Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Levis Wrap Up and Additional Information

AJ Heil on Sidewinder. Photo:?
Whew, it seems like I've been blogging about Levis all year!  Actually, at last count this will be the 24th post that I've written about Levis.  Every trail has been reviewed, and it's time to give it a rest. Over the course of these 24 posts, I've built what will hopefully be an excellent reference for any mountain biker traveling to ride the awesome singletrack at Levis Mounds.  With a detailed analysis of every single trail, recommended routes for the beginner rider, cross-country rider, and technical thrill-seeker, this reference tool will hopefully serve to answer riders' questions for years to come!

I know that when writing about specific trails, some people may find these posts intensely interesting due to having ridden said trails, or wanting to travel to ride them sometime in the future.  On the other hand, some people may have no intention of ever traveling to the Midwest, and as such most of this last month on GregRidesTrails has been a bore to them.  This is a challenging dilemma as a blogger: is the information I'm writing really relevant? 

To those of you who may not have found this relevant at all: I'm sorry, but the posts lined up in my editorial calender are taking a very different tact over the next month.  So stay tuned: there are some things brewing that I'm very excited about! Also, please know that there were hundreds of people interested in these reviews that were linked over from other sites.  And hopefully you at least found the videos entertaining!

To those of you that found these posts interesting and left comments saying so: Thank you!  I hope that I successfully portrayed every one of the trails, and that for those riders who are interested in riding Levis but never have, I hope I have given you the information and inspiration needed to make the journey!

Keeping the Information Up-to-Date 
Here is a way for those of you who are interested in Levis Mound to get involved: help me keep the information updated. Since I no longer live in Wisconsin, I only get to visit these trails once or twice a year.  If you are ever aware of a change to a trail and would like to help out and let me know about it, feel free to drop a comment on the main Levis review page, or on the relevant trail. 

Your Turn:
After reading these 24 posts, feel free to share with me any thoughts on Levis Mound below in the comments section. Also, I'd love to hear feedback on how you thought the series went.  I always appreciate your comments and input!

Additional Information that Might  Be Useful to Know When Traveling to Levis

Trail Fees For Mtn. Biking: Individual (12 years old and up*)
  • Daily $5.00
  • Season $25.00
  • Family $50.00
  • *Children Under 12 Free*
Season passes available from the Clark Co. Forestry Dept. (715-743-5140)

Trail Conditions:

(Updating the main post with this information.)


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Home Stretch: Lower Hermosa

This trail is a part of the Levis Mounds trail system.  

While not actually the absolute last trail before returning to the trailhead, if you're riding my recommended cross country loop, Lower Hermosa signals the home stretch as you come into the finish.

Over 10 miles of delicious singletrack has already passed under the tires; maybe even more than that.  No matter how tired you may be, when you reach Lower Hermosa it is time to drop the hammer!  It is time to dig deep inside yourself to lay out every last ounce of strength to up the MPH as high as possible... because this trail deserves it!

Lower Hermosa is comprised of big, sweeping turns that go back and forth across a shallow valley on mostly flat ground.  The trail is smooth as butter, and the flow is there, just begging to be hammered! While Lower Hermosa would be enjoyable as a gentle cruise, the trail shows its true colors, namely FLOW and SPEED, when you lay it all out on the line!

Check out the video below, and just try to imagine what a rush it is to ride!

Yes, Lower Hermosa is the king of flow. You gotta get out there and ride it!

New Addition
Back in the pre 2008 era, the only section of ski trail that you would ever absolutely have to ride at Levis was from the end of Lower Hermosa over towards Swamp Cut and Lower Glen.  After an epic 10+ mile XC loop without having to back track or ride anything wider than 24" once, it felt like an injustice to be forced out onto the wide ski trail.  Recently, that has been rectified by an extension off of the end of Lower Hermosa.

The reason there hadn't been a trail through that area until recently was due to the very swampy nature of the topography on either side of the ski trail.  In order to successfully get a piece of singletrack through that area, the trail builders had to construct a couple of very interesting bridges, and had to tightly twist the trail in places to keep it high and dry.

While it definitely took a good bit of work to build, the trail is well worth it, and completes the full singletrack loop with this finishing touch of trail!


Monday, June 28, 2010

Upper Hermosa, Levis Mound, Wisconsin

This trail is a part of the Levis Mounds trail system. 

Upper Hermosa is a gorgeous, one and a half mile singletrack that is best ridden starting at Buck Hill and heading back toward the parking lot.

But really, what can I write that a video with all of the highlights of the trail won't tell you? Check out this tour of Upper Hermosa that I edited together below:

Video to be continued tomorrow with Lower Hermosa.

Writing Anyways... But Just the Bottom Line
 Upper Hermosa is a gorgeous trail that travels through many different areas of Levis.  It rolls beneath sandstone cliffs, up ridges and down hills, through tall trees and young trees alike.  There are technical sections to be had, climbs to granny gear up, rooty descents to bounce down, switchbacks that allow you to get your swoop on, and even a few jumps at the end.  What's not to love? Upper Hermosa is a Winner!

Blog Update
Hey all, just a quick update on a couple of things brewing here on GregRidesTrails.  You may have noticed a new image under the sponsors tab on my right sidebar for something called "Endo." Here at GregRidesTrails I like to be on the cutting edge of things, and Endo is a new clothing company that is focused specifically on producing cool outdoors t-shirts, and yes, they have bicycle and MTB designs in their arsenal! Look for a blog post with more details in a few days for what this means for you as a reader of GregRidesTrails.  But for now, be sure to check out to see what they are offering, and to take advantage of their super low launch prices!  A $10 t-shirt? That's a steal!


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Porky Point

Smooth Section
Porky Point ranks among the rockiest trails in the Levis network. Yes, I know that I've mentioned many other rocky trails, most notably Toad Road and Cliffhanger.  Porky Point probably bests all of them in sheer rockiness factor.  There is a difference though: Porky Point's rocks are mostly had on a relatively flat plane, while the Toad Road and Cliffhanger trails are focused on either climbing or descending the mound. 

Since most of these rocks are handled on a relatively flat trail, slow-speed handling skills play a great role in your ability to ride Porky Point successfully.

Another Smooth Section
Back in the pre-2008 era when I was riding Porky Point, it was significantly more technical than it is now.  This seems to be the story told by all the trails at Levis, and like I mentioned in one of my previous posts, it's not necessarily a bad thing. In the last year Porky Point has received a major reroute of the bottommost section, bypassing what was turning into a very washed-out, rooty climb. There was also a bridge installed on what was once an intensely-technical butt-behind-the-saddle descent.

Those two reroutes aside, Porky Point has, so far, escaped the shovels of the trail technicians more than any other trail. It retains its slow-speed rockiness in style!

The Corner Under the Pine Tree
The aforementioned rocky drop with the new bridge installed.  It is still too steep to climb, but eases the descent.  3 years ago this used to be either a balls-out technical section, or a slow-speed tip-toe descent.  There wasn't much middle room.
Now, though, the descent is still enjoyable, but much easier:

More of Porky Point's Rocks:

Bottom Line
Porky Point is a great trail that adds a ton of rocks to my recommended technical loop (see the main post). Even after recent reroutes, it still contains many rocky sections that threaten to knock you off your bike, or at least make you dab!

Your Turn: What is your opinion on technical, rocky trail? Do you crave slow-speed tech sections, or avoid them like the plague? Why?


Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Flight Crew Update

This is the first update in what will become a weekly series of updates on how my experience riding the Airborne Zeppelin Elite is progressing.  As I mentioned in this "First Impressions" review, the bike rode great during my 20+ mile ride at Sea Otter.  But to really know what I bike is capable of withstanding, it needs to be ridden through punishing terrain over and over and over again.  That's what I intend to do with it here in North Georgia.

Now, on to what the Zepp's been up to lately:

The Zeppelin Elite Meets Singletrack
After riding about 20-30 miles of gravel roads, the Zeppelin Elite finally met singletrack on Turner Creek.  The video of that ride, which I also posted on the Airborne Facebook page, is embedded below:

Yes, my batteries died half way down, but I added in footage of the remaining section of singletrack that I had taken a couple of months ago on my old bike.

I was pleasantly surprised with how the stock tires performed ripping down Turner Creek. Admittedly, the soil was nice and tacky after a rain 2 days before, but they hooked up much, much better than they had out in California.  Although, anything may have cornered well on that tacky soil.  What I can say with some confidence is that I did not appreciate having those 2.1" tires on the sandy hard pack of Ford Ord.

Yesterday, I installed a brand new pair of beefy 2.35" Intense tires which sport some seriously over sized knobs.

I took the Zep out bright and early this morning, and these bad boys cornered like nobody's business!  I felt like I could lay it over in just about anything and these could plow right through.  The trail conditions this morning where pretty dry, and felt rather loose on top of the clay for North Georgia.  It will be interesting to see how these perform in damper conditions, but today they were absolutely rocking the dry hardpack and climbing the rooty singletrack with ease.

I personally prefer to ride fatter tires like these. Maybe it's just a holdover from all of the time I spent living and riding in the west, but I personally think that having these big, gnarly tires has/will improve the handling on this bike significantly.

Rear Bolt Kit
As I mentioned on Monday, I got a new bolt kit in the mail from the Airborne guys and had it installed by my LBS, which fixed the clunk in the rear end.  Well this morning, after riding less than 10 miles on that new bolt kit, I noticed this:

The bolt kit had snapped/sheared right in half.  That my friends should not happen with a brand new part. I emailed the Airborne guys, and they're shipping me a new kit ASAP. I jokingly commented that they should send me a prototype of every one of their bikes so I can rally it on North Georgia singletrack before it goes into production. (Yes, I like free bikes, especially when they ride well!)  The Zeppelin had been riding like a dream up until this point. I really have no idea what could have caused that to happen, although my local mechanic commented that it's probably due to "shoddy" materials.

What strikes me as odd is that none of the other Flight Crew members have mentioned issues with these bolts.  Ah well, that's life.  I should have a new kit soon, and we'll go from there!

Your Turn: 
I'd like to hear your opinions on tire selection.  I'm not one of those guys that is super into the tiny details of what makes one tire good for certain conditions VS. another. I like wide tires with big knobs, and have found 2.35's to be great for my type of all mountain riding.  So give me your thoughts on tires below!

And if you want to weigh in on the broken bolt, feel free.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Levis's Best: Sidewinder

Photo: AJ Heil.
Straight from the mouth (keyboard) of Steve Meurett, one of the two masterminds behind Levis Mound:
My favorite- Sidewinder, bar none. It isn't the longest singletrack, but it does have the most "visually challenging" sections. If you fall, you WILL get seriously hurt. I try not to fall. It is the last whole trail to be built at Levis and the one with the best layout-it will last for many years, and it has the best features-rock, drop offs, several levels of elevation. It is the only [one] way trail, which made building it easier and creating a "flow" simpler.
With that rave review by one of the guys that knows every inch of the singletrack out at Levis, what more can I say?  Oh, I guess I can give you details about the trail to show you how right he is, and that he's really understating how fantastic that mile-long piece of singletrack truly is!

Sidewinder begins off of the top of Buck Hill near the beginning of Upper Hermosa, and as Steve already mentioned, it is the only one-way trail at Levis (you'll find out why soon enough). The trail starts out on a northerly facing aspect, and is deeply bench cut into the side of the steep hill. Memories of North Face come to mind.  As the trail reaches the end of the knob that it is about to turn around, a massive boulder looms up directly in the middle of the trail!  There's no bailout route, and commitment to the maneuver up and over must be total, otherwise a tumble down the hill side is in order (which I've witnessed before, but thankfully only as an observer).

After going up and over the rock, the singletrack turns left around the knob and passes beneath a string of sandstone cliffs. I often get a sense of deja vu when riding that section, but then I realize that it's just the striking similarity to the section of Upper Hermosa that's up along the ridge.

The Bridge. Photo: AJ Heil.
As the trippiness of the deja vu passes, you round a corner while climbing over a rock and "Bam!" are presented with a high bridge over a gully between two sandstone outcroppings.  Like the boulder, the bridge is wide and easily rideable, but the visual challenge of coming upon it so suddenly and committing to riding so high off the ground becomes a mental barrier that is tough to overcome for many riders.

Shortly after this bridge comes the section of trail that I personally find the most challenging.  The singletrack tilts upwards, and heads for the top of the mound that you've been riding around.  The trail climbs up several smooth slabs of sandstone, but those chunks of sandstone are part of a trail that is bench cut into the hill directly atop a cliff! As you're worried about traction up and over these slippery sandy stones, you also need to worry about keeping your tires on a trail that is literally no more than 18-24 inches wide at its widest point. There was one time when I was cranking up that climb and had my rear tire spin out on some sand and slide towards the edge of the cliff.  The tread finally caught and held right at  the edge of the cliff--my contact patch, that is. I'm fully convinced that the back part of my tire was hanging out in the air.

After cleaning (hopefully) this climb, the trail winds around on the mellower side of the mound for a bit, and then returns to the cliffs that you rode under in the dega vu section, only this time the trail tread is directly on top of them. A fall on this section of trail could result in about a 30 foot drop to the ground, and then a long rag-doll tumble down the steep, treed hillside.  It would not be pretty. 

Looking back at the rock in the corner
after having passed it. Photo: AJ Heil.
While slowly traversing this harrowing section of trail, you'll glance up and see the trail apparently disappear into thin air! The boulder and the bridge were very "visually challenging," as Steve put it, but this, this takes the cake! I guess I'll spoil the surprise and let you know that no, the trail doesn't just disappear.  It does turn tightly right around the large flat rock and dip back into the hillside.  You won't be able to see the turn until you're coming right up on it.

Rider:?. Photo: AJ Hei.
That blind, sandy corner is technically simple to ride, but man does it get the heart pumping! I've actually witnessed first-hand a rider falling off of that corner. (The rider will remain anonymous, but no it wasn't the same person I saw fall off of the boulder.) Remember though: the trail is still traversing above a cliff line!  This rider fell off the cliff and landed flat on their back with their bike on top of them. Fortunately, the rider was caught by a couple of tall pine trees which had a small ledge and some branches between them and the cliff, and only suffered a fall of about five feet instead of the possible 25+. S/he escaped with just a few minor scrapes, but wasn't able to ride that trail for a long, long time.

Following that truly epic corner, this sweet singletrack which has left a permanent mark in your memory traverses the cliff for a while longer, and then turns again onto the backside of the mound. Several swoops and turns head down and around the backside, and inevitably lead to the finish at a junction with Upper Hermosa back near the top of Buck Hill.  If you're riding with a group, someone will be sure to say "Dang, what a rush!" (Or something to that affect.)

From there, you can head right back towards the main parking lot on Upper Hermosa, or head left back to Buck Hill to head out further on Goat Dance, pick up Yellow Jacket... or to do Sidewinder all over again!

The Bottom Line:
Sidwinder is truly a work of art, and I applaud all of the people that had a hand in designing and building this trail! After having ridden in many different states all across the nation, I now realize how uncharacteristic it is for there to be a mountain bike trail with that level of exposure hidden away in Central Wisconsin. For all of you Midwesterners, this is one mountain biking jewel that you can't afford to miss!

Note: One thing lead to another, and when the group I was riding this May got out to Buck Hill, we had to turn around and head straight back to the parking lot. I wasn't able to get any helmet cam footage of Sidewinder. It's a shame, because it would make for a great video!  Oh well, I guess the next time I'm up in Wisconsin I'll try to capture some awesome footage to share with you all!


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cliffhanger: One of My Favorite Trails of All Time (Levis Mound, Wisconsin)

I have profiled almost all of the trails at Levis Mound. Yes, some of the best are still to come, but it is time for me to brag on my favorite trail in the whole system, which is really one of my favorite trails of all time: Cliffhanger.

The first thing that you need to know about Cliffhanger is that you should always, always ride it top to bottom for best flow and sheer enjoyment factor.  The singletrack begins on top of Levis Mound at the small sign with the IMBA Epic Logo, letting you know that it is an officially sanctioned sweet trail.

It turns to the left, and then switchbacks right and begins descending.

One of the reasons I love this trail is that there is an overall loss in elevation; I was born to head downhill. Cliffhanger isn't a fast all-out bomb, but rather it roller coasters its way down along the side of the mound, with several short rolling climbs along its length.

The trail is beautiful Levis Mound bench-cut singletrack, and passes directly below and above several large sandstone cliffs as it winds down the hill. Like North Face, Cliffhanger is built on the north facing aspect of the mound. The loamy soil lies peacefully in the shade of the deep north woods forest, offering a greatly appreciated respite from the many sunny trails on a hot summer.

Don't let the peaceful forest lull you into a false sense of security. Cliffhanger is one of the more technical trails on the mound, dishing up plenty of rock gardens and rooty, off camber corners just begging to tip you off the edge and send you rag dolling down the steep, heavily treed hill! One of the classic technical maneuvers out at Levis is going up and over this rock:

Front side
Back side
While intimidating at first, once you've ridden it several times it becomes an easily conquered, yet always enjoyable obstacle. (Hint: ratchet the pedals.)

Here's a short video from the last half of Cliffhanger just to give you an idea of what the atmosphere of the trail is like.  I was riding with a group, and following a tandem down, so I didn't get video of the technical features up above.  The section included in the video below could have been ridden a lot faster, but again, I was following a tandem down.  You really have to admire their skills riding a trail like that on such a beast of a bike.  My wife and I tried it on some flatter trails, and it was a real challenge!

The next video is of the last downhill section of Cliffhanger, dropping down from the junction of Cliffhanger and Switchback (where the last video ended) towards the ski trail and Snodgrass. If you're riding my recommended technical loop (see this post) you won't ride this section of trail:

During the video you can hear a little bit of my conversation back and forth with Dean.  I believe he was commenting on how this section was recently rerouted, (its much longer now, was originally a very steep drop and is now long and flowy) and was wondering if I'd ridden it before.

Bottom Line
The descent, the rocks, the winding trail, and the beautiful scenery all add up to make Cliffhanger one of my favorite trails of all time.  When I first learned to ride, I would do lap after lap on the front mound, climbing up various trails, but almost always descending Cliffhanger. Whenever I come back to ride Levis again, Cliffhanger is invariably one of my first and last stops in the trail system.  I'm sure that I'll keep coming back for years to come!

Your Turn: Your thoughts and comments are greatly appreciated!


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Levis's Classic Climb: North Face

This trail is a part of the Levis Mounds trail system.

Out of all the trails going up and down the various mounds in the Levis and Trow Mounds trail system, North Face is an absolute classic.  While not the longest (Goat Dance is longer) or the most technical (Toad Road is rockier), North Face is a large climb that's guaranteed to get your legs burning

Located on the shady north face of the front Levis Mound, much of the soil on the North Face trail is loamier than many other areas in the trail system, while still possessing areas of the classic sandiness.  The artfully bench-cut trail drops down off the rocky ridge from the junction with Porky Point and Jackrabbit Draw ski trail, but quickly tilts upward into the main climb. From that point, the elevation gain is largely relentless until you finally roll onto the flat top of the mound.

Rider: Summer. Photo: Greg.
Yes, many of the other trails have been "artfully bench-cut," but North Face is one of the prime examples of this type of construction. This is especially evident towards the top, as the trail climbs/traverses underneath several large sandstone outcroppings and across a slope that brings visions to my mind of a black diamond ski run.

The Rock Garden.
Despite the relentless elevation gain North Face is one of the most rideable climbs on the front mound, as it is a pretty smooth ascent overall.  Overall is definitely the key word because right smack dab in the middle of the climb is a big 15-20 foot long rock garden with some very large rocks that pose a serious challenge when ascending.  When I was last at Levis I rode North Face twice and didn't clean the rock garden either time.  I appreciate the fact that there are challenging sections like this spread throughout the system, seemingly put there just to keep you honest.  I know from experience that whenever you do clean one of the tougher sections, it is a much more gratifying experience than if the rocks had been removed to make way for a mountain bike super highway.

Your Turn: If you've ridden Levis, what do you think is the most classic climb? If you've never ridden there, feel free to share about another classic climb that you always come back to.


Monday, June 21, 2010

View from the Bike Shop

New Bolt Kit
On Saturday I published a lengthy post about Giant Nerd's so-called "Pro Build." Today I'm following up on that post with all of the information I found out when I took my brand new Zeppelin Elite in to get overhauled.

The mechanic at the LBS (Local Bike Shop) I visit has been in the industry for a long time, and is very good at what he does.  He's a great guy, and always shoots straight with me.  Here's his diagnosis of and solutions to the problems I was encountering:
  • Clunk in the rear end--I had emailed the awesome guys at Airborne about this, because it's the first thing I noticed right out of the box.  They sent me a new bolt kit for the shock.  My mechanic at the LBS tore it down and remounted the shock using the new kit I got in the mail.  Apparently one of the bolts/spacers that was originally mounted was the wrong size--just a hair too small.  In all honesty I'm not sure whose fault that would have been, Giant Nerd's or the factory's. But if Giant Nerd had done a real pro build on the bicycle, they should have noticed and fixed it before it had gotten to me. It's a good thing I brought it in to the LBS when I did, because if I had kept riding it the way it was, it would have wallowed out and done real damage. Now, the clunk is gone, and everything is right with the world!
  • Creak in the headset--My mechanic completely overhauled my headset, lubed it, and reinstalled it. He said that nothing on the bike looked like it had been prelubed.  The maintenance on the headset worked: completely creak free!
  • Faulty shifting--This is the biggest deal breaker as far as Giant Nerd's "pro build" goes.  Whoever had installed the shifters and derailleurs had routed the shifter cable incorrectly inside the shifter.  When my mechanic pulled it out and showed me, there was a big crimp in the shifter cable.  If routed correctly through the shifter, the cable should be mostly straight, with a slight curve in the end.  According to my local guy, any mechanic worth his salt should know how to route a cable correctly.  Apparently the "master mechanic" that dealt with my bike before I got it was no master at all.
I wanted to keep everyone informed of the progress on how the bike's running. Hopefully this is constructive information and can lead to positive change.

The Zeppelin Elite is in brand-new operating order and is ready to rip some singletrack!  I will post regular updates (probably every Friday) about how the Zep is riding and what the Flight Crew is up to!

Your Turn: How do you personally judge a good bike mechanic? What criteria goes into your thought processes when you choose a bike shop?

Update #1
I took the Zep. out this morning and shredded 8.5 miles of dirt and rock, and it is riding like a champ!

Update #2
Another one of the Flight Crew members weighed in on the topic of the so-called "pro build," bringing the total number of responses up to 6 out of 10 members.  He noted many of the same issues everyone else was having, including a very loose crank, which he noticed right before entering a downhill race.  He commented that he was very put out, as having a crank fall off in the middle of a DH race would probably lead to serious injury.  So far, 100% of the 6 responses on the topic have been negative.


    Saturday, June 19, 2010

    Where's the "Pro" in Giant Nerd's "Pro Build?"

    I recently got my brand new Airborne Zeppelin Elite straight from Giant Nerd, the company that is currently distributing Airborne Bicycles. They emailed all of the Flight Crew to tell us that we would be receiving our bicycles complete with a complementary "pro build."  Here is the description of Giant Nerd's "pro build," straight from their website:

    I got my bike box in, and thought to myself, "Sweet, let's throw the wheels on and ride! I've got a brand new bike, it should be at least a couple of weeks before I have to worry about anything breaking!"  That was not the case.  I've ridden this bicycle less than 30 miles, which have all been paved roads or gravel mountain roads. Mechanical problems are cropping up like kudzu after a thunderstorm. I have not even ridden it on any serious singletrack yet!

    Here are the issues I've already encountered:
    • Fresh out of the box, without even having ridden it, there is a big "clunk" in the rear end.  Something is messed up at the linkage point where the rear shock intersects the downtube. This is a big no-no in any bike, even one that has been ridden several thousand miles.
    • After one short 5 mile paved ride, it developed a very loud creak in the headset. I've never had headset issues on a bicycle before, and I've put thousands of miles on my mountain bikes.  As any serious cyclist knows, a headset issue can be a pretty big deal, and should not ever really happen.... unless you've just put that much wear and tear on a bike. Ex.: 10,000 miles of Pisgah-grade singletrack. Not 5 miles of paved roads, which is all I had ridden. It's a mountain bike after all.
    • While climbing a gravel road hill, my rear shifting went all out of alignment. The Zeppelin Elite comes stock with X-9 shifters and an X-9 rear derailleur.  These are tried-and-true components, which I have run on my old bike for a long time.  I've put over 2,000 miles of singletrack on my old X-9 rear derailleur, and over 3,000 miles of singletrack on my old X-9 shifters. Also please note: I have not crashed this new bicycle at all. I have not done anything to merit any sort of shifting problems. Again, just gravel road rides because of my messed up back.
    If you can't remember what GiantNerd's pro build description was, please scroll back up and read it.  Now, if their master mechanic had assembled this bicycle using their "25 point checklist," should any of these things have happened? No, they should not.  Unless their "master" mechanic was really a "mediocre" mechanic or a "methhead" mechanic, this bike should have been in fine operating condition if all of the above criteria had been met.  Yes the GiantNerd website is full of frivolous hyperbole.  "Powered by love" indeed.  But if you say "pro build" and "master mechanic" you had better mean "pro" and "master!"

    The above problems were enough for me to take it into my LBS and get it torn down and tuned up properly. I didn't want to deal with any more stupid issues on a brand new bicycle.

    "That's Harsh"
    I know that the way I'm writing and the language I'm using may seem very harsh compared to what I normally post on here.  So let me explain.

    At first, I was going to give them the benefit of the doubt, thinking that maybe the bike I received was just a lemon. I was just going to keep my mouth shut, that is until I checked the private Flight Crew discussion board and saw there was a thread started specifically about the GiantNerd pro build. Here are some of the issues the other Flight Crew members were having with their brand new bikes (I'll keep these comments anonymous):
    • "I had to tighten almost every single bolt on the bike including the shock and the crown bolts."
    •  "I put grease on every bolt thread unless it has another compound like locktite."
    • "my cranks were not tight,"
    • "I did not see anything pre lubed."
    • "The crank arm fell off on my first ride."
    • "found lots of other loose bolts."
    • "My rear rotor was bent"
    • "derailleur needed tuning badly."
    • "The frame came with lots of wear on the paint from rubbing something."
    • "none of my cables were tightened,"
    • "had to reallign my stem it wasnt even tight,"
    •  "bottom bracket has some serious creeking," 
    • "both rotors were bent"
    •  "crank arm not tight," 
    • "rear derailleur wasn't adjusted/no cable attached,"
    • "front brake caliper bolts were only on with a few threads."
    • "I still have a clunk in the rear end of mine when I pick the bike up off the ground."
    I value honesty and integrity in everything, and as such I want to be absolutely honest and open with you my readers.  I was selected to test and review Airborne's products.  To this point, Airborne's bicycles have performed admirably (more on this below).  But as a part of this whole process, the bikes were sent to us through GiantNerd, as they would be to any normal customer.  In order to be honest and to uphold my own personal integrity, I felt that it was necessary to inform any potential Airborne and GiantNerd customers that this so-called "pro build" is a sham. 

    The Good
    I am not saying that you shouldn't buy through I think the concept that they are using of "social shopping" has merit, and I want them to succeed.  What I am saying is that I highly recommend that any customer purchasing a bike NOT purchase the so-called "pro build." I am also saying that if they want to succeed in this tough market, they need to build some credibility! Sending bikes with an incomplete build does not build your credibility, it destroys it.

    I still love Airborne's products, and look forward to putting the bike through its paces to see if it stands the test that only time can give. I would still recommend buying an Airborne. But that $59.95 for a "pro build" would be better spent at your local bike shop. As a fellow Flight Crew member (who I'll keep anonymous) stated:

    I would be pissed if I paid RS for this and I got what I got. I do love the bike as well, it just needed lots [of] adjusting to get there.
    Your turn: Feel free to share your comments and reactions below.


    Friday, June 18, 2010

    Dead Turkey, Levis Mounds, Wisconsin

    This trail is a part of the Levis Mounds trail system.

    Dead Turkey is a mostly unremarkable trail that serves mainly as a connector along the back end of the mound between all of the trails to the north and all of the trails to the south.  At either end of this short chunk of singletrack is a large intersection of many other trails.  Dead Turkey runs between the two big junctions. It also works into my recommended beginner ride to complete a fully singletrack loop around the base of the mound.

    While being mostly unremarkable, it is still a solid piece of singletrack that you won't regret riding.  Heck that's the way it is with every trail out at Levis.  Just get out there and ride!


    Thursday, June 17, 2010

    Update on the Cycling Blog Contest

    As you are all probably aware, GregRidesTrails was nominated into the top 5 mountain biking blogs over on The voting has concluded, and unfortunately GregRidesTrails didn't make it as the best mountain biking blog of the year.  Being barely 4 months old, I really wasn't too shocked or dismayed.  The winner of the mountain bike category was Brick House Racing, a blog I'd never heard of before.  To be quite frank, I hadn't heard of any of the other blogs that made it into the top 5 of the voting round.  I don't know what that says about the contest, as I follow several very popular mountain bike blogs...

    Oh well, that's life! I just hope that this little mountain bike blog continues to grow and mature over the next year, and maybe by the time the competition comes around again we'll be ready to take down the top seat!

    Your Turn:
    What do you think makes a great mountain biking blog? What do you think I could do better here on GregRidesTrails to make it grow?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!


    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    Warm Up, Levis Mounds, Wisconsin

    Photo: AJ Heil.
    This trail is a part of the Levis Mounds trail system. 

    Warm Up and Select Cut flow naturally into one another, and because of that I'll focus on the differences between the two. (Read the Select Cut review first.)

    Warm Up has a little more elevation gain and loss along it's length than does Select Cut.  There are several rises and dips that, coupled with the great swoop of the turns, lead to a really fun ride.  If possible, Warm Up feels like it has even more swoop and flow than Select Cut.

    In reality, trying to differentiate between the two trails is tough because they naturally flow into each other and really ride as one trail.  If you head out to Levis and hit them up, you'll see what I mean!

    Dropping down to the Hwy. 95 parking lot:

    Photo: AJ Heil.


    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Select Cut, Levis Mounds, Wisconsin

    This trail is a part of the Levis Mounds trail system.     

    One of the flat trails that circles the front mound, Select Cut shares a lot of similarities with Warm Up (which it naturally flows right into) and Dead Turkey.

    Flowing through the tall deciduous forest, the singletrack constantly twists and turns along its way. Select Cut is very flat, and doesn't even really contain any sort of rises or dips, and is mostly non-technical.  Those characteristics apply for Select Cut, the trails listed above, and most all of the trails around the base of the Front Mound, which is why I've recommended them as the beginner's type ride.

    As with all of the other flatland trails, its relative ease does not necessarily make it a bore to ride. Select Cut is another fine example of Levis Mound flow, and just begs to be hammered as you ramp up through your cogs while in your middle ring!

    Besides the flowing turns, the only other remarkable feature on Select Cut is a long bridge spanning a marshy area.  I captured it on video:

    Bottom Line: Just another great Levis Mound trail!


    Monday, June 14, 2010

    4 Reasons Why Snodgrass Is Among the Best Trails at Levis

    Not to be confused with the Snodgrass trail in Crested Butte, this Snodgrass is a part of the Levis Mounds trail system.

    Despite being located on completely flat ground, I consider Snodgrass to be one of the classic Levis Mound trails.  Why is this so? Snodgrass is the most chronically soggy trail out at Levis, built in a swampy lowlands.  

    "Wait, what?" you say. "Wouldn't that make it less likely to be ridden?"

    No, it is more likely--for 4 reasons:
    1. Snodgrass occupies an important piece of real estate, running directly between the old Hwy 95 trailhead and the current full-service trailhead. If you click back over to the main post, you will see that I've included it in both the recommended technical route and beginner route. Unless you would rather ride wide ski trails instead of singletrack, it invariably gets worked into all sorts of rides!
    2. There is something inside every mountain biker that likes riding in the mud--even if they know they shouldn't. All of the other trails at Levis are normally very fast drying due to the sandy soil, but this trail is not.  Unless Wisconsin is in a drought, there's bound to be some mud on Snodgrass.
    3. Because riding in the mud is bad for trails, many years ago some trail builders up on the North Shore decided to build wooden bridges over the soggiest spots on the trail, and inadvertently created a new type of mountain biking.  Due to its chronic muddiness, Snodgrass probably has more bridges along its 1.1 mile length than any other trail in the system.
    4. The sheer swampiness of the terrain which creates the conditions for the previous two points also creates an environment that differs from all of the other trails in the system.  The undergrowth is different, the ground is different, and the different environment directly correlates to a very different mountain biking atmosphere experienced when riding Snodgrass.
     As a result of those three reasons, Snodgrass comfortably commands a dominant spot among the best trails at Levis Mound.

    Here's a short POV video of the best bridge on Snodgrass: 

    Your Turn
     Like 'em or hate 'em, what are your thoughts on bridges and wooden features?

    More photos from Snodgrass:


    Sunday, June 13, 2010

    OT: Mayan Ruins Guest Photoblog

    This is totally off topic, but I recently published a Mayan Ruins guest photoblog over here on I took the images during our amazing honeymoon cruise. The ruins were spectacular!

    Click here to go to the full post and check out the rest of the images!


    Fox Hole Hill

    This trail is a part of the Levis Mounds trail system.    

    Like Corkscrew, Fox Hole Hill is one of the older pieces of single/doubletrack at Levis Mound and no longer seems to get any traffic.  At only a half of a mile in length it is pretty insignificant, yet at times I would go out of my way to include it in my ride.

    It has been a long time since I've ridden it, but Fox Hole Hill always seemed to have a certain sort of flavor that differed from all of the other trails.  It seemed more secluded. Tucked away. Forgotten about.  The age of the trail and how it has worn contributes to its peculiar feeling, as does blowing through a pile of leaves in June because they hadn't been trampled down since the previous one or two falls.

    This little tucked away trail used to be one of my favorite spots to go mountainboarding out at Levis during my early highschool years.  The hills aren't too steep, but they tend to go straight up and down with plenty of room to roll out at the bottom. 

    Mountainboarding near Toad Road
    The little Fox Hole still feels secluded, but no longer really is.  Sidewinder was built into the hill directly above it, and yet is still almost completely obscured by the trees.  If there's not a rider on it and you didn't know about Sidewinder, you could ride peacefully by in your own little world over on Fox Hole Hill.


    Saturday, June 12, 2010

    Top of the Mound Trails

    This trail is a part of the Levis Mounds trail system.    

    Atop of Levis Mound (the frontmost of the mounds in the trail system) there's about a mile's worth of singletrack that loops around, connecting all of the various trails that climb up to and descend down different sides of the hill.  These mound-top trails also allow bicycle access to the different scenic overlooks of the surrounding Clark County Forest. If you ride in certain circles you may know of different names attached to different cliffs out at Levis, but even if you don't you will still enjoy visiting the different outcrops and soaking in the gorgeous vista of trees stretching for miles and miles!

    Bottom Line
    Visiting Levis? Ride up to the top of the front mound and take a breather atop one of these sandstone cliffs. Oh, and bring your camera!

    Looking for a more interesting post? Please check out this post, complete with video and photographs, about Toad Road published on Friday.


    Friday, June 11, 2010

    Toad Road, Levis Mounds, Wisconsin

    Photo: Greg.
    A Levis Mound classic, Toad Road is probably the most technical trail in the entire system. I always tend to climb up it, mostly out of habit. It is definitely a fun ride down, but as a climb it is extremely rewarding—especially when you clean the whole thing!

    Starting at the junction with Dead Turkey, Select Cut, and the ski trails, Toad Road begins to climb immediately, doling out a pretty relentless grunt up to the junction with Switchback by the sandstone cliff. If you’re riding my recommended technical loop, this is where you’ll access the trail.

    As Toad Road turns left up and past the sandstone cliff, the real fun begins! What ensues is a wonderfully rocky rolling climb past picturesque sandstone bluffs, which you don’t notice the first time because you are so focused on your front tire. Toad Road demands impressive slow-speed handling skills, and the ability to choose an appropriate line through the rocks on the fly.

    Rider: Shannon C. Photo: AJ Heil.
    Recent Maintenance
    Back when I was living in the area during high school, I recall bumping into a couple riders on their “fancy” bicycles, and having them mention that Toad Road was “impossible” to climb. I just smirked and road away, as I knew that I had cleaned the entire climb before on my outdated, completely rigid Giant Iguana. They did have a good point though: Toad Road was a dauntingly technical.

    Since that time there has been a lot of work done, making Toad Road and many other sections of trail in the system much less technical than they were. While part of me is frustrated by the change, I definitely know that much of the recent maintenance was very necessary. Said maintenance has resulted in many of the trails becoming much more rideable, and has addressed areas that would eventually have eroded into nasty scars which would be totally unrideable. Toad Road is still challenging, and offers up plenty of rocks that are just begging to make you dab (as I did this spring, although I blame the high gearing on the 1x8 rig I was riding).

    Rider: AJ Heil. Photo: Shannon C.?
    Plumber's Crack
    As Toad Road continues on up the hill, it soon reaches a section that has become a legend in its own right: Plumber’s Crack. In the words of Steve Meurett, one of the two masterminds behind Levis Mound:
    Best "Micro-section?" Is "plummers crack" on Toad Road. The rock chute has been there for thousands of years and I think I looked at that spot for as long trying to figure out how to get a trail down deep inside there. Finally I just started pin flagging and cutting. The wood bridges and ramps that squeeze thru the stone walls turned out well.
    And he’s right: Plumber’s Crack is iconic. It has been the location of many photographs and video clips, and will continue to be for a long time. Riding that wooden bridge down in the bottom of that three foot wide cleft in the rock is always, always a rush! During my last visit, after I had finished climbing up from the bridge, I looped around on the old washed-out portion of trail that Plumber’s Crack bypasses for a second ride through the rock. Check out the video below:


    Photo: Greg.
    After climbing up from the wooden bridge the trail hangs a left along the ridge. The singletrack straightens out and rolls quickly along the ridge, soon to join up with the other trails on top of the mound.

    Toad Road is over all too quickly. If you really haven’t had enough of it, Corkscrew quickly drops back down towards the bottom of Toad Road, or another epic Cliffhanger/Switchback combo will bring you back around to climb the rocks once again!

    Your Turn:  What are your thoughts on trail maintenance and modification, specifically when it makes the ride easier?


    Thursday, June 10, 2010

    Dump Singletrack

    This trail is a part of the Levis Mounds trail system.   

    Dump Singletrack (ST) is a short half mile section of trail that begins right behind the main trailhead.  If you hang a right out of the parking lot on Lower Glen, and then a left at the fork right after you enter the main woods, that will be Dump. The trail runs through the trees behind the building, and heads out towards the front mounds.

    Running along flat ground, it is mostly unremarkable when compared to the other singletrack trails.  I ride Dump fairly often though, as it is a direct line to the bottom of North Face.

    In the main post, I listed this as the recommended technical ride: 

    Shorter, technical ride with more climbing: Dump > Porky Point > North Face > Cliffhanger > Switchback > Toad Road > Corkscrew > Select Cut > Warm Up > Snodgrass (Approximately 6.7 miles.)
    In this ride, you'd only be on dump for about half of it's length before accessing Porky Point.

    In reality, I tend to not ride Porky Point all that often, and instead take Dump ST and head straight for the climb up North Face.

    PS The Lucy's Loop listing has been updated with several photos.


    Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    Buck Hill, Levis Mounds, Wisconsin

    This trail is a part of the Levis Mounds trail system.   

    The Hill

    The words "Buck Hill" denote a large hill far from the main Levis Mound trailheads, situated in the opposite corner of the wooded square that contains the majority of the trails.  (The only trail past Buck Hill is Goat Dance.) There is a major confluence of trails atop of Buck Hill, and seems to be a mandatory resting spot for everyone traveling through. Yellow Jacket ends there, Upper Hermosa begins there, the Moundbounder ski trail goes up and over the top, Fox Hole Hill junctions with Upper Hermosa on the side of the hill, and the epic Sidewinder trail begins and ends on top of Buck Hill.  When riding Levis, this is a place you need to know.

    Buck Hill location.

    The Trail
     The words "Buck Hill" also denote a trail by the same name that drops off the top of Buck Hill. It swoops down Buck Hill's back side in big swooping switchbacks bested only by those on Upper Hermosa. As the trail reaches the bottom of the hill, it hangs a sharp left and straightens out into a gradual but fast descent toward the junction with Fox Hole Hill at an orange gate. Alternatively, don't turn left but instead go right to access Goat Dance.

    While the Buck Hill trail is often bypassed by riders on their way out on Yellow Jacket to Goat Dance, I personally always loved the rooty but flowy descent down the swoopy Buck Hill trail.  Little things like the turns on that descent are what set Levis Mound apart as an Epic trail system. The thing of it is, there are a ton of this little jewels scattered all throughout the trail system that have made a memorable mark in my mind.  While there are many such exhilarating sections of trail, they all seem to have a different flavor when ridden.

    Levis is not one of those trail systems that contains 20+ miles of great singletrack... but singletrack that all starts looking the same after about 7 or 8 miles.  No, the variety of the trails here both in the ride and the scenery set this system apart.  That is why I am doing this as a series instead of a single post.

    Your Turn: If you've ridden Levis, what is the one little section of trail that you always hold up as your favorite? (Not saying that is Buck Hill for me... we'll get to my favorite later.) If you haven't, is there a section of a different trail that has just left an impression on you as being spectacularly unique?


    Tuesday, June 8, 2010

    Corkscrew, Levis Mounds, Wisconsin

    This trail is a part of the Levis Mounds trail system.  

    Corkscrew is one of the older trails out at Levis Mound, and seems to no longer to get very much traffic.  It's a shame really, because Corkscrew is one of my favorite all-out bombs dropping down from the top of the mound.  As you have probably seen back on the main post, I included this in my recommended technical riding loop, so I personally recommend you go hit it!

    Starting off with about a 2 foot drop off a large eroded root, the trail corkscrews down the hill, swooping through several switchbacks and over one large boulder. After a couple of switchbacks the singletrack straightens out into the promised all-out bomb down to the ski trail.  There's a small knoll breaking up the descent about three quarters of the way through. It is possible to mash the pedals and carry enough speed through the straight away leading up to the rise in order to rocket straight up and over without much of a break in the momentum of this wonderful quarter mile downhill.

    What more can I tell you that a video of the entire trail won't? Check it out:

    Corkscrew from Greg Heil on Vimeo.

    This video, and many of the videos filmed at Levis, were taken while riding the legendary "Pumpkin:"

    Thanks to John B. for letting me borrow the bike!


    Monday, June 7, 2010

    The Zeppelin Arrives!

    I have been longing and waiting for a month and a half for this... and it finally arrived on Friday!  My brand spanking new Airborne Zeppelin Elite is in the house!

    Of course, it's really not in the house, but in the shed.  But it's mine and it's here!  I'm so stoked to have a new bike! Many thanks again go out to Airborne for choosing me as a member of the Flight Crew

    The Above Photo
    After I arrived home and saw the massive bike box sitting in front of the door,
     I immediately set to work assembling it.  The above photo represents a mostly stock Zeppelin Elite. The only exceptions are my own Titec Hellbent seat and Truvativ seatpost, and a pair of Shimano SPD Pedals. As I mentioned in a previous review, I will be putting on a pair of much larger tires.
    One of the tires, currently mounted on a Gary Fisher Tassajara
    I decided against switching out the tires immediately, due to the fact that I am still not nearly recovered from my back pain. I'm not going to be riding any singletrack anytime soon.

    What I Can Ride
    I will definitely be doing some riding though! I have been off of the bike for way too long! Yesterday morning I got out for a short but extremely liberating ride (just on pavement), and today my wife and I cranked out several miles of USFS roads. (Written Sunday)

    As I continue to recover from this painful affliction, I'm planning on easing slowly back into mountain biking.  The mileage will slowly climb upwards, and I'll avoid rough singletrack trails for at least another week or two.  That's why I made the call to go with the skinnier stock tires: less rolling resistance on the gravel roads where the traction and cornering power of a bigger tire really isn't needed.

    Once I have my beautiful white bike totally tricked out, I will definitely be posting an exhaustive photo essay of my new ride.

    The Quirks
    There are a few small quirks that already need to be ironed out. I don't know who is at fault: the factory, or Giant Nerd's "pro build." But right out of the box I had a clunk at the point where the rear shock bolts onto the downtube. I checked out the bolt and it seems tight, so I'm wondering if it's just the wrong size bushing. Also, after just two short rides the bike has developed a loud creak in the headset.  It may just not be tightened properly... I'll be looking into it soon.

    Finally, the Rock Shox Tora seems pretty pathetic (no offense intended to anybody).  I don't know much about this specific fork, so it may just need a stiffer spring or thicker viscosity oil. I'm used to air sprung forks, so the Tora is very new to me. That, and I'm not much of a grease monkey. I can do some of my own wrenching but if anything serious needs to be operated on, it's going to the bike shop!

    The Sweet
    Even with the quirks, this bike is riding sweet! It feels so good to have brand new components and a brand new frame ready to get punished! Once my body can dish it out, this bike will get put through its paces!

    Your Turn: Any advice on the clunk, squeaking headset, or the Tora? Also, are there any things in specific that you would like to find out about the bike as I ride it in?

    Update: I'm not the only one with a brand new bike: Fatty just got a beautiful Gary Fisher frame in the mail.  Check it out!




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