Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Queens , Sirens and Bullshit

I love mountain biking.  I am always wanting to improve my skills to maximize my fun.  And reduce the crashes.  One of the main reasons that I teach mountain bike skills is to share what I know with other riders, so that they can have more fun and ride with more confidence.

Nothing beats seeing a woman with stoke and confidence

These last couple of weeks, I've had the opportunity to teach lots of ladies new skills and ways to improve upon the skills that they have.
The Pisgah Sirens!  These ladies could climb some mountains!  I think that I helped them conquer bigger logs, drops and they helped me with my left handed switchbacks.

Our traditional group photo taken on the Highland Scenic Highway for the Elk River Touring Center women's single track weekend.  These ladies gained efficiency over the miles of roots and learning to pump through long rock gardens.

These ladies were the winners of the raffle at the Bryce QOM.  They learned to catch air and train their minds to focus on body position instead of catastrophe.
I really would love to see more women in my beloved sport of mountain biking!  I am doing my small part by focusing on teaching women skills in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.   For the Bryce QOM, I contacted some companies to ask for product for the giveaway raffle.  The women would be psyched to get women's products and everyone loves swag and then the companies would get some exposure for their women's lines.  I was really pleased with most of the stuff sent.  Zoic ,  Bontrager, Mountain Khaki and G-Form sent some nice stuff.

 One rep sent  two men's medium t-shirts that were pink and had the name of the Giro d'Italia winner on it. I have no idea why he thought that would be right for a women's mountain bike skills weekend. And it's not that I don't appreciate the free shirts and the cost of shipping, but it reminds me that sometimes the bike industry just doesn't get it.  Just because its pink and free doesn't make it a women's product.

I get to see a lot of different women's bikes.  A couple of things that I continually see are bikes that are too big and often too heavy for the woman riding it.  These are mainly 29ers .  And yes, a small woman can ride a 29er...but not all 29ers are right.  Some of the geometry puts the front end too high and puts the woman too far down in the bike to be able to move the bike around.   The second thing is  brake levers that are not in the right spot and too far away for their hands.    Yes, some of this responsibility falls on the woman to buy the right thing for herself.  But I think it also falls on the bike shops, bike companies and friends that they ride with.

Selene Yeager had this to say on the subject What women want.  And I agree...You ask 5 women what they want and you might get 5 different answers.  But choice is important and just by having the choice of bikes, products, clothes,  clinics, races, events, groups...that shows that women are recognized as participants in mountain biking and cycling.  Sure, probably a million more men cycle than women, but its still millions of women and its growing every year.

I haven't seen "Half the Road" yet, but I am a huge fan of Kathyrn Bertine and her efforts to make more people aware of the inequality in elite racing for women.  It seems like women racers are in a very tough situation.  On one hand, they are the minority and don't pay their fair share of race entry fees.  On the other hand, they spend the same amount of money buying bikes, paying race entry fees and money on a license.  But still at most races, they don't get the same prize money.  And "professional" women racers are often racing for free while the men have a salary minimum.  Catherine Pendrel just won the Mountain Bike World Championships .  Do you think she won the same amount as Julien Absalon?  And do you think that she can afford to boycott races that don't pay equally?

I remember accidentally seeing what a male teammate's salary was, while I was a rider for the Trek/VW team.  It was more than double of what I made.  They didn't make me go to less than half the races, train half as hard, pay half as much health insurance, pay my coach half or ask me to do half the bike shop visits.  Or only deal with half of the bullshit that they dished out.

A friend who recently came into the world of mountain biking racing and sponsorship noted how weird it was that riders on a team were supposed to spend a bunch of time doing marketing for the team and the team's sponsors for free, even though the team and the sponsors all have paid marketing managers.   They were supposed to give over their social media identity to whatever company tossed them a bone.  People ask me to teach for free.  I really wonder if they ask to get their teeth cleaned for free or the oil changed in their car for nothing.

She said that it's so hard because biking has captured all of our hearts and that is why we do it.  But knowing that the bike industry and teams(or lack of)or clubs pull at our heartstrings to make us say yes. How do we get more respect, better pay, equal prize money, cool products and more of the right kind of exposure?

 I always tell the women that I teach(who have paid me for my job) to spread the knowledge.  Take another women out for ride and teach her what you learned.  Spread the joy!  Which reminds me of the "dude" who wouldn't give me a mountain bike lesson because he thought that I was going to tell someone else what I learned.

I guess I better go now and ride my bike!

“It’s only a small thing, compared to the reach the men have, but that is the point of elite sport: for people to see it and be entertained, or inspired, or start cycling, even if it is just riding around the block." -Emma Pooley.

Slatyfork Enduro

WVMBA (West Virginia Mountain Bike Association) knows how to put on a sweet bike weekend.  I got to race a 37 mile wet, wild knarl Ultra race that took me 5 hours one day.  Then the next day, out of the same parking lot, I got to race a truly backcountry Enduro.  

This is the finish of the last timed section of the Slatyfork Enduro complete with warming fire and a mountain man to take your time.
For me, I like to have two bikes for such a weekend and for sure different tire selections.  But with the Trigger "Quiver Killer"  I can certainly do both on that bike.  Of course, I do put the Zoic baggies over my Verge pink Lycra shorty short racing bibs.   For most of the WV crew though, they don't change a thing.  I really like that in this day of niche racing and specialization of gear.

Tea Creek Mountain Trail was one of my all time favorites

Its the way of Enduro podiums to have a beer in one hand and then raise the other.  

If you haven't rode Tea Creek Mountain Trail...Do it!

My sweet Trigger

Monday, August 11, 2014

National Championships

I've been on the  Stan's No Tubes Women's Elite Team for the past three years now.  It's a really cool team because all the women are dedicated to personal bests in their racing, but also give back to the bigger community of cycling.  It's also great to have the backing of our main sponsor Stan's No Tubes and get to ride sweet wheels like the carbon Valors.

I also learn so many tips and tricks hanging out with Richie O'Neil and Mike Bush.  I learned that many people burp their tubeless tires because they don't have the right rimstrips in there.  So if you don't have a Stan's wheel set, put Stan's rim tape in there, which helps build up the rim to make a better seal.

  I don't race as much as the other girls, so I don't get to see my teammates much.  Nor do I get to see our sponsors at the races much. So, I knew that I had to go to Nationals in Pennsylvania to support the other girls and see my Stan's family.  Feeling like a tweener knowing that I had no fitness to race in the Pro Women's XC or Short Track, but couldn't really downgrade to an age grouper.  There was only one event for me to do...The Super D. Vicki Barclay was kinda in the same position.  She couldn't race the pro class because she is Scottish, so she raced the single speed class and won!

I personally love Super D and think that USAC is crazy to drop it.  It is really the quintessential event for anybody.  Unlike Enduro, which they will adopt next year, Super D can be done by anybody, on any bike , with any level of fitness.  Enduro really does require a bike with more travel and you need to have the fitness and skill to survive the longer, more technical stages.

The course was fun and short.  The East Coast really does have such great technical terrain, I wish the pros got to race the goods like that more often.  I honestly think they want to, but a lot of the bigger races are out West.  And riders have very little say in the direction of the sport. And the "Heckle Pit" is only on the East Coast.

Anyway, I hadn't the fitness to win the race.  That is the bottom line.  The short pedal sections made my legs burn and I knew that I wasn't sprinting up them like a winner, more like a chubby slug.  I did have a mostly smooth run in the rocks.  It was fun and my Trigger again proved its versatility.

Georgia Gould, skinny in her skinsuit, won by five seconds over me. I was pretty happy to not have embarrassed myself.

I'm a  big fan of both Georgia and Lea Davison.  I watched them both race at the London Olympics and I knew that they would be in a class of their own at Nationals.  They both work so hard and have great personalities.  I had goosebumps as I watched them at different spots on the course.  They were both riding the rocks fast.  I knew it would come down to some attacks on the steepest grassy switchbacks on the last laps.  It was special to be able to see both Georgia's mom and Lea's dad on the same switchbacks (in different spots, though) cheering for their girls.

I was very inspired by my seeing my teammates Nina Baum and Sarah Kauffman, too give it their all in the pro class.  They have the courage to race and train and put it all on the line while holding down full time jobs and being very active in their communities. Hopefully Sarah will have a speedy recovery from her collarbone injury!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

July is a Genius

Bike riding is sweet and warm in July.  How brilliant is the warmest month of the year!
Photo by Michael Boyes.  The start of the raddest super D from Reddish Knob

Tour de Burg
2014 Tour de Burg 

As I get a little older, I've become sentimental about certain annual biking events.  The Tour de Burg is one of those annual events that remind me the importance of committing to a full pull, pushing myself physically and mentally, riding with friends who share a certain kind of toughness and love of epic shit.   And of course, flair is encouraged in either your haircut, costume , riding style and talent.
KOM, Dan Wolf has flair

Tour de Burg is  the second of the Grand Tours of the Virginias.  I wrote about the first Grand Tour, Giro D'Ville, in my last blog post.  Tour de Burg is in it's 19th year of "slummin". Slummin' means that you are hurting, but you carry on. Slum and carry on should be next year's T-shirt slogan. It's just a matter of time before Slum hits you in a five day, six stage multiday race on some of Virginia's raddest terrain.
The only race that matters has their branding dialed

The format is 4 days on a mountain bike and one road bike day.  This is a race with more of an "enduro" format:  Ride as a group to the timed section.  This is what Enduro should be...really riding together catching up and talking with friends and then laying your best effort on a timed section.  Pleasure pace (PP) can be 30 minutes or 2 hours.  The same with the timed sections...long or short.

The whole Tour costs $175 dollars and that includes all the racing your body can take, big lunch spreads and all the soda that you can drink, sweet t-shirt and yummy group dinners.  The hospitality is big with Out of towners invited to stay at local's houses.  Shoot, they will even give you a free haircut or show you their local lines (if you can keep up!)

Jerseys are awarded.  Fooflandia took the Men's Leader jersey with a big smile and lots of poise.  You can image being thrust into the leader's jersey on your first tour!  Bryan Lewis went on to win Cat 1 National Championships in both XC and short track! Another Bryan, Bryan Fawley won the Sprint Jersey coming all the way from Texas!  He knows how important it is to put the Tour on the schedule year after year. The KOM was won by the skinniest guy in the peleton, Dan Wolf.  The  hot jersey was the Super D jersey.  Sam "Skidz" Skidmore was the fastest on the timed xc downhill runs.  Probably one of my favorite days from town and it had the coolest ever Super D is the run from the very top of Reddish Knob to Timber , to the end of Wolfe. I was the Women's Leader out of only two women.  I'm not sure if other girls don't know about it, or they aren't tough enough?  It's probably that they don't have summer vacation time. And some pros can't handle all the down time because everybody waits for everybody.  And lastly, Tour de Burg acknowledges the supreme effort of the biggest slummers and awards a DFL jersey with a ten thousand dollar check.
Photo by Michael Boyes. TDB podium 2014

The director has a sweet track suit and cool haircut
These leaders are slumming, but not as bad as you
You gotta listen to what the director says
Big congrats to Lindsey Carpenter aka Lizzy Clawprong on completing the Tour de Burg on her first full pull attempt at 19 years old.  When you are raised by a very sane mother and an insane father, you get a girl who is grounded but hauls ass!
Kari and Lindsey have been involved with Tour de Burg for 19 years

The director is quite a guy to put this whole thing on for the love of  the Slum
Next year's dates are June 30 to July 4 2015 for the 20th Anniversary.
Dicky knows how much it hurts but he'll be there!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Giro D'Ville...Fooflandia

Giro D'Ville
There were 40 full pullers and some day poachers

There are three grand tours that matter for a certain crew of mountain bike glitterati...Giro D'Ville, Tour de Burg and the Fall Tour.  These are off the grid events put on by folks that think fun involves a little pain, a little pleasure, but it must be done in the mountains with friends.  Yes, they are races and yes, they are hard. You won't find them on BikeReg.com. One of the main difference lies in the format of these stage races.  Its group living eating breakfast and dinner all together at camp and lots of hang out time on camp chairs and yoga mats.  There is beer drinking. People are not staring at their iphones...They are talking to each other, sitting close, laughing.
There is some hang out time that the pros might find tough

The big difference is the way the racing happens.  All stages start off with Pleasure Pace (PP) to the first timed section.  These PP transfers sound like an Enduro race, but no Enduro race transfer is this much fun and social.  Plus, its a no drop PP, meaning even the fastest guys wait for the slowest.  The PP sections can be long or short.  The timed sections can be long say 1:30 or short say 20 minutes.  The timed sections are racing sections. There are multiple racing sections. The fastest guys carry the watches and time everyone. Often  the Super D sections are timed by a volunteer.  And the riding is so fine and puts us out in the mountains all day and end at a swimming hole.
Captain Hoy gives us directions...Listen up!

I hadn't been to the Giro D'Ville in years because it conflicts with the Transylvania Epic in Pennsylvania.  Since, I'm skipping TSE this year, It was my pleasure to see good friends and catch up.  And ride!
Super Blue skies while riding in the Virginia mountains with friends makes me very happy

One of the highlights is eeing the new blood mix with old blood.  A new men's leader emerged in the uber fit and enduro ready, Collin Vento.  Marty, also the race director, got second.  Now wearing baggies and sneakers, Kyle Lawrence in third.  Riding for Freedom and Family, extreme Joel Maynard got fourth and C-bass Quinn rode strong into fifth and selflessly stirred the Port a John for us all. O-Dog won the sprints and the lumberjack contest.  Last year's winner, Alex Kurland, was this year's climber's jersey. And of course, Dan "ice cream" Oates is DFL.
DanFL again!

Collin dominated all with a smile

Alex in the climber's jersey
Quinn Bros. Racing kept Oliver in the blue sprinter's jersey

I am the Maghlia Rosa for the women, miraculously.  I wanted to keep the leader's jersey because I like the color pink but it always hung pretty precariously on my shoulders. The 19 year old daughter of one of my best buds showed her mountain bike pedigree with some steamrolling downhill sections and some stubborn pedaling.  Hopefully, she'll smartly channel that hereditary rage into some great fast racing in her future and making lots of friends. Whitney March was in third showing that she is tough as nails after coming back from giving most of her liver to her mother for a transplant!  And our little friend who moved to Massachusetts, Jennifer Wolfson,  rounded out the podium for the ladies.
There is only one jersey, it does not get washed and was only worn by me

Lindsey Carpenter is growing up fast
Wolfie at Spy Rock
My favorite stage was Whetstone Ridge, right off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It is 11 miles of some of the best.  Classic Virginia Backcountry Ridge riding...and one of the best downhill rewards at the end!
Love, Love this trail!

Thanks go out to the CAMBA crew and the heros that make the Giro happen.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

April update

I entered the Leesburg Baker's Dozen race as a duo with my friend Libbey.  I knew it was going to be hard from a fitness standpoint, but loved the aspect of hanging out in a chamois for 13 hours.  This is a super fun flat lap with twists and turns, log hops and some neat rock features.  The lap times were fast at under 45 minutes, so not much downtime for us. 

I did the first lap.  I was enjoying the chaos and loving the course.  I felt good and efficient on the mountain biking aspect of my lap.  Then about a 1/4 mile from the finish, I clipped a pedal and went down hard.  I hit a rock with my left pedal and flew off the bike landing on my head and back.  The wind was knocked out of me and I was gasping.  Its not a good feeling.  It never is when you can't breathe.  About 10 people asked if I was okay and one sweet singlespeeder actually stopped.  He got my bike out of the way and made sure that I wasn't critical.  I really appreciated that.  There is nothing like not being able to breathe that makes you feel vulnerable. 

I collected myself and the lenses that popped out of my glasses.  I finished the lapped and was in shock.  Shock and awe because I actually clipped a pedal last year at this race on the first lap.  I guess I have bad timing of when I lean my bike over.  Or maybe my vision is going, or I lost focus...or maybe I just suck.

I would of quit the race, but nothing was dangling, you know.  If you have ever had a rib injury, you know the next days are much worse than the present day.  So, in a way it was great to keep moving.  Plus, that is the power of a teammate.  You don't want to, in any way let them down or pull them down with your misfortune.  And we were in the lead from the start and Libbey was pulling really great lap times.

Relay style racing with Libbey. Photo by Chris Merriam
It was kinda brutal way to do 72 miles.  I was being really hard on myself, too.  I felt like such a loser because I could see what other people were doing wrong in the corner and over the logs, but then I have a horrendous wreck myself.  I am teaching mountain biking frequently and just got certified to teach mountain biking, so to wreck like I did and on easy terrain, really bummed me out.  Plus, it hurt!
The pain is  under my armpit now but before was in my upper back

That wreck really made me question why I fucking keep wrecking and why I even mountain bike!  One of my first thoughts was, its because you are not in good shape!  You have slacked and this is the result.  But even people in amazing physical condition who are Olympians still wreck.  Then, it must be because your skills aren't good.  But even people who are in awesome shape with  good skills still wreck like this Frenchie.  Not that I want other people to wreck, but it happens.  And all mountain bikers have a high pain threshold and a stubborn spirit.

So, still hurting, and knowing that I probably shouldn't go, I go on a ride with some buddies up on Spruce Knob.   My breathing seems to be at half capacity, but at least I'm getting some oxygen to my muscles.  I think the worst part is the inability to be dynamic and strong on the singletrack.  I'm forced to ride lazy, which is very dangerous.  I'm protecting myself which results in poor riding.
Superwoman,not photo Michael Boyes
So, I wreck again and it hurts.  It's just a knee scuff and some soreness, but I'm humiliated and frustrated and scared.  This isn't supposed to be happening to a coach, instructor, pro and badass and on a backcountry ride!

So what do I do?  I watched this movie and that helped inspire me to be strong mentally.  I go back to the fundamentals of good body position and balanced riding.  I got the pilates tape out.  I try to stay positive and hang out with young people who don't have the baggage of smackdown.  I'll keep on keeping on because I do love mountain biking and nothing worth a damn is ever easy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


I decided  to take the IMBA Instructors Certification Program in Delaware the other weekend, hosted by the Trail Spinners.    I've been teaching mountain biking for a while now, but I am constantly hungry for more knowledge about good technique and sound ways to teach these techniques. And the idea of a certification has a certain appeal.
Its official

Personally, I've taken clinics from Gene Hamilton, Harlan Price, Lindsey Voreis, and Angi Weston.  I learned so much from these professionals. Those lessons are all since I retired from professional mountain bike racing.  I never took a single lesson when I was getting paid to ride a bike!  And I'm not alone in thinking "what if" I had exposure to really great teaching at the beginning of my career.

It is a big chunk of money to take this course, especially right now in my life. I was able to test out of Level I by paying $100, having adequate experience guiding and teaching and by taking and passing the test.   Normally, the Level I course is 3 days and $350.  I don't recommend testing out.  It's just too much important information to lightly touch on.  In the end, its over $1000 for a three day course including your dues, memberships, first aid and insurance. You have to take the course in person again every four years and keep your memberships and first aid up to date.

We lucked out getting Shaums March and Gale Dalagher as our instructors.  These two are ,of course, amazing riders  who give the best demonstrations of techniques.  But I was so impressed with their professionalism, knowledge, respect for students and their patience.   They really came prepared and were fun to learn from.
Gale and Shuams worked hard to teach us well

Shaums can lean a bike! Photo credit www.kurtkuhn.com

The weather was very cold and windy the first day, cold and sunny the second day and downright miserable and rainy the last day.  Those were not ideal learning conditions or teaching conditions!  The days were long, starting by 9 am and finishing at 7 pm.  They were intense too!...  Lots of information, lots of demonstrations, lots of practice and lots of looking at the other students practice. One thing I wasn't expecting was the homework!  I had to read and study the material and then really study for the test and to be able to teach a skill. 

A highlight for me was the conciseness of the material and teaching process.  I like the idea of saying less!  Say what you need to say and say it well.  Don't crowd a student's brain with unnecessary wording and analogies. 

Another great thing that I took away was the ability to make corrections to a student's riding instead of just identifying mistakes.  This takes a lot of practice and I need to work on developing my system for doing that.  There are basically 10 fundamentals that come in to play mountain biking in order for the rider to be in control and balance in different situations and hopefully increase their fun, too!
We were graded on our teaching. Photo credit www.kurtkuhn.com

It was very difficult assessing students errors in mere seconds in under 15 yards in a parking lot, while giving compliments and corrections.   The instructors would tell the students to make mistakes and we got points off if we didn't identify the mistake, make the correction and give a compliment.  Its funny because I usually give my students lots of compliments, but at this class, I was too overwhelmed to give my usual, "Nice!" "Great!"  And I was so fixated on mistakes, that I didn't even realize when someone was doing something right.
I was overwhelmed at times. Photo credit www.kurtkuhn.com

Something that could be improved is less time listening to students teach a skill.  None of us students were good at teaching, including me, sorry!  It doesn't help anything to listen to 5 other people make a bunch of mistakes while learning to teach.  Of course, we all had to get up in front of a crowd and practice, but I'm not paying this much money to be a test pilot for others.  And purposely doing things wrong for the benefit of the other students is very counterproductive.  I was actually getting a little bit confused when I had to do things wrong.  Practicing things correctly is the only way to go.  And I get more out of listening to Shaums and Gale teach well than a fellow student teach mediocre.
Always Assessing. Photo credit www.kurtkuhn.com

I did enjoy meeting and learning with others, though.  It was a great group of people who are all going to make great teachers for their clubs.
A great group of people

Everyone must use flat pedals for this certification.  Yes, that was challenging for me having used clipless pedals for over 20 years.  I absolutely agree that it should be done on flats, though.  I learned a ton because of it and actually really enjoyed it! If you can do it with flats, you really have mastered that skill more soundly.
Kurt Kuhn doing a level lift

So, I did pass.  I scored really good on the written test, but not on my skills or my teaching. I think nerves and the newness of the lingo and different structure of a lesson made it weak. The fact that I managed and spoke well to the group was my strong point.  Sure, I'm a good rider, but obviously there is room for improvement with my demos especially with flat pedals.  I need to make sure that I'm clearly hitting the teaching points for each skill. 

This course is a good call for people who want to learn to teach mountain biking better.  This is not a personal skills improvement course.  I think it will continue to evolve and get better and better too!
Racer girl Cheryl working on her level lift