Conventional wisdom would say that testing out a fractured right elbow by going resort downhilling for a week is pushing all forms of luck. Well, who has two thumbs, speaks limited French and likes to push his luck? This moi.
Every summer, my pedal adverse friends and I head off to British Columbia for some brotherly bonding and full-face helmet downhill cycling, which involves taking a chairlift up a mountain to ride the designated trails at full speed. It’s quite a production, as we have to transport 4 portly 40-year-old guys, 4 downhill bikes and “glam” camping equipment for a week. This year, we decided to head back to Silverstar in Vernon because we had such a successful trip last year, which was full of drunken moments and the most disgusting beach in the Okanogan.
Going downhilling for me is such a wonderful respite from the series of racing during the local and ABA season. This kind of cycling involves just suiting up in protective gearing, drinking Redbull and vodka, and rolling off the chairlift to just ride down the hill without having to pedal up it. It really is a breath of fresh air, figuratively and literally. The runs are marked and rated based on their difficulty just like ski runs in the winter, so there are green, blue, black diamond and double black diamond runs. In a rare occasion of common sense, we decided to start the trip by dropping into a green run called Challenger, which had numerous off-shoots of blue obstacles like log “skinnies”, drop offs and small “kickers”. It’s a great warm-up run just because it’s still an exceptionally fun ride for a green run and it’s relatively safe. Even after the first run, my hands started to cramp up and get sore from the frequent braking. It eventually gets better as the body gets used to it, but it’s also the fact that you just start ignoring the pain or you get used to releasing the grips in the middle of the runs when you can.
After the first run and feeling edgy and tentative, we started taking some of the fast and smooth blue runs, Superstar and Shazaam. These blue runs discern themselves from the green runs by adding “tabletop” jumps, which are larger jumps with a flat top before the transitions starts, and larger berm turns. These runs are perfect for practicing the air jumps that you never get whilst cross country racing, at least for me. They have little pink flags at the start of the jumps so you are prepared for them and to mitigate the odds of a surprise launch into the air.
The next run you graduate to is called Jedi Mind Trick, which is a perfect mid-sized jump run because it is full of bigger tabletop jumps with higher lips off to the side so you can take it to get more air if you choose. This is where you start getting used to the float of a properly executed jump and appreciate the collection of body armor you have on.
The second day we decided that we had the audacity to hit the dreaded black diamond runs. To get to the advanced runs, the ski hill place a small jump that floats you over a collection of rocks. This obstacle was designed to test the rider’s ability, so if you didn’t feel that you could handle this jump, you shouldn’t continue on to the runs. I really loved this idea as it quickly and easily dissuaded some riders who shouldn’t be riding such dangerous trails from trying them out. Silly enough, this is where I had my first sketchy moment as I pedaled hard into the jump to get up to speed, but I overlanded the transition and hit the front end first and swerved off the trail. After a quick recovery, I had myself a nice, “Get it together, Mark” moment under my breath. The rest of RockStar was pure bliss with nothing but big smooth berms, tabletops and dropoffs. Tim said after that run, “Now, that’s why I come all the way here for!”
Next run was WorldCup. This was the run that everyone could appreciate as it had a little bit of everything: choppy technical sections, ladder bridge drop offs, tabletop jumps, step ups, wood bridges with a steep run off and huge wood berms. I could have done this all day long without getting bored. To make this trip even more memorable, Tim and I decided rather haphazardly to take the jump off of Walk The Line, which is a double black diamond. The ramp just launched me into the air for an uncomfortably long time where I landed nose heavy and thought that I was going to crash face first. Remarkably, the lovely Rockshox Boxxer World Cup absorbed most of the force and the rear of the bike followed through beautifully. Crisis avoided. Tim and I counted our blessings and cut off early and headed to Pipe Dreams, which was a more suitable double black diamond.
By the end of the trip, our hands were sufficiently sore, blistered and cramped, Tim injured himself, Stefan blew out his $500 RockShox shock and Ashley spend $200 in new equipment and repairs; a pretty typical trip. But, I don’t think anyone of us care because we had such a brilliant time. If any of you cyclists never ventured out to try resort downhilling, you are doing yourself a major disservice, as this is such a different and unique aspect of cycling which can help you with your handling skills and remembering why you loved cycling as a child. It’s just fun jumping off of things with your bike.
Breck Epic Overview – it’s all good. | a donkey's tail
Breck Epic Day 6 – got me a buckle for not buckling | a donkey's tail
Breck Epic Days 4 and 5 – moar suffering… | a donkey's tail
Breck Epic Days 2 & 3 – the good, the bad, and the ugly | a donkey's tail
Breck Epic Day 1 – An unfortunate detour | a donkey's tail
Back in the 80’s, one of my favorite arcade video games was Double Dragon. It consisted of twin brothers using their martial art skills to foil criminal gang activities in some seedy underworld. You had at your arsenal a variety of offensive moves to subdue your enemy, but it was soon realized that you only needed one move to submit bad guys into a prostrate position: the reverse elbow throw. Despite the seemingly more powerful moves like the jumping side-kick, front kick or the hip toss, the elbow continuously confused the digital figures so much so that you can just repeatedly put out your pointy elbow to continue to higher levels. What I found out in reality is that if you fall on your wrist or elbow whilst mountain bike racing, it will break and it will hurt a lot. You just can’t throw your elbows out all the time and expect it to be fine. The stupid video game lied!!!
During the Iron Maiden race, there was a sketchy A-line descent where I successfully cleared it repeatedly during practice. I also cleared it all four times during last year’s race so I felt pretty confident that it would not be a problem during this year’s race. Hubris. I approached it carefully during the first lap; I cleared it without a problem. During the second lap, while feeling a bit more winded, I approached the A-line with more speed and the next thing I knew, I was sliding down the trail with my bike bouncing behind me. Without a second thought, I grabbed my bike, fixed my rotated brake lever and continued on with the race. I suppose it was my adrenaline or my total disregard for physical awareness, but I didn’t really notice any significant pain. Side note: I also broke my carbon Selle Italia SLR saddle during the race, so really, two things fractured.
It was the next morning where I noticed a very sharp pain in my right elbow. It wasn’t an ache from overexertion, but it was an intense shocking sort of pain. Of course, I really didn’t get too worried about it as I thought it was just some joint irritation and inflammation. So with some Nsaids and ice, I expected it to be resolved by the next day. The next morning arrived, and my elbow grew to double the size and I was barely able to move it in any direction. It was basically frozen in one position without the ability to flex, extend, supinate or pronate my arm, and the pain tripled over the night.
I tried to get on my bike so I can ride to work as usual, but any pressure on the wrist went to my elbow and caused a shocking pain. I was able to one-arm ride my bike to the emergency room at the University Hospital where I waited 5 hours to get an X-ray. I was expecting for the ER physician to tell me that the x-rays were negative and that it was all soft tissue, but after an unusual long time of waiting after the x-rays were taken, I was getting antsy about the result. Eventually, the physician came back with a surprising forlorn look and told me to follow him to the plaster room. He informed me that the radiologist recognized the posterior fat pad sign on the x-ray, which is a sign that I had an occult fracture, most likely in the radial head. The orthopedic aide promptly put me in a half cast, then the ER physician told me to keep it on for 2-3 weeks.
I suppose the timing was good considering the circumstances. There was a fallow period of races for the next few weeks anyways so I took this as forced home vacation. I am now out of my cast and am trying to get my range of motion and strength back so I can get back to biking. I don’t know how hard I can push my arm while racing or whether I can race at all this year again, but I am certainly going to get on my bike as soon as I can. Luckily for me, I have a therapeutic laser and an ultrasound in my office so I have been plugging myself into rehab at my own convenience. I haven’t broken a bone since my left collarbone in 2008, and that was pretty awful physically and emotionally so I am very optimistic about cross season. Very optimistic.
submitted by: Greazybear
Well, what can I say. What an amazing day; one I will never forget. I never imagined when I began mountain bike racing, some 14 years ago, that I would become Alberta Provincial Champion. The provincial jersey is a hard one to win. All the guys lining up want to win it just as much as the guy next to them, and I was no exception. I really didn’t have much in the way of expectations for this season with the arrival of my daughter in May as my priorities definitely lied elsewhere. It’s been a balancing act all season long thus far of trying to squeeze the training in here and there when I can, while staying relatively lean and fresh.
Sometimes less is more, and certainly that is the case towards my preparation this year. I had a look at the calendar, and given my baby girl’s due date, I figured I might be able to piece together some decent preparation to be ‘at my best’ for Provincials.
course really suited me well this year. Lots of twisty-turny single track that’s tough to ride at high speed with just enough climbing to keep everyone honest. Torrential rain on Friday created some question marks regarding the course, but Kirk and the Pedalhead crew did a great job selecting the track as there was minimal water logged sections and course conditions were near ideal.
From the word go it was ON! I had trouble clipping in and I had to take a few pedal strokes without being clipped in but I finally got pedal engagement just in time to see and hear Bunnin’s chain explode half way up the climb. Quickly my attention turned to Sam who was charging up the opening climb. Yup, we were playin’ for keeps.
I managed to charge my way to second wheel and happily followed Sam’s wheel around the opening 1/2 lap as we stretched out a gap behind us. I was feeling pretty good and rolled up past into the lead on the back side ‘stair’ climb and led us through the back half of the course.
Manrique was boss on the mic! Each time I lapped through I was so jacked from his enthusiasm. Second time up the feed zone climb I got a little bit of a gap so I put a bit of pressure on without pushing too hard. It seemed to be a well-timed effort as I slowly pulled out a gap.
In an attempt to stay focused, I tried to kept my mind on the task…"smooth through the next corner, power up to speed, stand and hammer”. Anything to keep my mind off winning the jersey before the race was over.
Behind me, Paul had moved his way up into second, and had me in his sights. He wasn’t going to back down that’s for sure - especially when the jersey is on the line. Luckily I had played out my race plan and kept my pacing in check so I had some left to crack open the throttle a bit on the last lap. Every climb I punched, accelerated out of every corner, and punched it up each little rise.
I had just enough of a gap coming up to the finish line to really take it all in and relish the moment. The best win of my racing career. A wave of emotion came over me after crossing the line. A chubby kid like my with not one but two bum knees is the fastest mountain bike racer in Alberta!
Thank you to Pedalhead for committing to host Provincials for the second year in a row and for doing such a solid job. It means a lot to hear me described on the mic as “one of the nicest guys around”.
Thank you to Brad and Steve - your support in the feed zone really helped by taking the stress away as I knew I’d have what I need from you guys.
Thank you to Blaine @ Labatts for trusting in Sheldon and I enough to take a chance on the team.
Thank you to my Kokanee Redbike teammates - always positive, supportive, and fun group of people to hang and race with.
Thank you to Brent and Redbike for believing in my vision of Kokanee Redbike and for supporting me and the team these past couple of years.
Thank you to my buddy Derek for supporting me with tricked out wheels and more importantly believing in me with the hours of positive talk. His last minute words of encouragement on the start line gave me the confidence to get out there and give it my best.
Thank you to my beautiful wife Liesje, the wonderful mother of my daughter, who has spend countless hours standing in hot, wet, bug infested feed zones supporting my racing out of pure love. With you I celebrate this achievement.
Thanks for reading.
Figure 1 - 2014 Rocky Mountain Element RSL 970 (stock setup)
I was lucky enough this year to upgrade my 2013 Instinct 970 (previously reviewed) for a 2014 Element RSL 970. I loved my Instinct and if money was no object I’d still own it along with the Element but I was looking for something a little lighter and racier. And I sure got what I was looking for.
The stock setup on this bike is pretty sweet (Figure 1). With a 95mm travel full carbon frame (including front and rear triangle as well as pivot link), 12x142mm rear axle, Rocky’s ABC pivots (polymer bushings), tapered head tube and press fit bottom bracket, everything is pretty state of the art as far as full suspension MTB design is concerned. The main components are as follows:
Really, the stock setup is 100% functional (especially with the upgrade to the Stan’s rims from previous year’s models). You can just hop on this bike and ride the hell out of it. And at less than 26lb for a large it’s pretty darn light.
Figure 2 - Modified setup
Although this bike comes with some killer components, I have made some modifications.
I’ve always liked the simplicity of single ring drivetrains and I generally have the legs to deal with the decreased gear range. I didn’t have the cash lying around to put an XX1 or X01 group on it so I went for the hacked 1x10 setup. This is comprised of a Wolftooth 42-tooth aluminum cog along with the Wolftooth 32 tooth narrow-wide chainring. I also threw my XTR M970 crankset on because it’s about 100g lighter and I love it. To make this system work you have to take an XT or XTR cassette and, remove the 15- or 17-tooth cogs, add the 42-tooth aluminum cog, and you are in business (I replaced the b‑screw as well). The only tricky bits with this setup are getting the chainline right (just inside of cassette centre for me) and the proper chain length. Within about 30 minutes I had everything shifting pretty good on the stand.
Figure 3 - Wolftooth 32-tooth ring with 42-tooth cassette adapter
Cockpit and other little bits
I swapped the seat and post for my tried and true Thompson Masterpiece with Specialized hollow Ti‑railed Henge saddle. I’ve run this setup on multiple bikes and it’s my preference. The aluminum RaceFace bar got replaced with a Niner carbon bar that I had (mainly because I had it lying around).
How it rides
I’ve had the chance to put the Element to the test a handful of times in Fish Creek park in Calgary as well as once out at West Bragg Creek. Fish Creek has a fair but of fast single track to test your flow as well as some pretty killer little climbs. West Bragg, on the other hand, has the longer sustained climbs as wells as a lot of flowy technical sections and faster downhill’s.
Figure 4 - Ranger Summit trail near West Bragg Creek
Right away I was very happy to feel the bikes weight (or lack thereof). It climbed really well with minor pedal induced suspension motion in the fully open CTD setting. A flip of the CTD lever did basically eliminate this at the expense of some traction. I found myself climbing anything with significant rocks or bumps in the open setting and when I was on smoother climbs and wanted to hammer out of the saddle, I flicked the CTD to climb. After switching to tubeless with the Stan’s Crest rims and Continental Race King tires, I was really able to get the full traction potential and claw over the roots and rocks. This is where the 29er wheels really show their Strength (much longer ground contact patch).
Figure 5 - Dual CTD remove operated both the fork and Shock
The rear travel on this bike is 95mm. This initially had me worried because I’m used to a little more but I’m happy to say that Rocky really got it right. The progression is smooth (but not flat, I hate that) until near the end where it ramps nicely to avoid harsh bottom-out. It really makes 95mm feel quite nice. Once I had the pressures dialed in, the front and rear suspension were quite balanced and I was able to rip some descents. I wasn’t shy about launching over whatever I could and hammering into the entry of some berms and hoping I didn’t miscalculate. The combination of frame stiffness and suspension performance really inspires you to push your limits. I’m pretty sure I can hit the same kind of speeds I did on my Instinct (130mm travel bike) with a little time.
What I liked the most about this bike was the handling and ability to really carve the bike and hold speed through flowy trails. You know the ones where you’re linking turns and pop up over little jumps and obstacles just to get back on the gas and fly. If you get in the bikes “pocket” and manage your body position in the corners you can really hang it out there. I had mud in my teeth because of the ear to ear grin I was sporting.
I really liked the feel of the wheels; perfect combination of weight and lateral stiffness. They come with yellow tape pre-installed and tubeless valve-stems in the little extras bag. The Race King tires seated first time with a hand pump.
The XT brakes with 180mm rotors front and back just work. I also know how easy they are to bleed which makes me that much happier.
My budget 1x10 drivetrain worked flawlessly. The chain actually shifted onto the aluminum 42-tooth cog quicker and more consistently than it did into the 36. The 32-tooth ring held the chain even without a clutch derailleur. So far no chain drops at all and flawless shifting out of the XTR derailleur.
So far I’m completely thrilled with this bike. I have my first XC races coming up right away as well as some marathon MTB. I’ll have a longer-term review later in the summer. Until then, have fun riding your bike….. I know I will.
Figure 6 - Managed to find some mud near West Bragg
After what has seemed like an eternity since I picked up my showroom-fresh Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 770 (my initial impressions here: http://wp.me/p3nKds-S), I have finally been able to devote some quality trail time to adjust to my new ride and form some opinions with regards to 27.5" wheels and the bike in general. For those of you only interested in the Coles Notes version: I'm officially a 'tweener convert. Technical climbing prowess, more traction, and increased smoothness and momentum over rough terrain more than make up for a nominal decrease in agility and acceleration compared to a 26er.
For those of you interested in all the nitty-gritty details, first some general stats. Rocky bills the Thunderbolt as a bike for ". The build out of the box certainly reflects this, and while it features a respectable arsenal of higher-tier Shimano and Fox components and Stan's Crest wheels, at just over 28 pounds it is definitely not a weight-weenie XC bike (details here: http://www.bikes.com/en/bikes/thunderbolt/2014). I rode the bike a few times in the stock configuration and was admittedly overwhelmed by its heft. Despite a strict budget, I went to work swapping a few key items to shave off a bit of weight, and in the end, a Whiskey carbon bar, Selle Italia SLR seat, ESI grips, and Schwalbe Rocket Ron tires set up tubeless brought the weight down to a more tolerable 26.5 pounds. Still not "race light" by any means, but not bad considering the full aluminum frame. Swapping out the heavy OEM tires and going tubeless saved a pound alone and livened up the bike significantly - if you can only afford one improvement, lighter tires and/or wheels will give you the most noticeable improvement in ride quality and the biggest bang for your buck.
On to the riding. Rocky describes the Thunderbolt as An agile, playful XC bike that loves punchy, technical climbs and flowy singletrack descents, a description that I agree with entirely. I'm typically quite a conservative rider when it comes to launching off trail features or choosing more reckless lines (old bones take a long time to heal), but the bigger wheels and bit of extra travel (120mm front and rear) really taunt and tease you to ride more aggressively. I'm getting air, and I like it. The extra traction provided by the bigger wheels certainly helps to eat up punchy, technical climbs, of which there are many in Edmonton, and I'm finding cleaning tricky sections is a great deal easier and takes less energy. Notably, if I do stall a bit while trying to overtake a large root or obstacle, it takes a lot less effort to get the bike moving again and successfully roll over the offending obstacle. Me likey. I also enjoy that the Thunderbolt likes to be (and in some cases needs to be) muscled around a bit, another reflection of Rocky's design philosophy. The bike is responsive yet stable, and despite a low bottom bracket, I am experiencing way less crank-arm and pedal smashing into roots and rocks than with past Rockys I've owned, likely a side-effect of the larger wheels and greater travel. Where in the past I would consistently clip certain obstacles and would expectantly cringe waiting for the familiar smash each time, now I can pedal through the same section cleanly with way less ratcheting and smashing, and way more smiling. Of course the bike's grandeur isn't completely owing to 'tweener-sized wheels; this is my first experience with thru-axles (front and rear), a tapered headtube, and the short/wide bar/stem combo, which all certainly contribute to the ride quality and enjoyment factor aboard the Thunderbolt. Again, I'm finding myself pushing way harder and faster when coming into corners or when descending with no doubts in the ability of the bike to hold its own. I definitely don't see my self ever reverting to skinny bars or quick releases.
Of course I do have a few complaints - what finicky cyclist doesn't? The weight of the bike certainly holds one back on long, steady, open climbs. The Thunderbolt is clearly no match for a carbon hardtail 29er on such terrain, but then again I'm quite certain it wasn't designed with it in mind. When after all have you ever encountered playful and flowy gravel road climbs? As a female rider, I also find the bike's weight starts to become a challenge as I become fatigued - you might say, "when I gots no muscle left, I gots no hustle left" with this bike. The rear suspension of the bike is also very active when in trail mode - I find myself using the dual lockout (climb mode) way more than I initially thought I ever would, locking out on anything smooth, whether it be flat or climbing. Not a big deal if you're always on rolling, techy, obstacle-laden trails (as the bike is designed for), but the bobbing is noticeable, and the constant button pushing to attain a more efficient pedal stroke can be a bit tiresome when riding highly variable terrain or in race situations. Finally, and not uncommon among small-sized full suspension frames, it's a tight squeeze for a water bottle - a side loading cage and small bottle are required to avoid unsuspectingly flicking the rebound dial while indulging in liquid refreshment.
All in all, I'm happy to say I'm having a ton of fun on this bike so far. It's not built for hammering up gravel roads, so if that's what you're into you're probably going to be happier on a 29er. If you're more like me though, the bike is a blast to ride where it counts most - on punchy, rolling singletrack. If that's where you're in your element, this is a great bike for it, and I would highly recommend it. Additionally, I would certainly advocate to shorter women and guys to try out 27.5 wheels - the benefits of the platform far outweigh the small loss in agility compared to a 26er, and the bike actually fits someone my size properly unlike a 29er. Yes, it is a bit hefty for an XC racer, but then so am I, so you could say we’re a perfect match.
My slightly lightened-up Thunderbolt. Not weight-weenie approved! Whiskey bar...
Redbike makes it easy to find sweet upgrades for your ride.
The only downside of wide bars is remembering just how wide they are...
submitted by: Donkey