Off The Commute

Mountain Biking at Lewis Morris Park:  “A great place to run into things that don’t budge”

Starring:
Randy Jackson: “Wheels”
Sharon Gill: “The Montclair Kid”
Nadhir Abdus-Salaam: “Doc”
Max Simon: “Bucky”
Winston Lewis: “Pappy”

Guest Stars: Tara Moran: “Pinky Tuscadero”
Kenny Mac: “Sidekick”

Dirty Jersey

As much as I relish getting honked at, buzzed by vehicles 200 times by own weight (summer riding weight that is) and generally being viewed as either some dude that landed his 8th DUI or some guy that didn’t get the memo that this wasn’t Portland, I love to check all of that shit at the trailhead and dial in to the terrain ahead.

It’s Christmas time. No better way to celebrate one of the saviors of men than by drinking copious amounts of alcohol and then praying for His forgiveness several hours later, getting it and then heading right back to the bar. A Christian Experience of sorts. The weekend has been fun, but there be dirt in them hills. Dirt that needs to be tamped down by 29 ferocious inches of rubber. Alcohol and rubber used to mean long nights with questionable results. I can’t hang too tight with that brother anymore. It’s for the best, so I ride.

I decided to demo a Specialized Epic. I’ve read great things about it’s nimbleness for a full suspension cross country bike, but reading and riding are two different animals. Sharon, Randy and Winston started out earlier and went head to head with the parks more primitive trails. Primitive trails tend to be paths better suited for game and the Lenape Indians pre-colonialism. No amount of carbon can smooth out those trails or the Lenape’s sense of loss of their land. Before we leave the upper parking lot we meet Tara with her bright pink bike. She doesn’t know where she’s going and we do. Being a guide comes with the territory of riding offroad. Nobody wants anybody dying on the trails and screwing it up trail access for everybody else. Max, Nadhir, Tara and I hit the yellow trail. Nadhir knows his way around a trail, I’ve ridden with Max and his road climbing transfers nicely to the dirt and I was more concerned with assessing my bikes capabilities. You can’t truly know a bikes strengths until you test it’s weakness’. That’s about as philosophical as I’m going to get.

Right out of the gate, we’re climbing. I take the lead as I’m fairly familiar with the course. I’m fighting gravity and two nights filled with tequila. I turn back to see Tara comfortably spinning up the hill on flat pedals. Whatever… Riding when the forest is dead is challenging with the trails littered with leaves. Anyone can pick a line, but it takes skill and patience to pick a line at it’s freshest. Separation is common and probably best when riding in a group off road. No such thing as drafting, chugging along at 8mph or considerably slower.

Time For Some Action

Tara had to turn back. This is where her story ends. 20 minutes later we rendezvous with a haggard Sharon, Winston and Randy. They had their asses handed to them on Patriots Path. Now that we’re “all in the family” we drop in for a little downward action. Winston is testing out his new love, a Trek X-Caliber 29er. The honeymoon was brief. Navigating turns on a new machine you don’t quite know can be unnerving, but then you put it all in the intelligent designers hands, release the brakes and hope that your wheel doesn’t track you into a tree, unless of course that tree is the only thing between you a cliff and tea with Jesus later. Once I was comfortable on the Epic I let the bike chatter around the corners, take riskier lines and see what the “brain technology” controlling the rear suspension could really do. It climbed nearly as well as a hardtail. I smiled a lot with this fact.

Push it, Push it Real Good

The pace was brisk. Sharon rode a lap and then packed her bike and took a hike, while we took another lap. I discovered the race course about a year ago and was never the same again. It’s not technical, though if you pick a line that doesn’t agree to well with the laws of physics as they pertain to keeping all bones naturally fused, you could run into trouble. We all had our issues with our wheels washing out and not always tracking as advertised. It’s part of the game. Sometimes you have to play chicken with a tree, to keep speed. Sometimes the tree wins.

As with road riding the formula for risk and reward can sometimes be confusing. Our whole day was strewn with miscalculations. So long as you correct your mistakes and keep the wheels in motion, so what. We only had one bad spill. I was on point on a tight section of a single track that wrapped a ridge leading toward the gulley. Unlike riding on the road, the margins for error are smaller. As I was descending around 20mph I began to feel as if I were out of control, but I was making great time, so I used my brakes sparingly and then I saw her face. A spruce that came up on me faster than I could safely navigate around. I turned towards the cliffs edge in an attempt to use more of the trail than I really wanted to. My wheel washed out, but somehow I made it around without completely wiping out, “agony of defeat style”. Winston and Max came next. They corrected my mistake for themselves. Nadhir didn’t see the safe way around until it was too late. I looked up the ridge to see my friend falling off. He expertly found a soft area to land, but it was a scary looking tumble. Randy rode up the rear giving our fallen one the help he needed. The rest of the course went on without incident. We got back to the start, well worn out with 10 miles ridden and 1900ft gained in elevation.

10 Reasons For Roadies Like You To Give Mountain Biking a Shot

  1. No cars (This list could end right here)
  2. Excellent crosstraining for roadies (You use muscles you never knew you had like your biceps and triceps)
  3. Increases your bike handling skills (transferable skills to being on the road)
  4. Teaches you to focus more (On the road we predict the next 2+ steps but on the dirt try 5+)
  5. It’s fun, duh…
  6. During the winter time it’s warmer in the woods (trees and other natural features block wind. You’re also working harder, which stokes an engine well)
  7. 10 miles in the dirt is equivalent to about 30 on the road (The dirt passes the savings on to you)
  8. Beer tastes better after riding a trail (I’ve tried drinking beer after hard pursuits with both disciplines. My findings support this)
  9. Mountain biking is a direct conduit back to childhood
  10. Not nearly as many attitudes in the dirt. (If your laying in a pool of your own blood, mountain bikers will tend to stop. A pool of someone else’s blood maybe not. Roadies will just continue on trying to move up the Strava standings)

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