Monday, August 30, 2010

Dirt Jumping and BMX at Big Creek in Roswell (Atlanta), Georgia

Big Creek has positioned itself as a indispensable center for almost all things with two wheels and a pair of pedals. Dirt jumpers and BMX riders are no exception to this rule!

Currently serving the needs of these two groups  are a dedicated dirt jump section and a downhill slalom course.  And there's even more in the works...

For part 1 of the Big Creek review series covering road biking, cross country, and downhill, click here.

Dirt Jumps
Big Creek has a dedicated line of high-quality purpose-built dirt jumps that run along the top of the ridge above the other downhill and freeride runs. There are a mix of different size jumps ranging from relatively small to one with a lip that's pushing 6 feet high or more. To the best of my knowledge, there is nowhere else in Atlanta, or even the state of Georgia for that matter, with an area that even comes close to comparing to the near-professional grade of these jumps. While most of the riders I have seen sessiong them have been on dirt-jumping mountain bike frames, I've witnessed a number of BMXers sending it big time as well.

I could write more, but including a video that I made almost a year ago of a dirt jumping competition held there will give you a much more accurate idea of what it's all about:

Slalom Course
Located directly in the center of all of the action, the banked slalom-type course seems to be the focal point of all the attention. It is appropriate that all the other trails seem to be built around it, as riders of all different disciplines can navigate the slalom run. For instance, when I was last out at Big Creek, I saw a kid on a rigid single speed 29er rolling down through the berms.

So granted, the big berms and flow are going to be accessible to anyone on almost any bike. To really rail this trail and air out the big table tops, however, you're going to need to be riding something much more aggressive than a rigid SS 29er. A dirt jump bike would be perfect for this kind of work, and a BMX bike or a downhill bike would also function passably, despite being on opposite ends of the bicycle-size spectrum.

Coming Soon: Pump Track!
Pump track riding is the latest craze to dominate the mountain bike world. Pump tracks are going up all over the country, and are now featured at every major mountain bike festival. As of 2 weeks ago, RAMBO (Roswell Alpharetta Mountain Bike Organization) announced that they were breaking ground on a pump track located at Big Creek.

For those who don't know, a pump track is a closed-circuit track that's located on flat ground. Dirt is used to create rollers, berms, and jumps in such a configuration that it should be possible to simply "pump" your bike through the track without pedaling to maintain your momentum. Once you're going pretty well, the berms are easy to rail and the jumps open up to provide air opportunities in the little track.

Viewed from the outside, it doesn't look all that impressive... but just wait until you try it! Good pump track riders have incredible control over their bicycles, and develop exceptional jumping, line choice, and momentum-maintenance skills.

The ideal tool for riding a pump track is a dirt jumper mountain bike, with a BMX bike able to a decent job as well.

Pump track at the Sea Otter Classic

Pump track at the Sea Otter Classic

If you're addicted to the dirt jumps and live in Atlanta, head over to Big Creek and hit these jumps!

Part 3: What Big Creek still lacks.

Your Turn: Know of any other awesome spots in Atlanta to ride your dirt jump bike? Please leave some info in the comments below!


Friday, August 27, 2010

Downhill and Freeride Video: The Taka meets dirt at Big Creek!

Taka at Big Creek from Greg Heil on Vimeo.

Click "Read More" for the full write up....

I want to give a huge shout out to Matt S. for hanging out and filming, editing this awesome video together, and for giving me encouragement and input as I was setting up for these runs!

Taka Meets the Dirt
This past Tuesday when this video was filmed was the first time I got the Taka out on true mountain bike trails to test its mettle and see what it was made of.  Let me just say this: I am more likely to break before this bike does!  When shredding Big Creek, I felt more limited by my level of gutsiness and lack of downhill experience than I did by the bike or even my bike handling skills!  Being a good downhiller is much like being a good big mountain-freeride skier: it is a mental game first and foremost.

Expect a blog about the sport of downhill mountain biking sometime in the future, but for now let's focus on the bike.

The Taka performed superbly!  It was so stable, so natural in the air, so smooth in the corners, so responsive through the rocks; riding the Taka makes me feel so confident, even when I'm sending jumps that I wouldn't have dreamed about riding before this big brown bike showed up on my doorstep.  As I wrote yesterday, the Taka makes me so comfortable when:

  • pinning it (that means going completely balls-out high-speed for those not familiar with moto lingo) through the rock gardens containing mini boulders and 3 foot drops after many of the rocks
  • sending a 3 foot high booter to a super long landing (where you could get as much air as you want)
  • airing a 15 ft long table top
  • doing various rock drops ranging from 4ish feet to 7-8 feet
Full disclosure: I still don't feel comfortable completely pinning it through the big rocks, clearing the whole 15 foot table top, or dropping 8 feet even on my Taka yet.  I have sent the booter, ridden the rocks at pretty high speed, cleared the 7-10 foot tables, and dropped a 5 foot high rock, though. But there are still bigger, badder features for me to work up to!

Of all the Airborne bikes that I've ridden, the parts package on the Taka impresses me the most:
  • The Avid Juicy 3s with the massive rotors stop a high speed descent in a heart beat. Matt hopped on to ride, and said that at first he was more scared by the brakes than anything else! 
  • I love the massively wide bars and the general feel of the cockpit.  It's made to get big air and handle nasty landings and rocks.  
  • I have had no issues with the suspension so far: the fork has been phenomenal, and has sucked up even some totally off-balance drops and landings. 
  • The drive train has been rock-solid, and the chainring guard and chain guide have just done their job.  I can almost see running a 1x9 on an All Mountain bike just to be able to run these more downhill specific components.
  • I love having big, massive DH tires! As I've mentioned in previous blog posts, I am a sucker for big knobbies that just hook up, and now I have an excuse to ride full on 2.5" wide pieces of rubber perfection!  (That go on a bicycle.)  Maybe I need to try some 3.0s out soon...

I look forward to getting even more time in the saddle (or above the saddle) of the Taka, and hope to write a complete review sometime in the future.  For now, I can easily say that the Taka is an absolutely killer bike, and if you want to get into downhill, you need to buy one!

Your Turn
So how did you like the video?  Does it make you want a Taka now? **winkwink** 


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Big Creek Park, Atlanta (Roswell), Georgia

The Gully
The Big Creek Park / Recreational Area serves as an important bicycling hub in the Roswell community. I used the word "bicycling" on purpose, as it serves virtually every sort of bike-riding discipline.

Getting There
From GA 400, get off on Exit 7 for GA 140 W Toward Roswell. Head Southeast (left turn if coming from the North, right if coming from the South) a half a mile and take a left on Holcomb Bridge Rd. Go 0.4 mi and take a left on Old Alabama Rd. Big Creek will be on your left pretty quickly. There'll be a pretty nice sign out front, and most likely you'll see a ton of cars and bikes in the parking lot.

You can park in the initial lot, or drive down the gravel road a short ways and park in the lower lot right next to the bathrooms and the greenway.

The Route
Detailing one specific route at Big Creek is impossible. I will cover the area in detail below and attempt to include directional information as I do so, but it will be up to you to choose the best route after that. Don't worry, the trail signage is very thorough and will be sufficient to keep you from getting too turned around.

Road Biking
The Big Creek greenway is a very scenic cement path that is almost completely flat, but ideal for an easy ride on a road bike without having to deal with traffic. This would also be a great route for someone looking for a leisurely pedal on their urban cruiser, or for those who prefer to ride a recumbent bicycle. At roughly 6 miles in length (someone correct me if I'm wrong), it is ideal for an easy cruise, but if you're looking for a serious workout you'll either have to ride a ton of laps, or head somewhere else.

Cross Country Mountain Biking
The 6 or so miles of cross-country oriented singletrack trails of Big Creek are well-maintained, well-marked, and entertaining to ride. The trails are labeled with different colors based on their level of technical difficulty, so its easy to pick the trail that will serve your needs the best.

The black/advanced trails feature plenty of rocks, some log rides and other features, a few stiff climbs, and a couple of drop offs.

Most of the trails are directional, so check the signs and pay attention to what day of the week it is!

While the cross-country trails are pretty cool, Big Creek's true claim to Atlanta area fame are its downhill and dirt jump-oriented trails. From what I hear, there is really no other place in Atlanta with this kind of riding, and possibly only 1 other place in the state of Georgia with downhill-specific trails! There are about 5-7 different trails to choose from packed tightly together on a hill side located about a mile down the greenway. There are also a number of rock drops spread throughout the area, with 4 or so on the backside of the upper ridge dropping down towards a maintained park.

I've ridden my All Mountain bike down many of these trails before, and I've heard people say that they really don't live up to true downhill-oriented trails.  While that may be true, I know that I definitely don't feel comfortable on a 5" travel bike bike when:
  • pinning it (that means going completely balls-out high-speed for those not familiar with moto lingo) through the rock gardens containing mini boulders and 3 foot drops after many of the rocks
  • sending a 3 foot high booter to a super long landing (where you could get as much air as you want)
  • airing a 15 ft long table top
  • doing various rock drops ranging from 4ish feet to 7-8 feet
Bearing in mind that these trails are located in Atlanta, I'd say the terrain is pretty freaking sweet!

Full disclosure: I still don't feel comfortable completely pinning it through the big rocks, clearing the whole 15 foot table top, or dropping 8 feet even on my Taka yet.  I have sent the booter, ridden the rocks at pretty high speed, cleared the 7-10 foot tables, and dropped a 5 foot high rock, though. But there are still bigger, badder features for me to work up to!

Here is a teaser video of riding the Taka at Big Creek. Full-blown edit to come, complete with awesome 3rd person perspective shots, and sweet editing! Be watching for it to be done sometime in the next week or so. (This is about a 4-5 foot drop):

Taka at Big Creek from Greg Heil on Vimeo.

Part 2: Dirt Jumping and BMX riding at Big Creek!

Part 3: What Big Creek Still Lacks...

Your turn: Are there any places like Big Creek near you that are centers for all things bike related? Or if you live in Atlanta, what do you think of Big Creek?


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Copper Harbor Mountain Bike Trails, Copper Harbor, Michigan (Guest Post by Scott)

Copper Harbor
Epic dreams of Copper Harbor
The following is a guest post by Scott Melzer.  Scott is a mountain biker from Wisconsin, and travels all around the Midwest exploring a wealth of largely unsung mountain biking trails.  Read on for an awesome review!

Copper Harbor Michigan U.P.

The remote Keweenaw Peninsula is home to Copper Harbor. Take U.S. highway 41 north into Michigan's U.P. and follow it right into town.

Fast flowing singletrack which tends to be slightly rocky with hard pack and rooty in spots.  Nice sized uphill climbs and wooden bridges connecting the trail though out. 

IMBA epic ride in sequence:
Copper Harbor loop, Garden brook, Woopidy Woo,Garden Brook, Blue trail, Dza Beet, Here we go, Ma Maki, Say Hello. Dza Beet, Simen. De Beet, Red trail, Clark mine road, Paul's Plunge, John Lincoln Green, Maganese Road, Ma Maki, Der WE Went, Stairway to Heaven, Copper Harbor loop to trail head.

Lake Superior
Ride Report:
  I have many passions in my life. Two of which are the Green Bay Packers and riding sweet singletrack.  Aaron Rodgers leads my beloved Pack and I find out that a man named Aaron Rogers leads the trail building for the Copper Harbor trail club. Follow the club on Facebook and keep updated on this already epic trail which seems to be expanding more each year.  This system of trails has areas of bedrock that have been made rideable with the help of a Gas powered jackhammer. The hard work is most apparent.  

Stairway to Heaven
 The area is ideal for our sport. It has a  small town feel that is very welcoming. A small strip of Motel, diners and bars line the Lake Superior shoreline. The Keweenaw Adventure company works great as a starting point since they are only a few strokes of the pedals from the trail head. They offer a shuttle service  to the Kewennaw Mountain lodge that connects to the nucleus of the trails and allows one to take advantage of the down hills. However to get the real ying yang vibe of this trail I would suggest to soak up the climbs . The trail head has some parking as well as restrooms which are very useful.  A water tap for your bottles and water packs is located on the side of the rear of the building. 

  Of course being near the lake helps to keep things cool during the summer months. The trails are surrounded by pristine forests, and views of the lake  pop into view as you speed on your way. The uphills will test your legs. In my case I had to cry uncle and hang my head while I partook in the walk of shame more than once. The down hills were payback time as you can really build speed with each crank. It can be a real challenge to focus on the trail ahead with all the eye candy views that pass by at a rapid pace. The phrase "Stay on target, Stay on target!!!" echoed though my mind as I rolled faster and faster down the technical descents and bridges. 
 Copper Harbor has been called the British Columbia of the midwest. There is truth to that statement. My time at Copper Harbor seemed short and sweet. Very much like a dream. I will make a trip back to this northern gem a reality sooner rather than later. 

If you would like to submit a guest post, I would more than likely love to publish it!  Posts on Greg Rides Trails fit into one of 2 (or 3) different categories: Informational, Instructional, or if its really good: Insightful.  Email me at g.gaheil AT gmail DOT com for more info!


Monday, August 23, 2010

You can Always Use More Cow Bell! (2010 Fools Gold 100 Video)

If this doesn't clue you in to how soaking wet the Fools Gold 100 was this year, I don't know what will!

If you haven't seen them yet, I highly recommend that you check out some of the best photographs that I shot Saturday at the top of the initial 4 mile climb.There are several cool shots in there that I'm quite proud of, so be sure to take a look and read my short write up on the race!


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fools Gold 100: Photos from the First Climb

Fools Gold 100
My alarm went off at 6 am this morning, and I groggily hit the snooze.  Again, my ring tone started playing at me and I grouchily rolled out of bed before the sun.  "Really? I'm getting up at 6 am to watch a bike race?  I can't get enough, can I?" were some of the muddled waves rolling through my gray matter.  A couple granola bars, a couple Mountain Dews, my digital camera... and I was out the door to meet one of my friends (Matt).  The plan was to drive up to Cooper Gap and watch the racers of the Fools Gold 100 reach the top of the first climb.  Referred to as the "King of the Mountain," the first rider in each category to reach the top of the initial 4 mile climb earned himself (or herself) a free beer.  Welcome to endurance mountain biking!

Single speed

Cheering everyone on
As soon as I walked out the door, I knew that today's race might be a lesson in pain and misery for the riders.  The sun wasn't even up yet, and it was already raining.  I was optimistic, and thought that maybe by 7 when the riders hit the start line the skies would let up.  I was dead wrong.  The clouds let loose sheets of water the entire hour and a half that we spent waiting for and cheering on the racers.  It's currently 2:09 pm, and it is still wet and drizzly outside. 

Having fun in the rain (for now)

The first bunch of riders to hit the top of the initial climb were all smiles. Those masochists were probably relishing the discomfort and pain that the pouring rain was adding to the already formidable miles of dirt!

She's having a ton of fun too!
The riders towards the end of the line were a totally different story. Those who had taken 45 minutes to an hour to pedal the first 4 miles reached the top sporting the aura of a house cat that's been dropped in a bath tub and then forced at gunpoint to go hunt for mice. (I don't know if you could coerce a cat to hunt mice with a pistol. If you have a chance, try it and let me know how it works.)

A blurry photo of someone who can ride a mountain bike absurdly fast for a long period of time.

It's 2:30 and I've just heard that the race organizers decided to cancel the 100 mile option and just stopped the racers after the first lap. That was a smart call, as I don't want to have to deal with too much trail damage this coming week, and because the Fools Gold 100 is an obscenely difficult race without the rain. Despite being located in Georgia, the Fools Gold 100 contains more climbing than the Leadville 100, and on average takes competitors roughly an hour and a half longer than Leadville. I guess that's why Chris Eatough graced us with his presence!

Mad props to everyone that lined up and rode in spite of the rain, and especially to those riders who stuck it out the whole 50 miles. You all are what hardcore endurance racing is all about!

John of Dahlonega Wheelworks
Cranking Hard!

Stoked to be at the top!


Friday, August 20, 2010

Taka Time!

In order to help us (the Flight Crew) get the word about Airborne's products out there even more effectively, the guys in charge decided to send us yet another free mountain bike! The choice was very difficult the second time around, as the Zeppelin Elite is continuing to serve me well as an all-around every day type bicycle.  I considered getting a hard tail, but I'm honestly not a big fan of their current hardtail designs (although the new 29er on the way is looking fabulous!).

Airborne Taka
After much internal debate, I decided to take one of the Takas. The Airborne Taka is a full-blown downhill bike boasting 8 inches of travel, a bomb-proof frame design, and burly components. 

I have wanted to get into downhill mountain biking for a long time.  Gravity-fueled adrenaline-pumping sports are what I'm all about. I come from a background heavy in downhill skiing, so riding a lift and shredding downhill at high speeds come very naturally to me.

I'm not currently living in the most ideal part of the nation for downhill or freeride type riding.  There are a few trails nearby that are designed to be downhill specific, and I'm itching to check those out.  Also, about a 4 hour drive north there are a few ski resorts in North Carolina that offer lift served riding.  Come hell or high water, I'm going to make it up to one of them before the end of the season!

Me and my Taka

So Far
So far I haven't tackled any very intense terrain with my new burl-master.  The only riding I've been able to do has been around my apartment on some small drops, airing off and riding some stair sets, and a short, steep singletrack drop.  Right now, my goal is to get used to riding this bike, and to figure out how it handles when airborne.  (Haha, get it?!)

Here's a video showcasing my efforts up to this point:

Taka Time from Greg Heil on Vimeo.

Big Dual-Crown Marzocchi Fork
The Future
Stage #2 of Taka Time is to get more hang time, and start increasing my height and distance of jumps.  Now I just need to find more things to launch off of!

Your Turn
I've already asked this question on, but I'd love to hear from you all too.  The question:  what 3 tips would you give someone getting into downhill riding?

If you haven't ridden downhill before, what would you like me to learn or experiment with that I can pass along to you?


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tsali: Mouse Branch, Bryson City (Almond), North Carolina

Mouse Branch
Getting There
Head West 8 miles from Bryson City, North Carolina on Hwy. 74.  Hang a write on NC 28 and go about 3.5 miles past Freeman’s Motel.  The turn off onto the Tsali road will be on the right with a sign.  Head down that road about a mile and a half, and there will be big signs for the parking lots (on your left).

The Route
From the mountain bike parking lot, head back out the entrance of the lot, down the hill a little ways, and ride around the gate and down the gravel road.  Shortly you’ll pass the end of the Thompson loop on your left.  After a while, you'll pass a junction with a sign pointing both right and left for Mouse Branch.  The "Recommended Path of Travel" sign instructs you to head left and finish climbing up the road like you would if you were riding the Thompson Loop. This is the direction I rode the trail. This direction makes sense, as most of the climbing is conquered on the wider, easier trail and most of the descending comes on the narrower, more technical section.

However, there is an extra loop off of Mouse Branch that's simply called the "Overlook Trail."  That trail is one-way, and to work it naturally into the flow of the loop you have to ride opposite of the "recommended" direction of travel. That means that you'd begin the loop by hanging a right onto the trail at the first Mouse Branch sign instead of continuing to the end of the gravel road.

Distance without the overlook is about 7 miles, distance with the overlook is about 9.

Navigational Resources

Timm Muth has written an awesome guidebook with detailed statistics and directions.  It includes almost all of the worth-while trails in North Carolina, and features a big section on the Tsali trails.  If you're planning on spending a lot of time in NC, this is a great investment!

The maps that I have come to live by are all a part of the National Geographic Trails Illustrated series.  Easy to read, almost always up to date, tear resistant and water proof, these maps are designed to ride in your Camelback months on end! #784 contains the Tsali Trail System:

All About the Trail
The Mouse Branch is quite similar to the Thompson Loop, and I assume the other trails at Tsali.  However, there are a few key similarities and differences that are worth noting.

Overall, Mouse Branch contains the same euphoric flow, smooth trails, and quality trail construction of the Thompson Loop.  These are the key components that make the Tsali network the famous destination that it is!  

Sections of the Mouse Branch trail are actually quite a bit more technical than the offering on the Thompson Loop, and if the rumors I hear are true the Right and Left loops are much easier than both of the trails open on Saturday.  Still, compared to most everything else in North Carolina and North Georgia, Mouse Branch seems very tame.  

One factor that did start challenging me after a while (especially after already doing 8 miles on the TL) were the hills. While easily rideable, the climbs are noticeably steeper than those on the TL, and there was much more alteration between climbs and descents.  Instead of a long rolling climb with a fast descent at the end, there was much more up-down-up-down (similar to Stonewall Falls).

Trail Above Fontana Lake

The Mouse Branch trail spends much more time traveling directly above the shores of Lake Fontana.  I didn't get to ride it, but from the pictures I've seen of the overlook trail, it offers one of the best views of the lake anywhere!

One final interesting note on the trail: the way that the singletrack was contoured into the hillsides and the ravines was very interesting, and strikingly reminiscent of Stevens Creek.  The singletrack wove around the sides of the hills and ravines, and didn't drop down into them.  As a result, there was relatively little elevation gain or loss despite the mountainous terrain.  This type of trail design insures a well-draining trail (because of the bench cut), and that the climbs won't be too difficult to ride, even in a mountainous area like North Carolina.  Your turn: if you've ever ridden a trail with any of these characteristics, let me know about it and what you thought of it in the comments below!

Bottom Line:
Tsali is incredibly famous all across the Southeast, and the Mouse Branch trail only adds to that fame!  If you're near Bryson City on a Saturday, ride it!

Additional Information
  • There's a $2 per person fee for riding the trails.  
  • The Mouse Branch trail is open to mountain bikers on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
  • Camping is available in the adjacent Tsali Campground.  Primitive sights start at $15 a night, but there are facilities with running water, flush toilets, and hot showers.
 Some footage from one of the downhills on Mouse Branch:

Tsali from Greg Heil on Vimeo.

All the Tsali Trails


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tsali: Thompson Loop, Bryson City, North Carolina

Getting There
Head West 8 miles from Bryson City, North Carolina on Hwy. 74. Hang a write on NC 28 and go about 3.5 miles past Freeman’s Motel. The turn off onto the Tsali road will be on the right with a sign. Head down that road about a mile and a half, and there will be big signs for the parking lots (on your left).

The Route
From the mountain bike parking lot, head back out the entrance of the lot, down the hill a little ways, and ride around the gate and down the gravel road. Shortly you’ll pass the end of the Thompson loop on your left. Keep climbing all the way to the top of the road (about a half a mile). Follow the signs that say “Intended path of travel.” At the top of road the Thompson Loop singletrack will head off to the left. After you hop on the trail, there is zero navigating for the next 7 miles until you return to the road. Once you end up on the gravel road again, either turn right to go back to the parking lot, or turn left and climb back up to catch Mouse Branch. Total distance for the Thompson Loop is about 8 miles.

Navigational Resources
Timm Muth has written an awesome guidebook with detailed statistics and directions.  It includes almost all of the worth-while trails in North Carolina, and features a big section on the Tsali trails.  If you're planning on spending a lot of time in NC, this is a great investment!

The maps that I have come to live by are all a part of the National Geographic Trails Illustrated series.  Easy to read, almost always up to date, tear resistant and water proof, these maps are designed to ride in your Camelback months on end! #784 contains the Tsali Trail System:

All About the Trail
I have heard so much excited chatter and hype about the trails of Tsali. I’ve also been told that the two best trails are the Right and Left loops, which were closed on Saturday when I was there. However, the Thompson Loop was sufficient evidence to convince me that all of the hype and popularity surrounding Tsali is completely justified: these trails are incredible!

The Thompson Loop trail begins by rolling through some dense forest with thick rhododendron on either side of the trail. Right from the get-go, the quality of the singletrack is supremely evident. The trail is nice and narrow, the climbs pass beneath your tires effortlessly, and the descents and turns are euphoric to ride!

Indeed, the flow of these trails is what makes Tsali so famous, and the Thompson Loop adds to that fame. Many of the turns are wonderfully bermed up, but even those that aren’t are not too sharp to hinder one’s momentum.

After only a mile or two the trail emerges from the thick rhododendron and runs above the shores of Fontana Lake’s ocean-blue waters. At one point there is even a rope swing begging you to take a break and wash off the sweat in Fontana's cool waters. Despite the sweat, I was having so much fun on the trail that I couldn’t bring myself to stop!

Towards the middle of the loop, the trail really does start to climb. Still, this singletrack was well designed, and the climbs are not difficult in any sense of the word. I could tell that I was climbing, but I just wanted to stomp the pedals and power up the moderate grades!

After rolling up and along the top of the ridge, I knew that we had to lose a significant amount of elevation to get back down to the trailhead. Oh, I wish every mountain bike ride ended like this! The descent came right at the end, and came on fast and furious! There was no up-down-up-down, rather it was all flowy, high-speed descent (with one small flat spot) for about a mile back to the finish. I haven’t had that much fun on my mountain bike in a very long time! Jems such as that one mile of trail at the end of the Thompson Loop are what mountain biking is all about, and are what draw me to explore new trails!

Bottom Line
These are the most Colorado-esque trails that I’ve ridden east of the Rockies. I will be back for more!

Additional Information
  • There's a $2 per person fee for riding the trails.  
  • The Thompson Loop is open to mountain bikers on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
  • Camping is available in the adjacent Tsali Campground.  Primitive sights start at $15 a night, but there are facilities with running water, flush toilets, and hot showers.

All the Tsali Trails


Tuesday, August 17, 2010 Guest Blog: "Anatomy of an Endo"

I wrote a guest post for Grizzly Adam over on that went live yesterday.  It's entitled: "Anatomy of an Endo."  It's pretty entertaining, if I do say so myself.  Click here to check it out!


Monday, August 16, 2010

Riding Through the Mud

Recently I was corresponding via email with one of the readers here on, and after concluding their message, they asked: "ps can you explain to me the best way to ride thru mud?"  That's a question with more depth than meets the eye that deserves a detailed response.

When I responded, I began by saying that "The most socially acceptable way to ride though mud is to not."  This is one of the main messages that IMBA is constantly trying to get across to mountain bikers: "Don't ride wet trails."  Riding soggy singletrack can do incredible damage!  One rider on a wet trail can often cause more damage than 100 on the same trail during dry conditions.  

When the trails are wet, the best solution is to find an alternative means to get in those hours on the bike.  This could mean hopping on the road bike and riding pavement for the day, or instead of tearing up the singletrack, grinding on the gravel roads instead.  

However, it is my personal opinion that some people take this whole "don't ride wet trails" message way too far.  The practical application of this key principle varies greatly depending on the region of the country.  

Dry Areas
For instance, in dry, desert areas such as Moab and Fruita, rainy days are very few and far between.  Not riding when the trails are wet may mean skipping singletrack a hand full of days a year.

On the front range of Colorado, rain is also not all that common, and the trails become very sensitive when wet.  If you've ever ridden the Front Range, you'll know that normally they are hard and dusty.  If a little rain gets added to the mix, they turn to a pliable clay that will hold a tire track for weeks.

Chronic Wet Spot
Wetter Areas
On the flipside, there are areas of the country that have a much wetter climate.  The Northwest immediately comes to mind, which is why wooden bridges can be found there in abundance.  The wet conditions of the Northwest inadvertently gave birth to a new breed of mountain biking trails, which to this day are branded "North Shore." 

Where the application of this governing principle gets tricky are in places that are caught somewhere in between these two extremes.  Here in Georgia, we get a lot of rain throughout the year, and especially in the winter the trails can get very wet.  We generally try to stay off the trails when they are soaking wet to avoid needless damage.  However, if we were to always wait until they are bone dry, we may never get to ride singletrack.  Due to the soil composition though, even if we hit the trails when its still a little on the wet side, they tend to heal very easily and in a day or two won't show any sign of our passing.  

On top of this, there are some trails or sections of trail that are chronically soggy.  Stream crossings, lowlands, areas near springs... some times riding through mud is completely unavoidable.  In these instances, it is important to know how to handle the trail conditions appropriately.

Ride Straight Through the Mud
How to Ride Through the Mud
When you do end up having to ride through the mud, here's how to do it:
  1. Ride straight through the muddy area.  If there is a puddle or mud hole in the trail, don't go around it as this will widen the singletrack out and cause much more damage than if you just pile drive straight through it.
  2. Mud is slippery, therefore maintaining traction is the key to conquering it successfully.  As in #1, taking as straight a line through the mud as possible is also beneficial because attempting to turn can easily cause your tires to slide out.  
  3. Strive to maintain rear wheel traction.  Stay seated to keep your weight over the rear wheel.  Maintain a smooth, circular pedal stroke and avoid surges.  When needed, "row the boat" by pulling back and down on your handlebars and leveraging the rear wheel into the mud and slime.  
  4. This may seem inconsequential, but wearing a pair of glasses will be invaluable to keep the grit from your front tire out of your eyes.  "If you can't see it, you can't ride it."

There you have it. Again, the key to riding in the mud is to maintain traction. The key to maintain traction is really to ride with finesse. Riding in mud is very similar to riding on ice or in snow. It's slippery, but if you don't make any sudden movements, you can probably pass through just fine!

Bike Care
A muddy ride can be really hard on your bike and its components.  Mud can clog up your chain, derailleurs, brakes... and just about anything that moves.  Shifting especially becomes nearly impossible after your derailleurs get caked with liquefied soil. To avoid any long-term damage to your mountain bike, give it a bath and lube job right after you get home.  Don't leave the muck on your bike for longer than necessary, and definitely don't ride it again without making sure the components are grime-free.  Leaving that nastiness in place can either cause unnecessary wear on your drive train, or may totally lock your whole system up making it impossible to ride without first cleaning it up.

After a muddy grind, be sure to clean your rig!

Your Turn:  I would love to hear your thoughts on riding muddy trails.  What do  you think about the practical application of IMBA's message?  What other tips would you provide for when the going gets unavoidably muddy?

Mountain Bike Skills
Catch up on the rest of the mountain bike skill series here.  More skill-related posts are in the works! 


Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Photo Annual Is Spreading...

On the 11th I published results of the photo contest.  Several amazing photographs were submitted.... be sure to check them out here!

It seems like the idea has "spread" to some of the more influential mountain bike bloggers, specifically  Just yesterday on the 13th he published an awesome selection of photos from around the world, almost trumping my post with its grandness.  Be sure to check out these awesome shots here!
(Of course I have no clue if he got the idea from me, haha!)

Of course, my "idea" to do a photo annual wasn't mine alone, but was based off of Bike Mag's "Photo Annual" issue.  Coming from the editors and photographers of Bike Mag who consistently have the best photography in the industry every issue, it is always bound to be epic! Their photo annual is consistently my favorite bike magazine issue of the year.

You can probably tell from several of my posts (this, this, this, and this): Bike Mag is hands down my favorite print mountain bike magazine.  What about you?  What's your favorite magazine and why?


Friday, August 13, 2010

Group Rides and Mountain Bikes

The Zep has a fast downhill in its future!
Tuesday Group Ride
I find that there's nothing like a group ride to push me a little outside of my comfort zone and make me ride harder and faster than I normally would on my own.  Suffice it to say that the ride this past Tuesday did just that, but that the Zeppelin was more than adequate to keep the pace! Not that every group ride takes place at race pace, but I can easily say that I out-descended everyone while on the Zep, and more-or-less kept pace on all of the climbs, except for maybe the gravel roads.

Sure, it could have been my strengths VS. everyone else's and not the Zeppelin's VS. the other bikes... but the Zeppelin really fits my riding style well.  I don't care about beating everyone to the top of the climb, but I hate using the brakes on the way back down!

I was thoroughly impressed with how the Zeppelin stacked up against bikes that cost over three times as much.  But then again, maybe its not about the bike but about the rider....
Tangent Alert
See, this is where bike and product reviews get sticky.  At times its tough to determine what factors are actually playing a role.  Is it one change I made, or another? Are my skills just stronger in one area, or is it the  bike?  Maybe one day I'm just not feeling it on the downhills... does that make it the fork, or the tires' fault?

What I Think
All I can really tell you is what I think of the bike.

And what I think is that after putting 245 miles on this rig, that it can tackle all sorts of gnarly trails. It is a pretty solid climber, and a very solid descender. Neither the geometry nor the suspension lead it to quite be a full-on all mountain rig, but rather a trail bike.  Still it can absolutely tear a rocky, nasty descent a new one! I've been loving this bike. This is the kind of bike that I can ride every day. 

Oh and I will... I have many more miles left to put on it!

Your Turn: What do you think? How much is the bike, and how much is the rider?

Meadow on top of the world.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Photo Annual: Greg Rides Trails Style!

Welcome to the Greg Rides Trails photo annual!  About a week ago, I announced that I was giving away $100 to whoever submitted the best photo.  I knew that if Daniel got wind of this contest, he'd probably take the cake!  Daniel's a mountain biker from Alaska who travels all over the lower 48 during the winter. When he sent this photo in, he wrote: 
Glancing through a few hundred shots here on the laptop its so hard for me to find one in particular I like. There are too many, I got some fantastic action shots last winter shooting for the races in AZ, plus all the trail pics over the last few years of my traveling. Personally Im not a real competitive kind of guy but do love seeing others pictures- Ill send you this one, not because I feel it’s my best or that it’s a ‘winner’ but because hopefully it is different than any of the other photos submitted to you for this show.
This was at the end of a day 1 of shooting at the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo race last February outside of Tucson.
Well Dan, that photo is a winner!  Thanks for participating, and once I have your details, $100 will be on its way to your mailbox!   

If you would like to check out more of Daniel's work, you can read his main blog here, and check out one of his current photography projects here.

Taking second place is Dustin (known as the E-Man) from Georgia.  He took this photo while riding at Watson's Mill Bridge State Park. Choosing second place was so hard, but this picture won out due to awesome lighting and color. 

For second place, E-Man wins his choice of cycling-related t-shirt from Wear Endo
Very nice!

Finishing in the 3rd and 4th place prize category is this photo from Brenton of one of his friends riding near Hungry Horse, Montana.  I love the view of the reservoir in the background: awesome shot man! Some Airborne schwag will be heading your way soon!

Also finishing in the 3rd and 4th place prize category is Corey from Colorado, bringing us the most intense technical riding of all the photos submitted.  Good job, and great form on those rocks!  Whatever trail this is, I want to ride it!  Some Airborne schwag will be heading your way soon!

A huge thank you to everyone who submitted a photo! Please be sure to check out all of the other awesome shots below.

Click on the thumbnail for a larger view.

Controlled Burn
This photo was submitted by Brian and was taken after a controlled burn along the Modoc trail in South Carolina.
Marty playing battleship with his new frame.

St. Kitts
Darryl from Loving the bike at the top of Timothy Hill in St. Kitts.
St. Kitts
Darryl from Loving the bike "MTBing through the cane fields of St. Kitts."
Coyote Ridge
One of mine taken while we were in Colorado this May on the Coyote Ridge trail.
Submitted by Mark from Connecticut of CycleSnack

Your turn:  Please feel free to share these thoughts on these photos!  Which one was your favorite, what you liked about individual shots... and if you have a photo that you're dying to share with us, link to it in the comments below, and maybe I'll add it to this post!

PS Remember that if you ever go to buy a shirt off of Wear Endo,  be sure to use the discount code "gregridestrails" at checkout to get 15% taken right off the top!


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Get your Crankworx Fill!

In case you didn't know, Kokanee Crankworx 2010 is going on right now in Whistler, British Columbia! Not only is this one of the biggest, baddest gravity-centric mountain bike competitions of every year, but this year you can get in on all of the action Live! That's right, the key events from Crankworx are being broadcasted live on the internet, absolutely free.  (Just click on this link to find the feed.)

Here are the scheduled upcoming events:
Aug 10
Canadian Open Enduro
(Wrap Report)
Aug 11
Air DH
Aug 12
VW Trick Showdown
Aug 12
Ultimate Pump Track Challenge
Aug 13
Giant Slalom
presented by Giant Bicycles
Aug 14
Monster Energy Slopestyle
Aug 15
Canadian Open DH
presented by Kona

Webcast Replays

Aug 25
Dual Slalom
11am PDT / 2pm EDT
Aug 26
Monster Energy Garbanzo DH
11am PDT / 2pm EDT
Aug 27
Canadian Open Enduro
11am PDT / 2pm EDT
Aug 30
Air DH
11am PDT / 2pm EDT
Aug 31
VW Best Trick & The Ultimate Pump Track Challenge
11am PDT / 2pm EDT
Sep 1
Giant Slalom
presented by Kona
11am PDT / 2pm EDT
Sep 2
Monster Energy Slopestyle
11am PDT / 2pm EDT
Sep 3
Canadian Open DH
presented by Kona
11am PDT / 2pm EDT
    Since the beginning of the race/festival, the Dual Slalom and Monster Garbanzo Downhill have already been run.  I caught some of the live footage, and all of that skill and energy just laid out on the line was incredible!

    But in case you missed those event, the official Crankworx Blog has all of the information that you could possibly desire about the past two days.  As a part of that, they posted two great recap videos of each of the past days, which I'm embedding for you below.  They contain some talking, but a ton of great HD riding footage as well.  Check them:

    2010 Crankworx Day 1 coverage from Crankworx on Vimeo.
    Originally posted here.

    Kokanee Crankworx Day 2 Monster Energy Garbanzo DH from Crankworx on Vimeo.
    Originally posted here.

    I know that I'm going to be catching as much of this coverage as I can!  This week is already feeling sort of like the World Series, College Bowl Week, or March Madness... except way more hardcore, because is mountain biking. 

    Also, I'm hoping to be able to bring you a "Live Blog" coverage/commentary of one of the upcoming events; hopefully either the Trick Showdown or the Slopestyle Competition.  Stay tuned to the blog... more details to follow!

    Question: What is the one Crankworx event that you really want to watch/




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    Greg Heil is the Editor in Chief for He's been writing and publishing online since before blogging existed.

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