After an exciting weekend of racing at the Cohutta 100 with Jeremiah Bishop and Cheryl Sornson taking the pro men’s and women’s races, the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) race series continues on the east coast on May 19 with the Syllamo 125K.
Run in conjunction with the Syllamo’s Revenge 50 mile race, the second stop in the series is drastically different than the first. Located in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, the second stop of the NUE series visits yet another classic race in a location off the beaten path of normal mountain bike destinations.
The Syllamo Trail system contains over 50 miles of singletrack in the Ozark National Forest and was designated as one of IMBA’s Epic Rides. IMBA Epic rides highlight some of the best mountain bike trails in the country and the wooded, chucky limestone trails in the forests of the Ozark Mountains are deserving of the honor.
Unlike the Cohutta 100, which was relatively not considered especially technical and had large amounts of fire road, the Syllamo 125 serves up non stop challenges with limestone slickrock and rock gardens.
With 95% of the course being singletrack and an extremely short start climb, tactics and starting position will play a more important roll than they did at the Cohutta 100.
Carey Lowery, the 2010 pro women’s winner describes Syllamo’s as “much rockier and technically challenging” than Cohutta.
She emphasizes the importance of the start. “The start is crucial: 0.9 mile double track at 10% gradient and then you are funneled into the Yellow Trail,” she explains. Once on the singletrack, passing becomes difficult and the trail becomes technical quickly so those who can reach the funnel in a good position will immediately have an advantage.
The Syllamo Trail is a series of intertwined loops, designated by color, each with different characteristics. The Syllamo 125 uses many of the classics in the route, starting with the Yellow Trail.
According to Lowery, the Yellow Trail is tight and smooth with a few punchy climbs that can quickly force riders off their bikes if the trail becomes wet or clogged with riders, further emphasizing the importance of the start of this race.
The route quickly proceeds to the Blue Trail, otherwise known as Scrappy Mountain Loop which is covered in rocks that Lowery warns can be extremely slippery when wet, which is always a possibility in the area in May.
The course continues to sample the different trails in the area, including the Orange Loop that Lowery says, “is like riding a rocky creek bed (that can have water flowing through it if raining) with a few rooty sections thrown in for good measure.”
From there, it’s back onto the Blue Trail and the Stairway to Heaven which will give even the most adept riders a chance to walk, or run, their bikes.
Afterward, it’s back onto the Red Trail for some smooth, rolling trail to give weary bodies a slight respite from the rocks.
Amanda Carey (Kenda-Felt) praises the diversity of the course after racing it last year. She says, “the riding is so diverse, mentally. There’s a lot to look forward to when your brain needs a change.”
The loops within the course create the variety of riding conditions that makes for a challenging 125 kilometers of racing. “The course is great because there are distinct loops that are different — one is super technical, with big, slippery rocks, one is super-buff and punchy and rolls fast and the others are somewhere in-between.”
Because of the technical nature of the course, the route favors a racer who is a skilled technical rider. Most of the climbing is short and steep, so those able to put out large amounts of power for shorter periods of time will excel on the course with few sustained climbs.
In addition to the challenging course, the weather can add a huge challenge and can play a large part in the race outcome. With a chance of rain every day in the month of May for the area, there’s no guarantee for a dry trail. What is guaranteed though is that if it rains, the trails quickly becomes muddy, adding additional obstacles to an already challenging course. The other end of the weather spectrum, which the weather seems to be trending towards for the 2012 edition of the race, is the hot and humid weather characteristic of the south in the summer. For those not acclimatized, the heat can be a major factor.
Both Lowery and Carey recommend full-suspension bikes for the Syllamo course. With countless rock gardens and few long climbs, the weight penalty of a full-suspension bike is far outweighed by the added comfort of suspension and the ability to pedal through technical sections of trail.
Lowery is quick to characterize the rocks as “sharp” and recommends a tire with a beefy sidewall. For her race-winning ride, she rode the Specialized Captain Control for the gripping knobs and a thicker sidewall.
While some of the course is smooth, much of it is rocky and Carey, who flatted in last year’s race, is quick to point out that fixing flats is slow and a rider is better off just running a heavier tire to cope with the rocky parts of the course. “Syllamos isn’t the place for a lightweight tire or a thin sidewall.” She plans on running on of Kenda’s Sealant Compatible Tires (SCT) for this year’s edition of the race.
With 130,000 acres of forests and chunky limestone, the Ozark National Forest in Sylamore District of Arkansas is a giant outdoor playground for mountain bikers, especially in the spring and fall. The area is located about two hours north of Little Rock, just outside of Mountain View.
In addition to the trail access, Mountain View is the Folk Music Capitol of the World and features live folk music in town on a nightly basis.
While there is plenty of camping at the Blanchard Springs Campground near the trailhead, Mountain View also contains plenty of places to stay for the weekend.
Be sure to check Eszter’s recommendations in How to succeed before each of the NUE Series races for tips on equipment and the scoop on the course.
Eszter Horanyi lives and mountain bikes in Crested Butte, CO. She has dabbled in road racing, cyclocross racing, and cross country mountain bike racing, but has gravitated towards ultra endurance and multi day self supported racing in the more recent past. She firmly believes that nothing tops a good ride with good friends on good trails, thus she spends her life in search of all of the above. You can follow her adventures on her blog. All articles by Eszter.