Back In The (new) Saddle

This probably doesn’t necessitate a long post, but, the last time I went out riding at Theo Wirth I took a (dumb) spill and my saddle popped right off the rails.  Don’t ask.

I was foolish enough to think I could reattach it.  A couple of weekends ago I went out to ride Murphy-Hanrehan and made a quick pit stop into  Tonka Cycle & Ski to get their expert opinion, because theirs is an opinion I trust.  Not only did they tell me it was near impossible to get it back on, but they sold me on upgrading to a new saddle.  I walked out of there with the WTB Laser V.  My tuchus has never been happier.  It has more cushion than the Silverado Pro I was riding but it’s lighter.  Titanium vs. Ni-Cro tends to do that.  Not only was it lighter and more cushioned, I felt I could transition off and on more smoothly.

Solid recommendation for Tonka Cycle.  If you’ve never been there, I encourage you to go.  Their good local people with good advice.

 Out with the old

In with the new

MTB Trail Review: Chequamegon, Hayward Cluster

Long overdue post.

I spent some time in Turtle Lake, WI this summer for work. Turtle Lake is very, very small and outside of the casino that’s there, there’s not a lot to do in the way of entertainment. So, I decided to bring my mountain bike and see what northern Wisconsin trails I could rustle up.  After leading a workshop one day, I quickly changed and drove over to Hayward, WI check out the Chequamegon trail system. This is a huge network of trails in Northern Wisconsin that has some of the best singletrack trails in the entire state.  Chequamegon is built on and around the storied Birkebeiner ski trails and so there are a number of areas that cross a ski trail.  Now, by the time I actually got there, it was near 6:00 and I had precious little time remaining seeing as how I needed to drive all the way back to Turtle Lake. With that in mind I chose the Hayward cluster of trails since they were the closest.

The Chequamegon trail system has miles and miles worth of quality trails. I probably only scratched the surface on about 10% of trails offered, but still really enjoyed my time. Starting from Mosquito Brook Trail Head, I did portions of the Kakwa trail, Sugarbush trail, and Birkie trail and Plantation trail.  Overall, the trails are well maintained and followed the descriptions in the trail guidepretty much to the letter.  Most of the trails I were on (except for the Birkie trail) were “rolling singletrack, moderately technical”.  Nothing too bad, still a great time.

Single track meets Birkie trails

After getting back to my car I had to find something to eat and settled on finding something local in Hayward.  Luckily for me, I stumbled upon the Angry Minnow  Brew Pub.  The bartender there talked me into getting the Jalapeno Slaw Burger, which – aside from riding trails – was the second best decision I made all day.  The River Pig American Ale and Tre Svend’s Imperial IPA are fantastic as well.  I really wish I had more time to explore the area and try different clusters (and go back to the Angry Minnow).  Guess I have an incentive to go back!

Angry Minnow in Hayward. So Good.

Tracked with my phone, not completely accurate.

MTB Trail Review: Raven Trail

Every fall I make a trek to Minocqua, WI to spend a weekend with good friends.  One of our comrades has a family cabin we’ve been using right on one of the many Minocqua lakes.  Fall is such a beautiful time to visit the cabin because it’s a much different perspective than the typical summer weekend jaunt to the lake everyone and their sister seems to make in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  I’ve been making the trip for six years now, and each time is uniquely different from the last yet still familiar.  This time, my friend Tim and I decided to bring our bikes and check out a local trail that was pretty close.  A quick Google search (thanks Tim) led us to Raven Trail just outside of Woodruff.

Although Tim is an avid road cyclist, he’s never ridden trails before.  So, to make this idea a reality, he borrowed a bike from a friend of his.  The bike is….well….a good mountain bike for the city.  It was small, no suspension, poor components, and small.  But hey, anything to get  you out, right?

Tim, triumphant

The Raven trails are short but they’re fantastic, if you know where you’re going.  We didn’t, so they were just o.k.  Most of the singletrack is either around or on top of existing cross-country ski trails, and the mountain bike specific trails aren’t that well marked.  We started out just fine, but one way or another ended up riding XC trails which is where we pretty much stayed.  One of the red trails was fun for me, but was a bit of a bear for the Tim because of the type of bike he had.  Overall the trails were good, but since they were poorly marked, were limited to the more obvious XC trails.

Closed access
Now we're talkin

In the parking lot there is a trail that goes to a skills area.  Skills areas are absolutely not my forte, but I’m willing to try anything.  So I checked it out while Tim ran behind in his trail shoes.  This was the highlight of the ride for me.  There were quite a few obstacles, bridges, jumps, balance beams, and teeter-totters and no one else was there.  I had very mixed success, but it was fun nonetheless.

When we got back to the parking lot, we met a local guy who swore Raven Trail was the crown jewel of Northern Wisconsin mountain biking.  I haven’t ridden enough in the badger state to gauge how accurate that statement is, but if it’s true, then he really needs to go to Cuyuna.  Next year, I’d love to go back with better navigation of the trails.

And a better bike for Tim.

MTB Trail Review: Cuyuna

I’ve only had my new ride since August so most of my riding has been around the Twin Cities with an exception just over the border in Wisconsin.  A couple of weekends ago I had the privilege of presenting at Super Hero Tech Camp and thought it’d be a perfect opportunity to haul my bike up north to ride in the iron range at Cuyuna.  Word on the trail was that this spot was not to be missed, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

The middle of a Thursday isn’t usually when you’ll see a lot of traffic on a trail (especially up north) so I had the trail mostly to myself.  Only two cars were in the parking lot as I pulled in around noon.  The day was cool and crisp and the chilliest ride I had done to date this year, though as it warmed up it worked out perfectly, accentuating the fall colors of the trees which lent itself to a very distinct Minnesotan autumn.

Though I only had a vague notion of where the trails were I was fortunate enough to snag the sole remaining trail map available at the trailhead.  Had I not been so fortunate, it’s very possible I would have ridden the same trails over and over, lost in repeating fashion.  Which I suppose can be both a good and bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

Time was of the essence (I did have a conference to get to, remember?) so I was focused on getting the most bang for my buck.  The Mahnomen Unit (inset B) seemed to offer exactly that.  I started with “Crusher”.  True to its name, it was a nice climb for someone who hadn’t been able to get out and ride.  For some reason I still can’t figure out, I ended up looping around and climbed Crusher at least three times, dominating (not) “Rocky Flats” and finally getting to “Miner’s MTN.”.  There were at least three times that made me stop and reflect on how awesome Cuyuna is, and Miner’s was one of those times.  After climbing up, you get to a point where there is a lookout (cars can get there too, but it’s better by pedal) and you can see no less than three lakes around you.  Although I had a lot of riding left to do and the clock was ticking, I did have to stop to take it in for a while and appreciate what the trail designers had intended.

One of the most beautiful parts of the trail

“Screamer” was a section that was just a blast to ride.  Steep with big banks and turns, it’s the kind of trail that forces you to pay attention.  Instead of wondering where the other trails are at or how to navigate to them, Screamer had my full and undivided attention from the start.  I appreciate that nuance of mountain biking.  There are times when you can coast, and there are times where on of the shortest sections of a trail demands that you listen to it or you’re not going to like the result.  It may exist, but I’m not sure that I’ve ridden a section in Minnesota that holds that much natural exhilaration and doesn’t need debris or perfectly placed obstacles.

Good advice

To round out my favorites, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include “Sidewinder” and “Roly Poly”.  Neither of these are particularly difficult or challenging, but they did bring a great smile to my face in a fun and exuberant way Screamer or Miner’s MTN did not.

I was running out of time but did manage to squeeze in the Portsmouth Unit (inset C) and basically just rode “Drag Line” around Portsmouth Mine Lake until I got to the state trail that would take me back to Mahnomen.  Even though it wasn’t as awesome, Portsmouth was still fun.  In fact, I don’t think my tires ever touched dirt that wasn’t fun for me, including all of the “easy” trails.

If you go, ride fast. But when you stop, take it all in.

Cuyuna is a different place.  It’s easily the most beautiful place I’ve ridden in Minnesota and has some of the more unique types of riding.  There weren’t any skills areas around that I knew of, but I’m totally fine with that.  It doesn’t need it.

What it needs to be is a place, a destination.  Judging by the “Mountain Bikers Welcome!” signs on some of the store fronts and bars I spotted while driving through Crosby and Ironton, it looks like that’s what it wants.  What’s more, it seems to have a vision.  On my ride back to my car on the state trail, I stopped briefly and chatted with Nick who maintains a lot of the trails.  He was putting stickers on some signs (all of the trails are very well-marked, by the way).  He spoke of Cuyuna with a tone that implied both a playful and reverential tone.  I congratulated him on the good work that was done on the trails and vowed that I’d be coming back next summer.  I missed not being able to stop by GPS 27 and take a dip in the Alstead Mine Lake then get back on the bike and ride some more.

He thanked me and seemed to be genuinely proud of what they’ve carved out of those iron hills.

Good.  They should be.

MTB Trail Review: Lebanon Hills

With summer gone and free time to mountain bike less and less frequent, I took advantage of the good weather until it really starts to get cold.  Over and over again I read and hear that Lebanon Hills is the trail of choice in the region if not the state.  The MORC trail review for Lebanon hills says “Plain and simple: This trail has developed into one of the “must ride” trails in Minnesota“, and I’d have to agree.  Not only is there enough mileage here to keep you busy for a good chunk of your day, but there’s something for everyone here.

Map courtesy of MORC

I’m on record that I’m a bit more of a novice trail rider.  The intermediate trails – especially “Dream II” – are fantastic trails that are equal parts good climbs and fast descents.  These trails gave me enough technical challenges but also made it fun to fly around curves after a climb.  One thing that quickly stood out to me was rocks.  Lots and lots of rocks.  Even on the intermediate trails, Lebanon Hills loves to test your ability to navigate large and small boulders and your ability to pick a clean line and stay with it, both uphill and down.  Good challenge.

A rider flys over one of many bridges in Lebanon Hills

If intermediate trails are too, well, intermediate, Lebanon Hills also offers a lot of technical riding in their “Expert Loop”.  I tried it, and at times it was a ton of fun, but I wouldn’t say that I really excelled at it.  Huge log piles, tons of rocks, drop offs, you name it.  Numerous times there were large rock fields that kicked my A and I came to a grinding halt.  Had I known what I was getting myself into I would’ve approached the trails differently, but when you’re flying around corners essentially blind not knowing what to predict, it’s different.  My favorite sections on these trails were the massive log piles.  I had never hit logs stacked so high, so it was a good test.  My least favorite had to have been climbing up hill with at least 7 good-sized logs spaced about 10 feet apart from each other.  I’m not too embarrassed to say I probably only made it over 4 out of the 7 cleanly.  Better luck next time.

Not my favorite
Good times

There’s a lot to like at Lebanon Hills, and when there seems to be a constant movement to continually make it better and more of a destination, which isn’t the case for a lot of trails around the metro area.  I’d have to agree, it’s a must ride.

Check out my ride here (although the time’s a little off since I forgot to start my watch after a break, like an idiot).

MTB Trail Review: Elm Creek Park

Since I’m more of a novice biker, the skills necessary to ride over some terrain with technical and challenging obstacles eludes me.  I still try, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not altogether successful with those attempts.  So I ventured to the northern burbs and checked out the new singletrack at Elm Creek Park in Champlin.

The trail was designed and created with the help of MORC and is well maintained.  There isn’t a ton of climbing on this track, but to me, that’s most of the charm.  What Elm Creek doesn’t have in obstacles and technicality, it makes up for in speed.  And of course, going fast is a blast.  It was a ton of fun to push my bike and get going as fast as I could.  A lot of other trails have too many twists and turns just for the sake of having twists and turns.  It was refreshing to have long trails where I could anticipate far enough ahead and be able to build a little speed to hit a jump.

There are a few obstacles, but I stress the word “few”.  Most of the “obstacles” are trees with a narrow gap in between them.  The man-made obstacles are far and few between and they present little challenge, but are fun nonetheless.

If you’re near Elm Creek Park Reserve, I highly recommend this fast, clean single track.