Monday, December 29, 2014

And that was 2014, folks!

Another semester down and I'm still alive! First, vitally important information from this fall:

1. I tested a 2015 KTM Freeride 250R.

Photo credit: Kevin Novello, Trail Rider Magazine

It was the best thing that ever happened to me, short of meeting Lovey or being born to sane and loving parents. Read about it on the Trail Rider website, and while you're there, check out my review of the 2015 Husqvarna TE125!

2. I raced an enduro. I won my class and only finished half the checks, which should give you an indicator of the trail conditions...which also left a few, er, "indications" in my bike. Again, full report on the Trail Rider site.

Photo credit: Ted and Cindy Rummel

See how happy I look? Yeah. That's because there's a hole in my clutch cover and I'm tireder than I've ever been in my life. 

Back to the present: specifically, the gross, snowless winter. My bike is in the shop--and by that I mean we rolled it down a flight of stairs into the basement.

She's due for a top end rebuild, a radiator de-taco, and of course a couple hundred screws in each tire. The piston got here a couple days ago:

Beauty, eh? Details of the hopefully smooth, swift install will be provided in an upcoming issue of Trail Rider. Maybe by the time it's in, we'll even have some snow...

Monday, August 4, 2014

Friday Night Antigravity

I don’t want to seem like a Negative Nancy, here, so please consider the following statement a testament, instead, to my unflinching realism and journalistic integrity: when you’re a newb, you don’t get many moments of unfettered joy and freedom on a dirt bike. That’s not to say riding while incompetent isn’t fun, because it is: however, it is also frequently slow, difficult, frightening, and painful. The upside of this is that, as your riding starts to improve and the level of bullshit you put yourself through begins to decrease, you surprise yourself with some transcendent experiences whose memories will comfort you in the nursing home (if you live that long).

Take the local club ride last Friday, for example. The July sun is already slanting golden over the mountaintops when Greg and I pull up to the track, a 5-mile beauty that climbs up and down the hillsides and valleys of a small Vermont farm. Seizing the remains of the day, we hit the trails at top speed, flying along narrow traverses across impossibly steep slopes, racing up power cuts and rear-brake sliding down twisting, tree-studded descents. After three laps, we come back to the truck for some water and find that our friends Nick and Sheryl have just arrived. Nick is a pro and takes off at warp speed while Greg, Sheryl and I head out together. I start behind Greg and ahead of Sheryl, betting that on this non-technical, frequently vertical track the raw power of my 250 two-stroke can keep pace with her 150 and far superior riding ability. She slips past me while I attempt one of the hero sections and disappears for good, the occasional distant ring-a-ding of the small bore scolding me for my overconfidence.

Nonetheless, I keep up the pursuit, testing my nerves in the tight, tree-lined sections and pinning it up the fast ascents. One hillclimb deep in the woods is heralded by a road sign nailed to one of the trees: “SPEED LIMIT 40 MPH.” I take this as a challenge. Another streaks skywards while traversing a steep, grassy slope: an accidental wheelie nearly sends me off the trail and down the bank. Keep your weight farther forward next time, I tell myself, wheelspin be damned. The ascent ends in a cambered turn, almost a wall ride, and dives back into the woods. They are airy and open, like a cathedral whose pillars are beeches and maples and whose leafy stained-glass ceiling streams with afternoon light. Too busy admiring the view, I tap a tree with a bark buster, panic and grab the front brake: the ground comes closer, pauses, then gets further away. It might have been a sweet stoppie if I hadn’t, at that point, panicked further and tried to jump off the bike.

I pass by the field where the car is parked and head out for a final lap, doing my best to stay on the pegs on the hillclimbs, lean it over in the corners, and jump some of the whoops. The last objective nearly yanks my arms out of their sockets on one attempt and bounces my sternum off my handlebars on the next. I’m gonna need some professional help with that one. However, the rest of the lap is smooth as silk, a blur of scenery, sunset and adrenaline. At one point, I pull over because the bike is behaving strangely: do I have a flat tire? No, I’m just going faster than usual, sliding the rear end around, blowing through the suspension travel and getting some harshness at the bottom of the stroke. Back on the bike, racing the fading light back to the car.

Have you ever had a dream where you could fly? If the layman doesn’t realize one thing about motorsports, I muse, clinging onto my machine for dear life as it accelerates like a space shuttle toward the setting sun, it’s that piloting a dirt bike is as close as you can get to having one of those flying dreams while awake. Total freedom, complete control, a temporary escape from gravity and all the boring realities that come with it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Revenge of the GravityBike!!!

This summer, since my boyfriend Greg is at least mostly recovered from the knee injury he sustained last May, we’ve been on the mountain bikes a lot. I grew up bicycling and have a temporary and unfair advantage in leg strength, so weekday-afternoon mountain biking has been a nice ego boost for me after Greg kicks my ass on the dirt bike every weekend. Pedaling up the enormous hills behind our apartment and back down again over slow, gnarly single track, I keep a comfortable lead on him, though as his leg gets stronger, he’s been gaining on me. He also noticeably decreases my lead on steep descents, where the bike behaves most like a motorbike—so it was with a sense of resignation that I finally brought him downhill mountain biking with me at Mount Snow Ski Resort in southern Vermont.

Last summer, the editor of Trail Rider Magazine probably thought it would be funny to invite me along on a “downhill hare scramble” here with a bunch of professional and near-professional dirt bikers. I spent most of that day in terrified solitude, rattling down the slopes many minutes behind my comrades. Among the faster individuals, the level of competition (and resultant level of chaos) was such that the guys in the bike rental shop remembered our group when I returned a year later. When I told them my main ride was a dirt bike, they asked if I knew that group of riders and if I could get them to come back, because they were entertaining to watch. I said Yes, I knew them, and I’d see what I could do.

Mt Snow, 2013. Much to my regret, I forgot to bring a chest protector this time. Photo credit: Kevin Novello

Dressed conspicuously in head-to-toe moto gear and skate shoes, Greg and I rode the ski lift with our rented full-suspension machines to the top of the mountain. I start off in the lead, but within three runs, it’s clear that I’m getting in Greg’s way. Following behind him, I see that he pulls away from me in the corners, be they bermed or flat, and is much more comfortable on the frequent small jumps that punctuate our chosen trail. Rarely having had the chance to get air on a bicycle, I find the sensation foreign and frightening. It’s hard to grip the skinny frame with your knees, so how are you supposed to keep your feet on the pedals? How does one control whether the machine falls nose up or nose down, if not by dabbing the rear brake or cracking the throttle? The boyfriend, now a smudge of dust several switchbacks away, has either found the answers or never needed to ask the questions.

During one of the increasingly rare runs when he lets me start ahead of him, Greg gets a front row seat to my first major crash: I decide that my habitual nose-down landing positions are caused by insufficient takeoff speed, so I scope out a safe-looking transfer jump at the entry to an uphill hairpin and hit it as fast as I can. The apex of the turn rapidly passes under my bike and I turn my handlebars downhill in an attempt to stay on the trail. Too much, too late: when the front tire hits the ground (first, again), the rest of the bike keeps going straight and catapults me over the bars. I drag my bike off the trail as soon as I slide to a stop, then sit moping in the tall grass like Eeyore as I wait for respiratory function to return. While I’m wheezing, two guys on expensive non-rented bikes fly past without even a glance in my direction. Are bike people jerks, I wonder, or are moto people just the salt of the earth? Greg, having allowed the bike pros to pass him, pulls up beside me a few seconds later. I let him go ahead, then carry on at one fifth of my former speed. Everything is going to be sore tomorrow.

On the chair lift, I examine the photographic imprint of my crash landing site on my stomach and consider that my strategy for the day needs revising. I’ll stop worrying about keeping up with Greg and start trying to loosen up, have fun, and find some flow. Greg, meanwhile, is psyching himself up to try some of the mountain’s wooden “features”—essentially horizontal ramps to nowhere that let you catch significant air before landing on a downhill portion of the trail. On the upper part of the track, I focus on looking through each corner as I would on a dirt bike, rather than target-fixating on the rocks at the apex. I find that the trail flows better when I bunny-hop off some of its rocky outcroppings, and I slowly get a sense for how the bike behaves in the air. On the approach to a big tabletop, I give the pedals a stomp to compress the suspension like I would on a dirt bike, rather than trying to preload the fork with my arms as I’d been doing until that point. The bike pops off the lip of the jump and I land it nose up: one mystery solved! 

When I reunite with Greg at the line for the chairlift, I find that he has been victorious over the wooden ramps, and I see this firsthand when I follow him on the next run. With the added acceleration from flying frictionlessly through the air, he is now even faster than me than before. This is getting embarrassing. I begin pedaling like heck on the straightaways, and thus going bigger on the tabletops without really noticing it. Greg says that on each of our last couple runs, I got 10 seconds closer to keeping up with him—which probably put me back at the same pace I was going before I went bodysurfing off the transfer jump. Hey, I’ll take what I can get.

Shamelessly changing out of our sweat-soaked gear in the parking lot, we decide to come back for a full day of riding before the end of the summer. With its full suspension, gravitational propulsion and twitchy handling, the downhill mountain bike is an excellent training tool for dirt biking. It enforces good body position in the turns and in the air, provides a surprisingly brutal workout, and, of course, allows you to make stupid mistakes without the added risk of a 220-pound motorcycle landing on your head. Maybe the next time we venture up the slopes, I’ll hit those ramps to nowhere too.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

NETRA Spring Challenge 2014: Suspension Upgrades and Moto Ladies to the Rescue!

MAYDAY! MAYDAY! Enemy conifers at 12:00!

So the NETRA Spring Challenge happened and I lived to tell about it, despite what this screencap from my GoPro footage might suggest. (I think my skidplate took the brunt of the impact with that tree for me.) My performance was markedly better than last year, although the course was less of a nightmare. I am extremely grateful to the folks at Enduro Spec for my recent suspension revalve, the details of which are recorded in this month's issue of Trail Rider (I also have a little write-up on the Challenge in there on the back page). Having suspension that doesn't try to jolt me off the bike every time I hit a rock is pretty life-changing!

The water crossings went well for me this year.
Photo credit: Lynn Hollis

The downside of all this improvement and professionalism is of course that now I have much less to bench race about on this blog. Unlike last year, I didn't get stranded in a boulder field filled with waist-deep mud for half an hour, I didn't get my foot sucked into my own rear spokes and have to be pried loose by a team of spectators, I didn't crash while being passed by somebody and get dragged down the track for 25 yards with my elbow guard caught on the guy's footpeg... I mean, thank God. There's something to be said for not rewriting Homer's Odyssey every time I get on the bike, even if it does occasionally leave me at a loss for stories. One of these days I'll post the six-page account of my boyfriend's knee injury from last year, just to drive home the point that sometimes no news is good news. (This was Lovey's first NETRA race since the incident, by the way. His knee still hurts and he's still 33% faster than me lap by lap.)

As you might expect, then, the GoPro footage from my race is really boring (and slow) except for that one crash. It does, however, reveal that I talk to myself while I'm riding--a LOT. It is vaguely interesting from a psychological standpoint to listen to the deterioration of what comes out of my mouth. On lap one, it is upbeat self-help stuff--keep your elbows up, stand up going over these rocks, etc. By lap two, it is mostly swears; by lap three, even four-letter words have become too much for my brain to handle and my commentary is mostly screams of rage. This is what Helmet Head syndrome does to me, and why everyone should be grateful that I am slow. If I were fast, I'd probably run people off the track left and right, not out of malice but just out of brainless competitive instinct. Thus, I am always amazed when I bin it 80 minutes into the race and someone still has the humanity to stop and help me. Or even eight minutes into the race, as in the example below:

As usual, I walked away from this year's Challenge with was a renewed appreciation for the awesomeness of moto people, and moto women in particular. There were probably 100 dudes to every lady in the Novice race, so what are the odds that the person who eventually lifted my bike off my legs was a girl? Pretty good, actually, if experience goes for anything. Motorcycle racing is a man's man's man's man's world, as James Brown observed, so moto gals tend to look out for each other. I really need to curb the Helmet Head and get on board with this--it's only right. Let that be my New Season's Resolution. If any women out there are undecided about whether to race, seriously, you should do it. It's a blast, and I promise, we've got your back!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Winter Resume

Hello, internet! It's been a while since I've written anything here, for the obvious reason that the snow has been waist-deep out there for the last month and--worse--I am an engineering student. Nonetheless, here's a brief overview of what little seat time I've managed to score since the last update.

1. I got new boots! 

Out with the old...

In with the new! That's the new on the right, below. If you couldn't tell. In which case, I recommend immediate corrective vision surgery. (P.S. Don't dis the flannel-lined pants. They belong to my boyfriend, anyway.)

The new Gaerne's are SWEET--or at least they became sweet after I put some cushy Dr. Scholl's in them. Thanks for the great birthday present, Mom!

2. I went hooning on corduroy, thanks to an off-road driving instructor friend.

Every time I see a ski slope from the highway, I kind of want to go down it on a dirtbike, because I am so terrible at skiing that I would probably crash less that way. Don't get excited, that didn't happen--but I did get to ride on packed powder at a ski resort. My boyfriend and I were sitting in a diner about a month ago, eating breakfast, when Greg gets a text from his friend Rees. "I'm in the Snowcat", it read. "Bring your bikes." Enough said.

An hour later, we were testing our traction on wide Jeep roads criss-crossed with snow ruts. The snow was deep and the grip was dubious, so you had to hold 4th or 5th gear wide open if you wanted to A) get anywhere and B) get there shiny side up. Whenever the ruts got too deep to be fun, Rees brought the Snowcat around to fill them in. Good times.

3. Oh my God, am I at Daytona Supercross?!

Yep. DEM RUTS. Also, Ryan Dungey almost ran me over with his pedalbike, no joke.

Q: Why didn't you take any pictures of the RACE?
A: LOOK, MA...


5. What else did you do in Florida?

1. Bought bikes at Walmart

2. Stuff.


4. Margaritas.

6. I encountered my first-ever motocross track and lived to tell about it.


This was at the first round of the Pilgrim Sands Trail Riders short course series, featuring two 40-minute motos of combined MX track and woods. It was a BLAST, well worth the four-hour drive! I hit all the jumps, bottomed out my suspension, took a couple good diggers in the fast-flowing but progressively beat-to-hell woods loop, and got to watch tiny children on 85's lap me twice and do outrageous whips off the tabletops. And I got second place in the Women's class. Out of four. Still, the woman who got first was WAY ahead of me. I should make it my goal to keep up with her in NETRA by the end of this season. #7009, I am coming for you! ...Very, very slowly.

Also, the PSTR short course was Lovey's first race since he shattered his kneecap racing in the Catskills last May. So far, so good--next up, back to NETRA!

That's about it for the winter, except for that great day of trail riding that has already been recounted in Trail Rider Magazine. Oh, and there was that ill-advised outing in February when we tried to ride at our home track and everyone's bike got stuck up to the seat on the logging road before we got to the track at all. I just left mine there and let Greg and his friend haul it out. I wasn't being a bitch, either--I honestly couldn't budge the damn thing. But let's not dwell on that. 

Spring season is coming soon--to be exact, it's coming this Sunday with the NETRA Spring Challenge. That was my first-ever NETRA race last year, so I'm looking forward to seeing how I've progressed. Tally-ho!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

February Edition of Trail Rider - featuring yours truly!

The February edition of Trail Rider Magazine is out, and there is a picture of ME on the Table of Contents page! This is extremely exciting, because it means that for at least 1/500th of a second, I was riding with decent form--and somebody actually saw it.

In addition to my usual column, YardSale, I have an article in here about getting a lesson on riding in the snow from Jim Senecal, the 2013 NETRA enduro champ. This took place at the same track day as the Beta  250 RR and KTM 300 XC tests also featured in this mag... What an awesome day that was. Have a read-through, it's a great issue!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Snow riding--at long last!

Kevin Novello/Trail Rider Magazine

Back at it! Weather is cold and snow conditions are perfect in Vermont. Yesterday I had the privilege of being a rolling road block for some of the fastest guys in the region, and even got a lesson on surviving snow ruts from three-time NETRA Enduro champ Jim Senecal. The full report is forthcoming in the February issue of +TrailRiderMagazine--thanks to editor Kevin Novello for that awesome photo!

In the mean time, here's some helmetcam footage from a nice solo ride on my home track last weekend. This is actually the first ride I have ever GoPro'd for this blog--I didn't want to let y'all see how slow I am, but what the heck. I'm still keeping some secrets--for example, I cut out the lap where I fell coming up the icy hill and slid all the way back to the bottom...

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Happy New Year: Imaginary Dirt Bikes in Taiwan!

The Imaginary Dirt Bike Blog has been a little quiet lately for various reasons, one being the onset of winter and complications related thereto. These are more or less out of the way and as soon as I am home, snow season will begin in earnest--but more on that later. The current barrier to progress is that my dirt bike is in Vermont and I am in Taiwan. If your geography is shaky, let's just say that when it is 6 AM for the bike, it is 7 PM for me. I am visiting family, who are not Moto People in the sense that you are probably a Moto Person if you are reading this--but don't get me wrong, Taiwan rolls on two wheels, and these folks have nerves of steel.

Scooters: the Taiwanese steed of choice. 

See the guy going in the wrong direction and the car swerving into oncoming traffic? Par for the course. I'm happy to weave in and out of traffic on a bicycle in New York City, say, but in a place where nobody else stays in their lane either, I get queasy. At first I was wondering why I saw so few proper motorcycles in the city, but when I got the opportunity to ride in traffic myself, at least one good reason became clear to me: on a scooter, you can tuck in your knees. That is, when a speeding farm truck tries to slam you into a taxi on a narrow street, the fairing of the scooter gets hit before your legs. Thanks to their CVT transmissions, they don't need to be shifted, are impossible to stall, and won't kill you if you accidentally give them too much gas. No foot controls means you can even ride them in nice high heels--and people do. Plus, they turn on a dime.

Speaking of turning on a dime, you can probably imagine my relief when we ditched the weekend crowds in Kenting to take a ride up a winding mountain road similar to the ones back home--give or take the tropical flowers and the sparkling blue ocean in the distance. Below is the most exciting thing that has happened to me all week:

Well, my mom and my second cousin think it's exciting, anyway. Notice the wobble right at the beginning--I threw it into the corner like it was a proper bike and it headed for the bushes on the inside of the turn. It didn't break traction, though, so next time, I should probably go twice as fast. Only one question remains: how the hell can you get these things to wheelie? I know you CAN, because this picture exists:

Marquez going around a corner + scooter photobomb = best image known to man.

Seeing the family (and above-zero temperatures) aside, I can't wait to get back home and hit the trails. That won't be for a week, though, so to tide everybody over until that happens, here's Lovey's narration of his NETRA Winter Scramble from last year. His GoPro falls off some 15 minutes into his first lap, but somebody mailed it back to him out of the blue! You know what that means--he's destined for YouTube stardom. Have a look!

Happy 2014 everyone!