To really know if you are improving, you need some kind of benchmark to evaluate progress against. It’s as true in sports as it is in business. At work, we routinely set baselines or benchmarks, and this week’s first trail rides of the season have me thinking about benchmarks in my mountain biking. Every sport has its own ways to measure training and skill progression. As with road cycling or running, there’s the simple measure of time taken or average speed within a section of trail. More important than a speed measure in mountain biking is judging the development of technique and how that allows you to ride harder trails, tackle larger obstacles, get more air, be more aggressive. if you are only interested in speed it can be bench marked against your own performance or that of others. There’s tons of gadgets and smartphone apps that help you track this. Many of these allow you to compare how others rode the same routes. I find this interesting and a piece of the bigger picture, but my biggest competitor is myself. I need to measure my progress versus the trail, improvement in technique. I am
at the point in my mountain biking skills development that increasing strength and stamina play a significant role, but I still have so much to learn in this sport. So much technique to develop.
By riding the same trails regularly, I can easily judge the progression of my skills. Now starting my third summer mountain biking, I’m realizing both what I’ve already learned along with an awareness of how much I don’t know. It brings a smile to my face when I look back at pictures like these from 2011 and remember struggling with a climb I can now top, being afraid to ride across rocks I barely notice, coming to a dead stop in front of a log, I now pop over without a thought.
As I rode this week, I remembered how we used to have to stop at each and every bench, along with at the top of every small climb to rest and recover. I’m working hard at active recovery, continuing to pedal while I catch my breath. Limiting rest stops. I continue to be surprised how much the line you take or the momentum you have going into a climb, descent or obstacle plays a part. There were places on Sunday’s ride I struggled due to a line that put me into bigger roots or rocks, or how by not having proper momentum, I had to put a foot down in areas I’ve cleaned in past. At the same time in a section of the Muir trails called The Beach, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to ride. I remember the first time we rode that section, stopping half way up to rest. It’s the first time I’ve actually felt like I was enjoying a climb. Minutes later Hell’s Kitchen reminded me why it has the name it does.
But with increased confidence and skills, also comes increased chances for error. I’m riding faster. Attacking sections more. Weaknesses are being exposed. At the Ray’s Women’s clinic, I struggled with both speed and bike angle/position in the bermed turns of the pump track. At Valmont Bike Park in Boulder, I did better at speed, but Kiddo chastised me for not leaning the bike, for going through upright. On Sunday’s ride, in a section called Bermuda…. Damn bermed turn. I just don’t trust myself to lean the bike through them. Towards the bottom of the section, the final left turn, took the turn too high on the berm, upright, no real lean. On the exit there’s a small tree to the right. Because I was high I was on the right edge of the trail and bbeing upright meant my handlebars were not leaning away, I clipped the tree. Leading to a face plant and a bloody nose. Funny how many thoughts go through your head in a millisecond. ….Don’t look at tree! You’re gonna hit tree. I’m flying. Splat. Oops there’s gonna be a bloody nose. Get off bike off trail before someone barrels into you. Feel blood begin to pour. Pinch nose….
Still work to do. Benchmarks set, and continually updated. I’m super stoked about this summer’s riding. Here in Wisconsin I hope to do some rides with other women in addition to the family and solo training rides, there will be rides and the Women’s Clinic in Brown County, IN in June, riding on our family vacation to Breckinridge, CO in July and another prior to my nieces wedding at Killington, VT in August. Plan on doing a WORS race or two, The Brown County Super-D, Fall Colors Festival. Hopefully we can sneak in another spot or two, like maybe a trip up tp Copper Harbor, MI.
Tho, face it, even with a desire to more formally train this summer, I still want to stop and smell the roses so to speak…pausing to snap a few pictures and enjoy the view will always be a part of my enjoyment of mountain biking.
It just hit me that I’m coming up on my 2 year anniversary of my first attempt at mountain biking. That visit to an Intro clinic and short, short ride on a beginner trail was really more of a putting my toe in the water, versus jumping right in. If someone was to ask me how long I’ve been mountain biking, I generally consider spring of 2011 to be the beginning, the point I actually started going out and riding trails…and dragging my family along for the ride so to speak. But it was at the Fall Colors Festival in September of 2010 when I first did a timid ride with dirt under my wheels. Even then I knew I was hooked.
Mountain biking is an all in kinda sport. Meaning your focus has to be all in, on the here and now. The rest of world gets tuned out. Not just by being in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of life. But by the very real need to keep a single minded focus on that single track ahead while at the same time giving into an almost mindless bike/body connection, constantly shifting weight and balance. That feeling of flowing with the bike, with the trail, coupled at times with an adrenaline rush due to speed or difficulty of the trail or drop offs or jumps is wonderful. Almost addicting, Brings me back time and again.
We’ve added mountain biking to our vacations.Re-introduced my brother to the sport.
Now with two summers of riding under my belt, it’s great to realize how much progress we’ve made on our skills. As our skills grew, our interest in the sport also increased – as did our stable of bikes. Riding trails we know over again, allows us to benchmark our progress. It’s a great feeling to to clean a trail you couldn’t before. To make it all the way up a climb that you’ve had to get off and push in the past. To ride over a log as if it wasn’t there. Beaver tree, what beaver tree (a particular place on an otherwise easy trail that has vexed me in the past). These improvements all help our confidence grow. With confidence comes ability, a virtuous cycle that allows us to tackle new trails, try new things. Downhill riding in Colorado this past summer, Kiddo and my first “Super-D” race. And in a full circle, we plan on doing our first cross country races at this year’s Fall Colors Festival.
One of the reasons I love living in the Milwaukee area is its close proximity to Chicago. While there are many reasons which give Milwaukee the edge as to my choice of residence, I consider Chicago as a second, adopted hometown. (I guess growing up midway between Chicago and Milwaukee has left me with torn allegiances – we won’t even get into Bears vs. Packers or Cubs vs. Brewers). Anyway, I avail myself of any opportunity to take advantage of what both cities have to offer. Organized lakefront bike rides are no exception with each city offering up a ride on back to back weekends.
The first was Chicago’s Bike the Drive on May 29th, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Organized by the Active Transportation Alliance, a group encouraging biking as transportation within the Chicago area. The ride offers the once a year opportunity to ride a bike along Lake Shore Drive. The 30 mile loop begins at Jackson, with the option of 1st heading south to the turn around at the Museum of Science and Industry or north to the turnaround at Hollywood. I love the views of the skyline and Lake Michigan, the museum campuses and harbors from a car along Lake Shore Drive and was quite excited to see these from my bike. Alas, this year, the weather did not cooperate. The city was fogged in with a slight mist all morning. Not sure I ever caught an actual glimpse of the lake…or even a true view of the skyline.
This ride was very well organized and supported. The event website included a calendar of spots to pick up ride packets in the weeks leading up to the ride. We didn’t make it in town until too late to get to one of these pick up locations…but will next year. The line to pick up packets was long when we arrived around 6:30am, and getting longer by the minute. Look closely in the picture below – when we got there the line went to the porta potties in the far back, by the time we got our packets, it had doubled back upon itself. Packets included the mandatory, and frequently checked, race bracelets and numbers, along with t-shirts and route guides.
Rest and re-fuel stations were provided at each turn around point and in the middle/start area. Quite impressive set-up – well stocked, tons of volunteers, and active recycling efforts.
While in line to pick up packets, I heard a group debating which direction to go first, and the 1st mention of “the hill” – as in “maybe we should go north first to do the hill in our first half”. As we rode, I’d hear bits and pieces of conversations about folks dreading the Ohio Street hill. When we encountered this hill at about mile 28, it reminded me that hills are relative to where you live…and that Chicago is a very flat place. Yes, as I was feeling smug about my ease of riding up “the hill”, I also acknowledged a biker from Colorado would laugh at all my complaining about Hillside Drive or the Hanson Park hill on my bike commute. At the top of the hill we stopped for a quick photo opportunity of a leg of the river and the idle construction site of the Chicago Spire project.
The ride offered a post ride festival, but the weather just wasn’t hang in the park and listen to music friendly. Instead we biked over to our fav breakfast spot, Yolk as a post ride treat. Great ride despite the weather, and one I plan on making a tradition.
The next weekend was the Miller Lite/UPAF Ride for the Arts in Milwaukee. This fund raiser for Milwaukees Performing Arts scene offers a variety of routes from 5mile and 12 mile family friendly routes through downtown, to a bit more challenging 25mile route heading south along the lake, and for the true cyclist northerly 50 and 75 mile versions. We’d originally planned on doing the 50miler, but technical difficulities (a deja vu of hubby’s flat in last year’s ride – but with need of a new tire in addition of the tube) put us behind schedule and we called an audible and joined the 25miler.
All routes begin at the Summerfest grounds. As with the Chicago ride, routes are well marked, well organized and well supported. Yellow shirted ride marshals were apparent through out. I appreciate all the volunteers time and efforts, but would suggest the ride provide a bit more training and guidance to the marshals. We happened to be riding much of the route by a couple of marshals that frequently rode no-handed, changed lanes without looking back, passed without calling out to riders – all of which in a crowded biking situation could cause problems, but more importantly did not model good biking etiquette and safety while on an organized ride.
A highlight of this year’s ride was the trip over the Hoan Bridge. Before the start organizers warned that no photography or stopping on the bridge was permitted, s have no pictures of the incredible views. The 3 percent grade of the bridge made climbing it not too strenuous at an easy pace, nor did it cause problems on the group descent. Hopefully this made us one step closer for the DOT to allow biking across the bridge in the future.
Bikes of all types, road, mountain, hybrid, recumbent, were apparent on the ride. Huge props to the guy on the single speed old fashioned bike. We saw him start and finish – and at the turn around, so know he did the 25mile route. Passed a couple of families using tandems plus tag alongs for a three person ride.
The UPAF Ride also includes a post ride festival on the Summerfest grounds. Local fav, ‘Love Monkeys’ were the featured band. However, we opted to head to brunch instead, this time to Honeypie in BayView. Creating our own post ride tradition, of re-fueling at brunch favorite restaurants.
Recommend both rides, and together they make a great way to kick off the summer riding season!
Love the beer side cars!
(A photo collection discovered on my phone: AJ Bombers, Sobelman’s, HoneyPie, in MKE airport, upgraded and at gate on AirTran)
“Blues skies…local MTB trails are open.”
Was thrilled this morning to see this tweet from @WORBA_MMB, the account of Metro Mountain Bikers, Milwaukee’s off-road biking club. The Metro Mountain Bikers maintain several areas of mountain biking singletrack around Milwaukee County. The Hoyt Park and Oak Hill sections are in located in Wauwatosa – the city just west of Milwaukee proper.
The weather was perfect for our first trail ride of the year. Sunny, 80 degrees. We put the hitch on the car, checked out the bikes; giving them the ABC once over – air, brakes, cranks and chains. Once that was complete, made sure we had all the gear – helmets, water, gloves, before heading out on the 5mile trip to the trails. Yes, I know we could have ridden, should have – in fact I ride past the Hoyt trails on my bike commute. However, kiddo doesn’t quite have his biking legs and stamina to do both the rides to and from plus the trails. Working on that is a goal for the year.
For this ride, we choose the Oak Hill 1 trail, aka Harley Woods, at Capitol Drive and Menominee Parkway. To get to the trails, you drop in on the north side of Capitol Drive, just west of the parkway and the river, east of 45. Trailhead is well marked, just look for the signs.
The trails are flowing, curvy single track. No tough climbs, but fun little touches of dips and creek crossings. The Metro Mountain Bikers do a great job of maintaining these – in keeping brush in check, building boardwalk type crossings, and installing rock and other armor in low lying spots.
The trail makes a 3mile loop heading out along 45 (which is only noticeable in one small section), and returning along the Menominee River. While not overly technical, and no steep climbs, the trail does force you to pay attention in order to successfully navigate the twisty spaces between the trees. Both kiddo and I were fascinated by the bench in the river – and couldn’t decide if when the river isn’t so high, if you could sit in it.
I also laughed at this tree. Apparently, a local beaver has the same opinion as I about having this tree at the base of a small hill with a slight curve in the trail. Tho’ I suppose it would prevent you from riding into the river.
The entire time, I could hear the voice of Tania, my instructor from the Ray’s Women’s Clinic
, telling me, “Eyes up, Kim”. I must say compared to the first time I rode this trail last fall, my skills and ability to tackle the trail have made dramatic improvements since that clinic. I am so looking forward to learning more at the Midwest Women’s Mountain Bike weekend next month. I even made a couple of tries at making it over a large log (these not so successful, but other smaller logs, no problem).
We had a great ride, a great time playing in the mud today. Brought a bit home with us.
And as I typed this, was reminded that it was a good thing we took advantage of this sunny afternoon – and how handy it is to get text updates via twitter from @WORBA_MMB, because my phone buzzed with this tweet:
“More rain, arghh!. Milwaukee MTB trails closed.”