Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Tour de Easy ...

Living in the SE Pennsylvania, it's not that hard to get the feeling that we know what "technical" riding is all about. Between Wissahickon, Bear Creek, French Creek and some of the rides a bit further west in and around Harrisburg, there's definitely an opportunity to bounce around on some rocks and develop some technical skills. Of course, all of that is relative. Everyone who rides in areas with lots of rocks, roots and unique trail features is going to have a sense for technical riding. For instance, I imagine the folks who live around Pisgah would argue that their technical trails trump those in PA. And that may be true, but I think it's fair to say that SE PA definitely can stake a claim to having some legitimately technical riding.  And just like I'm sure those guys in Pisgah must like to occasionally venture over to Tsali for a break,  every now and then, it's nice to get away from the roots, rock gardens and boulders in the region and seek out some less demanding terrain to ride. And this is especially true if you ride singlespeed.

And out of this feeling coupled with a desire to recon the course for a race I have coming up in November, the Tour de Easy was born.

The inaugural "Tour de Easy" was a combination of singlespeed rides at Middle Run in Delaware, Cathedral Pines on Long Island, and Allaire State Park in NJ. The name comes from the fact that these are three of the least technical trail systems I know of. All three are super fast, very twisty, and each has few if any challenging features. I had set up the Misfit with the 32:16 expressly because I knew I'd be riding Cathedral Pines this week and I wanted to give the 2:1 setup a test run in advance of the Six Hours of Cathedral Pines race coming up in November. The Tour just kind of developed out of the fact that I had the gear set up and wanted to do a few rides where I wouldn't have to swap it out in order to feel good for three or four hours in the saddle.

Sunday morning, I headed down to Middle Run. I half expected that it would be a tough day -- there is actually some climbing at Middle Run (nothing too tough, but a few that last a while.) I really was curious to see how I'd handle the gearing. I had more or less run a 32:20 most of the season, so I was curious to get out on singletrack. Turns out, the 16t felt like the right gear for that park anytime. It never felt like I was working too hard. It was a perfect day out there, too -- and tons of other riders were on the trail.

The long bridge

Wooden bridges criss-cross the creeks that run throughout the park

Rider's eye view of one of the many field sections

A steady wind was blowing throughout the park all day

Bench-cut singletrack winds along one of the gradual climbs

25 miles and leg one of the Tour de Easy is complete

On Monday morning, I woke up early to drive out to Middle Island on Long Island to recon the Cathedral Pines course. I raced there last year, so I knew the course itself. What I really wanted to do was find out if the 16t would be the right gear for six hours there. It may seem a bit weird or obsessive that I would drive 3 1/2 hours just to ride a 10 mile loop of non-technical terrain, but that's not actually the case. My younger brother lives in Queens, about an hour west of CP. So it was actually a chance to visit and get a ride in a place I'd be racing soon.

So, I ultimately did about 30 miles at CP (three laps.) Still not 100% sure I want to use the 16t for race day. It was fine - none of the climbs felt difficult on that gear. But the course is very twisty, and there is a lot of speed up/slow down type riding. And I'm debating with myself whether the 16t is ideal for that kind of riding. I'm thinking that maybe a 17t or even the 18t I used last year might allow me to accelerate more quickly out of the berms and turns. I'll be thinking about that for the next couple of weeks, so I'm very glad I got the chance to ride there before November. It's a really fun place to ride -- very fast with a few rooty sections, but it's definitely the kind of place where you keep your foot on the gas and go.

The open field at Cathedral Pines -- the Finish Line for the race will be in the center of this field

The dirt road that rims the field - this is where we'll enter the regular course form the prologue

The course is almost all hard-packed singletrack with few technical features

I certainly had a beautiful day for my ride!

The top of the only climb of any significance in the entire park.  It's pretty steep but very short.

30 Miles and 3 laps later, day two of the Tour de Easy is complete.
After the ride (and about an hour's worth of traffic), I was at my brother's place for dinner. We headed over to Studio Square. We had a couple rounds of Oktoberfests and some dinner and then headed back to his place to watch some of the Jets game. All in all, a great way to end day 2 of the inaugural TdE!

This morning, my brother was up at 6 to go to the gym before work, so I got up at the same time and headed out early to finish the "Tour" in Allaire State Park at the northern tip of the NJ Pine Barrens. I've ridden Allaire many times before - in fact, I grew up only 20 miles north in Red Bank, so it was one of the first places I ever rode way back when I was riding a rigid Mongoose Sycamore in a t-shirt and sweats pants! And then I raced there two or three times when it was the venue for the Woods Hollow Classic. But the trails there have changed a lot over the years. They're still sandy and really fast but there's actually a lot more trail there now than I remember.

Of all the TdE rides, this might have been the easiest had it not been for one section the locals call "Tiger Woods". I'm not sure if I was off-trail completely at one point or if the Tiger Woods section has this kind of crazy feature for real, but at one point, I was riding down a very steep, washed out gully and came out on a section requiring me to climb up the other side. That was actually a fairly challenging climb -- sandy, loose and with a few step-up roots. But besides that, the trail was more or less as advertised -- fast, sandy and pretty flat. It was a fun ride and the 16t was perfect for it. I wasn't looking to really hammer anything this morning, but there were a few times when I just couldn't help but push the pace. The trail there is narrow and tight in a lot of sections, but fairly straight so you don't have any of the speed up/slow down of CP. And the total elevation is nothing. I ultimately rode about 17 miles. Like I said, that one section did require some effort, but all in all, Allaire was a pretty easy ride, and a great way to finish out the TdE.

Getting "artsy" with some of the Allaire foliage

Another beautiful day for the TdE!

One of the very few climbs at Allaire

1speed's vacation was looking up!

The ridge trails - this is a section of the elevated pump track that winds and loops  around one section of the park. This is a fun section to ride.

Many of the sections of trail have a kind of natural bench cut look to them

Riding toward the morning sun

Sand is the dominant feature of the trails in Allaire.
Taking an (unnecessary?) rest at home after the first ever Tour de Easy!

So there it is - the first ever Tour de Easy! It was the ultimate in non-technical east coast singlespeed riding! I think I've started a proud new tradition for anyone seeking non-challenging, super fast singletrack that allows for long rides without demanding too much of the body! At the risk of sounding immodest, I think I'm something of a pioneer in that I've now set the bar for all singlespeeders seeking ways to not challenge their technical abilities while eating up some hours on flowy singletrack. I'm sort of the Lewis and Clark for lazy-ass singlespeeders everywhere!

To be totally honest, each of these trails is a real treat to ride. They may not be the typical SE PA technical stuff I'm used to from living in this area, but there's definitely something to be said for just putting the hammer down and riding all out without worrying about whether your body will hold up. I had a lot of fun these last three days, and even if I don't get out again this week because of the pending rain, I'll have to say this has been an awesome vacation! If you get the chance to ride any of these trails, you should definitely check them out - just bring a big gear ratio and keep your foot on the gas!

The first place trophy for the TdE

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