Wednesday, January 21, 2015

My First Mountain Bike Race- The Erwin Park Endurance Series

That' me on the left. I finish in sixth place of out of ten who participated in the 4 hour single speed division. Picture courtesy of Stalin Photography.

It was a cold, cloudy and muddy 29 degrees Fahrenheit when I rode my first mountain bike race two weeks ago on January 10th, 2015. Since showing up is half the battle, I figured this was going to be my best chance at placing well in a local race. The race was held on a course that I am familiar with and ride often. I also assumed that most of the local competition wouldn't show up due to the cold weather. What I wasn't ready for was the injury I suffered on the day before the race, which has resulted in a seroma on my inner thigh as a result of crashing into a tree and is currently keeping me off the bike as I write this.   

The crash was so bad that my rigid single speed has momentarily become a front suspension mountain bike,  currently equipped with a $25 used fork from the spare parts bin of a bike shop. A new rigid fork has been ordered and I will be going back to rigid as soon as I install it. Thankfully the tree that I ran into only bent the front fork of my bike and did not bend the frame itself. The suspension fork that I raced on clanked and banged even on the slightest of drops. I might as well had been racing on a pogo stick with a bike attached to it. Despite the odds, even with a bruise building fluid in my leg, a bad fork which changed my bike geometry and the cold, pneumonia inducing weather I decided to show up to this race. I had already paid my entry fee, which was non-refundable and I did not want to miss the opportunity to participate in my first mountain bike race. In hindsight, I probably should have stayed home, sucked up the entry fee but maybe saved the money spent on ER and doctor's visits as a result of further aggravating my injury. 

I ended up getting sixth place in my division of ten riders. Overall, I wasn't in the top ten racers but I definitely wasn't last. This experience has made me want to try doing this again in the future, maybe when I don't have so many odds stacked against me. Had I showed up to this race with a fixed up bike and uninjured, I definitely could have placed in the top 3 of my division and would have walked away with a medal. I wish I could say that I enjoyed this experience without pain and I would have enjoyed it much more without an injured leg, even if I got the same result. The one thing that this race did teach me is that mountain bike racing is still a lot more fun than racing in criteriums or road bicycle rallies. The single speed division doesn't boast a lot of participation so getting a good result is more attainable than riding for overall position. I plan to give single speed mountain bike racing another try in the future, once I can get back on a bike again, which won't be for at least another week or so. 

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

My 2010 Mongoose Otero Elite: Long Term Review

Purchased new in 2010, my five year old Mongoose has seen a lot of upgrades, but the bones on this bike are still strong.

My Mongoose Otero is the bike that is behind most of my modern day mountain biking adventures and has seen everything from pinewood forests to sandy beaches. Nearly every part of this bike with the exception of the frame, derailleurs, handlebars and seat post has been replaced. I have not been kind to this bike in the slightest; it has taken a beating and continues  to come back for more. With my recent shock upgrade it rides better than it did when I purchased it new.

Exploring the sandy beaches at Tybee Island

At $550.00, this bike was one of the most affordable full suspension bikes of it's time. 2010 was the last year this model would be available before being replaced by the Salvo, a full suspension bike with a vertically aligned rear travel not available here in the U.S. This year would also be the last year we would see well specced, 26 inch wheeled bicycles at this price and of this quality. The following years have placed a greater emphasis on developing 29er bicycles as well as 27.5 inch wheel mountain bikes. 

As readers of my blog are already aware, I'm a big fan of steel bikes. Some might wonder why I'm writing an article on a five year old aluminum full suspension bike when I do most of my riding on a rigid steel one. The explanation is simple; the reason why I now ride rigid mountain bikes as an adult is because a full suspension bike gave me the confidence to do so. The risk of failure isn't as great if I don't land a jump on a full suspension bike properly. On a rigid bike, landing hard on the front wheel almost always ends up hurting either the bike or the rider involved. In addition to landing, cornering my full suspension bike is a lot easier, especially with the 2.32 inch wide Vredestein Black Panther tires I have on it. I am able to run the tire pressure as low as 30 psi and paired with my wider profile Sun Rims Dynolite wheels, I get great traction over loose surfaces. Who knows, with my mongoose up to date I may put off getting a fat bike, at least for now.

Although climbing speed is sacrificed due to the travel eating up the uphill pedal stroke, speed is more than made up for going downhill. This is where the Mongoose shines and proves it's worth as a well designed yet affordable bicycle. The robust aluminum frame is durable and has taken some big hits and spills. After five years I have yet to find a cracked weld on it. 

The best part about this bicycle are the infinite possibilities of upgrades that can be done to it. The bicycle's rear shock eye to eye distance is a standard 6.5 inches, impressive for a bicycle manufactured at it's price range. By swapping out the old hardware from the original shock I was able to upgrade the Suntour Raidon shock to a much nicer shock made by DNM. This shock features a dual air chamber, lockout capabilities and adjustable rebound. For $85.00 I got a shock that has been compared to the much more expensive Fox RP2 in performance. DNM shocks are available at online retailers like eBay and Amazon and no, I don't get paid a royalty for telling my readers that.

I upgraded the rear shock with a DNM dual chamber air shock by removing the new hardware and replacing it with the original bolts.
In addition to upgrading the rear shock, I also upgraded the front fork, which was a heavy behemoth Suntour XCM that weighed about 10 pounds. The bike now has a Rockshox XC28 fork with 100 millimeters of travel and a 220 pound rated, aftermarket coil spring. The front and rear shock can easily take my weight and stand up to the style of cross country riding that I do. This bicycle handles with confidence and there is no feeling of being thrown over the handlebars, even on landings that I don't make perfectly. 

Good 26 inch full suspension mountain bikes are not really manufactured anymore these days, unless they are uber expensive downhill bikes. In general, mountain bikes of good quality are no longer sold to consumers at the price that I paid for this one. This has proven to be a dependable trail bike that has given me confidence to improve my mountain biking skills by providing me with some room for error in should I land incorrectly. Riding a full suspension bike like this one is a great way to hone mountain biking skills after cross training with a rigid, old school mountain bike. My Mongoose Otero has amplified my riding skills by making jumps higher and downhills faster than they would be otherwise. Stay tuned for more reviews and tips from A Bicycle's Point of View.