The Friday April 25th Lee Likes Bikes one-day skills clinic I signed up for was scheduled to take place at the Capitol Off Road Pathfinder (CORP) CamRock trail near Madison but trail steward Chuck Hutchens closed it late in the day on Thursday due to the all-day rain. I put Lee McCormack in touch with Jeff to see if Ray’s could accommodate the clinic and fortunately, Jeff answered his cell phone at 10 pm and gave the thumbs up.
I met Caleb Wendel, co-owner of The Bike Shop in Houghton, Michigan that weekend and yesterday, he alerted me that the video he took of me riding the hamster wheel was now up on Vimeo:
As I wrote earlier, Ken and I figured out one way to ride the hamster wheel without putting your feet down: ride in fast and up as high as you can go without falling backwards; lock both brakes until the wheel starts to move, then pedal quarter turns with the same foot to keep the wheel moving; use your elbows against the hub and spokes as needed to keep your balance.
Of course I’m now itching to go back to Ray’s at least one more time before they close for the season and I’ve been thinking about how else the hamster wheel could be ridden. This video shows a Ray’s employee, Dave Barnett, riding the hamster wheel (some of it includes a helmet cam view). It appears as though he’s not pedaling at all, once the wheel starts to move, but rather just throws his body weight forward a few times (starting at the 23-second mark):
I’d like to try that approach, regardless. I’d also like to figure how to ride the hamster wheel perfectly clean, ie, no shoulder or elbow dabs against the hub and spokes. It would seem like hopping the bike left and right as needed to keep balanced might be a way to do that, though doing that at a steep angle while pedaling half turns seems daunting. I’ll report back next time I go but if anyone has ideas or experiences to share, please attach a comment.
Here’s a short video clip on how NOT to ride the hamster wheel:
I was initially shocked by the number of technical obstacles at Ray’s Indoor Bike Park in Milwaukee: dozens for novices, dozens for intermediates, dozens for experts. And the cool thing is that most of the obstacle lines that start out at a one level of difficulty end with a ‘safe’ next-level of difficulty. I say ‘safe’ because nothing bad is likely to happen if you don’t make it. For example, the skinnies might be too tough for your level of ability but they’re low to the ground so you go for it. This encourages riders to keep at it because you experience success at the start of an obstacle ‘line’ and maybe the middle but then you get a real challenge towards the end, all in a single attempt. Brilliant.
Above: The lines in the Novice section that end with ‘safe’ intermediate difficulty.
Above: The lines in the Sport/intermediate section that end with ‘safe’ expert difficulty.
This pretty much holds true for the spectacular Expert section, too, i.e., expert lines end with tougher challenges.
Ken Barker from Cedar Rapids, Iowa was there for the weekend with his son Will and buddy Adam Knutson. I first met Ken up at the Cuyuna Lakes MTB Trail System last summer when we both were riding over a big rock out in the middle of somewhere. As you can see from this 90-second video, Ken can do it all, even in his Sunday best sport coat and pigtail hat:
Ken and I figured out one way to ride the hamster wheel without putting your feet down: ride in fast and up as high as you can go without falling backwards; lock both brakes until the wheel starts to move, then pedal quarter turns with the same foot to keep the wheel moving; use your elbows against the hub and spokes as needed to keep your balance. Way fun. I’d like to be able to make it without any elbow dabs.
I saw one guy clean this skinny on Saturday but I didn’t get his name. Ken and I tried it dozens of times, only rarely making it past the highest part. I finally cleaned it once late in the day on Sunday. w00t!
On the far right of the Expert section are two lines constructed of rocks and logs. The left line is much skinnier, dips up and down, and is crooked and slippery. Ken and I tried it dozens of times, only rarely making it past the big stump on the left. Twice I made it to the last 3 feet (red arrow) but then fell off. Neither Ken or I ever made it but a guy from Iowa named TJ Davis (above right with his dad, Tom Davis) made it once. I guess I’ll have to go back.
Jed Olson was one of a dozen or more Minnesotans who made the trip to Ray’s Indoor Bike Park in Milwaukee for the IMBA members weekend. I hadn’t met Jed before but had seen his postings in the MORC forum and was bummed when I couldn’t make it to the Gravity Summit he hosted in Red Wing last fall. (Above left photo: I’m using a ‘dad’ photo from his Facebook profile because, duh, I neglected to get a photo of his face at Ray’s.)
As you can see from my photo and the 19-second video clip of Jed above, he knows how to ride. So when I saw him with his buddy at the Micro Rhythm track at Ray’s, I asked him to critique my form. He said I was pumping the rollers just fine but when I got to a tabletop, it looked to him like I was trying some kind of jumping or bunny hop motion. He told me to just ride the table top with the same motion as I was riding a roller, like it’s round going up, round on top (but in the air), round going down. (Those aren’t his words, just my best recollection.)
I rode the track once and immediately felt the difference. I think I said "Wow" but I was actually thinking "Holy fucking shit." After a few more times, Jed said, "You got it." He said I just needed a little more speed. And sure enough, by mid-afternoon I was able to clear the lips of all three of the table tops on the back stretch of the Micro Rhythm track.
I’ve watched many how-to-jump videos (BikeSkills.com example here) and I’ve read and re-read the section on jumping in the book Mastering Mountain Bike Skills by Brian Lopes and Lee McCormack (I blogged it here). So it was more than a little amazing to have Jed diagnose what I was doing wrong and prescribe a fix in one sentence. I guess that’s what good coaches can do.
My whole weekend at Ray’s was memorable but learning a new skill was not something I expected. I’m psyched to tackle the table top jumps at Lebanon Hills (photo here). And I now have the confidence to work my way up to where I can handle some of the bigger jumps at other area MTB parks. Copper Harbor, here I come.
Along with the upgrades to the cross country course, there is an out-and-back Micro Rhythm track which is a great place for people to get comfortable with how a jump line feels. Built with an out-and-back design, the track features several boxes and jumps. Instead of a bermed turn at the end of the outbound rhythm line, there is a platform that allows the rider to reset themselves if they hadn’t been able to get in sync with the course before attempting the inbound line. Personally I had trouble getting back in sync once interrupted by the platform, something that I had issues with on the out-and-back in Cleveland as well. But, I understand the idea behind the exclusion of a bermed turn.
Indeed. Having that platform instead of a bermed turn made a huge difference, for me and from what I could tell, many others.
I’ll have more to blog about my memorable experiences in the coming days but for now, see the large slideshow of 50 photos (recommended) or SLOW CLICK this small slideshow (apologies for some of the crappy smartphone photos):
Update 5 PM: an 8-second video clip of Hansi on the Micro Rhythm feature:
Update Jan. 22, 7:30 am: an album of 140 photos of all areas of the park. I took these early on Saturday morning before it got busy so I could climb around without getting run over. The photos are boring because there are no people in them.