Silverstar, Silverbells

We dug up buried post from our favourite contibutor greazypanda to help tie us over between MTB and ‘Cross season. Please enjoy wisely…

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.

unnamed (2)

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.

unnamed (4)

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.

unnamed (3)

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.

A Hot and Dry Fernie3/Coleman1 Weekend

With the Canada Day holiday on a Wednesday this year, it only made sense to make bookend cycling trips to maximize the holiday time. At least that is the perfect justification to take a week off and going mountain biking in Fernie, Coleman and Jasper. 

FullSizeRender 1

Multi-day stage races has been hosted in Fernie by the TransRockies racing series, Furious 3 and now the Fernie 3, and there is good reason for this as the trails are challenging, varied and right in and around the townsite. Fernie 3 is in its second year, and it has some problems with its inaugural race last year that has been somewhat resolved, but new ones had developed in this year’s race (I will discuss more about this later). I crashed pretty heavily on my left shoulder last year and I was still healing up from a broken right elbow so I was disappointed with my race. I even didn’t start the third day because I felt like I couldn’t ride effectively or safely in my condition.  As it turned out, they didn’t count the third day due to most of the field getting lost because of poor course marking. While I actually got a finishing time and placement for the race, it didn’t assuage my disappointment that I abandoned from the race.

FullSizeRenderThis year, I wanted to make amends and have a solid showing at the Fernie3 so I started by getting a bike specifically for the race. I chose the Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt BC Edition because it had the Rock Shox Pike 130mm travel fork that I needed for the long and rough descents in Fernie as the downhill portions is where I lose time. I don’t fancy myself as a climber so this makes me very sad. I put on a set of gossamer Beard built Enve/Tune/Extralite wheels to help with the grueling climbs (F-you HyperVentilation).

IMG 3737With a proper gun heading to a gun fight, Brad picked me up Friday afternoon and headed to Mike V’s house, but we got delayed by a fellow cyclist with a huge bike trailer taking up an entire lane. Was this prescient for things to come this weekend? Anyways, once we were on the road we were surrounded by montage painted RV’s on Highway 2. My favorite one was this Lion King themed portrait on the back of a huge RV going 140km/h. We didn’t get to the condo till 1:00am so instead of going right to bed, we drank beer till 2:30am. How else would you reward yourself after a 6-hour drive in a lowered Subaru Forrester with floodlights attached to the roof.

IMG 3738The first day of racing at the Fernie3 started at The Cedars, which is a new development on the resort side of Fernie, and the reported high that day was 34 C so managing the heat and hydration was paramount. I took a risk and took only one waterbottle with me as I knew there was going to be a lot of initial climbing and there were two aid stations-or so we were told. After the massive dustbowl that was created at the start due to the dry conditions and a twig stuck in my rear derailleur, we started the singletrack climb right away. Perhaps it was the one bottle strategy or the new Giro Synthe helmet keeping me cool, but I felt strong behind Steve Martins. We passed numerous racers who started faster than they should have so I knew we were in the top 20 at that point. At the first aid station, I filled up my bottle and continued on with Neil as he rode by. Similarly to the early ride with Steve, we set up a good pace together and caught and passed more racers. The three of us were riding well together, but then came the downhills-my nemesis. This time, while I did lose contact with Steve and Neil, I didn’t lose any spots from racers coming from behind me. The Thunderbolt allowed me to keep my speed up and take the faster, more technical lines. “Blue Thunder” kept me upright and smooth on the downhills without any crashes. I finished the day not getting lost which a significant number of other racers did due to a tricky turn in the Dark Forest trail. Overall, the first day was full of long and steep climbs, and with the heat, it was a day of sadistic attrition where racers had to show their mettle. The big bonus was that the race organizers had free beer at the end of the race; the rest of the day was a blur.

IMG 3705The second day started at the Aquatic Center and the race organizer promised us more cross-country trails despite starting us up HyperVentilation, which is an infamous switchback climb with a fantastic view that you can’t actually enjoy due to your heart rate hitting its max. But, after the climb, we rode Kush and The Coal Discovery Trail which were fast and flowing and added a fantastic sense of ease during the pain. This is why Fernie is known for their mountain biking trails. Continuing with the sadistic tendencies, just before you hit the finish line, you have to climb Sidewinder up for almost no other reason than for added suffering. Brad was quite upset about the emotional let down of that climb and the boring descent so close to the end, but I was just glad it was the last climb. The second day was significantly more enjoyable than the first day due to the sheer amount of amazing singletrack riding. I got mesmerized at one point in Kush and didn’t go race pace and I kinda didn’t care. At the finish line, most of us were wondering why the race organizer didn’t make the single day racers race the second day instead of the first. There was almost just as much elevation, but the course was mostly singletrack instead of the loose gravel trail on the first day and the climbs were more steady. 

IMG 3725The third day was like a classic XCO race as the climbs were shorter and the course had some long stretches of flat trail-it was absolutely a pisser of a race. Great steady switchback climbs, flowing downhill, punchy singletrack. It had everything a mountain biker would want. It suited some racers really well as Jason R and Bob W rode with me that day and looked very strong. I was also mesmerized by Bob’s luscious blonde hair blowing in the wind behind him. At the finish line, everyone was very happy with the day’s race as it was the finishing one and the most fun. The race was so fast the times were very close from group to group. We even had some secret beer at the finishing area for those of us in the know.

IMG 3709Without the egregious course marking from last year, people were significantly more celebratory at the end of this year’s race. There were some obvious criticisms that the Fernie3 race organizers should seriously take as sage advice. We were not impressed with the cheap paper number plates and the twist ties they gave us to fasten the plates to our bikes. They didn’t have enough marshals, properly stocked aid stations, ambassadors or EMS on the course. First aid was non-existent at the finishing area, there were no timed downhill sections and they ran out of jerseys. I know that putting on a race is onerous, stressful and ultimately thankless but hopefully they will make the appropriate changes for next year. The one thing they got right was having free beer at the finishing banquet. Things got slightly out of hand.

IMG 3711We finished the weekend with a guided tour of the Coleman trails by locals Troy and Lance. It was another hot day, but the trails were worth it because they were technical and rough. I didn’t bring enough water or food so I bonked on a very long climb to the top, but thank goodness Trevor is always prepared and saved me from being left in the woods to die. It has been quite a while since I’ve been in the back end of asshole intervals. 

IMG 3690Now it’s off to Jasper for two days of more climbing and descending.

Don’t Hold Your Breath, Summer Hits Fast

As I get older, time seems to get more unpredictably relative. Despite the usual overbearing and longwinded Edmonton winter, I found myself going from reveling in the Sedona Red Rock during a February cycling trip to overheating and recovering in the late May sun from the Devon ABA race. I feel like Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar going through that wormhole or John Cusack going back in time in Hot Tub Time Machine; how did three months go by so quickly?


📷: Nancy St-Hilaire

So at this point, I’ve done two ABA races and a handful of local Tuesday Fattire races along with countless redbike group rides and it’s barely June. Hopefully, I don’t sound too dour or unappreciative of the hot and dry weather allowing me hours upon hours of ride time. I do love mountain biking, but under most circumstances I can rely on the occasional rain-out days where I can relax, catch up on some reading, see some of my non-cycling friends, work on my ceramic pottery and dust underneath my bed. Luckily, at Kokanee redbike, we have a great cast of characters who help out with organizing the weekly rides and races so I have been able to keep my semblance of sanity.


📷: Nancy St-Hilaire

Barely. Yes, Edmonton is in the middle of a drought which I would easily take over the relentless thundershowers which can plague us mountain bikers during certain weather patterns, but it is not without its misgivings. Without moisture, the trail conditions quickly go from firm and tacky to soft and loose, which can cause early season crashes. Since the end of March to today, it hasn’t rained. It snowed a foot the day after the Provincial election where the NDP surged ahead to secure a majority government which instigated predictable “reversing global warming” and “the PCs shredding documents” jokes, but it has hardly rained in 10 weeks. I have already slid out in Cambodia 3 weeks ago where I injured my left shoulder and thought I would be incapable of cycling for months. Luckily or ignorantly, I kept cycling and the shoulder has not bothered me and has seemed to be healed.


📷: Nancy St-Hilaire

Already in the early days of June, most of my friends and teammates have suffered significant crashes that required medical attention and some time off the bike. I wouldn’t necessarily blame the loose conditions as the sole cause of such misfortune because I’m sure the early season eagerness was a factor, but when the season hits hard and fast like it has this summer, it’s ripe for unwarranted accidents. I went out for a ride today with some good friends to hopefully check out the new trail south of Terwillegar called Mustang. We had the entire afternoon so we took the long way around by going to Patricia Heights/Wolf Willow area, but before we even made it to the end of Six Shooter, Richard slid out on one of the many off cambered turns and hit his left knee to his bar. When he dragged himself and his bike up to Saskatchewan Dr, his left sock went from white to bright red due to the collection of blood streaming from his knee. Because I had a similar injury, I told him to go home, wash out the cut, seal it and then ice it for the next 24 hours. Another victim of an apparently easy turn that ended up being loose for the front wheel. Then, once we got to Terwillegar, we instinctively went into Fireman’s Trail, but on the initial downhill, Mike kicked up a large wood stump that kicked my front wheel offline into a tree. I remember the large yet fragile sound of my brand new Giro Synthe helmet collapsing yet feeling no pressure or force on my head. The force of the tree went from my helmet to my neck then to my right shoulder where I eventually bounced backwards off my bike. Young Colter Young thought I was going to hit the ground and not get up as he witnessed the impact of accident which from his viewpoint was significant. I just calmly took off the helmet to observe the dent on the top right side and the two cracks on the inside foam. I felt totally fine except for the abrasions on my right neck and the rotated controls on the right side of my bar. It’s cliché to say that the helmet saved me from significant harm, but once you experience the sound and feel of that helmet doing exactly what it was designed to do by absorbing force so your brain doesn’t, it gives you better appreciation of why you spend your hard earned money for that piece of equipment.

My point with this particular rant is to let the 6 people who read my blog know that we have a long season ahead of us and that we should all calm down and enjoy each moment riding the marvelous Edmonton trails. Let’s keep our wits and helmets on and enjoy the summer until time slows down in November.

March Madness

Let’s face facts-The month of March has always been a complete gong show when it comes to weather. It acts like a succinct version of the entire winter we have here in Edmonton; it’s so completely unpredictable, polarized and sudden, we sometimes just give up trying to deal with it and stay inside until summer actually arrives. When you think about having a fatbike race in the middle of March, you think that it will be mild in temperature, but there should be plenty of snow to ride on. That’s when the E-town weather punches you straight in the gut by giving you a 15 degree day just before the race followed up by freezing overnight temperatures. March, you are a fickle mistress.

IMG 3401

Ice was the theme of the day

When James and I were scouting out the trails for our third and final 45NRTH fatbike race, it was 10 degrees out. So when we rode out on the planned course, the snow was soft with plenty of grip with a few icy puddles so that emboldened us to give the go ahead for the race the next day.  It was still shortened due to the icy conditions of the descending chutes, but we where confident that the course would still provide plenty of fun for the racers. The race must and will go on, but then morning arrived.

11041928 10153273198595530 3463544706962831271 o

Mr. Hollywood on Ice (Photo: Alan Schietzsch)

All the soft snow turned to hard packed snow with a lovely layer of ice on top and the wet puddles froze overnight to glaring smooth but undulating ice trails. The entire course was either pavement or sphincter clenching ice. Whom would possibility want to race with these conditions? Apparently, 35 nail swallowing fatbikers/cyclists (one person on a Rocky Vertex with Ice Spiker Pro tires blew past me sending shredded ice in my face).  Sure, most people hit the deck once or twice or way more than that, but they all came in with a big smile on their faces. It was survival mode out there as you tried to keep the bike upright, then if you came off the bike, good luck standing back up to get on your bike. Kevin from the Edmonton Triathlon Academy was trying to stand up on the ice and commented to me, “I feel like Bambi trying to stand on a frozen lake”.

11043232 10153270927735530 3444322466327845071 o

(Photo: Alan Schietzsch)

On the one and only descend on the course, my bike went sideways and I plowed face first into the ground taking Nick down with me as he was right on my wheel.  I smashed my right knee to the ice in the process so I had to do a quick re-evaluation of my body parts before moving on. Nothing felt broken, but I was indeed bruised. We entered the lower trail to head back to the Savage center where we were blinded by the light reflecting off the smoothed out ice. I was moving so slowly I don’t think I’ve ever taken so long riding that length of trail in my entire life. With great relief, I made it back to finish lap one.

1669886 10153270931110530 2234542206543987637 o

“Bambi on Ice” (Photo: Alan Schietzsch)
On the second lap, I was riding with two new racers who never raced a bike race in their entire lives, and they were loving it. They were talking about how they would like to do more bike races in the future and how they were surprised about how friendly the experience was. If these two were the only ones who showed up for the race, I would still be happy and deem the race successful. Well, actually I’m glad that more people showed up so we wouldn’t lose money on the race, but I loved those two guys.

11080517 10153273211790530 4385141978786156268 o

Mark Racing with the “First Timers” Photo: Alan Schietzsch)
We wanted the last race of the triple-crown to be the best as Aaron from Quality Bike Products drove all the way to Edmonton to checkout and participate in our race, but weather is one thing you can’t control. We wanted 100 people to show up to race their fatbikes instead of 35, but at the end of the day, I couldn’t be happier to see them all come in and talk about how challenging and fun the day was despite the conditions. I’ve been to races where people just complain about how crappy the course or conditions were, how cheap the payouts were, how there were not enough door prizes or there wasn’t enough food, etc. There wasn’t a single person who came to me, James or Mike and expressed any dismay or anger that we put on the race. Besides some bumps and bruises, most people were in a convivial mood. Especially Nick from Hardcore and Denis from Pedalheal who won Dillinger 5 studded tires, and because we received so many door prizes from 45NRTH, every racer got schwag to take home!
11078215 10153273282695530 7912020291285511425 o

Santiago took home the big prize – the Surly Krampus Frame (Photo: Alan Schietzsch)

Anyways, the Kokanee redbike gang learned a lot from these races. We will strive to put on a better set of races for everyone next year. Thanks to everyone involved with races as we truly appreciated the support.

IMG 3402

The Ice theme continues even on the couch

Cyclocross: A Season of One-Night Stands

The ABA cyclocross season is like a one night stand; It’s hot, sweaty, quick, awkward, bloody fun and a wicked story to tell your friends.

I suppose a few days before the Nationals in Winnipeg and with the majority of the season over; this is a good time to reflect on this year’s cyclocross season.  I’m not going to regale you with my own stories of racing agony, but I’m going to try to explain the general atmosphere of the cyclocross scene.  It’s just not a coalescing of roadies and mountain bikers, it is something quite unique and rather odd.

Photo 1 3

(Photo: Mystique photos)

The race schedule is very short and condensed with a race on the Saturday and Sunday of every weekend starting in September and ending in November, so you get to see/race the same people within a very short period of time.  It’s sort of like moving in with someone after a month of dating just because you really want to know if it’s going to work out.  This is a strategy which I normally dissuade people from utilizing as I’ve tried and failed numerous times (I’m a hopeless romantic and a huge John Hughes fan).  You go from, “Who the hell is that guy?” to “Hey Brad, how are your kids doing in math”, quite quickly at the start line.

After having my cross season shorted early last year due to a knee injury, I was looking forward to traveling to Calgary a few times this year to make up for lost time.  So between all the Edmonton and Calgary area races this year, I’ve collected some interesting observations from the cross scene.

First of all, people are here to race.  Hard.  Even though most people spent the summer road or mountain bike racing, this is no half exerted venture.  Most people have cyclocross bikes that are, at most, 2 to 3 years old reaching into the $5000 plus range.  If you have an older bike, like Ryan Hopping and his Salsa Con Crosso, you will receive constant lighthearted derision from other racers.  The days of piecing together a cross bike for racing is over.  If you don’t have a carbon frame, hydraulic disc brakes and carbon wheels with tubular tires, you may as well just show up on a Huffy wearing acid wash jeans.  Yet, despite the haughty bike snobbery, people are genuinely encouraging and inclusive.   They want you to buy a new bike because they just love cyclocross.  With everyone reloaded with new bikes, the racing is intense, short, frustrating and climactic.

Photo 2 3

(Photo: Mystique photos)

After race-to-race and weekend-to-weekend, you get to know or get familiar with people who frequent the races.  It’s like homeroom from the beginning of the school year to the end.  You get to recognize where people sit in class, who the class clown is, who the popular kids are, who the wallflowers are, etc.  Because you see the same people in such a short period of time, you can’t count on small talk to get you through the day.  You can’t say, “How are you doing?” or “Nice weather we’re having this fall aren’t we?” when you just saw them yesterday.  Well, you can, but you would be the weirdo everyone makes fun of.  You are basically forced into some kind of meaningful conversation whether you want it or not.  Because of this, you actually get to know people over the course of the racing season or, in some awesome cases, you become friends.  Yes, it has been reported that there is a flutter of new Facebook friending during cross season.  At the beginning of the season, Shantel and I are constantly trying to remind ourselves who is who, but at the end, I’m telling those same people that we should go on an All-Inclusive Mexico vacation in March.

Photo 3 3

(Photo: Mystique photos)

These same people are also usually the ones who stay after the race and help out with taking down the racecourse.  We had our redbike race at the beginning of the season so when we started to take the racecourse down, it was mostly volunteers from our own club.  As the season went on and people started to get to know each other, we all started becoming accustomed to helping out with the tear down.  At the Pumphouse race in Calgary, I remember the horde of people who just started to help Synergy with the clean up.  The kids and parents from Juventus,  Marg from ERTC, Kyle from DeadGoat and others all stuck around and helped out Marcus with pulling up the stakes and collecting the tape.  Even my buddies from Pedalhead supervised the clean up from their cool down routine on their trainers.  It takes a village to raise a child as they say.
Now, you would think that the frequent cross racing would create animosity, enmity and segregation amongst the racers, and it kinda does, but just during the race.  Once it’s over, there is this sense of admiration for the other racers because they just went through the same hell you just did.  The acknowledgment of your similar achievement kind of creates a bizarre unity with racers, and with the repeated frequency of cross racing, it magnifies the phenomenon.   While I’m sure some people just straight up hate me and my racing, I’d like to think the feeling is mutual.  Right after the race, we all shake hands (or in some cases, uncomfortably side hug or gymnastic hug each other) and share stories of the race.  It’s like the old cartoon of Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog.  They are good buddies and punch in their timecards and then once the whistle blows, Sam proceeds to beat the shit out of Ralph.  At the end of the day, they punch out and become friends again.

By the end of the cross season, you know oddities about people like: Andre likes to collect ceramic unicorns, Marcus has an amazing beard grooming routine involving a picture of Prince, Janet can do a wicked “Carlton” dance, Shantel can put 8 pickles in her mouth at one time, Stu has a tattoo of PeeWee Herman covering his back, Katie purposely unzips her jersey for a certain someone, Kyle’s nickname of “Chocolate Rocket” has nothing to do with his bike racing, Pepper’s real name is Petulia, the entire Juventus junior squad’s collective age is still less than Peter Lawrence’s and Shawn Bunnin is a foot model in Japan.

Photo 2

Cyclocross: Bringing strangers together to race so they can ignore each other, then eventually become friends since 1902.

Di2 is a Total Game Changer, Meh

While I hate reading platitudes in bike equipment reviews like, “This is a game changer” or “best (insert whatever here) ever”, this best describes how I feel about the Shimano Ultegra DI2 electronic shifting. Like most people who first heard about using batteries to run bicycle drivetrains, especially mountain bikers, I was incredulous about the benefits versus the detriments of such a system. In a traditional sense, one of the many beautiful aspects of cycling is that it is free from technological constraints, yet ironically, we yearn year to year for the newest innovations from the industry so we can ride lighter, faster and more efficient bikes. Bikes basically have looked the same for a hundred years, yet it is packed full of modern engineering and manufacturing, so when the idea of electronic drivetrains came to light, the misoneists went on a hysterical rant whilst fondling their Garmin and updating their Strava.

Photo 2 2

After having many discussions with fellow cyclists about the positives and negatives of the DI2 system, I decided that the best way to settle the dispute was for me to actually buy a bike with such a system and test it out in a single sample size experiment. While I was eager to try out the new DI2 XTR system for mountain bikes, it was unavailable at the time. But, when the opportunity for me to obtain a cyclocross bike with Ultegra DI2, hydraulic disc brakes and carbon frame and fork came up from Opus, I immediately took it. To be honest, I have been eyeing this bike all summer as I was impressed that such a well built bike was a stock option considering that Devinci and Rocky Mountain seemed to be going with a conservative build within their cross lineup.

Out of the box, the Opus Stelle 1.0 had the looks that immediately made people look for adjectives which would describe an ugly baby: Unique, interesting or whatever. Well, whatever the looks or lack there of, I was more excited about the battery, modules and robotic noises of the electronic system. All you have to do to get the system working is to plug it in just like any other computerized toy in the house via its USB connector that plugs into the module placed underneath the stem. That’s it. I started to push the buttons and the derailleurs simply started to move. I didn’t have to connect it to the computer and program it like The Matrix, although with the Shimano software, which I have not bothered to download, you can adjust all the settings your heart desires. I find that I’d rather live in ignorance and just enjoy the simple pleasures of button shifting.

Photo 3 2

The buttons corresponded exactly like the mechanical system where the right shifter controls the rear derailleur and the left controls the front, so the system was very intuitive from the start if you are familiar with the mechanical system (You can totally change the button functions if you want to, but I don’t know why) Once riding, the system was essentially fluid and precise, just like advertised. A click of whatever button you press, the system just moves the chain to where it’s supposed to go, and I know it sounds obvious, but there has been many times where I tried to shift and it didn’t do what it was suppose to do. The brilliance is in the front shifting, the bane of my existence. I hated its poor reliability and performance. I can’t tell you how many times I looked down in vain as the front derailleur refused to move that chain up or down on the desired ring. With one easy push of a button, the front derailleur moved that chain up or down with stoic authority. I would guess that the DI2 shifting will add to our need for immediate gratification, but I will not feel guilty about enjoying the expedience of bicycle shifting.

Photo 1 2

After racing half the ABA cyclocross season so far, I think I put the system through a solid enough testing session. The results have been a resounding positive experience with no dropped chains, missed shifts or even delayed shifts. I had to only charge my battery once during the 6 weeks of riding, and that includes commuting, training and racing. I haven’t found any negatives in having an electronic system so far, and I’m sure something will come up as nothing is infallible, but even so, the positives will far exceed the negatives. Bring on the wireless electronic systems and the brain chips.

Injury Report: Broken Elbow Creates a Mid-Season Break

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!!!

Photo 3














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.

Photo 2


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 where he told me to follow him to the plaster room.  He told 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.

Photo 1

The Iron Maiden is Certified Awesome

Whether it’s the optimum time of the year, its positioning as the second XC race of the year or the fact that it is held at the much loved Canmore Nordic Center, The Iron Maiden seems to bring all the awesomeness of mountain bike racing to a perfect pinnacle moment. I don’t mean to disparage the other races in the schedule as each one has its own unique flavor and fun, but people really do show up for this race. The local hermetic Canmore racers love to defend their home course, the Calgarians love to congregate close to the mountains to race and Edmontonians treat the race as a road trip to an exotic cycling Mecca. Essentially, everyone has a good reason to sign up and throw down at the Iron Maiden.


The Spin Sisters once again organized and ran the race that used to be called the Iron Lung. Maybe it’s because I grew up in North East Edmonton in the 80’s, but I really fancy the newer name of Iron Maiden as I can just imagine Eddie on a mountain bike holding a bloody scythe scaring the shit out of teenagers around the world. Anyways, The Spin Sisters always have a great grab bag of swag in which the best was their wonderfully colored racing sock, but alas, it was missing from the sign-in table. I lamented my disappointment, and the lovely ladies from the club were equally apologetic to its absence. Apparently, they didn’t have enough stock to supply the entire racing list so they had to withdrawal it from the swag list. What a pity. The grand news to assuage the sock disappointment was the fact that they kept the exact same course from last year which was a brilliant cloverleaf design. It included Soft Yogurt, Devonian Drop, FYI, Drop In, Drop Out and Baby Baluga. You ride back to the Start/Finish area three times during each lap which allows for some great spectator cheering and viewing.

Photo 1

Photo: courtesy of Caitlin Callaghan

So there we were, nearly 300 local and not so local mountain racers (I raced against a 16 year old kid from Saskatoon) in the backdrop of the CNC on a beautiful sunny and warm day. There were plenty of reunions as people started to show up for their pre-race routine. In some cases, like Shantel Koenig to Andrea Bunnin, you ask the often stated, “How was your winter?” during the first climb of the actual race. Bizarrely friendly we mountain biker are sometimes, aren’t we? I saw so many familiar faces from past races, and I had my mental Rolodex flipping around like it was being blown by an industrial fan. “Hey, buddy…..your name is Rob, right?”- “Are you still racing for (insert club here)?”-“Did you buy a fatbike yet” etc.

Photo 3

Photo: courtesy of Caitlin Callaghan

I suppose it was business as usual in the Expert category. Nearly 30 fit skilled cyclists lining up for a painfully fun hour and a half of racing on fast yet technical Canmore trails. The most amazing sight of the weekend, besides Karen Martins doing a ride-by chamois cream reapplication, was the horde of 70 Sport men. It was a majestic sight of which hasn’t been seen in years of local ABA racing. I know very well how competitive that division is as I spent time there fighting it out with other Sport racers for the precious Upgrade Points and receiving derision from the Expert and Elite racers. I also know how many fast riders reside in that category so I knew it was going to be hard to keep ahead of them during the race. To make the race more exciting and simplified, the race organizers decided to start the Elite men, Expert men, Elite women, Sport men, Expert women and Sport women all together in a staggered start. I still don’t know how this affected the other racers due to the course congestion, but fortunately for the Expert men, we didn’t encounter too many lapped racers. I’m sure watching so many racers at once made for some exciting spectating for the crowds.

Photo 2

Mark broke his $350 carbon saddle during the first lap of the race due to his atrocious mounting skills.

To make my race as succinct as possible, I will describe it like this: Clipped into my left pedal at the first try; the race is already a success. Crashed descending the A line on the second lap causing my left brake/shifter lever to point straight up in the air. Not good. I was out of breath, having fun and got elbowed out at the finish line by a boy who probably hasn’t kissed a girl (or boy) yet. Regaled with fellow racers about the glory of finishing the race. I love Canmore.

How I Literally Fell On My Face During The First ABA Eliminator

For those of you who know how vitriolic I get when people use the word “literally” incorrectly or unnecessarily, you are probably wondering how I fell during a 90 second race. The answer is: quickly and easily.

When Mike B suggested that Hardcore should host an Eliminator race preceding the XC race in May, I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. I imagined a bunch of cyclists biking around with laser tag equipment shooting each other until there was only one person left (Hunger Games with bikes essentially). He described it as a short loop where four starting racers would race against each other and only the top two would move on in continuing heats until a final heat declared the podium. I thought to myself that I would get absolutely destroyed in that kind of formatted race where power and aggression is essential to winning so I, of course, signed up.


Brad lined up in pole position

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Terwillegar park for the Eliminator race, and I was quietly nervous for the race because there was absolutely no precedence. We had no clue as to whom would be the favorites since all we had done has been cross-country racing, and this is a totally different kind of race. It was a four person start where your bike is held up by someone so we can be clipped in and ready to start, similar to time trail starts. The race starts with a flat sprint into the first of three right turns (Yes, the entire race consisted of only three right turns) where you had to be aggressive to hit the climb first. The climb was a gravelly double track with a center rut that took about a minute to make it to the top. The second right turn was the start of the descent, which only had one fast and safe line to the left. Then, you come ripping down the trail to make the final right turn to the Start/Finish area. Sounds pretty simple, right?

Photo 1

Mark, like a tiger, ready to pounce

So, there I was, clipped into the pedals with a stranger holding on to my bike from behind while I perched over my bike like a 100m sprinter. It was utterly bizarre to be in that position since I was straight up and down with my wheels pointing straight as opposed to “trackstanding” with the bike angled and wheels askew. Then, the whistle blew and the next thing I knew, everyone was in front of me because I didn’t adjust my gearing properly for the start and it was too tall. While trying to push my heavy crank, Sam, James and some guy named Kory all hit the right turn well in front of me. In a panic, I started the climb by standing off of my saddle and hammering after James and Sam. Just when I caught up to James, I thought to myself that I had to keep going hard to catch Sam’s wheel. That didn’t turn out to be such a great plan. I somehow ended in the gravel rut in the middle of the trail and spun out the rear wheel. This forced my body to lurch forward onto my front wheel which also slipped out and hence the fall. I remember falling on my right cheekbone (Which is the sole reason I got modeling gigs in Japan in my 20’s), but then quickly getting up to salvage the race, but it was over as I saw Sam and James head towards the top of the climb, and since the rest was downhill, it was impossible to catch up. My professional Eliminator racing career just disappeared in front of my eyes.

Photo 2

I’m not going to lie, I was pretty choked crossing third, and not because of the crash, but because I had this naïve thought that I may actually be good at this. Once I rationalized the fact that I’m 41, never BMX raced, hate climbing and don’t like elbowing other racers, I started to feel better about my natural “suckiness” at Eliminator racing. But then, the physical pain from the crash started to manifest. I looked at my right knee and it was bleeding from multiple cuts, and my right elbow had a bloody abrasion. Mike B’s comment to me was, “Of course, only you would fall during the climb”. The man is a saint.

Brad was very competitive and Neil came in second which I latently expected as they are great sprinters and bike handlers. I’m hoping that this experience will embolden me to keep trying different aspects of bike racing like track, road and BMX. It was nevertheless fun to hang out with the ABA racer crowd before the impending XC race Sunday. I just hope I don’t fall, again.

The Coulee Cruiser Race Report aka Spa Weekend in Calgary

I don’t want to think that I was at all prescient about what happened during the weekend of the Coulee Cruiser race in Lethbridge, but wow, talk about a spring snowstorm!  If you had read my previous blog about how the arrival of spring snowstorms reminds me that the first ABA cross country mountain bike race was upon us, you could say that I jinxed the race because it was cancelled due to rain and snow, making the trails un-rideable.

Photo 2
On the Friday of the race weekend, Shantel, Brad and I loaded up the Subaru with our mountain bikes and race gear to head down to Lethbridge and enjoy the first road trip of the year.  With our travel mugs filled with coffee and heading down south on the QE2, I received an ominous phone call from Josh from the ABA.  Now, we are friends, but for him to call me at 11:00am, it didn’t feel like a social call, and it wasn’t.  He told me that he was standing in the coulees at Lethbridge College and the trails were so muddy and slick that he was barely able to stand still to take a picture.   I told him to cancel the race immediately even though the race was Sunday and there was a slim chance of the trails drying out.  But similar to Edmonton trails, the Lethbridge trails are composed of clay, and when it gets wet, the clay turns soft, slick and soupy.  Josh had another meeting planned with the race organizers to discuss the race conditions, but he promised they would make a decision within the hour.

Photo 1
Now, we had to make a decision with the impending cancellation:  Do we just cancel our accommodations in Lethbridge and Calgary and stay home or do we just spend the weekend in Calgary and have a fun team building weekend?  Well, by the time we received the official cancellation notice, we were near Red Deer so the three of us decided to travel on and spend the weekend in Calgary for some quality bonding time.  Brad is originally from Calgary so we had a place to stay for the weekend, which assuaged the disappointment of the cancelled race.  When we arrived at Brad’s parent’s house, it was snowing moderately hard and we were tired from the drive.  As cyclists, we decided that the best way to get our motivation up is to get out there and ride in the snow and 3 degree temperature.  Of course, we didn’t have fenders or booties, so within 5 minutes of the ride, we were completely soaked top to bottom. Shantel forgot her glasses so her eyeballs were being pelted by snowflakes while my toes and fingers started to freeze.  Brad gave us a lovely tour of the Calgary suburban neighborhoods while barely avoiding getting hit by cars that were surprised to see cyclists out during a snowstorm.

Photo 3
When we arrived back to the house, we decided that the only remedy for our dour moods was for us to hit the Calgary nightlife and get completely inebriated with sweet, sweet beer.  After a hot shower, we headed out to The National on 17th.  I knew it was going to be an epic night when we walked in and immediately saw Colm Meaney from Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Commitments fame.  I mean, he was a big deal and a big man, literally, as I texted all my Trekkie friends and they went completely nerd crazy.  Can you imagine if I ran into Patrick Stewart?

Photo 5
Shantel and I were quite pleased that The National’s beer prices were based on volume and not on the type of beer.  So, we ordered the Ommegang Saison and the Dieu du Ciel Rosee Hibiscus in pints, and that was the beginning of the end.  The rest of the night was quite foggy as I must have been in a fugue state, but I did manage to get to the Brad’s parent’s place in the correct bed thus avoid a “Three’s Company” mix up.  All that winter training really paid off.
I woke up the next morning at 10:00am to the smell of the most glorious scent in the world, sausages.  Brad’s dad, George, made us breakfast as he knew full well of our morning impairment.  With our bellies filled with sausages and waffles, we had to decide whether or not were going for another urban bike ride, but after a quick deliberation, we headed to some hippie yoga studio for an hour and a half of Yin yoga.  This was the mellowest yoga class I had ever been to, ever.  We put ourselves in a total of 10 poses for the entire hour and a half, and one woman just slept for the entire class (one would have to assume that she had a yearly pass).  It was basically nap time for adults, a sweaty one at that as it was one of those “hot yoga” places where they needed to have special tags just so you don’t get your awful UGGs mixed up at the door.  I do love yoga, but I think I will stick to the power yoga next time and just take my naps at home.  It’s cheaper and less embarrassing.

Photo 4
After another night of beer drinking at the awful Craft pub, we load up the car and headed home. During the drive, we were reminiscing about our relaxing weekend of November urban cycling in May, being Star Trek struck, being feed waffles and sausages, bike shop perusing and going to the laziest yoga class ever and we decided that it was a great start to our race season.  Bring on the Royal River Valley Rumble III, baby!!!