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  • Jan 01, 2012
  • Comments Off on Niner Jet9 Review
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Niner Jet9 Review

I looked long and hard at full suspension 29’ers before pulling the trigger in June of 2011. The only full suspension I have ever owned was a 2002 Specialized Stumpjumper FSRxc and it ruined me on the entire category until I rode a Gary Fisher HiFi Pro 29’er in mid-2009. One ride on the HiFi and I knew a short travel 29″ bike was what I needed to be on.

Let me give a brief bit of perspective, I have spent a lot of time on hardtails and I generally prefer to be on one to this day, I also have a healthy appreciation for a full rigid — a lot of the time and for a lot of purposes you really just don’t need any form of active suspension. I find that a 29″ hardtail with a 2.1-2.25″ tire is usually plenty of bike for me on terrain where other riders absolutely insist on a 4″, 5″ or even 6″ travel bike. My rationale for stepping up to a short travel full suspension was that in the course of trying several out “just to see”, I found that they could be faster than a hardtail both climbing and descending on rough terrain. I also wanted a bike that I could do long, tough events on and still feel fresh enough to drive home afterwards.

I took my time evaluating the field of available short-travel 29″ bikes and rode several, including a newer HiFi, Specialized Epic 29 and Salsa Spearfish. All of these are great bikes, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. To be frank, one of them is probably more correct for a given rider based on their individual preferences than the other three, depending on the rider. One of the four is also definitely going to be more appropriate than the rest depending on the terrain it will be ridden on. While there are many, many different facets of these four bikes that I considered, including cost, full/partial cable housings, cable routing, suspension design, color availability, paint/coating type, available sizes/cockpit lengths, head angle, weight, chainstay length and wheelbase, etc. I eventually found that many of these points were moot as I narrowed these four bikes into three general categories based on their bottom bracket height. The height of the bottom bracket and subsequent pedal height dictates in large part how amenable the bike will be to a given type of terrain. At the end of my research into these bikes that I rode as well as numerous others I found myself first looking at the bottom bracket height to determine if it was within my preferred range and only then looking at all of my other requirements. The three basic classifications that I arrived at were a high bottom bracket, a good bike for extremely varied, rocky or steep terrain — “mountains”, the Niner has a high bottom bracket. An intermediate bottom bracket, middle of the road, generally fairly well suited to anything but most at-home in intermediate terrain, not climbing over rocks and downed trees or things of that nature. The HiFi and Epic have an intermediate bottom bracket height and either bike would work well in the Black Hills. The last category is, of course, bikes with a low bottom bracket. The argument in favor of a low bottom bracket seems to be increased stability, and while I disagree that this is necessarily the case, even giving the benefit of the doubt that it does lend stability I would still feel that other factors outweigh this, especially for the local Black Hills terrain. The Salsa Spearfish has a low bottom bracket and is what I have come to refer to as a “Flat Land” bike, a bike that is most appropriate well away from mountainous terrain in states such as Minnesota, where Salsa is headquartered. In rough terrain such as is often found in the Black Hills, a bike with a low bottom bracket means many more pedal strikes and more work clearing every obstacle. On the other hand, a bike with a high bottom bracket means you can just keep those cranks spinning and really rip over almost any terrain.

My purchase decision was subsequently narrowed to the Niner Jet9, but I could have ended up on a Trek HiFi or a Specialized Epic 29 and I think I would have been happy on either of those bikes. I will refrain from discussing all of the specific details that sealed up my personal decision, because anyone else in this position should form their own criteria and go out and ride all three of these bikes and maybe a few others before deciding which bike is best for them. In the event that you are considering a Jet9, the rest of this posting will be a review covering the approximately six months I have spent with my Jet9 that may help you to answer whether it is the right bike or not versus the other options available.

I probably would not have been comfortable purchasing the Niner without being able to demo both a medium and a large first. I am 5’11” and as such am in-between sizing, but I also have a bit of a unique fit in that I have a shorter than typical inseam and a longer torso. This means I generally prefer to “size up” when between sizes on bikes, but the Large Niner looks pretty big on paper and so I simply wasn’t sure. Fortunately I was able to ride both a medium and large during the Black Hills Fat Tire Festival. The medium definitely fit and I could have ridden it comfortably, but I did not like how far I was over the front-end of the bike and felt I could have used just a bit more wheelbase. The large, on the other hand, was on the verge of being too large as I felt I was having a hard time getting enough weight on the front tire in tight corners. The Niner guys were happy to help me dial in the fit until I was happy with it and after moving the saddle forward and significantly lowering the bar height the bike felt just like it should, very impressive. The first impression of the fit was not golden, but I gave it a chance and it really ended up surprising me in the end.

The Jet9 with a 100mm fork has really “neutral” manners. Most bikes in this class do now. I could spend a bunch of time talking about its handling but really it is not far from the middle of the road and if you can come to terms with any short travel 29er you can come to terms with this one just as easily. It does have shorter chainstays than most, which I consider to be a benefit. When you get down to how the Niner, the HiFi and the Epic are different, from a riders perspective, probably the biggest difference is in the distinctly different rear suspension designs. The HiFi seemed to start out fairly firm, not overly firm but “race-y” feeling firm, but once you start getting into the travel it opens up a bit and feels like a lot of travel over rough terrain. The Epic is probably the bike of choice for someone who wants one that feels like a hardtail. With the Brain setup to my preference it literally rode just like a hardtail over smoother terrain but then opened up and really took the edge off of the moderate to large sized bumps. If I were a more serious racer and my longest events were in the neighborhood of 50 miles, or I raced a lot of longer but smoother endurance races a carbon Epic would have been quite appealing. In terms of which of these two bikes rode more like the Jet9, it would be the Trek, but they are still distinctly different. The Jet9 is also a bit stiff in the early stroke, but doesn’t feel quite as race-inspired as the HiFi, the Niner CVA suspension seems to have a bit better small bump compliance without any sacrifice in efficiency. Similar to the Trek, the Jet9’s rear suspension seems to “open up” through the mid-stroke, but begins to ramp back up sooner as the amount of travel is less.

The Niner Jet9 with the SRAM x7 build kit from Niner is a good deal at about $2,800 right now. At the time it was priced at $3,100 which I thought a bit excessive, and I also had a 3×9 drive-train that I could use so I ordered just the frame. I was split between two colors, the Black Anodized and the Raw. The Raw isn’t actually “raw” as it is raw with a glossy clear coat over it. I wanted one of these two options because I thought the finish would be the most durable or at least show chips and scratches the least. In the end I went with the Raw for purely aesthetic reasons.

As is usually the case when piecing something together yourself, everything will be there except for that one part you need and this bike build failed to buck that trend. The headset did not arrive in time for my first out of state event of the season, the Laramie Enduro. The bike ended up being put together at the last minute using a different headset sourced from a local shop and was not ridden more than a few hundred yards before being loaded on top of the car to head to Laramie, WY. I was able to spend a bit of time the night before the race spinning around a parking lot dialing in the fit as best I could and setting shock pressures but at the start of the event the bike probably had a mile or so on it. You can read my review of the event here, it was a good time but definitely would have been a better time had I been able to dial in the bike a little better. Everything worked, though, zero mechanical issues and both shocks performed better than expected given the limited time I had to dial them in. The rear shock ended up being set up a bit soft, but the suspension is efficient enough that it was not an issue and having tried more things now I tend to keep it on the soft side. The fork was much too stiff as I was running about 10psi more than I now prefer, I did not use nearly all of the travel even though the course had rough sections but much of the course was gravel road so it did not prove to be much of an issue. This was my first time riding in that area, the race was advertised as largely single-track and the Jet9 was intended as sort of an “all mountain endurance bike” for me. I figured that a seventy mile event with lots of single-track would be perfect for this type of bike but really I was wrong. The Niner performed very well but it was just a little too much bike for my taste, if I do the Laramie Enduro again it will be on a hardtail.

The build:

  • Large Niner Jet9 Frame, Raw
  • Polished Chris King Tapered Headset
  • Polished Chris King Stepped Bottom Bracket
  • Polished Thomson Seatpost
  • Polished Thomson Seat Collar
  • Polished Thomson Stem
  • Polished Chris King Top Cap and Spacers
  • Fox 32 Float 29 100 FIT RLC Fork, Tapered, 15QR
  • Black Chris King ISO Hubs, 15mm SD Front, 135×10 Rear
  • Black Stans Flow Rims
  • Black DT-Swiss Competition Spokes
  • Black DT-Swiss Brass Spoke Nipples
  • Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.25″ SnakeSkin Rear Tire
  • Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.25″ SnakeSkin Front Tire
  • White Fizik Gobi XM K:ium Saddle
  • Ergon GX2 Grips
  • Niner Carbon Handlebar
  • Time ATAC XS Pedals
  • King Stainless Bottle Cage
  • SRAM x.9 Shifters
  • Truvativ Stylo 3×9 Crankset
  • SRAM PG980 Cassette
  • SRAM x.9 Rear Derailleur
  • Shimano XT M770 Front Derailleur
  • Avid Juicy 7 Brakes, 185/160mm G3 Rotors
  • Total Weight: 29lb 2oz

As can be seen from the build, for a short travel bike I am running a ton of wheel and tire. Here in the Black Hills, riding at Storm, the Victoria Lake loops, on the Centennial and many other places I really, really enjoy this setup. For a rough and challenging 35 mile race like the Sturgis B.A.M. Knifeblade I think it is setup perfectly. For longer events or a bit smoother trails or rides/races that work in a lot of gravel road the wheels and tires can be a bit much, however. For their size the tires roll remarkably well, even on pavement, and I will absolutely keep this tire and wheel setup on the bike for most outings. For competition use the wheel and tire collectively are a bit too much, though and in the future I will have a lighter wheelset with a more competition-oriented tire for the 10-20% of my riding that demands it.

The feeling that I had too much bike and definitely too much wheel and tire on that bike persisted when I attempted the Leadville MTB 100 in August. I did not finish the event, but the blame for that does not belong to the bike, although I did have some minor issues during this race. At the start of Leadville the Jet9 only had 250 miles or so on it, but the 3×9 drivetrain had probably close to 2000. It was getting to be about time to think about replacing the small and middle chainrings, but they were not what I would consider to be bad yet. The course features a lot of gravel road and a lot of high-speed sections, so there was plenty of opportunity for riders in front of me to kick up dust and after collecting it for about 45 miles without lube my drivetrain began to chain-suck. If you are unfamiliar with this phenomenon it occurs when the front chainring does not release the chain, for which there are numerous reasons, but when this happens the chain gets pulled up with the ring until it interferes with the drive-side chainstay or chainstay yoke. On many bikes this is simply an annoyance that will chip your finish up a bit. On the Jet9 it is a far more serious issue, because of the lack of clearance between the drive-side chainstay yoke and the chainrings, “chain suck” will turn into “chain stuck” as the chain gets wedged between the yoke and one of the larger chainrings. If you are quick you can un-stick the chain with a quick back-pedal, but otherwise it will sieze the pedals and require you to dismount and forcibly pry the chain loose. This is not a huge problem, nor is it a problem specific to the Jet9, but it is a problem that requires you to be more particular about drivetrain setup and maintenance than you might have to be on other bikes.

While I may have had “too much bike” for Laramie and Leadville, apart from setup issues they were very comfortable events, Leadville especially. I easily overtook 100+ riders on the outbound Powerline descent, which may not have been as easy on a hardtail or with less wheel and tire. When I pulled out of the race after 60 miles, because I didn’t think I could sustain the pace necessary to finish under 12 hours, I still felt very good. A bit sore in a couple of places, but that many hours in the saddle will do that no matter what, but generally I felt quite good and not at all “beat up” like I may have felt on a faster/racier bike.

It was not until after Leadville that I noticed two places that were being damaged due to chain slap that were not the chain-stay, which was wrapped. The chain could bounce up and hit the lower few inches of the drive-side seat-stay as well. Also, more problematic, the chain was bouncing up and hitting the chainstay yolk, just forward of the wrapped chainstay. This is really an issue because there is not any good way to wrap this yolk to protect it from damage. It probably would not affect the function or safety of the bike to let the chain chew up this part of the yolk, but it would certainly cause an eventual aesthetic issue, especially on a painted frame. I have taken to wrapping 5-6 zip ties around the yolk. This has two benefits, it not only protects the yolk from chain slap, it also helps to prevent the chain from becoming trapped under light chain-suck. While not something that would keep me from buying the bike, this is definitely a design flaw that Niner should address through a redesign or by providing some sort of molded guard for the region. Trek and Specialized are better in this area.

In September I completely the annual ritual, the Dakota Five-0 and the bike was superb. My best time to date, under 6 hours and I felt great at the finish line. Again, for a lot of this race the wheel and tire combo may have been a bit too much, especially noticeable on the climbs. On the other hand, it payed huge dividends on Dakota Ridge and the return trip down Tinton Trail. I feel pretty confident in saying now that a bike built to these spec’s would make a great one bike quiver for someone who lives in the Black Hills or somewhere with terrain like ours. It is definitely better suited to riding in the Spearfish region than the Salsa that took its name from there.

I have a few other minor quibbles with this bike, things that have cropped up and are worth noting:
Probably due to the tire size, the rear wheel can be difficult to remove and reinstall. It seems to be easiest if the rear derailleur is shifted into the third or fourth from the smallest cog prior.
I have run the bike with a regular quick release in the rear, King Fun Bolts and also with a DT RWS quick release (not the thru-bolt version). If I were building this bike again today I would either get a 10mm through-axle rear hub and run the DT RWS thru-bolt setup, or a standard rear hub and run the DT RWS quick release. Currently I run the latter and while the shoulder of the dropout forging can provide a bit of finger interference when tightening or loosening, it generally works fantastically with this frame. The King Fun Bolts were nearly impossible to tighten in a fashion that resulted in a straight rear wheel.
The chainstays are a nice S-bend piece of alloy and stay nicely tucked out of your way. The seat stays on the other hand are box tubing and I initially would catch my heels on them from time to time. Similarly, I would initially sometimes rub a calf on the rearward link of the upper pivot. This did not seem to be an issue any longer after the first 20-30 hours on the bike.

After six months I am still finding the Jet9 to be as capable and versatile as I hoped it would be when making the purchase. For the majority of my riding in the Black Hills I have literally zero complaints, it is the best compromise of go-fast/ride-everything/have-fun that I can imagine. Sure, sometimes I would prefer a hardtail, especially for events. Rarely I also find myself thinking I could do with just a bit more travel, but neither a hardtail or a longer travel bike would be as fast or as fun on the majority of the local terrain. There are a few small issues, but none so large as to make me wish I would have gone for the Trek or Specialized instead. This Jet9 may find itself joined by a hardtail Niner in the future.

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If you are interested in getting on a Jet9, or any Niner, Jesse or Joe at Rushmore Mountain Sports would thoroughly enjoy getting you on one. They also carry Trek if a HiFi (now Superfly) or Rumblefish is more your cup-o-tea.

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  • Dec 29, 2011
  • Comments Off on One Year
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One Year

I accidentally let the PahaSapaTrails.com domain expire for a few minutes on Wednesday, reminding me that this site is now one year old, it went online about the time the domain was registered on December 28, 2010.

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  • Nov 29, 2011
  • Comments Off on Several videos added
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Several videos added

Basic video support for trails/networks has been added to the site and videos have been added to the BAM, Buzzards and Storm pages.

Now that the weather in the Black Hills is headed downhill, expect more frequent content updates.

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  • Sep 10, 2011
  • Comments Off on Leadville MTB 100 followup
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Leadville MTB 100 followup

This post is an update to my prior Leadville MTB 100 Review

After several unproductive and unapologetic emails (see below), on August 31 I spoke to Scott Giffin, the LT100 MTB race director, via telephone. Over the course of the conversation he agreed that the LT100 was a prestigious and expensive event and should be held to a higher standard, but if he was concerned about the fact that they had run out of water, he was not apologetic. He informed me that they transported 20% more water to the top of Columbine this year than last year and that they would take steps to ensure that this did not happen again in the future, as if this somehow improved the situation for those that were unable to get aid this year. My suggestion to him was that since he possessed the split times for the top of Columbine and could talk to his aid station captain to determine when the water ran out, that at the very least they should email an apology to those racers affected. Better would be an apology and an offer to skip the lottery for a future event and enter the event at a discounted rate. Is it too much to ask for people to own their mistakes, whether intentional or not? I certainly don’t think so, but this suggestion was ill-received, apparently they “regret water was not available” but are not prepared to apologize for it. Scott did ask if competing in the event again in the future is what I wanted, and offered to give me another crack at the event without going through the lottery, which I declined. He did state to me, upon my questioning, that if he was contacted by others who were in this situation in 2011 he would extend the same offer to them. So, if you raced this year and reached the top of Columbine and were unable to get water at the aid station and if you want another crack at the event, I encourage you to contact Scott Giffin. Closing the call we talked cordially for a number of minutes about the experience of riding from the last corral, confusing aspects of the race and how the event could be improved in the future. I think it is fantastic that Scott was courteous enough to spend some time on the phone with me, but I think the very least that they could do is apologize to myself and the other racers, as such the sour taste that this event left in my mouth remains.

My first email to the race staff was on 8/19, after having received no reply by 8/25 I followed up with the following

You have had over a week to respond to this, that is ample time by any
definition. I ask again, what do you intend to do to rectify this
situation?

Sam

On 8/25 I received two emails, the first from Marvin Sandoval:

We understand that you want answers.  We also understand that we did
not provide enough fluids at the halfway point of this great race. This
past week we were also putting on another race that took priority. I
want you to know that we have talked to our aid station captions and
intend to provide even more fluids next year. We understand that we
underestimated the amount needed. Thanks for your concern and input
and as always we will continue to work even harder in our effort to
not let this happen again.

Marvin Sandoval

Supply and Logistics Coordinator

The second from Scott Giffin:

Sam,

Thanks for your patience. We have been consumed with putting
on a 100-mile run.

For Columbine, all water and supplies must be transported to the top
by aid station personnel. We load their vehicles full and they drive
to the top. Once there, with the race in progress, there is no resupply.
This has never been an issue - aid station personnel have always been
able to transport enough supplies. This year, with the hot
temperatures, it became a problem. We regret water was not available
for the final racers to reach Columbine. Next year, we will pre-position
additional water on Friday prior to the race. This will ensure an ample
supply for all racers.

The aid station captain has confirmed food was available to all racers.
We will continue to provide a wide variety of food at this aid station.

To ensure rider safety, medical assets were on station at Columbine,
and Search and Rescue was nearby. We will continue to have this medical
support at future races.

Best,

Scott Giffin

Race Director - Leadville Race Series

I responded to Scott’s email with the following:

Scott,

That response is unacceptable. I paid $275 for this event with certain
expectations. I will ask again, what do you intend to do to remedy
this situation?

Sam

and the final email I received from Scott was simply, “What is your phone number?”.

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  • Sep 08, 2011
  • Comments Off on Dakota Five-0 followup
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Dakota Five-0 followup

Another Labor Day has come and gone along with another Dakota Five-0. My dream goal for the race was a 5 hour finish and after my last pre-ride I felt that it was maybe, just _maybe_ achievable. Race day though I went out a little too hot for not being warmed up and then let my pace slack a bit too much through the middle part of the course. I ended up finishing in an acceptable, but by no means impressive, 5 hours and 58 minutes, my fastest finish to date. Although I was not totally satisfied with my performance, it was yet another absolutely stellar event. The aid stations were very well supplied as always, the volunteers were extremely gracious and eager to help and the course was groomed to perfection. The best part about this event is the camaraderie, you feel like you are rolling out with hundreds of your closest friends on an epic mission of suffering and attrition to conquer the fifty mile loop. That feeling was in full force this year and everyone I spoke to had a great day.

The lack of recent updates to this site is due to a couple of factors, the first being that I have been using my spare time to travel and ride instead of sit in front of a computer. Now that the Laramie Enduro, Leadville MTB 100 and the Dakota Five-0 are behind me, with any luck I should find the time to get the Victoria Lake loops added to the site and do a massive re-vamp of the Storm Mountain trail information in the next month or so.

The other thing that has been keeping me busy was the creation of a new Dakota Five-0 race map. I have never done anything like this before and the investment in terms of hours was fairly significant, so I am hopeful that the riders and their crews found it useful and that any errors were not overly egregious.


Log: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/111986233

Mileage (car): 100mi

Mileage (bike): 47mi

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  • Aug 15, 2011
  • Comments Off on Leadville MTB 100 Review
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Leadville MTB 100 Review

The Leadville MTB 100, The Race Across The Sky, a mountain bike race so prestigious that they make whole entire movies about it. What follows is a recounting of my experiences participating in the 2011 version of this event.

Participating in the Leadville MTB 100 means making a commitment well ahead of time and potentially making the same tentative commitment over and over again for several years. There is a lottery process where you pay $15 (not refunded or applied to your entry, given instead to charity) to indicate that you wish to participate in the race. You must decide you are willing to make this commitment in the dead of winter and if selected you are not given a chance to change your mind, at least as far as the $275 race fee is concerned, your first indication that you have been accepted is the charge on your credit card. Potential racers are told that they are selected based on an impartial lottery process, but you are also told that your chances of being selected are based in part on whether or not you have volunteered a previous year. Your odds of being selected are also improved by registering as part of a team, in the event that one team member is chosen everyone on the team is chosen. So the lottery process isn’t exactly a fair one, except from the standpoint that everyone knows the rules, so you can swing the odds in your favor just like the next guy. Once you are in, you are in, no refunds and no transferring your slot to your buddy if you decide you can’t make it, they will fulfill their end of the bargain by keeping a slot open for you and only you.

We had talked about doing Leadville for about a year, but my friend Marcus was the first to put his name in for the lottery, without listing a team. That same week another friend, Mike, and myself both entered ourselves into the lottery under the same team, the thought being that we all wanted to go do this together, we wanted to be all in or none of us would make the pilgrimage. Marcus emailed the race coordinators after Mike and I had put our names in and asked to be added to the same team that we were on and was told this had been done. We all knew that the odds of getting into the race were not great and nobody made any definitive plans or really even discussed any race plans for several months, we just waited. To be honest, I am not sure any of us really aspired to do the race in 2011, we just wanted to do it some time and decided to start putting our names into the lottery, figuring that we would get in some time in the next 2-3 years. Finally the day came, Mike and I received notifications that we were officially in but Marcus did not. After emails to inquire about this mix-up he was told, basically “too bad”.

At the time that I received notice, February 28, 2011 I knew I was in nowhere near the condition required to complete a race such as the Leadville MTB 100. I formed a basic training plan, not being one who is readily able to stick to a real training plan I made it an easy one: Ride a good (meaning riding, not standing around) 10 hours per week (or more) until August 13 (the date of the Leadville event) and do a couple of other long races in the interim to make sure I was adequately fueling and hydrating in a race situation. I found that this plan worked for me, but were I to go back in time I would include a bit more strict periodization.

A month or so prior I reserved a tent site at the Baby Doe Campground on the shore of Turquoise Lake, just outside of Leadville. This proved to be an excellent decision, the campground was well maintained and had fresh water and flush toilets. The tent sites were flat enough, each site had a fire ring and many sites had a great view of the lake. I was only able to reserve this site from Monday through Thursday nights, as everything was booked up already for the weekend. The campground hosts were very gracious and helped us find a site to get into for Friday and Saturday nights, however, and gave us a number of suggestions for places to camp otherwise had a site not become available.

My first two days in Leadville, CO the various things I had read prior about becoming acclimatized to the altitude all seemed to be true. My sinuses were dry, resulting in a bit of bloody snot on a piece of tissue every morning. I had a persistent minor headache and seemed to urinate extremely excessively (even considering that I was attempting to keep well hydrated). My breathing was labored and would remain so for the entire time but seemed to lessen each day. The time this was most apparent was when attempting to walk while breathing through the nose, such as when chewing some food or brushing my teeth. I simply could not get enough air through my dry, stuffy nose.

Mike and I both arrived Monday and our first pre-ride was a shuttle on Tuesday from the Pipeline aid station, up the Powerline, down Sugarloaf and then up and down St. Kevins and back to the campground (which was near enough to be along the race route, which proved quite convenient). Powerline as a climb is a terror, there are sections in the lower part (the part of the climb focused on in the movie) where the grade exceeds 25% in addition to being loose and rutted. Short on breath but having extremely fresh legs neither of us was able to ride all of this lowest bit of the climb. The steep part is quickly behind you however and after that there are a series of short downhills followed by longer uphills hiding false summits. Your first ride up this you will wonder if it ever ends, and it surely does, at around 11,200 feet or so. After descending Sugarloaf and swinging around the western end of the lake on pavement we climbed up to the top of St. Kevins on pavement following the race route. Both of us middle-ringed this climb and kept a good pace up to the top at nearly 11k, but it surely makes you realize how arduous it will be to pedal the several miles up it on race day after 80 some odd miles.

There was a race guide in PDF form on the website with various information about the event, including the locations of the aid stations and a somewhat terse course description. We used these two pieces of information from the guide in conjunction to park at the aid station locations for our pre-rides. These descriptions and directions could have been more thorough and clear, but with a little help from other cyclists we met along the way who had done the event previously they got the job done.

On Wednesday we decided to tackle the real hurdle of the race, the climb up to the Columbine mine. Although still short of breath I felt much better already on Wednesday while on the bike, at least up to around 11k feet. The movie did not truly reveal what to expect on this leg of the race, from the Twin Lakes aid station up to the top and back. Leaving the aid station the course gains and loses elevation in a rolling fashion and then crosses some flats before turning upward, so the meat of the climb is actually about 8 miles in length. The first 6.5-7 miles of the climb is a relatively well maintained gravel road that seemed to vary anywhere from 5-12% grade but was typically in the range of 8-10%. While climbing this you can tell you are gaining elevation rapidly, the aspen trees near the bottom are absolutely massive and get progressively smaller as you switchback your way toward the summit. Once you break the treeline at a bit above 11k the road is less improved, rockier, looser and much more steep. A couple of sections of the mile or so above the treeline were 25-30% grade and we were unable to ride this even on fresh legs. Even during the pre-ride we already knew that we would be walking basically everything above the treeline during race-day due to the elevation and grade. Thankfully the road flattens out a bit toward the top. On the way back down, this bit above the treeline had to be taken with care, given the combination of steepness, looseness and rockiness. Once back below the treeline you can make very, very good time on the descent. During our pre-ride we made this 10 mile descent easily in 45 minutes, during the race I made it in about 30 minutes flat.

I believe it was also Wednesday that we decided to do a little laundry (I had only brought 2 pair of bibs with me) at the laundromat in town. Prior to this we had not really confronted the cleanliness situation and much to our surprise there were hot showers available at the laundromat. The stalls were quite cramped but a 15 minute hot shower with a towel provided for $5 sure seemed like a bargain to us.

Thursday we decided to hit the St. Kevins climb, we already had a pretty fair idea what the rest of the course looked like and at least I felt like if Kevins was difficult that we were definitely in over our heads. We rode the St. Kevins climb from the campground and returned on pavement in an hour and a half, as realization set in that the first climb of the race was pretty easy, all of a sudden making the 4 hour Twin Lakes outbound cutoff seem pretty achievable, this seemed like it was possibly the biggest obstacle of the race.

Each day that I spent at this elevation I felt better, had fewer side effects and rode faster. Where on Tuesday and Wednesday our climbs to a bit over 11k and about 12.5k respectively had taken everything I had, our ride on Thursday to nearly 11k had me breathing relatively easily. Knowing how big a difference an extra day makes now, if I were to do this event again and be unsure of my ability to finish within a healthy margin of error I would probably arrive in town (or at least spend my time at a similar elevation) a full 10 days to two weeks in advance. While possibly impractical this would give you your best shot at finishing the event if you were on the cusp.

Friday was mostly a preparation and rest day, we each prepared a sag bag for my girlfriend Alyssa to have with her at the aid stations when we came through. We put our race numbers on our bikes and gave them a good once-over, making any last minute mechanical tweaks and debated our clothing options for the start of the race. In the midst of this preparation we took a leisurely and fun ride on the nature trail that encircles Turquoise Lake, this was decent single-track and probably some of the best riding we got in all week.

While we were in town on Thursday checking out the local bike shop and etc., we noticed that packet pick-up for the race was going on, we had been under the impression that this was to happen early Friday morning. Since we were there anyway we decided to take our places at the back of the line and get checked in and pick up our good bits. There was a lot of crap in the race bag (mostly advertisements), but there wasn’t any detail on the rider meeting or the times/places of anything else. Nor was there any information on any times or places in the race packet that we had printed out previously. Finally on Friday about noon we found some internet access and checked the website, the “mandatory” racer meeting had been an hour earlier, we missed it. It seemed to us a fairly gross oversight not to have included this detail in the race guide we had been using as our primary information source up to this point and to put it elsewhere on the website.

Saturday… Race day… We had been informed and the race guide had indicated that we had a designated corral and that we had to be there and signed into our corral by a race official by 6:15AM. We were there well prior to this and there were no race officials to be found anywhere. In talking to some other riders we found that many others had been under this impression, but they had been informed through the grapevine that first-time riders didn’t have to check in, simply roll across the start (electronic timing) line. Misinformation causes confusion and confusion is very irritating and wasteful of time and energy.

The race started pretty much like any other I have been in, it took a bit (about 2.5 minutes in our case) for the wave of starters to reach back to us and allow us to finally begin moving, but once that happened everyone started rolling out quite uniformly and generally politely. The mass of riders proceeded out of town on pavement, mostly downhill for several miles before hitting gravel. I began the race in bibs and a light jersey, light wool socks, insulated arm warmers and an insulated vest. I was absolutely freezing by the time we hit the gravel, tingly knees, numb toes, numb fingers, it definitely wasn’t pleasant but I definitely could have gotten away with less if I had wanted/needed too. The first climb passes by a creek and is largely shaded from the rising sun, so even though I was burning calories the process of warming up on the climb did take some time, but once I neared the top (10-12 miles into the race) I was feeling pretty good. Since we were both first-timers we were placed in the last corral and were some of the last riders to leave the starting area, so virtually all of the 1500 or so other riders were in front of us on the climb up St. Kevins. Even though in many cases people were doing this climb 3 or 4 or even 5 riders wide, it was still a gross logjam and riders in my position who exercised patience as the race guide suggested easily lost 15-20 minutes or more on this climb.

The race guide was quite clear that all riders were responsible for checking into and out of each aid station along the route. Well, I slowed greatly and was frantically looking for where I check in at the Carter Summit mini aid station, but all of the other riders were simply rolling on through. So, I just rolled on through as well, again with the misinformation being useless and irritating.

The subsequent descent and climb on pavement around the western end of Turquoise Lake was good, the pack had significantly spread out by then and you could really cover a lot of ground in a hurry rolling on pavement. After climbing pavement easily for a couple of miles toward the east on the road bordering the southwest corner of Turquoise Lake the race makes an extremely hard right onto maintained gravel and then shortly a hard left onto a less maintained road. This is known as the Sugarloaf climb and is really no harder that Kevins, it just picks up a few hundred more vertical feet and is not all crushed gravel, there are numerous rough patches and rocks to be navigated through. Just keep looking for the cleanest line and spinning and before you know it you are at the top and heading down Powerline.

Powerline is probably the most well known section of this race after Columbine, but most of the focus is on the lowest and steepest of five or so sections of the descent/climb. Outbound you will lose a few hundred feet, then pick up fifty or so, lose a few hundred more, pick up a few in a cycle about five times before reaching the bottom. The upper of these are generally pretty tame and in quite a few places there are two good ride-able lines. Even as you get further down and the slope gets steeper and a bit more rugged passing is quite possible, although on the lowest and steepest section there is really only a single good line and any other line is fairly marginal. I found myself passing many, many people on this descent.

After Powerline you quickly find yourself on pavement for a couple of miles and then gravel for a couple more into the Pipeline aid station. I found a fit Clyde who was rolling at a good and consistent pace through this section and did everything I could to hang onto his rear wheel, probably much to his irritation.

At this aid station (mile 25) I said heck with dealing with any kind of checking in, I just rolled over the timing line and up to the aid station and ordered some bananas. The way these aid stations worked wasn’t typical, at least as far as what I have seen before. The tables were fenced off and you rode up to the fence and effectively put in an order which one of the prompt and courteous volunteers would fulfill for you. I was a bit miffed about the bananas, they seemed to have been quartered and halves are much easier to eat while riding. After grabbing a few banana chunks I rolled a couple hundred feet further up the road to find Alyssa waiting to clean my glasses and top off my Camelbak. I spent a couple of minutes sorting out my business here and then rolled on down the Pipeline. I had lost Mike on the climb up Kevins but Alyssa informed me here that I was only 6 minutes behind him.

Much fuss seems to be made about pacelining on the Pipeline, so I tried. I kept sprinting to a pack of riders, then I would find their pace much too slow for my taste so I would sprint past them to the next pack of riders, repeat and repeat again. Then on the downhill sections of the Pipeline I would blow past several groups of riders I was having trouble catching, only to have them pass me back on the next uphill. In short, attempting to conserve here was wasted on me, I should have instead just hunkered down and worked on holding a target heart rate, and only worried about latching onto some wheels if it worked out.

Near the end of the Pipeline near the Twin Lakes aid station the race is filtered into single-track. This is the worst concept ever: giving 1500 riders 10-12 miles to pack themselves into groups and then filing them onto single-track. This predominately downhill section had its pace set by the slowest guy in the long line of riders in front of you. It also happens that this bit of single-track coming into Twin Lakes is two-way. If you should happen to see a returning pro rider bearing down on you with a closing rate of 40mph you are supposed to get the hell out of the way. So, what happens when you don’t see each other?

I made the 4 hour / 40 mile cutoff at Twin Lakes with about 5 minutes to spare (15 really, because apparently they extended it 10 minutes?). My water situation was still very good having just zipped down the relatively short/easy stretch called the pipeline and there would be water waiting on top of Columbine, so I quickly grabbed a few more bananas and rolled on through munching. After this aid station the course gains and loses elevation for a couple of miles as you zip over a couple of small hills and traverse a field or two.

The climb up Columbine was described earlier, but during the race it proved to be more difficult than anticipated. At or before 10.5k my bike started developing some mild chain-suck (I would recommend some kind of dry lube for these conditions, which was similar to the dry and dusty high desert conditions found around the continental divide) and by 11k I was walking on and off, both because of my growing mechanical issue and to help preserve my now aching shoulders and rump. After breaking the tree line there was simply no recovery from even the smallest of efforts, every few hundred feet of staggering and stumbling up the mountain I had to stop for a brief rest. With my grueling pace I kept expecting to see Mike come barreling back down the hill past me, but he kept failing to materialize. We finally passed each other as I neared the flat section of the course near the top, I was only 15 or maybe 20 minutes behind him, he must have been suffering too. I used the last of my water shortly after this, just minutes from the aid station, well played.

After the Columbine climb you actually descend about 50 vertical feet into the aid station, you do this with a great deal of trepidation because you know that you must regain that elevation on the way back, but also with great relief because you know fresh water and food is just a few hundred feet ahead of you. Arriving at the aid station, feeling a bit like death I was informed that there was no water, they had run out. I kind of entered disbelieving zombie-land at this point and just gave up mentally. One of the aid station volunteers took pity and found me a can of cold Diet Mountain Dew, apparently the volunteers were digging into their personal coolers to make sure the racers had a little something to keep them going. It wasn’t what I needed, didn’t taste good and I couldn’t get much down, but it was cold and greatly appreciated. I just stood around on top for about ten minutes in a bit of a daze, not entirely sure what to think about the situation. I checked out the food options while I was there and it seemed to have dwindled to a few banana chunks smeared with peanut butter and jelly by countless dirty fingers.

Finally my mind cleared a bit and I decided all I could do was go back down, looking at my elapsed time and doing a little mental calculating I was 100% sure that I wasn’t going to make the 8 hour cutoff through Twin Lakes return at mile 60. This knowledge made me feel a little better somehow, I could hydrate to my hearts content at the bottom and I didn’t have to keep riding, but it made me feel a bit sick at the same time. As I neared the treeline on the way down and continued sucking down thicker air I kept feeling better and better. About the time I broke the treeline I decided that I couldn’t hit that 8 hour cutoff, but I could see how close I could come, and so I sailed back down to Twin Lakes as fast as my legs would carry me, passing a dozen or two riders along the way.

I rolled somewhat casually into the Twin Lakes aid station crew area and immediately realized that I was being screamed at to “GO! GO! GO!”, apparently I had arrived before the cutoff (apparently because the cutoff had been extended 10 minutes?) and was actually feeling pretty spry so I sprinted across the line, but I stopped just on the other side to regroup and assess the situation. I topped off my Camelbak and was ready to depart and try to beat the 9 hour cutoff at Pipeline around mile 74, but decided that even if I could make it there in under an hour I definitely couldn’t manage to do the next 26+ miles in 3 hours to finish under 12. So I turned in my timing chip and called it a day.

Mike had made it through the Twin Lakes return several minutes ahead of me but fell just short of the 9 hour cutoff at Pipeline. I think that both of us were perfectly satisfied with our own performance if not with our results. Either of us might have done better, but we didn’t and that’s how things work out sometimes.

Since I have done this event quite a few people have asked me about it. My take is basically this, there can be no prestige left in your mind after witnessing the lack of organization, this event is nothing special at all. It is a grossly overpriced commercial venture where riders (even finishers) definitely do not get their moneys worth as compared to other mountain bike races. If you are looking to do a race that is hard, this might be the race for you, but there are much harder races to be found on much more fun courses for much less money. If you are looking for a fun event, this definitely isn’t the one for you… It’s all on road, really, it is NOT a fun ride (although I certainly did have fun buzzing past people coming down Powerline). If you are looking to score yourself a sweet belt buckle… Well, I guess that’s the justification most of us probably used to cut the check for this…

During and immediately after this event I wasn’t really angry that they had run out of water at the aid station on top of Columbine, but in the intervening days I have thought on it more deeply and realized that it really was an unforgivable set of circumstances. Those putting on this race justify their end of the $275 bargain by giving you a slot and keeping it open for you, assuming you are one of the lucky few, without leniency — whether you show up or not, race or not, finish or not. But here, by running out of a basic requirement of any aid station, much less a “well stocked” aid station as the website indicates, they have clearly not held up their end of the bargain and have created a potentially very dangerous situation for hundreds of participants. I sent the race director and aid station coordinators an email in this vein on Tuesday, 8/16/2011, but have yet to receive any response as of Friday, 8/19. The email is inline below.

Dear Scott Giffin, Shanon Giffin, Josh Colley and Marvin Sandoval,

I recently participated in the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race
and unfortunately am forced to write to you with regards to a very
serious issue during the race. Many of at least the last several
hundred riders to reach the Columbine aid station were rationed but a
cup or two of water, and many of the final riders to reach the aid
station, those that needed water and food the very most, arrived to
find that there was simply no water or food to be had. I was among
these stragglers to the top and simply cannot fathom how such an
unforgivable and dangerous oversight in preparation could have
occurred. You utterly failed to live up to your end of the bargain,
how do you intend to set this right?

Best,
Samuel J. Greear

It probably comes as no surprise after reading the above to hear me say that I definitely had a fun trip, but I really didn’t have a fun race, it was simply “OK”. And while I bear no ill-will toward the race organizers and I do not think that their aid station preparedness was a factor in how well I did (or didn’t do, rather), I still think that they need to take responsibility and answer for this. So, I probably won’t be doing Leadville again, nor will I be able to recommend it to anyone in good conscience. But, looking forward to next year, perhaps the Breck Epic?

Mike’s writeup of our Leadville trip.

My Photos,
Mike’s Photos

Race Log: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/106289536

Mileage (car): 1000mi

Mileage (bike): 125mi

Pre-ride Logs:

Powerline: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/105553248

Columbine: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/105553238

St Kevins: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/106289567

Fun zip around Turquoise Lake from the Campground: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/106289551

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  • Jul 31, 2011
  • Comments Off on Laramie Enduro Review
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Laramie Enduro Review

Yesterday I rode the Laramie Enduro, a mountain bike race outside of Laramie, WY featuring “a challenging 70+ miles which climbs over 8,600 vertical feet, all at elevations over 7,500 feet”. My Garmin log indicated 67 miles and 7,800 feet of gain or so, but depending on frequency of the points recorded in the log (more frequently recorded GPS points will result in a longer track calculation and more elevation change), barometer changes during my ride and/or whether they used DEM elevation corrections for the official tally could account for the differences in the numbers.

I arrived the evening before the race for check-in and packet pick-up, the train station in Laramie where this takes place was quite easy to find. The event website and various emails I received from the event organizers indicated that there would be NO race-day packet pick-up, but in fact they did indicate a spot for race-day packet pick-up at the top of forest service road 705 right next to the rest area. So I guess everyone has to follow the rules, except for those folk who don’t have to? Racer parking was along an unimproved road, which wasn’t marked but was the only left between the Summit/Headquarters Trail Head and parking area and the Hidden Valley Picnic Area. You could park here the night before and pitch a tent next to your car for an authentic low-budget experience, although be aware that the ground is brush-covered.

The good: The were quite a few things that I really enjoyed about this race. The diversity of the people was great, I met individuals local to me as well as others from Utah, Wyoming and many from Colorado. The volunteers at the aid stations were extremely energetic, friendly and helpful, they would fill riders bottles and hydration bladders for them, freeing the rider to pick and choose from a wide assortment of snacks. The quantity and quality of foods available at the aid stations was also very good, water, gatorade, electrolyte tablets, fresh fruit, gels, cookies, mini clif bars and a whole assortment of others. Some of the single-track was quite fun, it tended to be a bit wide and there were many technical and rocky sections and roots were prevalent. There were also a ton of outhouses both at the start/finish area and along the route, which was a nice touch.

The bad: There were also a number of things about the event that I did not like. During the roll-out at the start of the race riders proceed up the gravel road from the Hidden Valley Picnic Area and hit single-track by the Summit/Headquarters Trail Head. There is only perhaps half of a mile on the road for riders to sort their order out and there ends up being a potentially several minute wait to file onto the single track. The biggest failing of this event in my mind is the course itself, it is mostly road. During the course of the ride you transition from gravel roads to forest service roads and un-maintained roads and onto single-track and back again. But… by-and-large the race course is on roads. The temperature was in the 80’s, which was quite tolerable, but given the nature of the course a rider spends the majority of their time in full sun exposure, which makes expediency pay dividends. The course was quite dusty and in many places you find yourself rolling through an inch or two of sand/silt, because of this by the time you roll through the finish your arms and legs will be covered with a thick layer of grime. It would be great if they had some means of washing off at the finish area.

All in all, I had a pretty good time and am glad I got to experience this event. If I were more local it would definitely be part of my annual to-do, that said, I probably will not make the 6 hour trek to do this event again, the local Sturgis BAM Knifeblade Rock and Roll and Dakota Five-O are more enjoyable, have better venue’s and are right in my backyard.

Update, 8/3/2011: Action Photographic was on-hand taking photos from 5 different locations along the course, which have been posted to their website for sale. Of the 2,237 photos they posted, not a single image of me exists (not even in the background). While it was debatable whether I would have plunked down the $25.99 per image to download the high quality versions anyway, this certainly puts another check in the “will not attend this event in the future” column.


Log: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/102942412

Mileage (car): 600mi

Mileage (bike): 67mi

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