Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Did I bite the monkey, or did the monkey bite me???

Beautiful day today (12-22-2009) and with rain coming tomorrow I headed out to the Montgomery Bell (aka "Monkey Bell") State Park mountain bike trails. The weather was perfect and the trails were in excellent condition. Even though Monkey Bell is an hour from my home in Franklin, it is well worth the trip. Something about the soils makes this trail the quickest to dry out.

I brought both of my Mary bikes, having learned the "smoke 'em if you got 'em" lesson a while back at Lock 4 (if you have more than one bike, bring it, you can always use a spare...much more fun to ride trail than do bike maintenance at the trailhead). Turned out to be a good move, my Mary XC had a bad rear tube. Instead of futzing with this and wasting precious daylight, I took the single speed out and rode it all over the red, white and blue trails.

Even though the parking lot was packed with other riders enjoying the beautiful day, I never passed a single person on the trails, thanks to the 26 miles of trail out there. Yes, I did ride alone...a bad habit, but none of my usual riding partners were able to get away. Though I forgot my GPS, I believe I rode 13+ miles. Red perimeter (twice), Storm Track (where I broke my ankle last year), White Pine, Back Blue and Lonesome Blue were the trails I hit (or should I say, "tore up"...haha).

I rode in the preferred directions...Back Blue is best ridden from the downhill toward the green and yellow trails and Lonesome Blue is definitely best ridden from the trailhead to the creek. I learned this almost the hard way, walking Lonesome Blue on my Sonix from the creek to the trailhead a few weeks ago. If you are on a SS, going in the "preferred/easier" direction makes all of the difference.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Chickasaw kicked my...

The title says it all. On November 28 I set out to Chickasaw Trace on a perfect autumn day. I rode the Sonix, having had a difficult time negotiating some of the more technical sections on my Mary XC a couple of weeks prior. I also brought the Mary, so I would have something to compare it to if I were willing and able to ride a second lap. Well, that never happened. I nearly bailed toward the end of the first lap. I enjoyed the ride and exercise, but I have a long way to go before I am back to where I was one year ago (this was the one-year anniversary of my broken ankle at Monkey Bell).

The Trail of Tears was really tough on me, though I enjoyed the new reroute around the swamp. I should be able to enjoy it more next time, whenever there is new trail added/modified I go very slowly just in case there is a crazy drop off or something similar to negotiate. The Blackhill trail was fun, though in one of the most innocuous sections I went over the handlebars. Thankfully, I wasn't going fast, everything felt (and probably looked) like it was in slow motion. Rub the dirt off and I was riding again. I think I was just too tired at that point. Rode out to the trailhead and left, no need to head back in for a second lap.

Chickasaw Trace

Map your trip with EveryTrail

Monday, November 16, 2009

If one bike is good and two bikes is better...

...then heed the lessons learned at Lock 4: always bring 2 bikes if you have the room in the back of your vehicle (one does no good when your bike breaks down and the other is an hour away) and always have spare parts (or rely on the generosity of strangers)!

Jason and I headed out to Lock 4 yesterday morning. I was excited about getting back out there on the Mary SS again to see if I could do two laps without getting off the bike to push. We started in on BLT1 and maybe 2 minutes in my chain came off the rear cog. No big deal, flipped the bike upside down and the chain was back on. Unfortunately, this was a sign of things to come...once we crossed the road into BLT2 (maybe one mile into the nine mile course) I heard a loud noise and my chain came completely off.

When I looked down and saw the chain carnage I figured my day was done. I was running a couple of minutes late and decided I did not have time to throw another bike into the back of the Tahoe (I would have brought "Gary" the geared Mary XC). Single speed mountain bikes use a thicker chain than geared bikes and this kept the spare chain link that Jason wisely brought with him from being able to get me out of my predicament. After returning to the trailhead, another singlespeed rider kindly let me take a couple of links off a spare piece of chain he kept around (I will always bring some spare pieces of chain after this event) and I was back on the trail.

I learned a heck of a lot about the bike by going through this...adjusting the eccentric bottom bracket to maintain chain tension was the biggest lesson I learned. Additional pieces of chain, a good chain tool (not just one on a multi-tool), and the generosity of other riders are nice to rely on when you are riding.

Jason headed back to the trailhead about halfway through the loop trails and I continued to finish out the loop. All in all, a great day on the trail. The weather was great (almost hot), Lock 4 was in almost perfect condition and the ride was challenging. I did get off the bike to push at the very end.

So, in a previous post, I was proud of riding an entire loop without getting off to push. Well, it turns out I am not an animal. Saturday was the Lock 4 Challenge, an endurance race to see how many laps you (or your team) can complete in 6 hours. There are numerous categories, expert, clydesdale, singlespeed, beginner, teams, etc. The solo rider who completed the most laps (8) was riding a single speed! 8 laps of a 9-mile course is 72 miles...over 6 hours equals an average (AVERAGE) speed of 12 mph! And doing this on a single speed...wow! Very impressive...as were many of the other riders. The results are available here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chickasaw Trace 11-09-09

When I read yesterday on nashvillemountainbike.com (a great resource for trail conditions, advice, etc.) that Chickasaw Trace in Columbia, TN was in great shape, I had to go. The trail had hosted Jailbreak in muddy conditions in late September/early October and the rains we have had recently have kept it from being ridable. With rain in the forecast for the following day, I headed for Columbia.

The trail indeed was in great shape and it was a perfect day for riding. I went into the trail head at about 3:45 and came out after one loop just before it was getting too dark to ride without lights. The trail is a favorite of mine...it is very challenging and I don't think I will be riding my single speed there anytime soon, at least not on the last two trails: Trail of Tears and Blackhill Trail. Those are very steep trails with too many climbs to count. I pushed my Mary XC around a lot in those areas.

I met a couple of Columbia natives (Jeff and Jeremy) who do night rides there on Tuesday and Wednesdays at 5:30 of each week. If I thought I could keep up with them I would meet them there, those guys were moving through the trail on the Blackhill trail when they passed me.

Here is my GPS trail:

Chickasaw Trace

Map your trip with EveryTrail

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Lock 4 - 11/7/09

I left work at 2:30 (best part of academia is the schedule) and headed toward Lock 4 where I would meet Lindsay. She just got a full suspension mountain bike (more of a road biker) and has ridden Hamilton Creek and Long Hunter State Park. Lock 4 was a real treat after riding Fairview through 4 inches of leaves Thursday. 

The weather was perfect, the trail was in good condition (BLT 3 had some huge mudholes that we stepped around) and we had a great time. It was my first time out on the Mary SS on a trail other than Long Hunter. I was at Lock 4 on the geared Mary and got off the bike 4 times to push. I figured I might have been pushing the SS all over the place...unbelievably, I didn't get off the bike once! It doesn't make sense other than single speed bikes make you momentum-conscious and you find yourself pedaling hard before and at the beginning of a grade. It evens out the effort around the trail and I feel less tired after riding the SS. 

We rode into the trailhead at about 3:45 and were out a little after 5:00. I was very glad I had my light, I needed it on the last trail. I am looking forward to some evening rides with the handlebar lights and a helmet light. 

Here is our track:

Lock 4

Map your trip with EveryTrail

Friday, November 6, 2009

Fairview - after 4 inches of leaf accumulation

I rode Fairview yesterday (Bowie Nature Park) hoping to get some exercise in. Unfortunately, at this time of year the entire trail was covered in at least 4 inches of leaves. This is problematic since part of the reason I crashed and broke my ankle last year was because the trail was covered in leaves and I was off the trail then (and didn't know it), secondly, leaves have a great tendency for hiding roots and rocks, which will grab you if you are not careful or if you don't know that they are there.

I rode the Mary XC (geared). I took the 26" full suspension Haro Sonix for a spin in my neighborhood and it feels really weird...kind of like I am riding a kid's bike. 29" wheels are definitely the way to go, but I hope to get the Sonix out to Hamilton Creek (rock and root paradise) soon.

The Mary XC is pictured below:

Fairview is a nice trail for exercise, mainly fire/Jeep roads with some good climbs and beautiful scenery. The City of Fairview recently decided not to opt out of the firearms in their city parks law, so I was wary of (illegal) hunters and people wanting to exercise their second amendment rights out there. I was also thankful for the color of the Mary (bright orange, above) and the fact that I was not wearing a helmet with antlers.

I rode one lap (5.0 miles) and it was very clear that the park police/rangers were ready to close the place out due to the park closing at sundown. I didn't want to head back in there for another loop with the leaves the way they were anyhow.

Here is my path on EveryTrail:
Fairview Mountain Biking at EveryTrail

Map created by EveryTrail: Travel Community

I am looking forward to riding the Mary singlespeed this afternoon on Lock 4.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I am an ANIMAL!!!

After doing the single speed conversion, I wondered if I should have built an ark. Rain for nearly a month kept me off the trails and when it would stop raining, it wouldn't stop long enough to let the trails dry out. I was happy riding the 26er single speed conversion around neighborhoods, but something was missing...big wheels!

I found a Haro Mary SS (rigid) 29er on craigslist and decided to go for it. I picked it up Monday and was out at Long Hunter Tuesday afternoon.

The headline of this post edged out a couple of others, "hurt so good" and "why am I doing this?" to name a couple. I went with what I yelled into the phone to my fiance after finishing two laps at Long Hunter...two laps without getting off the bike once and with feeling in my arms and hands. Riding rigid was actually fun and Long Hunter was not that difficult on a SS. I thought I was going to be pushing the bike all over the place (not riding for a while had diminished my wind and legs), but it wasn't that bad. Of course, Long Hunter is relatively flat.

First impressions include that keeping a little less air in the tires (35-40psi) was a big help going over rocks and provided some "suspension." Also, I agree with others I have heard say that riding a rigid singlespeed will make you a better rider. Obviously, momentum is key and on a rigid bike, identifying the best line is a must to save yourself the [not so] sweet vibrations.

I think I am a convert, but I will keep the geared 29er (hardtail) and my FS 26er. Certain trails lend themselves better to single speed rigid.

Before I forget, here is a picture of the new (to me) bike:

Friday, October 2, 2009

Single speed conversion!

Been a while since I posted anything here. Have been on vacation and Nashville has had some horrible weather as of late. I have been itching to get out on the trails, my last ride being at Monkey Bell (Montgomery Bell State Park) on Friday, 9/11. I was able to ride my new Haro Mary...it performed great and I love it. I really enjoy riding 29ers, it is nice to be able to roll over just about everything out there. I also enjoy being up high and don't notice much more difficulty making sharp turns, etc.

Similar to when I bought my first full-suspension bike, a Haro Sonix, last year, I had the itch for something else. When getting back into riding, I wanted the full-suspension, then I wanted the 29er, now I find myself wanting to try singlespeed (SS). I don't know why I am so intrigued by it, but there is something about being able to just ride into the trail and try to get through with what you have. It must be the challenge and the rejection of conventional riding and the mainstream (I am such an anarchist). Read this article on the Single Speed World Championships to understand what I mean. SS bikes do offer much more simplicity and a greater workout. I tend to rely very heavily on gears when I ride, trying to make the ride as pleasant as possible. SS may make the trip miserable, but I am up for trying it.

Instead of buying (yet another) expensive bike only to find out I am not in good enough shape to handle riding trails on a singlespeed, I went the conversion kit route. If this works out, I may opt for the Mary SS, but only this year's model (the Carolina blue looks great!)...not sure if I can handle the rigid fork, though. Another bike I am looking at is the Motobecane Outcast 29er.

I had a 2004 Haro V-3 (26er) sitting around and I had $21 to spare on a Forte conversion kit. The kit arrived on Tuesday and I was so excited to start working on it. After removing everything required to shift gears (shifters and derailleurs) on Tuesday, I discovered I needed a Shimano lockring tool ($6) and a chain whip ($20), which I bought from REI the next day. What a difference the right tools make! The cassette came right off and I was able to put the desired cog (16 teeth, you get three with the kit) and chain tensioner on.

"Mr. Perfect" (my alter ego...probably stems from my military training and/or education as an engineer) showed up in my garage on Wednesday night. He thought it was great that I had everything working, but he thought the chain could be tighter, which I tried to do and learned a hard lesson: do not ever push the rivets all the way out of a chain! You will never get them back in. So, my chain was out of commission (as was my bike) and I stopped working for the night. Thursday over lunch I installed the brake levers ($16, the previous levers were integrated brake levers and shifters) and in the afternoon I made my final trip to REI for a chain connector ($5). I fixed the chain and was able to ride around the neighborhood.

First impressions are that it was a weird feeling, grabbing the grips and not feeling shift levers. I quickly got used to it, though, and took it on some hills in open fields near my house. It is fun to just pedal and not worry about being in the right gear. When I started to strain, the chain slipped a little, which I remedied by removing another link (the chain tensioner should be in line as much as possible with the bottom half of the chain. I found). I would have ridden today, but the overnight rain precluded the trails from being able to dry completely. Maybe sometime this weekend I can get out.

I will post pictures of the converted bike once I get them off my camera. All in all, I would recommend the kit and going through this process, especially if you have an old bike sitting around. Being able to maintain and work on my own bikes has been a goal of mine for a while and after this conversion I am SO much more comfortable working on them.

Look for more posts in the future about my experience riding Nashville-area trails with my SS.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hamilton Creek 9-1-09

After having a rather hectic morning at work, I decided to hit the trails. I wanted to get a good exercise ride in and intially intended to go to Long Hunter. After plugging that into my GPS, however, I quickly realized I would not make it back for my 2:30 conference call. I headed to Hamilton Creek, which is just 15 minutes from Brentwood.

Nice ride...trail conditions were perfect and there was no one on the trails but me. Riding by myself is not the best habit, and I am extra careful when doing this. I walked around most of the objects I just started riding over (when I have a partner there). "The buddy system only works for the lead buddy" is our saying, since the lead rider won't really know that the person bringing up the rear has gone down. However, it is nice to know they will eventually come back for you. I only ride on the "beginner" section of Hamilton Creek (beginner is definitely a misnomer)...the advanced section has its own helipad, which I hope does not see much use.

On some of the back stretches (where I am normally starting to wear down), I forced myself to charge up the hills and keep more speed on the downhills. Momentum like this made a huge difference. I ended up averaging 5.5 miles per hour on this loop and my legs felt great coming out of the trail. I would have gone for another lap, but my day job called....

Here is the track:

Hamilton Creek 9-1-09 at EveryTrail

Map created by EveryTrail: GPS Community

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I've got to learn bike maintenance

Jason and I are big fans of Sun and Ski and their lifetime maintenance for bikes purchased there. However, we would like to be able to do minor maintenance ourselves rather than hauling a bike out to Opry Mills. My full-suspension Haro Sonix nearly came apart a couple of weeks ago while riding the last couple of miles of Chickasaw Trace. Even being an engineer, I wasn't quite sure what was causing the wobble, so I took it to Sun and Ski (Carl). Turned out everything was causing the wobble and Carl fixed it up for me.

After riding Monkey Bell two days ago, I noticed some slow shifting. Jason has been trying to get up to speed with gear maintenance and is taking a course this Saturday at Cumberland Transit. He passed on a great website: http://www.bicycletutor.com/

I am going to scan this site over and try to figure out some of the shifting myself. As I learned with the Garmin Oregon, reading the instruction manual can be a good thing to try as well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Monkey Bell 8-25-09

Yesterday I returned to the trail where I severely broke my ankle on the day after Thanksgiving last year. I had to have a plate and 7 screws to put everything back together. The break, a spiral fracture, was due to clipless pedals not releasing. Now I ride BMX style platform pedals, which are fine in terms of grip. My feet don't slip often and although I occasionally get a flesh wound, I am not attached to the bike, which for me is great for not breaking bones. I think I ride a lot more cautiously these days.

With that as backdrop, I am always a bit hesitant about going to Monkey Bell (my affectionate nickname for Montgomery Bell State Park). There are over 20 miles of trail out there, ranging from beginner to advanced/expert. I stay on the beginner to intermediate trails. Yesterday I rode 9.1 miles of red, blue and white. The trail map of the park may be downloaded here. The red is the perimeter trail, and is smooth and flowing. The "Back Blue" is a favorite section of mine, very fast and scenic. "Lonesome Blue" is tough, very steep in parts and uphill (at least the direction I rode) and the "Hayne Branch" white is fun, but very slow going, as I have found all of the whites to be. I broke my ankle on "Storm Track."
Good ride all in all. I like Monkey Bell because the ride is never the same, you get to pick the trails and choose the order, making for a different ride every time. When you go to Chickasaw (another favorite trail), you have a distinct path to follow (ride the trail until you see your car again), though you can come out and ride a section again after a brief asphalt ride. Some riders go through that trail backwards for variety (and to scare me, I think) and they race in that direction. I came across a backwards rider one time and I was fortunately not on a downhill section.
Anyway, trail conditions at Monkey were excellent and I hope to get out there several more times before the leaves start falling, making trail navigation more difficult.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Chickasaw Trace Mountain Biking - 8-19-09

The weather forecast was completely off today (mostly cloudy and thunderstorms) so I decided to ride my home course, Chickasaw Trace in Columbia, TN. I really like this course since it has a nice mix of technical sections and singletrack. I think it is really challenging with climbs, especially in the aptly named "Trail of Tears" and "Blackhill Trail."
I got my handheld mapping GPS and wanted to try it out with tracing my tracks. I am learning the hard way how to do this. Some things I am learning include:
  1. Power the GPS on and let it get satellites while you are getting ready. I turned it on, threw it in the backpack and was off. It never got a good read of the satellites as a result.
  2. Read the owner's manual. This helped me figure out where to save tracks, clear old tracks, etc. Even though I am a GIS person and can edit these files, I am making it harder than it has to be.
  3. Save the tracks then clear the current track right before you go into the trail.
Here is the track from yesterday:

Not bad overall, but it is seriously off in some places.

Special thanks go out to the Columbia Cycling Club for their maintenance of the trail. It had rained earlier in the week so there were some muddy spots, concentrated near the end of the trail (as usual, this is how the drainage works out there).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cars filled with trash...

Yep, I said it would be random...

My girlfriend and I were driving around Franklin, TN and I spotted this driver next to us with a bunch of trash piled above the window.
I thought this was awesome so I had to snap a pic...that one didn't fully capture the amount of trash so I had to deploy the zoom tool:

Of course, at this point, I am pretty sure I was made by my target. I thought I was really covert, but apparently not. I am a big fan of the covert cell phone pic. When cameras first came with cell phones, it seemed so unnecessary. Now, I cannot imagine where we would be without them...just think about how many mullet pictures and other interesting things have been caught! Of couse, the flip phone is the best at covert pics, easier to make it look like you are reading a text.

Back to the original story...we received "ass face" (when someone makes a face of absolute and complete disgust) as the driver sped off. Oh well...clean your car!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

First post...maybe of many

Hello, this is the first post, hopefully of many. My friend got me into this, he has been posting logs of our mountain biking and kayaking trips and I thought it would be a good way to catalog what we have done and help other people who might be interested in some of the same activities. This blog will be random and hopefully it won't be super boring and I hope someone finds it useful besides myself.