Sunday June 22nd was this year’s edition of Guy’s Racing’s Neshaminy Classic mountain bike race in the singletrack behind Neshaminy High School in Langhorne. Or Bensalem. Anyway, in Bucks County. I took the train up while Luke rode his motorcycle with his mountain bike strapped on. Here’s some thoughts.
Rule #1: ride untested equipment. I’d ridden these wheels twice, just had a cassette hammered off the freehub body, swapped the tires from my other wheels, and since I didn’t get out with Kenny the other day, hoped it worked fine. It did, thankfully.
Rule #2: unnecessarily make last minute tweaks. It was driving me nuts that if I stopped with the rotor in a certain place, it would squeal if you moved the bike a little. Not an issue when it was rolling. I had the same brake and rotor on my other bike, but hadn’t ridden them together on this bike. Loosen caliper bolts, squeeze brake, tighten bolts. Squeal gone, no rub. Did I actually fix something? This bodes well.
Rule #3: reverse sandbag about how you couldn’t get to sleep and drank too much last night. This just happens to generally describe my life, so no eyebrows raised.
Rule #4: overthink the ingestion of 80 calories of sugar and 50mg of caffeine. I kept asking Luke what time it was so I could eat a gel at just the right time, which is between t – 15 and 10. Done.
I really like this course as a race course. It seems like it’s been set up to have all of the elements be just challenging enough that everyone can ride everything and go pretty fast. Where everyone is me I guess. Many mini downhill stretches with dug out mini drop offs to get rad. I leave the ground. Cool. A couple larger bumps to pumptrack-style airlift. I get air. So wow. Many built up log-overs that are higher than stuff I typically go over, but they look secure so I just go over them. No foolin’, I recall the first time I attempted to go over something built up and like 3 feet high at White Clay in the Skills loop: Stéphane Snaxtone (Kelpius rider) yelling, “No, just ride it. Hey, just ride it. No but JEEZ MAN GO FASTER.” My cranks don’t touch a piece of wood in the whole race. PRO.
When I start a mountain bike race I’m totally stressed out because I’m not good at being fast generally, but especially not terrain I don’t know, plus having no idea who’s behind me, as most of the people I know and ride with either don’t race or don’t ride in my heat or category. The beginning of the race is a gravel road leading to a half lap through the singletrack, which will be the latter half of the course, for 2.5 laps total. Following the gravel road prologue running around the school, I was somewhere in the frontish middle of the pack going into the singletrack, but I knew that faster people were behind me for sure (Luke, for one). I bum out going faster than I want to, hoping I don’t crash. But the course it pretty flowy and not quite bone dry but not quite tacky, and riding solid new wheels (Hope hubs to Stan’s Flow rims, set up tubeless of course) is giving me some confidence taking turns without brakes. Good.
Until there’s the first downhill, loose dirt and loose rocks with a drop off on the side. Drag the rear wheel all the way down. Toward the end of the prologue jawn, Luke catches up with me and I catch my bars between trees I don’t realize is a switchback coming off a long turn. Spectacles, testicles, wallet, watch, all good, I send Luke off while I gather my wits about me and mentally note to visually measure that tree-throughs are not narrower than my 31″ bars.
The course map notes a “Mexican Bowtie”, but never having ridden these trails, I have to guess the first time through. It was satanic the first time going down; a tight and narrow 180 degree switchback that midway through the turn drops down perhaps 30 feet on a 25% grade leading to a narrow rocky ridge. I’m not into mountain biking for the thrills and chills, but I held it together. The next rocky part on the ridge was pretty rad, a fun kind of challenging. Dudes from the next heat behind me were on my tail, and the one in front of them was like, “Come ONNNNNNN.” But I was feeling on top of it, and wasn’t going to let them pass, but all of a sudden WTF 4 FOOT I CAN’T RID… WHELP GOTTA GO – a 4 or 5 foot nearly vertical drop under a tree and through a number of large rocks. There’s three gnarly things like that in a row and I felt awesome that I was riding them and doing it right, but as soon as that section was ended I foot-downed to let like COME ONNNNN go by.
Then there’s a climb. Running a singlespeed means the only option is muscling up hills. Hey guys remember Mr. Slow? WHO’S SLOW NOW, XX1. NICE SPINNING UP IT. As I pass COME ONNNN I tell him, “don’t worry, I’ll get out of the way in a second, one gear man.” Like a minute later I let him by, but the other dudes have to suck it up while I do a fun stretch rock garden ending with a creek, which is also totally rad. I let them by after the creek crossing not realizing oh, is that another climb? Sorry guise this is the only thing I can do well. I pass all them and some other dudes off the back of the front of the heat as I grunt up it.
I still don’t quite get what the thing with singlespeed and climbing is. I tell myself I like it, and then when I’m actually doing it I will blow myself out and give myself an aneurism climbing while my stomach and my legs are like “F U dude” to which I’m like, “Totally, this is the worst!”
But if I don’t go all out I will have to foot down, and I hate walking up hill worse. Then I get to the top and I’m like I AM THE BEST. Larry and Luke have totally seen my I AM THE BESTs multiple times. It’s a little sad. They suck it up and let a sad man have his moment in the sun. Oh well. I let all the faster dudes I passed by once the climb is done.
After those three sections, the rest of the course is just the prologue bit again, so I remember the tree-through (no crash) and the loose downhill, which I take a bit faster and less brakely to see if it’s less scary. Nope, but I can control my bike better without the rear wheel locked. Oh. Remember this. It is called “skills”. Panic is not a skill!
At the start/finish of the lap, in the middle of the school’s soccer fields, two dudes are handing out water while I’m trying to rip open a gel. When I decline, one yells “Does that taste good?” I say no, and he laughs. I have dribbled coffee-colored sugar goo down my face. I would laugh too. The other one yells, “Want a derailleur?” I will not dignify this with a response.
Second lap is where I hit my stride. I feel like my mtb fitness and skills are allowing me to be fully with it for a second lap and really have fun with it once I know the course. Except at the rocky bit after the Bowtie, once again, a faster group is behind me, this time the front of the 40-49 group, on my wheel. They’re chiller than COME ONNNN guy, so I let a couple by on the ridge, and then explain to a dude on a carbon singlespeed that I’m a novice mountain biker and I’m playing it safe. He becomes my coach through all the gnarly drop jawns. “That’s it, that’s the line. Good! You totally got it! Good work!” It’s really nice. Then I let them all by after the last one, forgetting it’s the longest climb next , and I pass them all on the climb, though by the end of the second climb after the rock garden, I’ve left most of them behind.
Brain says, nearing the end of the second lap, “ok, this is totally still fun and you’re totally not gassed. You have no sprint and don’t like contesting in a group in singletrack. Maybe you should do the endurance category at your next race?” I agree even though I’m like “hahahahahahaha brain, that’s 4 hours of this, you’re dumb, because I know my typical out and back from South Philly with a full Wiss loop is about 3.5 hours and 35 miles, with 18 miles of that just road, and I’m pretty gassed at the end of the full loop.” But I’ll probably try it anyway. Who’s dumb? Maybe my brain knows something I don’t. Or maybe I do. We shall see.
Before I drop the 40-49 group, I say to them, “Hey, we’re almost at the end of the lap, and none of us are in the same category, but let’s all just sprint anyway, because it will be funny.” Crickets as a response. But when I come out of the grass there’s a guy 50 feet in front of me on a SS, so I decide to do it to him. When I’m on his wheel, he looks back and sees I’m on a singlespeed so he starts sprinting. He beats me by an inch. We high five, and then I tell him we’re not in the same race. “Singlespeed?” “Naw man I’m 30-39.” “Haha well thanks for the sprint anyway! Nice work!” We high five again. It was nice.
I did my age category rather than Clyde because I had a teammate in the same catgory. Plus a fellow we know from the trails, Mike, was there. Friendly competition. Luke, I want to say as usual because this was the case at Battenkill too, finished 7 minutes ahead of me. Maybe my goal for mountain bike races should be “hang with Luke”. Except then he will probably gas it and end up 7 minutes ahead anyway, but I’ll finish higher anyway if he does. Mentally note this for next time.
I finished 15th of 20 or 21 in my heat, 20 minutes behind the winner. About average for me it seems. By my time of 1:40 and some seconds, I would have been 4th in Clydesdale category (but of like 9) and would have been 2nd last in SS (also of like 20). It doesn’t matter which category I choose I guess. Dude who was first in the 40-49 heat had the fastest time of all the Cat 2s. Look forward to being 40? I’m really just in it to ride some singletrack and test/push my skillz a little. Mission accomplished.
10/10 would race again