I’m trying to sort through a bunch of my ride data to build a comprehensive map of the trails along Double Oak Mountain, most of which are on EBSCO property. Until I can finish going through everything, the strava heat map with notes added below is a good start for anyone interested in seeing what’s up there.
About a year ago I had my mountain bike with me while in Alex City for a meeting and decided to hit the trail system owned by Russell Lands…..ride report from that day can be found here. A few days ago I was on my way back from some meetings in Montgomery and just so happened to have my bike with me again (I had planned to ride Swayback in Wetumpka on my way home) so I made a beeline for Alex City again so that I could see how the trails were shaping up.
Like my first trip to this trail system, I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun they could be. I was also surprised by how much elevation gain there is considering the entire system is just a stone’s throw from Lake Martin. There are just a number of punchy little climbs that add up over the course of a ride. All told, I did around 1300 feet of climbing during the course of a 16-mile ride, which is not that far off of what I would climb on a typical 16-mile ride at Oak Mountain State Park.
I started at the Willow Point Cutoff Road trailhead, first getting on the E.W. Rail trail heading back towards Willow Point. Aside from a fallen oak tree blocking the trail early on, this was a really fun doubletrack trail. I eventually made my way back to the trailhead parking lot, where I would get on the Big Way trail and take it to its terminus point. It was really hot and humid and I was needing to head home sooner rather than later, so I elected to ride pavement along Hwy 63 from Russell Crossroads back to the trailhead. Probably not the best move considering the crazy amount of 3pm traffic on that highway, forcing me to ride in the knee-high grass on multiple occasions, not to mention the headwinds out in the open areas. Nonetheless it was a fun little ride, and it was a nice change of scenery from my normal riding routine.
Random snap shots below.
A while back I did an “initial impressions” type of review for what was at the time my new 2014 Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Carbon hardtail 29er. I now have put around 900 miles on the bike, including racing at Southern Cross and Skyway Epic, and can offer up some additional thoughts regarding the bike.
FRAME – First off, as to be expected, the carbon frame is stiff yet comfortable. The bottom bracket area is massive, giving it stiffness where it counts (at the cranks). The downtube in general is fairly massive as well, but the other tubes are scaled back a bit. I seriously feel much more comfortable on this bike than any other mountain bike I have put miles on, including my steel Vassago Bandersnatch.
WHEELS/TIRES – The bike came with Specialized “Roval” rims laced to Specialized hubs and DT Swiss spokes. The tires are Specialized “Fast Trak”, with the rear tire being the Control version for extra durability. I was skeptical about the tires at first because of a previous bad experience with Fast Traks, but I’ve got to admit I have really liked them. With close to 900 miles on them, much of it being on pavement, it’s time for me to get new tires and I will strongly consider replacing them with the exact same tires. The wheels are super stiff and ride much better than my last Stan’s Arch wheels. The front thru-axle undoubtedly has something to do with that.
COCKPIT – Standard Specialized componetry here, though after going over the bars back in November I have since replaced the stem with a longer version (110mm in lieu of 100mm). It’s got a 700mm wide Specialized alloy bar, Specialized grips, Specialized alloy seatpost, Specialized “Phenom Comp” saddle, and the Specialized stem. As mentioned above, everything is plenty comfy, especially the saddle which has been a favorite of mine for years. If I ever get the itch to upgrade anything, which is really not necessary, I might opt for a carbon bar and carbon seatpost.
DRIVETRAIN – Good, sturdy components here. Highlights include a Shimano XT rear derailleur, SLX shifters, and SRAM cranks. With routine care and regular lubing after muddy rides, the bike shifts great and the cranks feel nice and stiff. The gearing is set up with an 11-36 cassette in the back and 38/24 chainrings up front, which provide as much gear range as I’ll ever need.
BRAKES – I was skeptical about the brakes at first, which are Formula C1 with 180mm and 160mm rotors, because I really wanted Shimano brakes instead. In the past I’ve had trouble with brakes from Magura, Formula, and Avid, and just had my heart set on Shimano. But so far I have been pleasantly surprised. I had one minor issue with brake line pressure, but it turned out to be a quick warranty fix by performing a bleed to remove some tainted fluid in the hose from sitting at the manufacturer’s warehouse for too long. But, I still plan to reserve final judgement until I’ve put a couple thousand miles on this bike.
FORK – The fork is a Rock Shox Reba SL. So far so good, as it performs like I have come to expect most mid-level forks from Rock Shox to perform. I’m sure there will come a day when I need to rebuild it to keep it smooth, but for now I am enjoying it. The fork comes with a lockout dial on the top of the fork leg, rather than a remote lockout, but that’s fine with me as it keeps the cockpit clean.
RIDE EXPERIENCE – For a hardtail, this is a very comfy ride. Tubeless tires combined with the carbon frame makes it about as good as it can get for a hardtail bike. I’ve done several long endurance races on it and never felt like comfort was an issue. It is also very fast on the straights due to its relatively low weight and stiff frame, which I really appreciate.
Overall, this has been a great bike for me and for once I am completely content to not feel like I need to tinker with my bike or constantly upgrade its parts….something that has plagued me with my previous bikes.
Some random pics below….
A really great client of mine, Merrill Stewart from Stewart Perry Construction, recently gifted me with an awesome bike to cruise around the neighborhood and take on day trips to places like Railroad Park when I take my kids. I have written a backstory to how I came to receive the bike, as well as the meaning behind HERO and what it is that they aim to accomplish, at my office blog for CMH Architects (found here). This post is more about doing an initial gear review and introducing you to a really cool company from right here in Alabama.
The bike, which I have named #1 Pencil (because it doesn’t need to be demoted to the more commonly used #2 Pencil) and in looking at the pics below I think you will see why. As many of my friends and blog readers know, I name all of my bikes (the Stumptress, Great White Hope, Sexy Lady, Snatch, Yellow Submarine, to name a few recent bikes of mine).
This particular bike is a sweet cruiser for going around the neighborhood with the kids, riding to the community pool, or even rolling to the local grocery store for some light shopping. I plan to eventually add a rear rack so that I can strap a cooler to it for when I go to friends’ houses for a few beers while watching a game. The front triangle is made from hex-shaped bamboo tubes with internal carbon fiber lining. That’s right, bamboo and carbon fiber….good stuff. It makes for an incredibly smooth and comfortable ride. Just ask my friends who have ridden it and loved it.
The gearing is straight-up singlespeed, which is perfect for how I use it. You can opt to buy it with an internal geared hub, but that’s not a change I plan to make. The rims are 700c Weinmann DP18, and the tires are Kenda. Even better, the bike is built with a coaster brake, so I don’t even have to fuss with brake levers. Plus, the coaster brake makes me feel like a kid again on one of my early childhood bikes. Pedals are platform, and the saddle is a retro-looking Origin 8. The handlebar is a Porteur bar with cotton grips that have twine wrapping….makes it very comfy when holding on.
With the bamboo frame, skinny rims/tires, and minimal setup, the bike is fairly light. I haven’t weighed it yet, but regardless of whatever the actual weight is, it just feels light. Simplicity + handmade + locally sourced bamboo + old school looks = a bike that should be a lot of fun for me for years, as well as something that will provide some real-life usefulness.
My in-laws recently completed an addition to their farmhouse in Dixie GA so I went down there for a couple of nights this past weekend. Since I basically had taken the week off from riding, I brought along my cyclocross bike so that I could sneak out for an early morning ride on Saturday. The knobby tires came in handy on the clay dirt road that the farm is on, along with the poor pavement on the nearby roads. But what can I say, I was in Brooks County GA and didn’t expect great pavement conditions anyway. But as evidenced by the pics below, the scenery was great.
On Sunday May 25th, David and I rode a portion of the Chief Ladiga Trail. Since David was training for the Leadville 100, and because we weren’t sure if the pavement was going to be a little rough for skinny road tires, we opted to take our 29er mountain bikes. This allowed us a more comfortable ride, along with a little extra time pedaling since our pace would drop a little bit from a typical road bike pace.
We parked in Jacksonville AL around maybe 9:30 or 10:00 and it was already apparent it was going to be a hot day. The first stretch, to Piedmont AL, went by relatively quickly as we chatted and rode at a casual pace. After a quick stop in Piedmont to use the restroom, we hit the pavement again. This next section would be far be the longest stretch of the trail for us, as it took as past the state line by 12 or so miles until we hit Cedartown GA.
Once in Cedartown, our plan was to grab a bit to eat somewhere like Subway. However, the town was smaller than we bargained for and ended up eating peanuts, bars, and beef jerky at a gas station. By that time I was pretty well starving and just needed to get some food in my system, along with anything ice cold to drink. After downing a Diet Coke with some ice in it, I poured the ice into my water bottle and topped it off with a fresh bottle of Gatorade….big time hit the spot.
Knowing that we have a long way back during the return stretch, we mentally tried to break it up into smaller chunks of mileage…..to the state line, then to Piedmont, then back to Jacksonville. While not too tired physically, and certainly not on the verge of cramping or anything, I’ve got to admit that by the end of the return leg I was quite ready to be off of my bike and on the way home. I’m pretty sure David was feeling the same way. Hitting a Quizno’s Subs on the way out of Jacksonville was like hitting paradise for a few minutes….good sandwich and some ice cold Coke.
All told, it was a good day on the bike. Next time I ride this trail, I’d like to park in Piedmont and ride to the next town in Georgia, Rockmart, which I have heard has more provisions and is also a really cool little town. Perhaps even ride closer to Atlanta and stay overnight somewhere before riding the return leg back the following day. The problem with the Chief Ladiga Trail is that it is an out-and-back and many miles are rather monotonous. It’s bearable just going one direction, but when you do it on the same day it just gets a little boring. Also, we noticed that the Pinhoti Trail crosses Ladiga between Piedmont and the state line. We didn’t venture off onto the Pinhoti, but another good ride option might be to bank some easy miles on Ladiga, hop on the Pinhoti for some tougher trail mileage, and then recover back on the Ladiga while heading for the car. Lastly, David and I were joking that it felt like it was uphill for a long portion of the “out” leg, and sure enough it was based on the Strava profile. We basically went continuously uphill from mile 13 to mile 25, ending up with 1300 feet of total climbing for the day. My guess post-ride would have been around 400 feet, because there just weren’t any real hills so it tricks you into thinking it is flatter than it apparently really is.
No pics for this ride, but strava data can be found here.
As any of my riding friends or anyone who has read this blog probably knows, my last two races at Skyway Epic have more or less been disasters. At the 2012 race I managed to get sick to my stomach and eventually bonked bad, coupled with loads of leg cramps. At the 2013 race, I crashed more than once and also got off course twice. Both years I had subpar finish times and it has always bothered me. For 2014, my main goals were to finish with a better time than the previous years and do so safely with no crashes and no going off course. Luckily for me, things worked out OK.
I got up early on Sunday and headed down to Lake Howard in Sylacauga for the 8am start. None of my usual riding mates could make it, so it was just me for this one. I didn’t get there until almost 7:30, so I had just enough time to check in, add some Stan’s sealant to my tires, lube the chain, and kit up. Then it was time to start.
Like the first two years, we had a very short ride on pavement and grass until we hit the usual mass bottleneck at the trailhead. I wanted to play it safe this year, and I had no real motivation for going out hard, so I just tucked in near the back third of the group behind one of the female riders (would later find out it was Maaike Everts) and we rode at a fast-yet-casual pace. I was glad to have her set the speed so that I could watch her lines, as it had been a year since I was last on these trails and had basically forgotten everything about them. Lee Neal ended up right behind me and we rode together until the trail turned to dirt road and then eventually to the first aid station.
Lee was on a singlespeed, so eventually I had pulled away on the flats and low-sloped downhills since he was spinning out his one gear to its limit while I enjoyed all 20 of mine. The long, gradual uphill began at around the 16-mile mark with a few rollers, turning steeper at around mile 20. Not sure where exactly the official KOM point was, but the high point came at around mile 22 or 23. Then it was a constant up-down-up-down along some really ragged jeep roads until the turnaround point. After a quick bottle refill and some gels, it was time to turn around.
By now Lee had bridged back up to me and we rode more or less together after the final aid station. I say more or less because he would drift away on the hills thanks to his one gearing option being taller than my low gears, and then I would bridge back to him on the flats and descents thanks to my high gears. He was a super nice dude to be riding with though, and it helped to be able to watch his line on a few of the treacherous sections of jeep road. By the time we turned off of Wiregrass and back onto the last trails, I was beginning to get some crampy tightness in my quads and had to scale it back to some really low gears, which caused me to lose touch with the group we were in at that time….especially at the creek crossing, where I hit a rock wrong and got stopped in the water and had to walk out rather than maintain riding momentum.
Having nobody in sight behind, and just one other rider (from Bike Link Racing) in front of me I just took it easy until my legs felt strong enough to push the pace without cramping. By the time I hit the last few miles of singletrack I was feeling really good, especially knowing that the race was almost over. I pulled through the finish line with plenty of strength left, albeit with a sore neck and a headache (likely from dehydration), and was glad to see that I beat my previous year’s time by 50 minutes.
Knowing that I had some leftover energy and felt good, I shoulda/coulda picked up the speed a bit on a few of the long climbs and on the return leg of Wiregrass. But really I’m happy with how I finished considering my sole objectives were to have fun, stay safe, and beat my previous times…..all of which were accomplished. I got to ride and chat with some good folks along the way, and the Succeed S-caps tablets that I took (2 per hour, on the hour) did all I needed them to do in terms of fighting off my usual leg cramps. Plus, with the weather being partly cloudy and ranging from probably upper 50s to lower 70s, it absolutely could not have been any nicer outside. In addition to my trusty S-caps, I think what might have made the most positive difference for me this year was the fact that I decided just a few hours earlier to put my cadence sensor on my mountain bike (normally it’s on my cross/road bike). This allowed me to drop into a lower gear to save muscle fatigue, while at the same time forcing me to be cognizant of my cadence so that I could keep it up around 85 to 95. Normally I’m a heavy gear masher, utilizing higher gears at a cadence of around 65 to 70, which just wears my legs down over the course of a long race like this one. But at a cadence of 90 on the hills, I was able to hit the flats feeling much fresher without the need for long recovery time.
Once again Brent Marshall and his crew pulled off a really fun event. It was just as hard, and just as body-beating as I remember from the previous years, but it was still a lot of fun. And the guys/gals from COGS really did a great job of keeping the trails maintained and in race-ready shape.