Cycling

Cycling for fun, fitness, and transportation

Lewis and Clark Caverns Mountain Biking

Julie and I headed up to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park to enjoy early season mountain biking. We took a loop from the campground up (lookers right standing in the campground), finishing at a trailhead, then followed the road to the caverns, and finished with a fast downhill back to the campground. The ride itself was only about 7 miles long, but the first 3.5 miles are a gruelling climb (don't have the numbers on elevation gain). Lewis and Clark Cavern trails have some fun technical sections, including devilishly hard switchbacks on very steep slopes with significant consequences for falling.

We had a fun ride today and look forward to many more mountain bike rides this spring/summer. It looks like cycling will take a short break, however, as our forecast for the next couple of days has high temperatures in the mid-30s (F) and rain/snow.

Julie

Singletrack

Flux

Bike geeks

Cycling is one of my favorite activities.  I ride for transportation, fitness, and fun.  I have a cruiser/commuter single speed bike, a mountain bike, and a road bike.  I get a big smile when riding any bike, anywhere, but favor riding the mountain bike.  My mountain bike is an access tool into the backcountry, and if you've never experienced the thrill of zipping down a single track under the power of gravity or flashing a tough technical section that would be challenging to walk through, you are missing out on something truly amazing.  Another thing I like about mountain biking is its community, ranging from hard core dudes and dudettes who ride to ride to bike geeks who enjoy the gear as much as riding, sometimes more.

Now here's an admision.  I used to loathe bike geeks.  They knew all sorts of nuanced industry knowledge and could talk for hours about the latest frames, components, and upgrades.  Good wasn't good enough; they were on a crusade for the best, or so it seemed.  I justed like to ride my bike and didn't see the point in all this information gathering and analysis, nor did my wallet support the latest greatest.  Well, as I moved my curmudgeonly self from the dark ages of hardtail mountain bikes to the promised land of full suspension bikes, I started to realize that I needed to know a lot more about my bike if I wanted to best use that bike for my needs.  Fifteen miles into the backcountry, you don't want to end up wrapped around a tree because you just assumed your bike would do it all for you out of the box.  Suspension setup is a big deal.  The same bike can behave very differently with modest changes.  That's important at high speed down a single track with rocks, roots, and trees.  Some components work better than others, much better.  Braking is a rather important mountaining biking tool, for example.  Some companies will treat you a heck of a lot better than others if something goes wrong, like your frame breaks.  And full suspension means metal parts moving against metal parts.  Regular inspection and maintenance is not optional.

As a person who embraces the Internet, I did what I usually do when I need more information.  I found Web sites of interest.  I started reading www.velonews.com.  I found www.mtbr.com (re-found, actually) and their diverse mountain biking forums.  I learned of highly recommended online retailers who specialized in helping riders get the best bikes for their needs, within their budgets (e.g., www.redstonecyclery.com or www.mtnhighcyclery.com or www.go-ride.com or www.boutiquebikes.com and so on) and companines that specialize in after market shock and fork modifcations (www.pushindustries.com) -- don't knock it.  I started to experiment with tires and learned that one tire is not a good match for all my riding.  Now I have a closet full of tires from Kenda, Maxxis, and Schwalbe that come out for different conditions and needs.  These changes impacted my home as well.  My shop now includes more bike maintenance tools, like a bike stand, a wheel truing stand, and all sorts of specialized tools, lubes, and parts.

I found one of the most interesting mountain bike frame builders (www.turnerbikes.com), a company that builds high quality bikes, emphasizing durability and refinement in design and gives great customer service.  I bought a Turner bike (my flux) and learned that owners of Turner bikes on the Turner forum of www.mtmbr.com call themselves Homers (the story can be found by searching mtbr forums).  Whatever they are called, they are a very passionate, brand loyal (some to an extreme), and knowledgable group.  Other good highly specialized mountain bike companies, in my opinion, are Santa Cruz, Intense, and Titus.  For more bang for limited budgets, I wouldn't overlook Yeti, Giant, and Ironhorse.  And guess what, my perspective on full suspension bikes has changed too, even for my predominantly XC needs.  Longer travel isn't just for the freerides types -- reminds me of fatter skis.  

So now, I guess I am a bike geek too, although more of a bike geek intern than a bike geek veteran.  I guess that's not so bad.  The only real downside to bike geeks is that they are intensively brand loyal, sometimes to a fault.  That's a trivial downside, however.  If you are a cyclist, esp. a mountain bike rider, I encourage you find your inner bike geek.  You might learn some inportant things that improve your overall experience as a cyclist.  You might even find that your perspective on what bike fits your needs doesn't match reality.  More importantly, you have a better chance that you won't be stuck in the backcountry hoping for a passing bike geek to help you out when your neglected, out-of-box setup bike takes you for a ride.

First road ride of spring - March 31

I've felt the cycling itch for many weeks now.  Sure, I ride my bike year round, commuting to and from work, but my cycling passions go far beyond that.  

Town is mostly snow free now, robins are showing up, and the sparrow hoard that calls our yard home is busy building nests.  Over winter I keep my road bike on a cycling trainer, spinning in front of the TV or a magazine a couple of times per week.  Warmer temperatures and that cycling itch combined on March 31, however, to cause a change of pace.  I pulled the road bike off the trainer, gave the bike a quick tune in my shop, and took a spin south of town on a ride I call "around the block."  

The ride was delightful.  An overcast and windy day, I could feel the warmth of spring but also those pockets of cold air coming off of vast snow covered fields and slopes.  Feeling the wind fight my efforts as I turned the cranks reminded me that I was outside, free again, on my bike.  The roads have plenty of sand and gravel from winter driving but overall were in good condition.  I saw my first bluebird of the year and watched a northern harrier (aka marsh hawk) circle low over a snow free south facing slope.  My road bike, a simple steel frame Burley, felt fast and light.

We still have lots of skiing ahead of us, but cycling season is here in SW Montana.  In a few weeks we will ride in Yellowstone (roads plowed but still closed to cars), and the mountain bikes will find their way onto those snow free early season trails.  Dog walks become playful rides with the dogs, using the local university campus and in-town trails to practice mountain biking skills.  The shop is transforming from ski tuning to bicycle maintenance.  The magazines on the coffee table are losing the skiing flavor and now tell me what cycling gear to buy and how to get fit in X days.  And I find myself reading online cycling forums (e.g., forums.mtbr.com) and stopping by all the bike shops to see the new products and talk with the bike geeks.  Ah, I love spring!

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