me with skill. This time, however, my staunch belief in the benefit of new skills explained 5 different ways by 5 different people paid off. Starting at 18 seconds into the video, the instructor goes over how to get into manual position. Instead of the usual “get your weight back”, it’s “Step 1: Pump down. Step 2: Weight back.” They even draw imaginary video lines, and explicitly state that combining steps 1 and 2 won’t work.

Today, I found myself at a pump track, land of rad skills like manuals. There’s a baby step up roller I don’t have enough hops to jump, so I decided it would be a good candidate for a manual. When I came here 2 weeks ago, pre-video, I shifted my weight back in futility on every attempt.

Today, I remembered those imaginary video lines. Pump down, THEN weight back. And whaddaya know, it works.

Video screen capture or it didn’t happen:

It wasn’t anywhere close to perfect, or even good, but it was better than I’ve ever managed before.

Aaron says I should practice this skill on flat ground before trying it on a pump track.

Crazy talk!

Inspired 2.0

I’ve watched a lot of Danny MacAskill videos, starting with Inspired, which introduced me to the awesomesauce of trials riding.

After Inspired made him a big shot, his videos have become full blown productions, polished and perfect.

Then I stumbled across this Vlog of Ali and Danny at a playground, tackling features for the first time, trying and failing, over and over.

I love this video. I love it more than the polished and perfect. I love because it’s not polished or perfect. I love that we can drop in on two professionals encountering new problems, listen to their approach, watch them try and fail and adjust and try and fail and adjust again. I love their attitudes. You can see exactly why they’re so good at what they do, and get a glimpse into the work they put in to be as good as they are.

I can learn from this video. I can learn from their words, their technique, their fear and confidence and grit.

Polished and perfect is entertainment. This is real.

30×29 Day ???

I have not made an update about wheelies in over a month. That’s because I have not had a dedicated wheelie day in over a month. I have excuses upon excuses as to why. They were wearing me out and making me suck at hockey. My body needed a break. I traveled to Boston and couldn’t practice. My local windy microclimate is teh sux for practice. It’s the coldest summer in San Francisco in a long time. I fell out of the habit of practicing.

I actually fell out of the habit of doing anything active for about a month. That’s not an excuse, that’s just fact. And that’s okay, because nothing in life over time is constant.

I’m getting back into the habit of being active again. I realized when I thought about practicing wheelies that I missed riding my bike. So I’ve been riding my bike. On trails, not in school playgrounds. And it’s been fun.

I practice wheelies a bit on these rides when I find myself on gentle fire roads or quiet streets. I’m about where I was when I left off in late July. I chase my wheel, don’t feel comfortable in the float zone, and have terrible side balance. But it’s interesting and fun and it feels more right than spending an hour in a parking lot.

So I’m gonna go with this for a while. It means no video because I’m practicing wheelies as I go from point A to point B, and first person wheelies don’t look like much. At least they don’t from my helmet. Maybe I’ll try mounting my GoPro to the handlebars.

Speaking of my GoPro, I got a new Session, mounted it to my helmet, and in my first minute of shooting, smashed it into a tree.

It’s so light I totally forgot it was there. GoPro win!

Tahoe Trifecta

Last weekend, Aaron and I brought our bikes up to Tahoe for a fun mix of riding: trail riding at Hole in the Ground Saturday, skills at Truckee Bike Park after that, and downhilling at Northstar Sunday.

I haven’t been riding a ton, but I did notice some improvement from the last time I rode in Tahoe. For one thing, squats means more power means I can get over rocks more easily. It also means doing things like popping the front wheel up with a pedal stroke and moving the wheel over sideways to change lines. I say that like it’s a normal thing I plan and execute, but the cool thing about what happened last weekend is I didn’t plan it. I found myself going up the wrong rock and just naturally popped my bike over to the right one. Awesommme!

Whacked my shin with my pedal after saving myself from sliding out due to my overbraking in a loose turn to avoid kicking a stick up into my derailleur. Said whacked shin ballooned with a golf ball sized pocket of… something. It throbbed a bit, but mostly I was fascinated. I kept pushing on it. Would it explode? I kind of wanted to poke it.

Finished riding Hole in the Ground in way less time than I thought it would take. I felt great out there.

This was my first visit to Truckee Bike Park, and I was impressed. Lots of different areas to work on all sorts of skills. Something for everyone. I’d love to see more parks like this across the land.

Northstar was… dry and blown out as usual. I actually just researched downhill mountain bike parks on the East Coast after writing that sentence. Maybe I’ll spend more time in Massachusetts next summer.