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The Salad Days

They say the Salad Days of mountain bike racing are dead and gone... whoever "they" are. If you've been following Jason Sumner's recent reports on the current state of the NORBA National Points Series, it's clear that the current model of "prime time" pro racing is currently on life support. Even World Cup events (Telluride) are not immune from decreased sponsorship involvement. Like it or not, big-time (i.e. cash, big rigs, gala events and liberal TV coverage) pro mountain bike racing ain't what it used to be. Even our very own Patrick O'Grady has chimed in on current events, claiming,

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Off-road racing is only as positive as you help make it

By Andrew Juskaitis

A little late-night Super 8 wrenching before the race

A little late-night Super 8 wrenching before the race

Photo: Andrew Juskaitis

They say the Salad Days of mountain bike racing are dead and gone… whoever “they” are.

If you’ve been following Jason Sumner’s recent reports on the current state of the NORBA National Points Series, it’s clear that the current model of “prime time” pro racing is currently on life support. Even World Cup events (Telluride) are not immune from decreased sponsorship involvement.

Like it or not, big-time (i.e. cash, big rigs, gala events and liberal TV coverage) pro mountain bike racing ain’t what it used to be. Even our very own Patrick O’Grady has chimed in on current events, claiming, “…if I were the marketing wizard for Chevy Trucks, I would have my foot in the corporate firewall, roaring away from all forms of bicycle racing as if it were crawling with more SARS boogers than a Chicom track meet.”

If you believe all the doom-and-gloom you read these days, you might even seriously consider taking-up RC car hobbying, karate, or (God forbid) inline skating.

But hold the kimono there Judo-san, before you turn your back on the sport that’s brought you so many happy memories I’d recommend heading out to your local somewhat-lower-key local mountain bike race series.

Like many of you, this past Saturday I woke up a bit earlier than usual, prepped the ol’ dirt donkey and drove a few hours to partake in my local race series– in this case, round #2 of the 2003 Mountain States Cup race series held in Nathrop, Colorado.

Held just about smack-dab in the middle of the state, the race required a fair amount of driving for all participants. But that didn’t deter the near-record turn-out for all categories. Why? From my perspective, the promoters (In this case Keith Darner) go out of their way to provide a fun, well-run event that understands the amateur racer is their sugar-daddy (I mean that in the nicest way possible) and ESPN couldn’t care less.

Registration is organized, entry fees are acceptable (if you’re smart enough to pre-register, I took a $45 shot in the pants for my last-minute entry) results are realistically timely and accurate and, the best part, the promoters offer an on-going yellow jersey to the current points leader in every category. All this keeps racing fresh, fast and fun (unless you’re unceremoniously stripped of your yellow jersey, which is really quite embarrassing, but that’s a story for another time).

Of course this isn’t limited to the Rocky Mountain region. Southern California has its healthy ODI/Southridge series, Wisconsin has its highly successful WORS series. Our friends in the South have their thriving South Eastern Regional Championship series. TV cameras or not, racing is as strong as ever–sometimes you just gotta find it for yourself.

Sorry for the rant, but I’m a big believer in the fact that the demise of the pro racing scene doesn’t spell the end of the type of racing that you and I generally do. Grassroots racing is stronger than ever, so get out there and kick-up a little dust.

Oh, and speaking of Nathrop, Colorado, I felt it high time I put my “money where my mouth is” and actually race Specialized’s Epic. For months now, you’ve read reviews (including my own) both glorifying and damning the bike’s innovative inertia-valve suspension (Brain) system. And while I’ve spent plenty of time riding the Epic (in this case, the S-Works model), as you know, there’s nothing like racing a bike to see how it truly performs.

In this case, the S-Works Epic was designed for racing, and racing only. I always get a laugh (I hope you do too) when reading dyed-in-the-wool opinions from other sources which claim this bike “misses the mark” without any of the reviewers having raced it for themselves. Fancy that, an opinion about a cross-country racing product without ever having actually raced it. Kinda makes me wonder about the rest of the reviewer’s opinions (i.e. freeride/downhill/road racing)?

So, getting back to the bike, the Nathrop course was relatively hard-packed and flat. It had a few rock-strewn singletrack descents, but was otherwise a hardtail course all the way. As far as I was concerned, it was a solid opportunity to see how the rapid-reacting Brain shock could handle rapid-succession hits at race pace (or my best imitation of it). Setting up the Brain a bit softer than factory recommended specs (Specialized’s Brandon Sloan admits the factory recommended air pressure settings are, “a bit too high for most riders”). I found the S-Works Epic to handle the rougher descents with more control than a hardtail, while instantly locking-out for the quick uphill and flats sprints needed to hold on to the guy’s wheel in front of me.

Drawbacks? The Brain can get confused in spaced-out rough terrain (baby head sections) where I’d normally like my rear suspension to remain active (especially after about 1:45 minutes into a barn-burner of a race). On a hardtail, you’d enter a section like that fully prepared to get tossed around, and on full suspension, you would know that rear end would soak up most of the hits. With Epic, you’re never really sure whether to tense-up or sit back and relax because the shock may or may not be active. But it’s only in these “confusing” intermittent sections where I wished for traditional fully active suspension.

And, in my opinion, that’s the point that every reviewer has glossed over. Epic isn’t a “trails” bike, a next-gen lightweight freeride bike or even a “epic, all-dayer.” It’s a race bike through and through. In fact, I wouldn’t even recommend any other model of the Epic other than the S-Works (the lightest frame in the five-bike line-up). Stick with fully active suspension if you’re the occasional racer or weekend warrior. Go Epic only if you’re ready to commit to a 100-percent race rig built for smoothing-out only severe compressions and moderate-to-large impacts. Does that clear things up on the subject? I hope so.

Titec's CM carbon bars

Titec’s CM carbon bars

Photo: Andrew Juskaitis

In other product news:
Titec has finally released its much anticipated C3 carbon mountain bike components. We just received the CM 1.0 and CM 1.5 handlebars. Constructed of hand-laid Muscle Matrix carbon fiber, the 165-gram, 660mm wide CM 1.5 and 140-gram 640mm wide CM 1.0 are designed to offer superior strength and unyielding stiffness–with the additional benefit of carbon’s inherent damping characteristics. The CM 1.0 (1-inch rise) costs $125, while the CM 1.5 (you got it, 1.5-inch rise) retails for $135. www.titec.com

A final cautionary tale
Walked into the backyard yesterday to see my normally tech-savvy roommate Zach applying a liberal coat of 3M High-Tack adhesive to his freshly degreased drivetrain. In his haste he grabbed the wrong black can (surprising how similar the Tri-Flow can looks to the 3M can when you’re in a hurry?) and didn’t notice the streaky-white substance wasn’t in fact lubrication, but fantastically tacky, quick-setting glue. Oh, the shame.

I’ll let you know when he’s done chipping out his rear derailleur.



Comments? Complaints? Advice on High-Tack removal? Drop a line to WebLetters@7Dogs.comor ajuskaitis@7dogs.com

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