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Rookie Mistakes

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Part 1: Buy a Fast Bike - Tear the Bike Apart - Rebuild the Bike to go Faster

I used to hotrod cars and motorcycles. When I was 8 years-old, I hot-rodded a toilet! I timed how many times the toilet could flushed in minute. I found that the toilet cycle time was actually over a minute! Without going into details, I modified the toilet so it could be flushed every 20 seconds!

I am a natural born optimizer of mechanical things. Uh, yes, my chosen profession is engineering.

I recently bought a Santa Cruz Highball hardtail mountain bike to replace a bike I sold. This is another long story. I sold Little Stumpy.

Little Stumpy is a 2007 Specialized Stumpjumper Pro Disc. In his day, Little Stumpy was a thoroughbred racing machine.

Little Stumpy has been gone for about a year. I lent the bike to a lady at work that needed to train for a 300 mile company-sponsored group road bike tour. She loved Little Stumpy and offered me a lot of money for the rare and slightly odd-ball trail terror.

I missed Little Stumpy. I didn't have a fast hardtail mountain bike after I sold Little Stumpy. So I bought a leftover 2014 the Santa Cruz Highball, which cost exactly what I got for Little Stumpy.

I then proceeded to disassemble my new bike down to the frame. I rebuilt the Highball with all new components. Here is a shot of the perfectly good bike before a tore it apart.

This is a 2014 Santa Cruz Highball 29er with nice Shimano Deore 3x10 components and SRAM DB1 brakes. The front fork is a respectable 100mm Rockshox Recon Silver. The seatpost, stem and handlebar are RaceFace "Ride". The bike weighed 29 pounds.

Here is a shot of the Highball frame ready for all new components.

The basic frame is very light and very strong. The red finish is spectacularly glossy. Photos do not do the paint and graphics justice.

Here is the Highball after I rebuilt the bike. The frame and chain guard are the only original parts on the Highball.

The rebuilt bike has Shimano XT 2x10 components. The new front fork is a Rockshox Reba "Fast Black" that is buttery smooth and light. The wheels and tires were upgraded about 4 notches. High-end Raceface Turbine components replaced the heavier Raceface Ride components. The rebuilt bike weighs 26 pounds. The bike rides better and rolls faster.

After a few shakedown rides, I took the bike for a long ride at Buffalo Creek. I took the "Big Loop". Here are the results from my Garmin:

Distance: 25.88 miles
Time: 1:27:12
Average Speed: 17.8 mph
Maximum Speed: 35.9 mph
Vertical Elevation Gain: 2,405 feet

I am very proud of this performance. Here is the ride profile:

I know this looks easy. It was tougher than it looks. I am not sure I can do this again. Everything just seemed to click! And I had the whole place to myself.

Part 2: Look Where You Are Going - Before You Get There!

I decided to take the Highball to one of my favorite places, which is Flying J Ranch.

Flying J is 15 minutes from my house. I have hiked, biked and run every inch of Flying J. The trail system is rated as "Green". This is a link to the Single Tracks website.


Colorado trail system rating is a bit skewed. Local trail rating systems are comparative in nature. Flying J is one of the easiest trails in the area. However, there are a couple technical sections that can sneak up on the unwary.

But not me. Oh no, not me. I know what I am doing. Please note that this is not a good attitude when riding a bike. Lessons in humility can be painful.

Flying J is really a pretty trail.

The trail is wide and goes through forest and grassy meadows.

The trails are mostly nice and "flowy". Flying J is a good place If you want to crank it up.

This type of trail is domain of the Highball. Hardtail mountain bikes are more efficient than full suspension bikes and, under the right conditions, are faster. Cross-Country mountain bike racers use hardtails exclusively.

All experienced mountain bikers know that the faster you ride, the farther down the trail you must look. You better know what sort of obstacles are down the trail because you are going to be there in a hurry.

Rookies tend to watch the trail that is directly in front of them. Some even watch what is passing under the front tire. This may be okay, if the rider is pedaling at walking speed. At 5 mph a bike is covering a little over 7 feet per second. At 10 mph a bike is moving at nearly 15 feet per second.

Here is one that is near and dear to my heart, at 15.7mph a bike is eating 23 feet every second. Perception-reaction time for human being is 1.5 seconds, at best. Perception time is how long it takes for a human being, under ideal circumstances, to perceive danger. Experiments show Perception time is 0.8 of a second. Physical reaction time is 0.7of a second.

Therefore, at a speed of 15.7 mph a rider should be looking ahead no less than 34.5 feet. Stopping distance at 15.7 mph on flat dirt is about 25 feet. For any reasonable margin of safety, a rider really needs to be looking 59.5 feet down the trail. We will round 59.5 feet to 60 feet.

This 60 feet stopping distance assumes the rider is not texting or talking on a cell phone. I have yet to see a mountain biker using a cell phone while trail riding. However, I have seen roadies chatting and texting on cell phones while riding in traffic. I believe this is called a "Death Wish"!

Part 3: Rookie Mistakes

Good mountain bikers look as far ahead as the trail allows. Cautious mountain bikers slow down went coming to blind curves, steep drop-offs or other obstacles that impede vision.

On June 7th he weather was beautiful. I cleaned my dirty Highball and lubed the chain.

Here is my Highball ready to take on the Rocky Mountains. I took the bike to Flying J for a nice quick ride.

I was ripping down a slight hill on my Highball. To my credit, I could have been moving a lot faster but I was coming to a small sandy creek.

I took this photo the day after my Highball ride. You can see my Santa Cruz Bronson leaning against a tree. There is a hidden danger coming up. Can you see it? The danger is not the little sandy creek or the guy on the bike in the photo.

On June 7th, I was relaxed and enjoying the pretty scenery. I was not paying attention to the trail. I splashed through the little sanding creek throwing water all over the place. Boy was that fun!

I watched my front wheel plow through the sandy creek. Then I saw something that made me realized I had messed-up big!

About 12 feet beyond the little shallow sandy creek was a deep rocky creek. I was going to hit this rocky creek in 6-tenths of a second. In the blink of flea's eyeball, I realized I was heading into the rocks on the right side of the creek crossing! And there was not a thing I could do about it!

As I hit the creek I hoped I could roll over the rocks. Maybe if the rocks had been dry, I could have made it. The front wheel slid sideways and jammed between the rocks. I was catapulted off the bike and landed 10 feet away on a tangle of tree roots.

I hit really hard! I landed on my left elbow and left side. Fortunately, I had on my 661 elbow and knee pads. However, the left elbow pad was jammed against my elbow so hard that my elbow was torn open!

My 661 elbow pads have several layers of EVA padding, Kevlar, ballistic nylon and a thick hard armored shell.

These pads are bullet proof! I think if I had not been wearing my elbow pads I may have broken my left arm.

The impact hurt something fierce! But the bleeding soon stopped. I was scrapped-up like I hit a giant cheese grater. I was banged-up like I had been beaten with baseball bat.

I have had worse. I considered myself lucky I could still move!

The only damage to the bike was crooked handlebars. I straightened the handlebars. Other than a skewed handlebar, the bike had zero damage. Even though I was a hurting, I was able to ride back to the parking lot.

I am somewhat abashed that I made two rookie mistakes.

One - I let my concentration lapse. Since I have been to Flying J a bazillion times, I should have remembered the deep rocky creek.

Two - I wasn't looking far enough down the trail for the speed I was riding.

I have been taking it easy and healing. I think I will ride Buffalo Creek tomorrow. I may take Little Cam tomorrow. Little Cam is quick but not fast. Little Cam has a few lovable quirks. The bike is hard to keep on the ground, and can turn tighter than the inside hole of a cherrio!

Thanks for reading my blog.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    emoticon Glad your brain bucket is intact! That was a scary story.

    emoticon Your work on that bike was super impressive. Not just physical but mechanical skills. Cool.
    1342 days ago
    You are such a beast. Your 25 mile trail ride was faster mph than my 56 mile half Ironman mph time, on a smooth paved road, with a few rolling hills. Keep up the good work.
    1360 days ago
  • PDQ1203
    1372 days ago
    You buy your first aid supplies in bulk, right?
    1372 days ago
  • KEN1965
    Nice read. Not everyone would admit to their mistakes. But I guess that's how we learn. Keep on ridin'. emoticon
    1372 days ago
    Interesting read. Thanks for bravely sharing your "adventure." I'm so glad you are relatively unscathed considering how badly you might have been injured. Hope your arm is better soon.

    Looks like a beautiful place to ride.

    Have you ever written for cycling or outdoor magazines? This would be a good one because:
    1. Engaging writing style
    2. Teaches valuable lessons (painfully for you it's by example, but that makes an impression on the reader)
    3. Combination of photos and story makes a more marketable package

    Your experience reminds me of the article in Bicycling that Don recently posted a link to. Stories like this get published!

    1372 days ago
    Ouch! emoticon
    1373 days ago
    You really do have a great time modifying your bikes!
    1373 days ago
  • ACTIVE_AT_60
    As a roadie (road biker) - I loved reading your blog. Sorry about the crash mate. Sounds like it could have been a lot worse.
    1373 days ago
  • NWFL59
    Great blog! Enjoyed the details and your 'trip description. You ride far too fast for my comfort level. Glad you had your safety equipment on and it did its job. You sure do seem to have some terrible scraps while having 'fun'. Enjoy the summer. emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1373 days ago
    I am just sooooo envious cuz you live in Colorado and get to ride the Rockies.....I lived on Lookout Mountain in Golden.....I so want to go home....are you training for Ride The Rockies????sounds like you could and perhaps should...Enjoy
    1373 days ago
    Just one question, are you a Mensa member?
    1373 days ago
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