Saturday, March 20, 2021

Mountain Biking is Dangerous (or is it?)

As I sit on the couch, recovering from another broken bone injury sustain while riding my mountain bike, I do have to admit that mountain biking is dangerous.  This time I broke three ribs in my back and sustain heavy muscle trauma (hurts worse than the the breaks) after crashing on on a jump on Misery Whip at Fall Creek Bike Park (Alsea Falls).  It was my second time through the jump line that day and I just over jumped a right hander into the left bank and crashed into a stump at the bottom of the "s" turn.  And I was by myself (though a doctor friend and his doctor friend found me about 15 minutes after I crashed). 

After my friends made sure I wasn't "seriously" injured and my legs started working a little better, they got me to the service road and I road down to my rig and drove to the immediate care facility.  

The final result was broken ribs 6,7 and 8 under the right shoulder, tendon and muscle trauma to both thighs, along with soreness and stiffness in numerous other places.

While I didn't miss a day of work, I have had a lot of time to think about the crash and resulting injuries, and here are a few observations:

1. Mountain biking CAN be dangerous.  I have wrote a few posts about crashing, it is part of being a mountain biker (see my video But the vast majority of crashes do not result in broken bones.

2. Mountain biking is NOT dangerous unless you make it that way.  Meaning, my mountain biking has progressed from thinking a green trail was hard to riding double black diamond trails.  But in my experience, I have only been hurt or seen others get hurt when they are trying something more than just riding.  For example,  I have had three broken bone crashes when I was jumping my mountain bike. I broke a collar bone turning off my GoPro and hit the only rock on a flat trail.  I broke another collar bone riding to the trail in a very heavy fog and hit a curb.  So I have never been hurt just riding the trail no matter how rough or technical the trail was.  So my trying to jump (which I took up in my 50's) is where I have received broken bones.  Otherwise I could have rolled through the spots and been fine.

3. Sleeping in the recliner sucks.

4. It is true that you should never ride alone, but it happens.  So you need to let people know when you leave and how long you will be.  That way people can know where to look if you don't come back on time.  I also carry my cell phone with me and I wear a RoadID.  I am also very grateful for the two mountain biking docs who found me on the trail. The mountain biking community is all about that, helping each other.  Also, I have to say thanks to the hikers in the parking lot who loaded my bike when I couldn't. 

5. Bones heal faster than muscles and tendons. The bruising and tightness of my hamstrings has been far worse that dealing with the broken ribs.  I felt like I could have got back on my bike and pedaled around the block on the flats after a week with my ribs.  But I'm barely able to walk after two weeks and sitting has been very difficult.  

6. Follow-up with your primary care doctor.  Mountain bikers tend to think they are tough, as the saying goes, "Mountain bikers don't sue when they crash, they take pictures of their injuries and send them to their friends." But, when I went to immediate care, they were really only focused on seeing if I had any broken bones in my back.  They never even looked at my legs.  So you have to be an advocate for yourself.  Once I was home and the adrenalin and shock wore off, I discovered a lot more injuries and soreness.  

7. It is tough watching your body change.  I went from a very strong and in shape person, to a person who could barely walk and needed help getting dressed.  My legs are weak, my "saddle toughness" is wearing off and I've put on 5 or 6 lbs. At my age (61) I have to consider is trying to say make that gap jump worth 6+ weeks off the bike.  When you ride 3+ days a week, that is a lot to give up for a "moment" of glory.

8. With that said, don't beat yourself up playing the "what if" game.  I've gone over my crash (what I can remember) over and over thinking things like, if "I would have just been 12 inches to the right..." and you can't do that to much of that or it will get in your head.  Some might ask am I now scared to get back on my bike or "did I learn my lesson." I'm not scared at all, in fact I can't wait to get back riding.  But do I have a healthier understanding of my limitations and skill level.  I have learned that I can take a drop, but I am not good at taking a "lipped" jump.  You have to continue to "ride" the bike even in the air, and I realize I will brake before a jump (not a good thing) and my mind freezes in the air, so I don't "ride" the bike.  While it is an amazing feeling when you hit it all right, I'm not good at it, and I need to face it, and know that it is okay.

I've been riding with a group for about 18 years now and we ride year round.  The Old Men Mountain Bike Club (OMMBC) has also had its share of broken bones as shown below, and most have also been from jumping or pushing the edge:

And in 2020, our riding community (not one of the OMMBC) lost a friend at Black Rock.  So in the end Mountain Biking is dangerous, but I still maintain the danger is self-inflicted vs. a road rider who can not control the dangers around them.  I feel far safer on my mountain bike on a black diamond run than I do in the bike lane riding out to the trailhead. 

So in the end, mountain biking is as dangerous as you make it out to be, and I like that.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Why I Like e-Mountain Bikes and Why they Should NOT be Banned

Mountain Biking is an interesting entity. Like a flowing river, people keep trying to control it, steer it and put boundaries around it.  Yet like a river it will find its own course, you can't control it especially in a flooding situation.  So you need live with it, embrace it and "go with the flow." e-Bikes like 29" inch wheels are coming and mountain bike groups and trail organizations need to get in front of it now and remove the friction and tension around them. And I am no talking about banning them. 

e-Bike Power Classifications:
First before we start our discussion we need to understand the basics about e-bikes. There are three power source types:

Class 1: eBikes that are pedal-assist only, no throttle, and have a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph.
Class 2: eBikes that also have a maximum speed of 20 mph, but are throttle-assisted.
Class 3: eBikes that are pedal-assist only, with no throttle, and a maximum assisted speed of 28 mph.

My Take on e-Mountain Bikes:
There are people who have too much time on their hands and not enough of what I call "living at 360 degree life." They are in the "here and now" and don't think about the sustainable future of our sport. Young mountain bikers are going to get old, more people riding trails means more support of the sport which means more support of trails.

So I think trail managers and riding clubs need to get in front of trend they can't stop and embrace it a 360 view. For example, they can say that only Class 1 e-Mountain Bikes are allowed on their trails. That takes out the concern over "motorcycle" like trail riders. You can also establish rules (depending on your terrain) that you can only use the assist mode while climbing.With a max speed of 20 miles an hour for the assist mode (based on your pedaling) most experienced riders are already going that fast and wouldn't want any assistance going down, especially technical sections.

Also, e-Mountain Bikes are getting lighter and companies like Specialized are releasing bikes that have some assistance, but still requiring heavy pedaling and shifting down while climbing. What is the advantage of that setup? More laps on your favorite climb or longer days in the saddle (especially as you get older).

My Use Cases:
Here are a few use cases that I think are a valid use for an e-Mountain Bike:

Use Case 1 - Couples - many times one spouse or the other (mostly the female one) will not want to ride with their significant other because they keep getting dropped on the climbs, etc. An e-Mountain Bike is a great equalizer in that case. It is always better to do a sport you love with the one you love.

Use Case 2 - Old Age - one of my favorite places to ride is Alsea Falls bike park. It has a paved and gravel climb that is about 2000 feet of climb in about 4 miles or less. I'm approaching 60 and while I'm in good shape, I can do about 1.5 laps before my legs are tired. With some pedal assist on the climbs I could get in 3 laps.

Use Case 3 - Disabilities - there are people who need assistance pedaling because of a disability. In fact, this would be my only case for allowing someone to use a Class 2 bike if they couldn't pedal at all.

There are probably more, but you get the idea.

Specialized e-Mountain Bikes:
Specialized has been a leader in e-bikes and their Levo e-Mountain bikes are no exception.  As mentioned above they have two versions based on their Stumpjumper frame.  I have always road Specialized, and especially Stumpjumpers (in fact I have 2017 and 2019 carbon models).  On version is your traditional Class 1 pedal assist and the other is the lower power Class 1 pedals assist.  The later comes in under 40lbs.

The links below are to a video that points out the difference which I think you will see other manufactures adopt and then an MTBR review of the same two bikes.

So there you have it, not an exhaustive discussion but hopefully it helps to frame the discussion in a positive way.  Because I for one want to be riding into my 80's and I know that an e-Mountain Bike will get me there.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Scars of the Past - Remembering "Great" Rides

As I have said in at three previous posts about injuries (Nov 10, 2018, Jul 29, 2016 and May 20, 2013) mountain biking includes an element of risk (and reward) which includes crashing and scratches in various forms.  But, unlike road riding, you can crash, slide out, fall over and generally get separated from your bike and walk away from it (with maybe a little poison oak). A road bike crash is not pretty.

Recently I was in the bathroom after a shower and taking an inventory of my body as a map to great rides:
  • There is the "BB" sized scar on the top of my left hand that happened on my second ride down COD in Bend Oregon. Somehow my had got twisted under my handle part in a crash on a rocky section. All I had was this round BB sized hole that healed like a little rock.  The top of COD is one of my favorite trails which I connect with Funner.  
  • On my right wrist there are two side by side 2" "racing stripes" that I got going down the "Stairs" on the upper McKenzie River Trail (MRT).  The upper MRT is one of the most technical trails you ride as it has narrow trails through sharp lava rocks.  This crash happened as I approached the "Stairs" and a riding partner said wait, let me film it, which caused me to stop and loose momentum. Going too slow, the wheels locked on a step and over I went.  My helmet saved my life and my wrist got the tattoo. 
  • Of course there is my left collar bone which has taken the brunt of my getting to know the ground.  From my soccer days I always tumble to my left. A long time ago I broke it skiing (another crazy story), but since I have been mountain biking I have broke it three times, but never just mountain biking:
    • The first time was at Black Rock in Falls City where I went over a drop that was under construction that very day.  The break resulted in surgery a plate and 8 screws. But I was able ride out (a zip down jersey makes a perfect sling). 
    • After about 18 months I had the plate removed as it made sense if there was a chance of breaking it again I didn't want the plate in there. And about 9 weeks later on my way out to the ride in a very heavy in the dark I turned onto what I thought was a drive way that was really a walk way and crashed into the curb at a high rate of speed (for a mountain bike) and broke it again (but no surgery). I again was able to ride home. 
    • That was in February and that following May in Moab as we are doing the Whole Enchilada in an upper meadow on a flat "safe" trail I reached up to turn my GoPro off and hit the only rock in the trail. It was a "small" break and I was able to complete the entire ride. Needless to say I have a nice lump on my collar bone.
  • On my left forearm is a small patch that was a "rub" burn, where I was riding the long skinny on Funner in Bend where I slipped off and landed with my arm on the slide and even with my long sleeve jersey and a wind jacket still got a "rub" burn. 
  • On the inside of my right calf there is a series of about 5 scares from where I feel over on the Sulfur Springs tail (yes there is a small trail and I only road it once) and fell over when my doctor riding partner stopped and I couldn't unclipped fast enough (I was till getting used to them).  I raked my calf over my big ring.  My riding partner said lets go to my office and I'll sew you up (23 stitches later).
  • On my right shin there is a little brown spot that looks like a mole but is really a spot where my front tire threw up a rock that hit my shin bone through my sock at Black Rock. It bleed a little, but never really healed for a long time.  I guess it killed the skin or something. It was my strangest injury ever.
  • Finally, there is my right angle that has a very large scar from an ankle break at Alsea Falls that required surgery a plate and 10 screws (and a surgery to remove them).  This happened when I came over a jump and landed on the hill side and slid out, not really a crash at all, but my ankle caught on something and twisted till I broke (I still road it out).
So there you go a tour of my body and of great rides.  And while it sounds like this is a rough sport, it really isn't, but the scars remind me of rides enjoyed, views seen and fun times. These are things I would never change.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Riding at Night - Cheap Lights 2018

I have been night riding for 13+ years and doing it year round. The "Old Men" bike club (OMMBC) ride year round and we normally start at 8:00 p.m. Night riding adds excitement back into a local trail that you ride over and over. Some people think that is "crazy, but you drive your car at 70 miles an hour in the rain all because you have good car lights.  Mountain biking at night is no different. With good lights you can go just about as fast as you can during a daylight ride.

Now there are excellent light companies out there with excellent lights and great features, but they are expensive and I just didn't like the idea of taking something that expensive out in the rain and also the potential crash with it.  I'm also a realest (or in other words a cheap guy) so I buy cheap lights.  And I’m a fan of the cheap lights on Amazon.

I've seen the YouTube Videos and heard the "horror" stories, but I have to say I've avoided those problems and have had great success with these lights over the last 14 years.  The key I’ve found is to use an upgraded battery and not the default battery they ship with.  The batteries they ship with the lights do not hold up well in our (Oregon) winter weather and they don’t hold a charge long.  I’ve had the best luck using the upgraded battery (which used to be the standard battery back in the day).  I have batteries that I’m still using that are 7 years old being charged once to twice a week.  

I just purchased a new set of lights and while they are “bigger” I’m not sure they are that much brighter and I never believe the lumen's claim, but that is also half the "fun" of buy cheap lights.  I have never had a light fail from rain or weather. The most issue I have is with connections because of a crash, etc.  So I have had one or two lights fail over the years because of that (again why I like the cheaper ones because they are easily replaced).  

So hear are few links to the lights, the extended batter and the cord extender:
This is my newest light (it uses the standard connection that matches all my other batteries).  I bought two. $32
The model I have used for the last three years (which I have two of and they still work great) is no longer available.  So here are two “upgraded” models.  These will be a little smaller and lighter if you don’t want to use the larger one above for a helmet light.  

Weihao Bicycle Headlight, 10500 Lumens 7 LED Bike Light, Waterproof Mountain Bike Front Light Headlamp with 96000mAh Rechargeable Battery Pack, AC Charger
Here are some extended battery options:
Magicshine MJ-6092 Small and Lightweight 2 Cell Bike Light Battery, 2600mAh Li-ion Waterproof Rechargeable Bike Light Battery for MJ-900, Round Plug

Magicshine $24 (2 cell) this is the one I use
Magicshine $49 (4 cell)
Magicshine $61.00 (6 cell)
Battery Cable Extender $10
And because I like to put my battery in by jersey pocket or my camelback I use an extender.
Video of a night right on Mary's Peak using two of the $25 and $29 lights linked above.  The camera takes some of the light away, but you get the idea:

No go ride!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Fall Riding 2018

Corvallis Oregon is arguably the best place to live if you are a mountain biker.  It has year round riding on everything from very technical trails to flow trails and everything in between.  Some years the winter rains set in early and other years like the fall of 2018, the rains hold off, the trails stay firm and leaves have time to properly change colors.  It has been a great fall clear into November with little rain and fun rides.

McDonald Forest

Decker Loop

Black Rock

Mary's Peak

Getting Hurt on a Mountain Bike

...and what to do when you can't ride.

I've talked in the past about getting hurt on a mountain bike. You are going to crash or "wipe out" as that is the nature of riding trails in all kinds of weather and conditions.  But it has been my experience that I have only been seriously hurt (broken bones, etc.) when I was doing something outside of "traditional" mountain biking.  Meaning, when I was jumping, doing a "skinny" log ride, climbing something very technical without my helmet or even riding in the fog.  But I have never been hurt (in a really bad way) just going down the trail (other than picking up some poison oak).

I have broken many bones over the years playing various sports.  I think my count is about 30 different breaks. On my bike I have only had 6 breaks (3 collarbones w/ 2 surgeries, 1 ankle w/ 2 surgeries, a finger and a rib)

When You Can't Ride
So currently I'm off the bike because about 2.5 years ago I broke my ankle at Alsea Falls on again a little slide out after a jump where my foot got caught on a side hill and hooked something that twisted my ankle till it broke. It has never felt perfect since I had to have a plate and 10 screws put in.  I felt it when I would lift heavy, jump rope, hike a hill or run.  Plus I couldn't sit cross legged with that ankle flat on any hard surface.  So I knew I wanted it out someday.  Also, I knew if I broke it again, I didn't want to have that plate in because it could be worse. So I had the plate out.  Finally I'm such a "weight weenie" so every ounce counts along with a shaved ankle (not).

What I try to do when I'm off the bike because of injury is work on other areas that aren't impacted.  Like in this case, while my ankle is recovering, I can still do upper body work like bench presses, cable rows, etc.  With a collar bone I'll get on the spin bike.  You just want to keep some fitness up and not stress the injured area.

The White Rim Trial, Moab 2018

Moab Utah is one my favorite ride destinations.  As I have said before it is an outdoor playground where everyone from hikers, bikers, climbers, motorcyclists, 4Wheelers, etc. all get along together. This is demonstrated on the 100 mile White Rim Trail. This trail outside of Moab in the Canyon Lands National Park is a 4 wheel drive double track trail that is not technical for a mountain bike, but the views are spectacular and you can find some more challenging rides along the canyon walls.

White Rim 2018:
This trip was the brain child of my younger brother Curtis who is an Overlander and provides medical services for wilderness events.  There are a limited number of campsites which must be reserved in advance as they limit the number of permits for camping.  We did the "loop" in three days and two nights.  That included two almost 40 miles days and 20 miles finish.  4-Wheelers and motorcycles could do the entire thing in one day, but with the heat (depending on the time of year) a mountain biker needs two to three days (unless you are a pro) because you can't carry enough water.  So it really needs to be a supported ride for us "mere mortals."

We had four rigs (a Toyota Highlander, Toyota Helix, Jeep Cherokee, and a 2001 Suburban) and 11 mountain bikers.  The one thing to point out, this is not a trail for a cross bike, heavy old mountain bike or for the non-fit rider.  While it is double track, is bumpy, rocky, sandy with punchy climbs.  And if you don't stay hydrated even before you begin, you'll be in trouble.  We had four of our riders give up after the first four hours.

What We Learned:
  1. Water - The biggest thing we learned was that water is key.  The campsites have out-houses but there is no running water.  And you need to be drinking all the time, let a lone cooking and clean-up.  On the first day I had water in my Camelback, but I didn't pre-drink.  As a result when the temps hit 100 (mid-May for us) I couldn't drink enough to stay ahead and got dehydrated by mile 40 and our first camp.
  2. Shade - There is no real shade.  Our first campsite had one tree that we clustered under.  So we also had some tarps that we could stretch between vehicles or you looked for large rocks to get behind.
  3. Wind - You are exposed, so the wind can be an issue as you are riding, camping or cooking.  Cooking is when we noticed it the most as it would blow out the flame on your stove or make it so things took longer to cook.  Also when riding in a headwind with the temp in the 100's can really dry you out and sap your energy.
  4. Cell Service - It is very spotty, so you need to make sure that you need with you for food, water, mechanical and medical.
  5. Fire - As warm as it was during the day, it can cool off and you can have a fire in the designated fire pits.  So bring wood.
  6. Power - If you have a phones (for pictures and emergencies), GoPro's, GPS watch, etc. you are going to want a means to recharge them.  We had a small generator, spare batteries and  solar chargers to keep things going.
  7. Views - take the time to look at the views and there are many.  You are driving along the canyon most of the time. So stop and look.  I also took time to leave the road and drive along the ridge in several spots (which gave some of our crew the "willies"). Also you can't beat the view of the stars you'll get.  There is no light bleed from a city.
  8. Direction - You can ride it both ways, but I recommend for a bike ride to do it clockwise. I felt that the downhills were much longer going that direction.
  9. Bonus - Since you are close to Moab, allow some extra days to ride the trails around there, we road Porcupine Rim (and ate at Milts).