About shannykoenig

bicycles, landscape ecology, cats, music, maps, and flemish reds and abbey ales are all of interest to me.

#whatimwearing

Whether you like to admit it or not, fashion and selecting and coordinating one’s cycling wardrobe is a big part of cycling. Especially if you follow professional cycling, jerseys, bibs, gloves, helmets, glasses, socks, shoes, arm and leg warmers, and any other accessory you can think of, are carefully and strategically chosen, although the end result and actual appeal of the “coordination” can certainly be debated.

Love it or hate it? The Mapei kit has both admirers and admonishers. Which group do you belong to?

Love it or hate it? The classic Mapei kit has both admirers and admonishers. Which group do you belong to?

ugly-10

No comment.

Let’s be frank. For some reason, there are is a lot of ugly cycling clothing out there. Interestingly though, while we can all agree that a great deal of ugly cycling clothing exists, it is much harder to come to a consensus on what is ugly and what isn’t. For example, ask greazypanda his opinion on “team x’s kit” and be prepared for a lengthy rant. However, ask another cyclist about the same kit, and you will hear the complete opposite opinion. Therefore, all we can safely conclude is that it’s tricky to put together a team look that is appealing, catchy, and unique, while also providing any team sponsors appropriate advertising space. Our Kokanee Redbike team, in my personal opinion, has an exceptional looking kit that achieves this blend of requirements nicely. Made by Champion System, our shorts and jerseys have a great fit and are comfortable for those long days in the saddle. The colours have been carefully chosen and paired well – no garish or unflattering combinations – and our sponsors are well advertised on our kit. Sticking with a tasteful combo of blue, black, grey, and a bit of white also makes it easy to match all our other equipment with our kit, which is really what we’re being judged on at the start line.

The fine Kokanee Redbike kit being modelled by Josh.

To really top out and polish our team look, we are lucky to have Giro on board again this season as a sponsor for all our other essential wardrobe components. I feel very lucky to have Giro as a supporting sponsor, especially since their full range of cycling wear is stylish, fits amazing well, and is durable. It’s not often that a company’s full line of products works; often you find that while a company’s helmets may fit great, their shoes or gloves don’t work so well. This is certainly not the case with Giro; their gloves, helmets, shoes, and socks are all solid items for whatever type of cycling you’re into. In particular this year, we’ll be sporting the new Giro Synthe helmet and the Giro VR90 shoes, both in colour schemes to match our kits and to also add a little flair to our look. Up top, we will be protecting our noggins and greazypanda’s exceptionally well-maintained haircut with the matte black-blue Synthe, a lightweight racing helmet that is also designed with aerodynamics in mind. Down low, our feet will be looking extra flashy this season with the silver/yellow VR90 lace-up mountain bike shoes. I’m eager to try out a lace-up shoe this season, which proponents claim offers a more precise fit and eliminates the problems of Velcro strips and buckles that wear out quickly. The soles on the VR90 also promise to be significantly grippier than our previous team shoes – the Vibram sole should provide some much needed stability when it comes time to clamber by foot over loose or wet un-rideable sections of trail.

giro_h_synthe_bluematteblack_34

New this year on our noggins – the Giro Synthe helmet in the perfect colours to match our kits!

Giro-Empire-VR90-Shoes-silver

Super snazzy kicks down low. The Giro VR90 mountain bike shoe is sure to impress the ladies and the gents.

I think you’ll agree we’re going to be a pretty good looking team this year. I’m not sure there’s any scientific proof that having an awesome looking kit makes you any faster, but nobody remembers results anyways, so as long as we’re winning the cycling fashion battle I think we’re doing alright.

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I’ve found mountain bike mecca, and it’s in the Yukon.

Every cyclist has some sort of “bucket list” of events or places they’d like to ride. I’ve been very lucky to have been able to cross a few off my list over the years – BC Bike Race, the Breck Epic, the Deschutes Cup USGP in Bend, riding in Provence and Nice… making it to these oft daydreamed about cycling races/events and pleasure trips allows one to experience new places in the best way, by bike. However, some trips come about without even making it on your radar beforehand – such was the case with my recent trip up north to Whitehorse to mountain bike and participate in the 24 Hours of Light.

Glad to be invited along on this adventure!

Glad to be invited along on this adventure!

If you are anything thing like me, your initial reaction to the suggestion of Whitehorse, Yukon as the ultimate destination for a mountain bike getaway is skeptical at best. Especially since my only previous exposure to the Yukon was as the lone 12 year old along on a senior citizens’ RV driving tour to Alaska way back in the summer of 1989 with my grandma, I didn’t really associate the northern Canadian latitudes with “mountain bike mecca”.  I was assured by my traveling compatriots though this was a under the radar type of find, and sure enough as I started to do a little research on the area’s trails (check them out here) and talk to those from or who had visited Whitehorse, it was evident there was certainly some awesome biking to be had to the north.

Beforehand, I certainly didn't associate this with the Yukon.

Beforehand, I certainly didn’t associate this with the Yukon (McDonald Creek Trail).

Our travel plans were loosely scheduled around the scheduling of the 24 Hours of Light, a 24 hour mountain bike race of the standard format where the most laps of the course completed wins, with a few notable rule changes. More on that later. The race was scheduled for Saturday/Sunday, so flights were scheduled to arrive Wednesday and depart Monday to allow for plenty of ride time and relaxation time. I did briefly consider driving up to Whitehorse until Google Maps informed me the drive would be an arduous 3500 km.

During the planning stages, there was mention back and forth about camping for the duration of the trip, but being the princess I am, I found a suitable AirBnB listing at a reasonable price and booked it before anyone could protest. A word to the wise here – if you’re booking accomadations in the Yukon, descriptors such as “rustic” and “true Yukon experience” should be taken literally; upon reading the fine print when looking through listings, many of the cabins could more truthfully be described as shacks with no running water or electricity. Rustic indeed. Luckily I caught on to this early on, and our rental abode was a nice basement suite right in downtown Whitehorse with everything we could need for a home base during the trip. We also splurged on a pimped out suburban rental to haul the bikes around and get to the various riding areas outside of Whitehorse.

Hey - I think I saw this listing on AirBnB! (Circus Jim trail)

Hey – I think I saw this listing on AirBnB! (Circus Jim trail)


Riding in style in our rental suburban.

Riding in style in our rental suburban.

I debated a bit about renting a bike versus taking my own, and in the end I decided to bring along the Thunderbolt since it’s always nice to have your own bike and the cost of a rental was about the same as baggage charges. Plus, Brent graciously lent me the fantastic biknd Jetpack (watch for an upcoming review) to keep my bicycle safe from airport gorillas. As for available rentals, which I checked into while flip-flopping about whether to bring my own bike, the local shops Cadence Cycle and Icycle Sport were both super helpful and have a good selection of rental mountain bikes of all shapes and sizes at competitive prices.

Ella supervises as I pack the Thunderbolt for safe travel.

Ella supervises as I pack the Thunderbolt for safe travel.

After a very early flight and horrible customer service from Air Canada at the Edmonton airport (I have since learned from others to choose Air North), I met up with Calgary outbound Shawna and Katy at the Vancouver airport, and we were equally excited about the days ahead. How much daylight would there actually be? What were the trails going to be like? Would our bikes survive Air Canada’s not so delicate baggage handling skills? As our flight descended towards Whitehorse, I began to get even more excited. My plane window view of endless rolling hills and lakes and rivers made the riding possibilities come in to focus, and I was able to pick out places I had read about on the interwebs such as the historic mining town of Carcross and the associated riding area of Montana Mountain. Even though it was already mid-afternoon when we landed, we quickly gained an appreciation for the high sun – with the almost never-ending summer daylight there was still plenty of time to unpack, build bikes, grab a snack, and, most importantly, get in a good ride before the day was over.

Our AirBnB rental, complete with running water and electricity.

Our AirBnB rental, complete with running water and electricity.

We hit the trails that first day around 8:00pm, which felt like about 3:00pm with the sun still high above us, taking in some of the local trails on Grey Mountain. It was clear right away the trails here were buff and fast and super fun, not to mention well signed and marked. Without too much trouble we easily explored an astounding variety of trails in our first couple of hours, and had to pull over more than a couple of times to take in the views and our surroundings and snap photos. From fast and flowy Boogaloo, to more techy My Trail, and the super fun descent El Camino, this first ride was both satisfying and served to whet our appetites for the days ahead. As we headed out to eat after our ride around 11:00pm in full daylight, we encountered our only real problem of the trip – restaurants and bar kitchens in Whitehorse almost all shut down at 10:00pm, and I found myself eating at a Boston Pizza for the first time in years. Fortunately though, I was so hungry and satisfied with our first ride I didn’t even care and picked out something from the textbook-sized menu.

First impressions of Yukon riding = woot!

First impressions of Yukon riding = woot!

The next day we headed an hour’s drive south to the quietly famed riding area of Montana Mountain near Carcross. The drive was a scenic one with the stunning Emerald Lake and impressive, yet tiny Carcross Desert. We couldn’t help but spend a couple hours poking around the historic town and little shops and watching the classic steam engine go through town until a surprising number of tour coaches from Alaska pulled in, and we decided it was a good time to hit the trails.

The stunning Emerald Lake.

The stunning Emerald Lake.


The world's smallest desert. No joke. Wikipedia says so.

The world’s smallest desert. No joke. Wikipedia says so.


Cute, ole Carcross, seconds before it became overrun with tourists from 'merica.

Cute, ole Carcross, seconds before it became overrun with tourists from ‘merica.


Legend has it these are the orginal gumballs from when Carcross was incorporated in 1902.

Legend has it these are the orginal gumballs from when Carcross was incorporated in 1902.

This first time out at Montana Mountain we decided to aim for one of the longer, more epic loops, and after a big gravel road climb up and a bit of picture taking from high up we dove into McDonald Creek Trail to descend back down to lake level on a fantastic 10km singletrack trail that rolled through almost every ecotype you can imagine. Back down at lake level we traversed back on the singletrack of Circus Jim, getting views of the lake and being chased by angry hissing grouse. Shawna’s squeals were a definite highlight that I wish I had captured on video. The day’s ride left me with that calm glow and happy feeling that comes from a good hard ride, and determined to make it back to Whitehorse before all the restaurants closed, Katy floored it back to Whitehorse, and we ate and drank local Yukon Brewing beer at the tasty Burnt Toast Cafe. After dinner it was still light, and keen to get in some more ride time we headed out at 11:30pm and rode in the dusky daylight with our only trail use encounter a very large, Strava segment-chasing porcupine on El Camino.

Big climb up and a big smile from Shawna.

Big climb up and a big smile from Shawna.


A neat section over a marsh on the descent of MacDonald Creek Trail

A neat section over a marsh on the descent of McDonald Creek Trail

Next day was a bit grey and rainy, so we lounged over breakfast at Baked and played tourist a bit. The local galleries were chalk full of amazing local works, and it was hard not to impulsively buy sculpted goods and prints. When the skies finally cleared at 4:00pm, it still felt like noon with the sun high overhead, and we headed just south of town to check out the Yukon Riverside trail, Juicy trail, and Girlfriend trail, a loop suggested by various locals. The loop was fantastic, again providing a spectrum of trail types and mesmerizing views. We were having so much fun, we ending up rolling in late to the 24 Hours of Light registration, but no one seemed to mind and were just happy to have us there. We weren’t quite ready to call it a day with all the daylight, and with our second ride of the day starting at 8:30pm putting our climbing legs and descending skills to good use, we once more found ourselves looking for supper late, ultimately again ending up at Boston Pizza.

Next to the Yukon river - more buff singletrack.

Next to the Yukon river – more buff singletrack.


Never a shortage of views when riding.

Never a shortage of views when riding.


Katy and Shawna hamming it up

Katy and Shawna hamming it up


Actual girlfriend.

Actual girlfriend.

Saturday, the 24 hour race was scheduled to start at noon, and I volunteered to do the first couple of laps before I learned there was a LeMans start involved. Luckily, it was a very short run of only a couple hundred meters or so, and I headed out relieved to ride some laps. The lap was a good one, although not as enjoyable as the other trails we had ridden thus far, so we decided to each do three or four laps and then take off for a more mellow evening. We returned the next morning to put in some more laps before the race ended at noon, and were humored and slightly relieved to hear we had missed seeing all the naked laps that transpired during the night. Apparently, each naked lap counted as two laps, and I’m convinced this inclusion of naked riding is why the race enforces a “no lights allowed” policy. We stuck around for the awards and wrap-up and all agreed what a super-fun and laid back vibe the event had. Completely different from your standard 24 Hours of Adrenalin vibe, and one that I honestly liked way better. The free barbecue and pancake breakfast were also nice touches, and everyone was friendly and great to talk to and happy to talk about what it was like to live and ride in Whitehorse.

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Super awesome vibe at the 24HOL

Super awesome vibe at the 24HOL


Shawna comes through after a lap.

Shawna comes through after a lap.

After the ceremonies wrapped up, we couldn’t help but to head back to Montana Mountain to experience more of its trails. Once again we peddled up the gravel road, and once again we were rewarded for our efforts with amazing singletrack and views all the way down the mountain. Riding the trails Nares View, Caribou, Beaver, Porcupine, Black Bear, and AlaskaDnD, once more I was astounded by the variety of terrain and different styles of singletrack that could be combined into one area – from buff forest floor to rock slabs to man-made wood feaures, the trails we rode on this last day were singletrack heaven, and I actually remarked outloud in one awestruck moment how boring my life would be without mountain biking. The day finished off perfectly with some super delicious poutine in Carcross at the Bistro on Bennett, where we ogled at the burgers coming out of the kitchen. Definitely getting one of those bad boys next time.

View from Nares View Trail

View from Nares View Trail


Katy and Shawna rolling a fun section of Nares View Trail

Katy and Shawna rolling a fun section of Nares View Trail


Like descending from heaven.

Coming out of Nares View was kinda like descending from heaven.


Shawna shows the skillz on a slab.

Shawna shows her skillz on a slab.


Post-ride rewards of the best kind #poutineup

Post-ride rewards of the best kind #poutineup

I was sad to see Monday morning come, as it meant it was time to pack up the bikes and head to the airport. It felt like we had barely scratched the surface of all the riding that was in and around Whitehorse, and I wasn’t ready to head home. As the plane lifted off, I gazed out the window at the immense landscape, which I now knew to be a mountain biker’s paradise, and began secretly scheming how and when I could return to mountain bike mecca.

My trusted steed performed flawlessly on everything the Yukon served up.

My trusted steed performed flawlessly on everything the Yukon served up – even at 11:30pm.


Miles Canyon

Miles Canyon


Permagrins at Montana Mountain.

Permagrins at Montana Mountain.


I'll be back to ride you again Whitehorse.

I’ll be back to ride you again Whitehorse.

Gravel grinding – Ghost of the Gravel recap

A new addition to the ABA racing calendar is always welcome in my books. Especially when it’s a bit different from a standard XC mountain bike, cyclocross, or road event, I’m typically keen to give it a try. Anyone that had the pain and pleasure to experience the Kettle Cross bicycle race will tell you what a unique and great event it was, and it also was able to attract a large number of cyclists not part of the regular licensed racer crowd. This is a win in my opinion, since it gets those who cannot be coaxed to line up to an ABA race to come out and see what it’s all about.

Sadly, the Kettle Cross is on hiatus this year, but the Deadgoats threw in a late edition to the calendar of a comparable flavour – the Ghost of the Gravel road race/fondo. Promising to be something completely different and targeted at racers and non-racers, and also an area I haven’t had a chance to cycle through, I signed up and put some 28mm slicks on my trusty Van Dessel FTB cyclocross bike as suggested by the race organizers to tackle the various types of road surfaces and 1500 m of climbing.

The 144km route was a challenging, yet enjoyable and very scenic mix of rolling pavement and gravel/dirt roads that looped through the foothills northwest of Cochrane via Water Valley and Waiparous Village (Strava route here). 28 mm slicks were perfect even along the wet dirt roads, and none of the climbs were too steep or long for my single ring cyclocross 40/11-32 set up to manage comfortably. Two neutral feedzones were provided at 70 and 94 kms, which were well stocked with basic cyclist-style energy products like Clif bars, bananas, and water or Gatorade. Weather was a mixed bag on the day, starting out on the meagre side with rain and strong winds and audible cursing by some, but there were eventually a few sunny moments in there and luckily some sweet tailwinds most of the way home. I started the day off with a rain jacket, which I was glad I packed, and it was shed and re-donned during the day with the variable weather conditions. I’ve left the rain jacket in the car one too many times, and now don’t mind dealing with the extra pocket bulk in exchange for the chance to stay a bit warmer when the rain hits. The roads were essentially quiet, with the exception of a few over-aggressive redneck Alberta land trains, appropriately named by Katy Curtis, who couldn’t get their ATVs and dirt bikes to the various trailheads along Highway 40 fast enough. I’m sure most of them had never witnessed that many spandex-clad men in all their lives and were concerned if they didn’t drive fast enough away it may affect their masculinity somehow.

Interestingly, although not really pushed heavily by organizers as a race, the event was part of the ABA Road Cup points series. Unfortunately for me, this made the start way too fast on a day that I was more interested in a pleasure cruise, and after a few kms of trying to sit in riding a tempo that clearly wasn’t sustainable for 144km and getting constantly sprayed with water and road grime on this particularly rainy and windy day, Katy and I settled into a much more enjoyable and civilized pace that allowed for conversation and to enjoy the magnificent views. We happened upon more than a few riders along the way who had cracked from starting too hard, and even witnessed one overly dramatic bike toss at a feed zone. There were a fair number of DNFs, which I will tentatively blame on the weather conditions and under-preparedness, but for those that stuck it out, finishing times ranged from 4:30 hours for the Cat 1/2 winner to around 7 hours for some. This made it hard to coordinate any of the podium presentations, and maybe next year it would be worthwhile to reverse the staging and start the slower groups first so the race ends more or less at the same time of the day for everyone.

For a first time event, it was well organized and attended, and I hope the Deadgoats bring it back next year so a few more Edmonton riders make the trip down and try something different out. It’s the kind of riding that we certainly don’t have around here, and an event like this makes it easy to get a flavour and taste for long and epic gravel grinds.

My favourite way to end a big ride day - pizza from Leva

My favourite way to end a big ride day – pizza from Leva

Lids and Kicks and Sh!ts and Giggles – First Impressions of the Giro Synthe and Empire VR90 Shoes

I’ve had a bit of time now to use the Giro Synthe helmet and Empire VR90 shoes whose arrival I professed to keenly awaiting a while back, so here’s a quick review of my thoughts so far on the two.

Giro Synthe Helmet

The Giro Synthe is an expensive lid, but fits amazingly and is exceptionally light. To quote Ned Flanders, “It’s like wearing nothing at all”. I cannot profess to the aerodynamic claims of the helmet as I don’t road race or typically participate in events where aerodynamic savings come into play, but it sure looks fast, so I’ll take Giro’s word for it. The helmet’s retention system is designed in a way that allows the helmet to levitate a bit and not squish directly against your skull, and as a result the aeration and venting is outstanding and almost too good – on a couple of chilly rides I was secretly wishing for a cap.

On this windy and wet day at the Ghost of Gravel race, the Synthe and Empire VR90s made the suffering a little more tolerable

On this windy and wet day at the Ghost of Gravel race, the Synthe and Empire VR90s made the suffering a little more tolerable (photo credit: E. Bakke)


Greazy Panda - always testing manufactures claims for the benefit of others.

Greazy Panda – always testing manufactures claims for the benefit of others.

On the safety side of things, unselfish as he is and clearly for everyone else’s benefit, Greazy Panda made sure to test the safety and impact protectiveness of the helmet by launching head-first into a tree the first time he wore it, and the helmet did its due diligence by taking the full brunt of the collision and leaving the rider uninjured and unscathed. It can be a worry for some that a helmet this light and racer oriented may not be sturdy enough to provide proper head protection, but this is clearly not the case with the Giro Synthe. Superb helmet! Order now! Redbike phone operators are standing by to take your call!

A Giro Synthe Haiku

So comfortable

Light and aerodynamic

My head is chilly

Giro Empire VR90 Mountain Bike Shoes

I’m really enjoying the Empire VR90 shoes so far. Even though I’m not one for attention, I really like the eye-catching colour scheme, and I will admit to slightly enjoying the “ooohs” and gawking the first time I showed up to the start line in them. They feel just like my most comfortable walking shoes, but while maintaining the stiffness and performance needed for a race-level cycling shoe. There must be some wizardry and sorcery in the design and manufacturing process somewhere. I wasn’t sure how laces on a cycling shoe would pan out; however, the ability for laces to fine tune the fit and snugness exactly where you’d like is not just an empty claim, but actually a very true and really beneficial feature. As with other high end Giro shoes released in the past, they come with three different arch support inserts so you can further fine tune the fit based on your foot shape. On the outside, the lace holes are nicely reinforced and laces don’t slip once you’ve cinched them to where you want them, and there’s a cozy little elasticized snuggy to stow the extra tied laces. I’ve worn them in both uncomfortably hot conditions and rainy/windy/cold conditions, and my feet were comfortable in both, which I can only assume is due to more secret mystery ingredients.

There's magic inside this shoe bag...

There’s magic inside this shoe bag…

The Vibram sole is wondrous, and unlike other mountain bike shoes I’ve worn actually provides traction when you need to scramble on your feet, unlike most mountain bike shoe treads, which typically make it more dangerous to walk than ride. Like the Synthe, the VR90s are also on the expensive end of the spectrum for gear, but with the fit, looks, and features, I don’t even hesitate to say they are worth the investment. Did I mention they come with a snazzy Giro shoe bag and an extra set of laces?

A Giro Empire VR90 Haiku

A glass slipper fit

Maybe made from unicorns

I’m Cinderella

Kokanee Redbike p/b Giro's Magical Unicorn Ingredients

Kokanee Redbike p/b Giro’s Magical Unicorn Ingredients (photo credit: M. Higuchi)

Breck Epic Overview – It’s All GOOD!

I’ve had a chance to recover a bit and re-oxygenate my brain and body, and can reflect pretty clearly now on my entire Breck Epic experience. People have been asking quite a few questions, so I’ll share a bit of my thoughts and hopefully can give people a good idea of the whole she-bang and what’s involved.

Schwag central!

If you’re interested in some of the day-by-day replay, check out my reports from during the race:

Stage 1, Stages 2 & 3Stages 4 & 5Stage 6

There’s also some great photo recaps on mtbr.com here:

Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, Stage 4, Stage 5, Stage 6

 

Karen enjoys some buff singletrack.

Karen enjoys some buff singletrack.

A lot of people have asked if this race is better than race X, or if I had to choose between the Breck Epic and other stage races, which would I choose. First off, I would definitely consider this a “bucket list” event that any mountain biker should do. Especially if you’re like me and use races and events as a way to visit and ride in new places, the Breck Epic provides fantastic Colorado riding. Although the riding itself is definitely less technical, and there was less singletrack overall than I expected, the trails themselves are really fun, very well maintained, and the scenery amazing. Ultimately, this event is more a test of brute fitness rather than your skills as a mountain biker, which is not good or bad, but just a different kind of challenge. Being at altitude makes this race completely unique, and it was a fascinating experience both on and off the bike.

Start line

Start line

I’m going to just say it – people were really freaking fit at the Breck Epic. It wasn’t just me that noticed this; you know the field must be a bit above average when a chiseled, hardened singlespeeder remarks how fit everyone is. I’m not sure if there are just generally a lot of locals that participate who are acclimatized to the conditions, or if a lot of racers come early to adjust, or if I’m just extra affected by oxygen deprivation (likely all three of these are partially true), but I spent most of every climb (and there were a lot) watching helplessly as people seemingly effortlessly pedaled past me as I huffed and puffed slowly pushing my easiest gear. The worst was the hike-a-bike sections over the continental divide and Wheeler’s Pass. I have never felt so terrible and out of shape even though I’m fitter than I’ve ever been. Yes, I could play the 27 pound bike card, and I’m sure it didn’t make the climbs any easier, but the altitudinal effects on my fitness and performance were both humbling and depressing at times.

 

Wheeler pass. Photo by Liam Doran.

Wheeler pass. Photo by Liam Doran.

Hike-a-bike at 12 500 ft. Exhausting. Photo by Eddie Clark.

Hike-a-bike at 12 500 ft. Exhausting. Photo by Eddie Clark.

On the plus side for me, while fitness seemed to be most people’s strength, technical skills and descending prowess were not. My bruised ego received a bit of pampering and rebuilding on every descent as I was able to pass by a lot of people who had ripped past me on the climbs and were clearly out of their comfort zone descending. The length and variety of the descents was also a really big treat; as a flat lander from Edmonton where our longest descents in the river valley are a minute or two, getting to descend for ten minutes or more at a time was absolutely glorious, and riding some truly rocky terrain was also very exciting.

 

The long push up, snaking up Wheeler (photo credit: Liam Doran)

The long push up, snaking up Wheeler (photo credit: Liam Doran)

Each stage was mapped out in detail

Each stage was mapped out in detail

The Thunderbolt ate up the descents

The Thunderbolt ate up the descents

Only having done it once, I’m clearly no expert on the Breck Epic, but I have formed some opinions, and here are some things to consider if you are thinking of registering:

  1. Flying vs. driving: We drove from Edmonton. It took 2 whole days and 20ish hours, and Wyoming is honestly the most boring scenery I’ve ever experienced. Pretty in its own way, but not for a 7 hour stretch. There is also a lot of small town America to endure. Again, scenic and interesting in its own way, but not in such a large quantity. While driving is probably more economical than flying, if I ever went again I would more than likely fly.
  2. Accomodations: One of the best things about the Breck Epic is that you can stay in one place in Breckenridge for the duration of the race. I did the stage race tenting/transfer/shower trailer thing once, and will honestly never do it again. I’m not afraid to admit I’m a princess. We rented a big and beautiful vacation rental home, and 11 of us stayed there comfortably and for a very reasonable price. Our place was just outside of town though (just south in Blue River), and this meant a great deal of driving and shuttling in and out of town. If you rent a place, make sure it’s right in Breckenridge, the closer to downtown the better. Trust me, the last thing you want to do after spending over four hours on your bike climbing at altitude is pedaling your sorry ass uphill out of town back to homebase.
  3. Eating: I’m still undecided on this one. The race offers a meal plan that some friends signed up for and said it was great and totally worth it, but the rest of us just ate out every night, which was also enjoyable and you could choose what you felt like to eat. For the record, there are a lot of great coffee shops (Cuppa Joe, Clint’s) and places to eat (Relish, Twist, Crepes a la Carte) in Breckenridge. I also wholeheartedly recommend the cookie dough cookie sandwich from Mary’s Mountain Cookies. The house we stayed at had a great kitchen, but my experience has been that when you race each day you don’t really want to go to the effort of cooking and cleaning. I also find if you cook your own meals you end up overbuying groceries and supplies that just end up getting wasted or thrown away after the race. Go with your gut on this one.
  4. Bike setup: this is a test of physical strength not technical skill, so I would definitely suggest a light bike. Most people at the front were on hardtail 29ers, and while I had a blast on my alloy dually with 120 mm of travel on the downhills, I was cursing life an awful lot on the hike-a-bike sections and on the long road climbs. Steve Martins had probably the best, most comfortable set-up of all of us with his super light Trek dually 29er. If you can afford something like that, do it. If not, sell some stuff or rescind your kid’s college fund and treat yourself. I’m a masher at the best of times, but with the physical stress at altitude I can’t even imagine using a 1 by set-up; among those that did, many (including Steve and eventually John Clark) were running 28-tooth rings on the front to deal with the thin air climbs. On the rubber side, about half the descents are fairly rocky and have been known to shred tires. I passed a lot of people repairing flats over the week and was quite thankful I decided to go with 2.25 tubeless snakeskin Schwalbe Rocket Rons. I was fairly careful about my lines and avoided sharp stuff where possible, but if you’re prone to just blast down the rocks it may be worthwhile to go with a burlier tire.
  5. Aid stations and bags: There were at least two aid stations per stage, and they were well-stocked with gels, fruit, Gu Roctane, and water. I, and most everyone else I know, only carried one bottle and never ran out of fluids, although I don’t typically drink very much. You get an aid bag for each station that you can fill with whatever you want (extra bottles, clothes, tools, food, etc.), and I took advantage of this the first few days, but stopped as I never ended up needing anything except what was already provided at the aid stations. We had really good weather though and never needed any extra layers; if the forecast had been sketchy it would have been a nice treat to have access to the extra layers or dry clothes I had stored in my aid station bags. On the bike I carried a multi-tool, a quick-link, CO2, tube, small pump, a couple gels, my bottle, a vest and arm warmers, my phone, a credit card, $20, and a bit of duct tape.
Finisher's buckle

Finisher’s buckle

Overall, the Breck Epic was extremely well-organized and everyone was laid-back, super-friendly, and knowledgeable. I also felt really appreciated and valued as a participant, which tells you this is a real rider’s kind of race and not some corporate, money-focused endeavor. I will definitely return; hopefully with some climbing legs packed next time around…

Wyoming by van. Never again.

Wyoming by van. Never again.

#merica

#merica

#merica

#merica

#merica

#merica

Stage 1 mugshot.

Stage 1 mugshot. Sums up my overall feelings about the Breck Epic.

Raiding the River Raid XC

With all of our varying lifestyles and commitments, bringing the Kokanee Redbike squad all together for races is a challenge. So, with this in mind, we decided early in the spring to pick a couple of “key” events to which we could all attend and show are team colours. Being one of our favourite cycling event destinations, the team unanimously decided that the River Raid XC race in Devon would highlight as a key team participation event. It’s earned the name Bike Town for a reason; the community is always fantastic and very supportive of anything and everything bike that rolls into town.

Mark J 1

Dr. Jung Taking the Plung (Photo: Matthew Clark Stirl and Rae Photo)

I will admit upfront my vote for Devon was solely based upon the “people” factor and not the trail factor – I raced the Devon XC a few times years back, and my memories were of a course primarily composed of multi-use gravel trails linked together by short sections of not the greatest singletrack. With positive reports from last year’s racers and rumours of new trail additions to the course though, I approached the race with a clean slate of expectations.

Chantel

Shanny Drops In (Photo: Matthew Clark Stirl and Rae Photo)

Mark and I decided a pre-ride would be a good idea, and it’s never a bad idea to hit the trails with a local, so we met up Saturday evening with cycling guru/legend/local shop owner/hostess-with-the-mostest Pepper Harlton to get in a couple laps. The first half of the course was mostly as I remembered it, using the double track to get you quickly to the bottom of the valley, across to the campground, and up and around to the second half of the course. You had to keep on your toes though; a descent followed by a tight turn and a punchy climb was a common theme that could easily result in an overspeed crash into the bushes or in a snapped chain from being in too hard a gear. It was clear early on that momentum and being able to carry your speed through to the punchy climbs were integral to do well, especially for those on an overweight, overgunned full suspension bike. Without much for roots or bumps, full lockout engaged! also quickly became a goto strategy to increase efficiency.

Mike 1

Sarns Danglin’ (Photo: Matthew Clark Stirl and Rae Photo)

The second half of the course was the highlight for me as it featured a shwack of new, very well-built singletrack that traversed back towards the start/finish and a super fun, techy descent. The descent really highlighted the trail-building chops that the Devon Bicycling Association has – well thought out and challenging lines with quality built berms and bridges that will stand the test of time from both a sustainability and enjoyment point of view. All in all a very fun yet demanding course; while I certainly enjoyed the loop, I was quite relieved when race morning the ABA lowered the lap count of my race by one to equal that of the Expert men.

Mark 2

Game Face (Photo: Matthew Clark Stirl and Rae Photo)

Race day was a success on all fronts. 130 racers spanning the spectrum of ages and abilities came out to participate. James gets extra props for racing his fatbike on that physically demanding course, although his bike is actually lighter than mine, so I take that back. Mike had an excellent race finishing second in Elite men and had the cutest podium accessory. Mark had a very solid top ten finish in Expert men, and I did okay too.

IMG 1341

Mike with Myla’s First Podium

Poor Brad is still on the injured list, but was a top notch support crew, and Sheldon was there to provide moral support and raucous cheering. Once again the folks of Devon came through with an action-packed and fun-filled day. Truly committed to the cycling and racing experience, they are already talking about how to make next year better and how to build and integrate even more singletrack into the race loop. There’s even talk of trying to incorporate some of the bike park trails and features, which would hopefully entice more riders from Southern Alberta (Calgary I’m looking in your direction) to come up to support the race.

IMG 1696

Shanny’s #1!

We challenge other clubs to also select Devon races for their focus races or key club events since the DBA and town are committed to growing the cycling lifestyle in their community. Once again, big thanks to the Devon Bicycle Association and the folks of Town of Devon for a great day!

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Greazy Panda and Chicken Wing

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Shanny Photo Bomb!

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Shanny is a ‘Leader’!

Calgary Retreat 2: Revenge of the Bike Nerds

Despite the unfortunate cancelling of the Summer Solstice and Giver 8er races at COP in Calgary this past weekend, Mark, Brad (our newest team member), and I were still keen for a change of scenery and to get some out of town riding in. So, we packed up Brad’s Forester with our bikes and our favourite Xterra champ Mike Vine, and we headed for Bragg Creek early Saturday morning with visions of sweet mountain trails in our heads.

Ready to hit the road. There's even a fourth bike crammed inside.

Ready to hit the road. There’s even a fourth bike crammed inside.

It was a beautiful morning, and as we headed out of the Southern stretches of Calgary to meet up with Josh in Priddis for brunch, we took in the lovely foothills scenery and shared more than a few laughs over the abundance of hideous Primal jerseys and clip-on aero bars we saw being used by the sportif weekend riders out on the highway.

Exhibit A: Hideous cycling jerseys. Does anyone know why people choose to wear this stuff?

Exhibit A: Hideous cycling jerseys. Does anyone know why people choose to wear this stuff?

It took a while for Mark to choke down his diner coffee at brunch (“it’s just brown and water”), but finally we were on our way to West Bragg to ride. Unfortunately, we were just a little behind in our timing, and as we pulled in to the trail parking lot, dark clouds rolled in and the rain started to fall quite heavily. Josh figured it would be a quick storm, and we unanimously decided to patiently wait it out before we hit the trails. After about 30 minutes of steady rain (and a bit of sleet at one point) it started to taper off, and we got our things together and headed out. While it was indeed quite wet as we climbed, the numerous warnings from weekend warriors that things were slick were largely unfounded, and we all agreed there was actually quite a lot of traction (unlike in E-town where wet trails are as slick as ice). The riding in West Bragg was super fun; however, it only took about an hour to be suitably mud and grit covered to call it a day, and we headed in to Calgary to clean our bikes and ourselves. After a quick follow up ride around Glenmore Reservoir to get in a bit more ride time, we ordered in from Tom’s House of Pizza and drank fancy beers. Mark was thoughtful enough to eat all the leftover pizza so we wouldn’t have to eat it the next day. With hopes of better luck with the weather and a longer ride the next day, we hit the hay early.

Mark and Brad patiently waiting out the rain

Mark and Brad patiently waiting out the rain

First real mud bath of the season

The first real mud bath of the season

Not sponsor correct libations - Don't tell Mike!

Non-sponsor-correct libations – Don’t tell Mike!

Sunday morning we hit Nellie’s for breakfast and headed straight out to Station Flats to get in some big climbs and descents. Aboard their light carbon 29ers, Mark and Mike quickly dropped the rest of us on the long climbs; I had expected this though, and was content to slowly sit, spin, and grind up and up all the way up to the top of Moosepackers. The very top was still snow-covered in spots resulting in a bit of arduous hike-a-bike, but knowing the ride down was upon us gave me the light at the end of the tunnel I needed to push through the knee deep (well, my knees deep) snow. We briefly discussed our options at the top – I was keen to descend Pneuma, since I personally find the top section of Special K not to be what you call a “fun” descent, but rather a sphincter-clenching and brake-grabbing curse fest that’s also quite choppy, while Mike wanted to practice Special K for the Bow 80. Mike won out, and down we went. The top was extra sketchy with still unmelted patches of snow, but we all made it back to the parking lot relatively unscathed and also invigourated by a great day spent out on our bikes.

Can you say bro-mance?!

Can you say bro-mance?!

After a brief stop back in Calgary to eat, rest, and to catch the highlights from the Men’s World Cup XC race and geekily discuss electronic XTR, we packed up and headed back to Edmonton. All in all, it was a great weekend of team bonding and trail riding that only added to everyone’s anticipation for the races this weekend in Canmore. Josh, Mark, Brad, and I will all be duking it out in the XC on Saturday. On Sunday, I’ll be doing the Organ Grinder 5 hour race solo, and Mark and Josh are teaming up to fight it out in the competitive Men’s Pair category. However, we all know the true competition of who can consume the most Spolumbo sausages starts after the racing is done. Mark will be hard to beat, but I’m going for a PB this year.