Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tuscarora Off-Road Weekend

This past weekend was the 3rd annual Tuscarora Off-Road Weekend which is the first MASS event of the racing season.  The weekend consists of a Super D race on Saturday and a four hour cross country endurance race on Sunday.  There is also the option of on-site camping to extend the weekend fun.  The Tuscarora State Forest and Fowler's Hollow State Park are hidden gems in central Pennsylvania and there are miles of gravel roads and single track to explore.

There was good weather for Saturday's Super D event with temperatures in the low 60's and dry.  However, the recent warming temperatures weren't enough to completely thaw the course and the middle portion was frozen earth which caused some difficulty for the competitors.  I have to admit that the whole downhill riding scene doesn't suit me.....these riders are completely nuts.  It's all about going crazy fast downhill on steep slopes with rocks, roots, and drops and requires a certain reckless abandon that I don't possess.  But it sure was fun to watch!  My wife Karen joined me for the day and we spectated and chronicled the event with photos and video.  Karen did the still photography and I brought along our new video camera.  We watched from the lower slopes which were steep and rocky.  We saw a number of crashes and near misses, but thankfully no one was injured and all the riders seemed to have a great time.

The weather didn't hold out for the Sunday endurance race and the temperatures plummeted into the 30s.  This didn't dampen the spirits of the racers, though, and all of the perparation and warm-ups went down as normal and smiles were on display.  I guess competing in the first race of the season had the competitors feeling spry no matter the conditions.  The race course is a mixture of everything that makes mountain biking in Pennsylvania special - rocks, climbing, and more rocks!  Throw in some mud and screaming downhills and you have a race course to remember.  My task for the day was to again shoot some video of the racers.  Having raced this event last year I knew exactly where the good places were to get some footage.  My first stop was a brutal rock garden that is probably an eighth of a mile long and ends with "Joe's Bridge".  Then I made my way backwards along the course to another beastly feature which is a hike-a-bike climb known as "The Beast".  I don't know who gave this climb it's nickname, but it is appropriate.  I moved along from there to get some footage of a more sedate climb that was muddy but rideable.

I really enjoyed being out on the course watching the action and giving words of encouragement to the riders.  I was in awe of the ability of the best riders to negotiate obstacles that us mere mortals can only dream of clearing.  Even the riders that had to walk portions of the course earned kudos for their persistance.  Most came by me with a smile or a wise crack.  A wide range of bikes were being ridden - full rigid, hardtails, full suspension, and a fat bike or two.  In my opinion, the most exciting race of the day was the women's event.  Laura Murray lead the first three laps by a slim margin over Selene Yeager (aka the Fit Chick), then on the fourth lap Selene had lost a considerable amount of time.  As she came by, I told her I was starting to worry about her and she admitted that she had suffered mechanical difficulty.  Amazingly, Selene ended up catching Laura and capturing the win.  It was a remarkable effort on both their parts.  You can read Laura's version of events HERE.

After the race everyone gathered to enjoy the post race food and awards presentations.  Zach Adams' legendary vegetarian chili was a hit yet again, and some purchased the delicious Hay Sue's Spicy Salsa.  Overall this was a weekend to remember and I'm sure this event will continue to grow in popularity.  Enjoy the rest of the racing season everyone!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

I'm a Gym Rat. Maybe Gym Mouse.

Words by Bill Haley

Given the cold and snowy winter we're experiencing here in the northeast, there isn't much to discuss regarding riding an actual bicycle in the actual outdoors.  I know there are plenty of hardcore types that ride every second of planned outdoor training, usually while shouting HTFU! to weaklings like me (this blog is G rated, so Google if necessary).  The trails are worse than snow covered because they have iced over.  The roads are narrowed down due to incomplete plowing, and they are covered with salty melt water and gravel.  Heck, things are bad enough that this weekend's planned trail work for the Tuscarora Off-Road Weekend will probably be cancelled because we can't access the areas that require work.  Never fear, though, the race should go off without a hitch....don't miss it.  Register Here

So where does that leave those of us who don't care for riding in cold, wind, snow, slush, and misery?  That's right, indoors on a trainer or rollers.  Enough has been typed about the joys of indoor cycling, so I won't bother adding my two cents here.  Instead I'll discuss the joys of an alternative that I've resorted to this winter:  gym membership!  One could legitimately make the point that working out in a gym or riding a trainer brings a higher level of suffering than does riding outdoors in the cold, but this is the path that I have chosen this year.  There is considerable debate in the competitive cycling community regarding the effectiveness of weight training for the endurance athlete.  From what I read most coaches lean toward the 'no weight training' school of thought, but the venerable Joe Friel, author of "The Cyclist's Training Bible" advocates weight training which is good enough for me.  Besides, it's time for something a little different to shake up the routine, and it may be time to ditch the starving cyclist look anyway.

 Left: (Chris Froome photo)  Caption:  World class bike racer Chris Froome

 Right: (Weight lifter dude photo)  Caption:  Me in six weeks?

So now I'm a gym rat and have been spending more time lifting weights than riding my trainer in the basement.  Will I be regretting this when race season starts?  Probably, but nobody is paying me to race a bike, so what the hell.  I had been considering the possibility of adding weight training to my program for a few years now but never did because it would require a gym membership since I don't have space at home for equipment, and having to go somwehere to work out wasn't appealing.  Well this year my mother discovered that her supplemental health insurance covers the cost of a gym membership, so I took her around to the local gyms so she could pick one.  The gears in my head began turning and I signed the dotted line along with thousands of New Year Resolution Joinees (a coincidence of the calendar...I made no resolution).  I have some experience lifting weights but that goes back 30 (holy crap!) years to my high school days, meaning I had lessons to learn.

Every activity has specialized language and subtle, unwritten rules.  As cyclists we're familiar with this but probably don't even think about some of them any more.  Who has the right of way on single track - climber or descender?  What's the right sized Camelbak to wear on that Wednesday fast road ride?  The gym is no different but I don't even know what questions I should be asking.  In high school the coach told us what to do and we did it; etiquette never came into play.  The first thing I learned is that the gym is not a social environment, so I'm on my own to figure things out.  Everyone walks around in their own little, ear-budded, music listening, world.  If I need to communicate with one of my fellow iron pumpers I first need to employ miming techniques to catch their attention and then convey my thoughts.  Anyone know the sign for "Are you using this Bicep Blaster?"  It's a three step process actually.  First, position yourself in the line of sight of the equipment hog, er...fellow gym member, and wave your arms overhead in the universal manner of getting someone's attention.  Second, point at said individual.  Third, point at said piece of equipment with a questioning look on your face (lip movement optional).  The response will be a nod or shake of the head, or a shrug if they have no idea what the heck you're asking.  An extroverted member will pull out one ear bud and answer in the spoken word.  Of course when that happened to me I couldn't hear what they said because I was listening to Olivia Newton John at the time.

Then there's the question of pecking order and equipment access.  Does any one have priority to certain pieces of equipment and, if so, who?  Cycling clubs make it easy by advertising different ride categories with definitions.  I remember my first group ride with the Harrisburg Bicycle Club.  They categorize their rides with a letter designation by average speed and total distance which makes it easier for a rookie to choose the correct group.  In the gym there is no such system to assist the rookie, but I have come close by dividing the gym into four areas.  Area One is your barbell area which is generally populated by thick, serious looking lifters that stack a lot of weight on bars and grunt.  Area Two is the dumb bell area which is populated by ripped users that stare into the mirrors and flex a lot.  Area Three is the machine area which is populated by users that are reading instructions and uneasily glancing at the lifters in areas one and two.  The fourth and final area is the cardio equipment zone which is avoided by the users of Areas One and Two, but does seem to be frequented by the users of Area Three.  The borders between the three weight lifting areas do seem to be open and unguarded, although I do recall seeing looks of bewilderment the first time my skinny cyclist butt wandered into barbell territory.  Everyone has been accepting, if not necessarily friendly, so if there is a true pecking order I haven't seen it.  So kudos to the gym crowd...any meathead stereotypes are unfounded, at least at my gym.

My conclusion for my fellow cyclists, or any other skinny endurance type, is to go ahead and try out the world of a gym and see if you like it.  The current payment system is one of monthly payments without long term contracts, so there is no need to worry about getting into something that you may only use during the off-season.  The majority of the New Year Resolution crowd have already given up and gone back to their couches, so crowds are not a concern.  My mother and I went to four different gym locations to find the right one, so I can say that there is something for everyone.  My mother ultimately picked a different gym than I would have, but I went to her choice anyway.  There isn't a world of difference between them.  You will be on your own unless you also decide to employ a personal trainer, thus the users in Area Three reading all of the instructions on the machines.  Then again, it's easy enough to do some basic research on which exercises are good choices to supplement your primary training and then just doing it.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Pre­race Monsters

Written by Ben Coleman
Photos by Kristen Leonard

              I had been looking forward to this trip for a while. It wasn’t just another race, there was much more to it than that. This trip was a chance to escape for a weekend: taking a mini­vacation from day-­to­day life and the frigid PA winter to race Monster Cross2014 in Richmond, VA. There was a lot to be excited about, not only because I would be racing in a place I had never been, but also because I would be doing so as a member of a real team for the first time, and be accompanied by my personal photographer/girlfriend all weekend to boot!

              Although this was only my third attempt at an ultra­cross type race, I really love this type of racing. It’s the sense of adventure, the need to be self­sufficient, and the slight madness of the idea of spending several hours blasting a ‘cross bike through the woods testing the limits of your strength, fitness, and concentration that I find enticing. It’s time spent with the bike, the environment, and yourself of a quality and in a quantity that isn’t offered by many other types of racing. Even if you’re the last rider across the finish line at the end of the day, you still win that feeling of accomplishment of taking on such a challenge and getting through it.

              Rolling into the race venue Sunday morning I was considerably more nervous than usual. I hadn’t been able to find a course map, didn’t know where the checkpoint would be exactly, and the only real information I had about the course was that it would be about 50 miles total, and what I was told by a local I met the day before. He warned me of a rocky drop down to the river at the dam, and the steep climb that followed. Even though our hotel was only a 20 minute drive from the race, I opted to dress in normal clothes and kit up when I got there. We pulled into the already crowded parking lot more than an hour before start time and I headed down to the registration/check-­in tables. Getting back to the Jeep, I did all the normal prep of checking tire pressure and seat bag contents before changing into my race kit. I found that in the confusion of unpacking travel bags and packing a race bag that morning I had forgotten to bring any socks. At least I was already wearing a pair. Once I was dressed I loaded up my jersey pockets, grabbed my bottles, and we made our way down to where everyone was assembling for the start.

              Sitting amongst the huge group of riders about to embark made my nerves start to build a little more. I reached a hand around my back to check my pockets again. There was a bit of a reshuffle to get the riders doing the half­distance race to the back, I grabbed a quick drink from one of my bottles. CRAP!! A moment of panic hit me as I realized I had forgotten to put any HEED in the bottles, but it was too late to do anything about it now. The cowbells rang and we were off… sort of. The muddy starting area funneled down to direct us through a gap in the fence. Everyone was unclipped, barely moving, scootering through the slop. Finally we were out of the grass and onto the pavement that would lead us out of the parking lot and on to the rolling double track of the course. I held back, content to sit in a nice little line and let the shuffling of riders happen ahead of me. The terrain was nice, composed of a sandy kind of dirt that seemed both well packed and a bit spongy, and had hardly any rocks, holes, or other hidden hazards waiting to jump out and ruin your day. After about ten minutes of rolling along I felt good, still worried that my poor preparation would come back to bite me sooner or later, but good. Really good actually, I was comfortable, I felt loose and fast. I decided I had spent enough time following wheels and started passing whoever wherever and whenever I safely could. I felt like I moved up quite a bit, and then was surprised by a short downhill riddled with roots. A few minutes later we popped out of the woods, across some blacktop and into a gravel lot. Yep, my rear tire had been snake bit. I switched out tubes in the lot, watching the groups of riders I had passed no more than 30 minutes before stream by. Back on the move, with considerably more pressure in the rear tire, I was picking through riders once more.

              I was already starting to feel the effects of my pre­race mistakes before the end of the first 21 mile loop, and not knowing exactly where or when I’d pass by my pit mistress added confusion and a little fear to my hunger and fatigue. As we once more trudged through the starting area the course hooked a right, over a wooden bridge and up a hill. There were riders coming down the same hill in another lane of the course in the opposite direction, making me think that I too would shortly be heading for my refueling point. After several minutes of twisty, climbing single track riding I started to wonder how long I would ride into the woods before being directed back towards the bridge. I started to wonder why I hadn’t just stopped when I was at the start chute again to take on more food and drink. The thought of turning around and heading back crossed my mind more than once. But all the time I thought about it I was still pedaling, still climbing, going further and further away from where I wished I was. Finally I asked another racer close by if they knew if we were going to pass through the start/finish area again before the actual finish. They told me that we would, although I still had no idea of when.

              By the time I finally shot back down the hill and across the same bridge I was down to my last gel, last bit of food, and had two empty bottles. The times of feeling good had long since passed. I made it back into the parking lot area of the course where my lovely assistant was waiting, ready with everything I had asked to be there plus a few things I needed but had forgot to ask for. What a girl! I quickly stuffed my face and my pockets and made sure I had bottles full of more than water this time, and set off to finish the last segment

             The last segment of the course was a repeat of the first, the same 21 mile loop. It had taken me just over 90 minutes to get through it before, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that it was going to take much longer this time through. The sandy surface that was smooth and rolled fast earlier had been marred by countless tire tracks and was now rock hard and bumpy. Shallow puddles had turned into thick bogs, and my legs had turned to rubber. I still hadn’t recovered from bonking, and felt like I was in survival mode, putting everything I had left into every pedal stroke, just to keep them turning. Many miles and many more minutes went by like this, trudging towards the finish, until seemingly out of nowhere the mental fog lifted and my legs felt alive again. I knew I was within 30 minutes of the line, and now that there was one more bullet in the gun I had no reason not to pull the trigger. I spun myself home as swiftly as possible, and finished with a time a little over four hours. It took longer than expected, didn’t go as well as I had planned for it to, and it wasn’t always fun, but my race was done and I was thankful for that!

              I suppose the most helpful thing I can take away from this experience is the importance of solid preparation. Not just in the months and weeks and days up to the event, but also down to the hours and minutes just before the start. Maybe it was the confusion of sorting out my race gear from the rest of the luggage, or the distractions of doing a race at the end of a leisure trip, or any number of other factors that aided most to my faltering in this instance. Whatever it was, it led me to overlook the necessity of proper preparation. Won’t be doing that again!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

To 29 or Not to 29?

By Bill Haley

I have a confession to make - I'm a terrible mountain biker.  No matter how gentle the corner, no matter how smooth the terrain, no matter how slow the pace, I will find a way onto the ground.  So in true cyclist fashion I have determined that I have an equipment deficiency that is causing this pain and suffering.  It couldn't possibly be me.  Could it?

Lately I have been been drooling over 29ers of both hardtail and full squish varieties and dreaming of how I could be smoothly rolling over VW sized obstacles on my wagon wheeled bike.  I could be calmly riding along taking in the scenery and enjoying the smells of nature while my new bicycle guides me along the most technical of trails.  That's right, no more sore hands and forearms from a deathgrip of fear.  No more loss of bladder control on steep Michaux downhills.  I'll be ridin' me a 29er!

My first mountain bike ride ever was in 2008 or so on a cheap Raleigh M20 that I had for just tooling around the neighborhood.  A road riding friend had been suggesting that I go with his group which I finally did since the idea of riding without cars whooshing by sounded like a nice change of pace.  Things were said like "We'll take it slow" and "We'll stick to the easy trails" and "Your bike'll be fine."  My notion of riding a path through the woods was instantly shattered as we headed downhill from the Big Flat parking lot on a trail that could only be described as "rocky as a &$@*!^."  My companions glided down this rocky hell while I tried to keep up on my M20 with about 1" of fork travel, jarring into every rock and root that came my way.  I could go on, but this article is supposed to be about a bicycle buying decision, so instead I invite you to log onto YouTube and search for "epic mountain bike crash."  Watch a few of those videos and you'll get the gist of what my first ride was like.

Amazingly, I really enjoyed that first ride and joined these guys on a few more.  I decided that I had an equipment deficiency so jumped onto a full suspension Motobecane Fantom that I purchased from an online retailer.  This bike definitely made me more comfortable riding technical trails and, while still a horrible rider, I did actually crash a little less!  The Fantom is a relatively inexpensive bike that isn't on the cutting edge of technology, but has kept me satisfied for six years now.  During these six years most of the riders I've seen on the trails have moved to the 29" wheels which are said to roll over obstacles better, but give up a little in cornering or "flickability" as they would say for a motorcycle.  That sounds great but I never felt worthy of a better bike since my skills only improved marginally over the years and mountain biking wasn't my primary mode of riding anyway.  And now there's this whole 650b thing that I don't even want to consider or my head might explode.

Any thoughts of a new mountain bike were safely slumbering in the recesses of my mind until I recently came across some excellent deals on some 2014 models through team sponsor Mercury Endurance Cycles.  I bought a new Cannondale SuperX last year, so it's only fair to get a new mountain bike this year, right?  Right? So I'm hoping to get some comments here to help me with my decision.  The only thing I'm almost kinda certain of is that a hardtail Flash is out of the question since I'm old and brittle.  Will the 29er provide benefit to a rider like me or am I better off with the trusty 26" wheeled bike?  What kind of bike do you ride?  Care to give me a review?

Regardless of my bike decision I hope to attend the Michaux Mountain Bike School in March to improve my skills.  The trouble is that the school is already full.  There is a waiting list and Zach will add another instructor if enough people sign up, so let's get more people on board!  Click the link to get to the registration page.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Joe's Ready to Roll!

Year of Change

It has been a while since I have posted a blog post, and that could be partially to blame on all the changes that have happened in the past year.  The last time I posted a blog write up was about this time last year and I tell you what…a lot has changed since then.  So where did I leave off?  Well this time last year I was just starting a new job with Amazon.com working in the security and loss prevention field, started to do some actually training on the bike and trying to find a rhythm in my life.  All was going well, was enjoying the job, was getting fast, stronger, and better on the bike bringing home some nice placing, and life was going well!  Going into 2013 I didn’t have a ton of cycling goals other than to have fun, race at nationals, mix it up a bit and complete all three Michaux Race Series races in the 20 miler field.  I met all those goals and ended up with some good results.  I took 5th at Nationals in my category, completed many different races I never been to before and had a blast, and took 2nd place in my field overall for the Michaux Race series! 

The big change in my life came around the middle of the year, let’s call it in the middle of June, early July.  Around that time I decided that I really didn’t like working for “THE MAN” (to me a big faceless corporation who chews up and spits out workers in order to make a couple $$ and in the name of feeding consumerism…or something like that).  So at this point I decided it was time to embrace my love and passion for this whole cycling thing and decided I wanted to get into the bike industry….even threw out the idea of opening my own shop (I think it was a good idea that I didn’t follow through too far with that one).  It so happened that around this time Fast Forward Racing Productions and Fast Forward Racing Team also picked up Mercury Endurance Cycles as a new shop sponsor hooking us up with all sorts of goodies.  It also happened that this was in Hagerstown, MD and the owner Jamie was looking to hire a new Shop Manager as his current mechanic was about to leave the country for about a year.  Therefore in July I quit my job at Amazon making a decent wage to go work at a bike shop an hour away from my house and truly start to live the hippy cyclist life style (and I mean that with the utmost love). 
Thus started my transition into the bike hippy world as I sank into the world of bikes, cyclists, lycra, and chain grease…and at this point I don’t regret my decision.  Now I get to come to work, with my dog, in comfortable clothes, who cares how my hair looks, work on and around bikes all day, and be around people who love it all almost as much as I do!  It is cool to be able get my foot into the cycling industry world at a shop that’s in its infancy and be able to have influence on how things are done and work side by side with the owner almost as if I am a partner in it all.
                So here I am starting off 2014 in a job that I Iove, around people that are pleasant to be around, and doing things I enjoy doing.  There is so much more to get everyone caught up on that hasn’t followed my shenanigans but I just don’t have the time to write it all down.  Hopefully I can do better keeping up with it this year.  So with that--- BRING IT ON 2014, LET THIS BE A GREAT YEAR!  

Friday, February 7, 2014

Keeping up with: The Scott's

So it's been a pretty tough winter for training.  Most winters I do a bit of running and prep for a 50k trail run in March.  This season was time for something new.  When the polar vortex hit, I started taking some classes at the local gym: a mix of sports conditioning classes (which are great for cardio) and mixing in a bit of upper body strength training.  More importantly, I have been trying to get to at least one yoga class and one Pilates class a week.  The yoga is a no brainier for injury prevention and flexibility. Pilates is great for core conditioning, and within a couple weeks you can really feel a difference on the bike.  I can feel a stronger engagement of my core muscles, as if they are helping my legs turn the pedals.  Oddly enough, I don't see many riders in these classes.  We'll see if these classes make a difference when the early season endurance schedule kicks in.

In addition to the winter gym kick, I've been trying some new outside the box thinking when it comes to diet and weight workouts.  I've been taking tidbits of information from Tim Ferris's 4 Hour Body book.  The title is misleading.  Ferris has actually worked out with some of the top trainers and athletes in the world.  Not a gifted athlete himself, he has figured out the 20% of training methods/information/workouts which get you 80% of the results you desire.  Johnny shortcut?  Maybe. But it's better than trial and error or learning "the hard way".   It's worth a quick read if you want to get a full gym workout in 30 minutes, or find a few exercises to strengthen your weak areas.  I especially like his AB exercises.  No more crunches for this guy.

Scottie is now working with Chris Eatough for his off season training.  Chris was Scottie's childhood hero - he must have watched the 24 hour solo movie 100 times.  Chris is also a heck of smart guy and he has a career of knowledge to offer young riders and old alike.  He has gotten Scottie to focus without being overbearing.  Hopefully, with Chris' help, Scottie is building a strong base for a successful and injury free season.

Both Scott's just ordered new rides for 2014 thru Mercury Endurance.  The folks at Mercury Endurance have been great to work with this past year and we are proud to be sponsored by them.  I just wish they had a shop in Fallston.  Maybe next year.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


From Young Ripper Gunnar Landis:

"It was a hot sunny day and the wind was blowing good luck to me. It took

me and my dad 1 hour to get there. When I got there I was shocked that

there was a big village. I got regged up and put my number on. I did one

practice lap before the race and fell in love with the course! There were

whoops, a LONG sand section, wooden steps, big uphills and downhills,

and a little bit of rocks! Finally I arrived at the start and in 1 minute the

whistle shot off. There were two 14 year olds and 2 eleven year olds. I shot

out of the gate like RAGING BULL! I was ahead but they were still on my

tail. It made made me go even harder. I only had two more laps left and I

was 4 minutes ahead. I crossed the finish line and I was ahead by 4

minutes and 36 seconds. They announced GUNNAR LANDIS the winner of

the U14 class. A big grin showed up on my face and I got my medal. I stood

on the podium and held the flag. Me and my dad left the race and got lost.

but we were on track again and we made it home. I went home and took a

big nap. The next morning I woke up and was ready for... Stoudts Cross!"

Gunnar standing on the podium at

Swashbuckler CX.