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How to Race Your Bike in the Mud – An explanation, cautions and take-a-ways from my ability to run beside a bike

I won a race on the weekend. This has happened a handful of times in my career, and only once before on a day with any mud (Crank the Shield 2008!).

How/Why

I’ve been asked how I went so fast this past weekend numerous times over the last 24 hours.  While I tend to avoid talking about my racing too much (well, apart from that 10 years of blogging about it … ) I believe that a few coaching clients and ‘questioners’ are missing the practical ‘how-to race in the mud’ skills/concepts and expecting that I had some sort of mechanical advantage or super secret PAM spray that kept mud from sticking to my ‘Blak Majik’ Trek Fuel.  [Insert Technological doping, top tube and slippery tube jokes here to save time later]

I’m sorry to disappoint, but there isn’t any one magical thing that I used in the mud, cold and snow at the race, but there are a few things you can practice in your training and keep in mind next time the weather turns with the key items (explained below) being run more, move in a variety of ways, learn to dismount/mount and grab your top-tube if you are off your bike.
poo
Photo of one of my most awkward moments in race. AVOID unexpected dismounts / dead-stops
by Hans “solo” Clarke on the Facebook (gallery here, need to be friends with her to view)

But before I get into it, I want to start with a caution: if you are an aspiring XC racer, the sport has changed. These days of mostly running disguised as mountain bike racing —are very niche and increasingly do not result in world championship titles, although they might be a small part of some high level races, the front runners are not running much usually. I am not getting overexcited by my win, I assure you that I am aware of my place in the sporting world and that many people would have beaten me had yesterday been a world cup or more lucrative points/money race. With that said, I have some sort of knack for running beside my bike, and you may find yourself in a race where that skill and the associated concepts help you achieve a result: they did just that for me at Bonelli this past March where I got UCI points in an UCI-HC event that had many very talented and motivated athletes… many of whom I ran past holding my top tube in the final few laps as several climbs turned to peanut butter, bikes got heavy, running became more important, and weather (motivations) worsened.

 

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​Experience​:

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2005 Transrockies – This stage was one of the craziest days of my life, with the Mayor of Singhampton

An important background is that this ‘Snow-Cup’ at Highlands Nordic this past weekend aligned a lot of things I do often in training into an event. In my training, I am fairly specialized to mountain biking, but my rides typically involve sketchy sections, stairs, fences, giant logs, bush-wacking, significant hike-a-bike and frequent mounting (how to video) and dismounting (how to video). Clipping in without loosing speed and while on variable terrain is also part of this and worth practicing. Many of the people who know me well will describe certain sketchy rides that include those elements as rides that I would like or a “Pete ride.” Case in point, on the day after the race I was on my Trek Boone cross bike and tippy-toed across a river, was on gravel/grass for a bunch of the ride, scaled a sketchy barbed wire fence and ran through a wet ditch then remounted my bike with a cyclocross mount (onto my thigh) . It is just how I ride. I like to explore and put together crazy routes.

I run most days for 5-20 minutes in the morning, walk 5-20,000 steps a day, and Ride 12-18 hours most weeks. I think biggest week was maybe 25 hours this winter while down south. Strength is 1-3x a week and for last year has been mostly just some variation of my ‘anywhere core’ routine due to inconsistency of equipment with our travel. I also use a HIGH:LOW:OFF three-day cycle, meaning I go really hard on day 1, then long on day 2 and then off day 3 (walk/hike/light run/ light core routine/outdoor work). I Spiro-Tiger (respiratory training device) a couple of times a week and usually as part of race warm-up: it is most of my warm-up on crappy days to avoid getting cold and trashing my bike before the start.

 

My bike warm-up was about 15 minutes with 3 x ~1min efforts up grass hill by the start, getting HR >85% MHR (strava link to race/warmup).  I also wear a lot of clothes to try and get sweating and warm before I get to the start-line, as we would for any race.

This video (LINK) also embedded below, explains “Grab the top tube” (And this one for hike-a-bike in stage racing might help you see where seconds to minutes can be lost)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rq-2cjh-nQ]

In terms of specific training, running is a very large part of ‘riding’ well in the mud. Skills to descend (attack position!) and pump/flow terrain on downhills is very important, if you over-brake you will be off your bike a lot more. If you have a smooth pedal stroke and seated power than you can stay on your bike more (I do not have this).

Should you train like me? It depends what your goals are. I obviously believe that we should all be able to move really well in a variety of ways–Molly and I did start a podcast on that topic–but if you are trying to be world class, you will need to focus on that disciplines key skills and not on finding swamps to run through while holding your bike. If you want to do an MTB stage race, like La Ruta or Transylvania Epic, then I would suggest working on your running, hike-a-bike, remounts and gravel road riding in addition to ‘standard’ mountain bike skills. (If you like ‘hacks’ then check out 10 ways to go faster at Leadville without training more). Being able to run, move well in a variety of ways (gym work helps) and perform in a variety of conditions is generally a good idea (and as shameless plug, the point of the Consummate Athlete Podcast…)

sarah

One of the athletes I coach and my TrekCanada team-mate, Sarah Fabbro, won the Junior Expert Women’s category. As I passed her, it was evident (to my delirious and biased mind…) that she was moving efficiently. Smooth dismount and running with her hand on the top-tube, using the bike to help keep her up on off-camber and not stressing that her tires were rubbing and/or that her chain was falling off. We had a laugh as we ran through a section together mid-race, the fun/smile is key. Run the flats/uphills and Coast/Pump the downhills. Clean the drive-train while you’re moving when long sections of pedaling arrive.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fteamhardwoodtrek%2Fvideos%2F1191406547544411%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Following the example of the young riders who brave colder temps and often worse weather early in the morning

Mindset:

​I have a rule that I don’t quit, and that I start if I register. The rule has been broken perhaps twice, three times at most. This rule of  ‘the only way out is the finish line’ eliminates hesitation about the sanity or rationality of what we are doing and on days I feel like crap, it eliminates the option to quit. While I did cringe as we looked at the course before the start; thinking about what the race would cost in bike repair. We had committed to the day and so motivation to do the best I can, to see how my training experiments are going, is high. Eliminate hesitation, the only way out is the finish line.

I am also fortunate to have the support of a great mountain bike Ontario (and beyond) community. Highlands might be considered my ‘home course’ as well, indeed I have won another Ocup there and narrowly missed provincials last year. I have developed a reputation as a hard-man–I am not sure I deserve it given my affinity for the trainer and California–but when the race organizer and several racers are calling you for the win, there is a certain level of ‘social motivation’ where you need to/want to defend your ego/identity. I feel all of these things worked in my favor but are also possible for you to leverage by telling yourself and others that you like riding in the rain, that a race will be good for you and by committing to race/warm-up as you would expect someone who does well would. No complaining or hesitation in your routine.

​GEAR​:

I have the fortune of many years of great support from the Trek Store​ of Toronto/Barrie/Aurora and Trek Canada. We are a small team largely supported by “mom and dad” so while the store makes sure we have great equipment to minimize the chances of things like broken chains, flats, chain suck, etc. it is important to not use that as an excuse. I prepped my own bike, changed to bigger tires the day before a race and did a test-ride to make sure the discs didn’t rub and tires seated. I’m not sure that any of my equipment was that much different or specialized for the conditions. As I go through the results, perhaps there is something in the frame:tire clearance in the Trek vs. other brands, but I am not sure as many riders had good days for them on other brands: Liam on a dually Scott in second for Pro-Men as an example, where he (in his own words) had many new experiences on Sunday and was motivated to have another podium in his first year elite. Liam also has a cross-country running background. Even tires are debatable as many people did well with smaller/dry weather tires (e.g. Bontrager XR1).

The tires I used we​re Bontrager XR2 ​2.2 width, but I suspect a 2.0 or even classic mud tire with 1.8 and big knobs may have been tire of the day if you could find one. In a perfect, free bike world, I​ think a hard-tail would have been faster strictly because of less surface area for mud to grab onto and less overall bike weight.

Single-ring setups and drive-trains generally were an issue for both big component brands. We run SRAM and I had my chain come off a couple times. I wiped the ring with my hand and sprayed the cogs/derailleur and carried on. I believe not pedaling while spinning on low traction mud is a mistake that causes excess accumulation around the BB and rings and that is why so many people had problems. I dismount quickly to move forward faster for same energy if I am sliding. So this means many remounts/dismounts in sketchy areas and a lot of running. Many people rode more than I did, but if running is not efficient for them than that might have been their best option.

 

 
I tend to over-dress always so on inclement days I am usually wearing 1-2 more layers than others, so I am very used to performing (usually moderately) while wearing arm and leg warmers so I have ones that don’t fall down, fit well and that I am used to. During this weekend’s race I wore an undershirt, 2 jerseys with a vest in-between to keep the wind out, a trick I use this more often then I might admit to stay warm and not obviously wear a vest.

 

Technique:
13256071_10206906719761683_6125119775562828475_n
TextBook!! Grab your top-tube and run, lean on top tube as needed (Hans Clarke Photo)

The biggest thing to focus on is dismounting and grabbing the top tube quickly every time: traction is lost (basically any flat single track or uphill) and running for all you are worth. I rarely picked up bike the whole race, occasionally would lift rear wheel by lifting top tube and pushing on left grip/handlebar to keep rear wheel out of sticky mud areas. Having your right hand on the top-tube gives you something to lean on when running so when you slip you don’t fall. When tires got really gummy, I would jam my hand between the tire and frame at BB and seat stays while pushing forward and then hop on and mash until wheels rolled. Kyle Douglas of 3Rox, rode more than I did and was doing similar mud clearing while riding his bike.
I hit every puddle/wet area of dirt (look for rivers / puddles). All my water bottles went on drive-train, at key portions of race course where pedaling became more possible/efficient.
 
If I could race again today: 
I would have put in the mud cleats into my shoes as it would have boosted my speed and prevented a few painful slips. I think narrower tires, 1.8 or 2.0 might have been really good given the mud accumulation / wheel rotation issues. Throwing down a gel might have added some extra pop for last 20 min of race, but at 1hr20 minutes and equal lap times it is hard to think fueling was huge issue.

 

It was a win. I cherish any I get, as there are few in most careers. Olympian Sue Haywood said something similar at this year’s Whiskey 50 rider meeting, where she was honored. Her point was to be a good person, have fun and enjoy your ability to get out there and work hard. I hadn’t really thought about it, especially for a rider of her caliber, but there has to be more to why you race than just the chance of winning, and for me, pushing my limits and riding stuff I find fun has been my goal for the duration of these 20 years. On the odd days that races line up closely with this skill-set I’ve created, I grab my top-tube and run for all I am worth, while the other races, I am content to pedal, learn something about myself and have some laughs with friends along the way.  Perhaps this article gives you some ideas or motivation to find your favorite version of riding a bike and survival skills for the next mud-fest.

3 Thoughts on Off-Season

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6YPXv4B4Ls&w=560&h=315]

3 Thoughts on Off-Season = BALANCE

Show Notes

I tend to use the term ‘Balance Period’ for the period of time between the final Competitive/Race Period and the start of ‘Base’ Period.

Without fail the biggest mistake athletes make is carrying the same injuries, illnesses, and bad habits from season to season by getting caught up in a cycle of training when they should be taking a break.

In the above video newsletter episode I talk about the following, with a relaxing babbling brook in the back ground:

1) Using the balance period as a chance to make progress on injury/illness with decreased training time and stress.
-> Get into your physio/chiro/coach and take care of that injury (often moving differently and resting is all that is needed)
-> take a break from what you normally do. Step back and make sure you are healthy .

2) Add back volume (easy riding) slowly and watch for injuries to come back … tinker and get help with position, diet, mobility, skills to help overcome and breakthrough on your ‘volume limit’.

3) Refocus your nutrition and go back to whole foods only. Drop out any supplements and junk food.
-> great time to clean up diet by focusing on quality and see some of that body fat come down, especially with improved sleep habits and reduced stress.

Fall/Off-Season is a great time to:
-> work on skills with skill sessions or strength session/Kin assessment (Book a Skill Session)
-> Get your bike fitness, bike fit and overall movement assessed (Book a Session)
-> Plan & Goal Setting for 2016 – Book a consult – Guidance & feedback for $25!
-> Start Coaching or try a training plan while you have lots of time to recover, learn, build and try new things.

Feel free to reply with Questions or ideas !  Or comment on facebook!

Peter

 

How to Describe Intensity

 

Today my goal was to discuss a few common stumbling blocks that coaches and athletes hit and suggest some possible ways to avoid.

How to Describe Intensity

1) Using ‘Race Pace’ as an intensity level .

Referring to race pace is most common in running where we can suggest that a run be done at a certain pace (e.g. 10km pace). It becomes more vague to suggest an athlete do a ‘race pace’ effort if their race is more variable (i.e. MTB or Cross). There are higher and lower intensity periods in both race types. It is perhaps better to use a HR or Wattage or RPE metric to explain whether the effort should be a steady/longer interval or a harder/short term explosive interval. The difference between a 2 x 20min interval set and a 5 x 2 interval set is fairly significant and the feelings associated with both in training are not that dissimilar from a race while executing the set.

karlee sprinting - climbing 2014

Practicing Climbing, sprinting and accelerating will have you ready to do so in races during the critical moments

2) Max effort, Maximal, Max out, All Out … Any reference to ‘max’

I use Max efforts fairly often in my prescription (and my own training) but as a coach I try to do some work upfront to explain that max does not mean DNF. So if we are doing 5 x 2min hill intervals then 3 x 2 min and then crying and riding home is not what is being suggested by Max. I am resistant to avoiding the use of max because I think learning to ride at ‘max sustainable’ pace is important to success in racing. Learning to ride our limits and build/maintain pace at different duration is important. Best results are found by not rushing into workouts that say ‘max’ and building pace through each individual interval and also as you appoach the end of the set. Empty the tank on the last few intervals and rarely will you be disappointed in the results.

peter-winning

Short or Long – There will be moments in any race where you have to go ‘max’ but it is always relevant to the duration of the effort

3) Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and Feeling.

Feeling is important to develop. I find the various RPE scales frustrating as an athlete and coach. I have gone from using 6-20 scales to 1-10 scales and then refined what the 1-10 scale meant as I learnt more about it. Establishing some qualitative metric of the work you do can be helpful in tracking improvement and fatigue. Having a scale can also help you understand pacing and this whole topic of intensity and zoning.

Using the 5 x 2 min interval set again, the first 2 might be done at a 8-9/10 effort and then the last 1-2 at 10/10 effort (RPE) but the distance covered and wattage might be very similar.

4) Critical Power (CP) and Threshold (FTP)

A final common way to prescribe work is relative to a test result. FTP and Critical power are most common and can be very useful. Do your 2 x 20min sets at CP30-60 and your 5 x 2min at Cp5 or Cp6. This can help reduce the vagueness of ‘race pace’ we talked about earlier, especially when combined with RPE, Heart Rate and a general understanding that not everyday should/will be a best day of wattage.

In closing I think the biggest breakthrough I have had in my thinking is to take whatever the interval set is we are doing and assume it is best sustainable pace. With few exceptions (i.e. tempo) this makes everything very simple. If we need to ride up a hill 5x today then we will do it the fastest we can without failing to do so, we do not need to cloud this by saying ‘faster than race pace’. Further, keeping an ongoing discussion of the goal of the workout, the week and the block of training helps athlete and coach stay on the same page.

3 Drills for Better Cornering

cornering basics and drills

 


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNzOBAKZ3TQ]

 

 

Cornering is essential to any type of cycling. We do it often and the better we can do it the faster we can go, the less work we have to do, the safer we will be and the more fun we can have.  Many cyclists get caught riding their bikes like it is stuck in a trainer and so it is upright the whole ride. This creates a situation where the terrain asks the bike to move to the side (like on a berm, or corner or when standing) and the rider must slow down and turn the handle bar significantly instead of leaning the bike to carve the corner like we would on skis or in board sports. Take your cornering out to a safe area and use these drills to grasp the concept of cornering so that you can enhance the fun factor on your next ride.

 

 

 

 

Standing for Cycling Comfort and Performance


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oprqYUBp_F4]

 

Standing is one of my favorite skills to help people embrace. Yes sitting is efficient because we don’t support our body weight BUT it is not efficient on all terrains (ie. bumpy downhill or short climb or you find yourself in wrong gear or end of race sprint) AND it is not efficient if you get saddle sores or a sore back and don’t ride or finish your ride.  For many athletes of all abilities they are missing the hinge at the hips (like all athletic positions), elbows out and the side to side motion of the bike under their body. The best way to practice is to do it more !

 

 

 

 

3 of My Favorite Workouts for Mountain Bikers

1) 30/30

Called micro-intervals and part of Billat’s Vo2 work the 30/30 is a great workout set for several reasons. The short work periods are easy to focus and work hard through and the short recoveries allow for averages and physiological demands rivaling steady state efforts. I really like this because the ‘stochastic’ (on/off or variable) nature of these intervals can be a great simulation of mountain biking.

Billat recommended 15-30min of 30sec on / 30sec off , stopping if the 30 seconds on could not be held at vVo2 (speed/watts at vo2). Many coaches will use Cp6 wattage as a stand in for vVo2.

Coaches have taken this and used it in shorter blocks to apply the advanced principle to different athletes and abilities.  E.g. 3 x 10min of 30/30 w. 5min off

2) Offroad TTs on challenging terrain

I use this all the time personally and with clients. The key is to pick challenging terrain to address limiters and situations relevant to your goal workout. I often use 3 stage, a rocky and hilly  trails system. There are ups and downs, but mostly ups for up to 20min of solid work. To clean all the rocks and roots takes tremendous focus and to beat my times takes more and more fitness and skill each time I go. Using the same route also helps me build confidence and track my improvement.

3) 5 – 10 x 2-3 min ON / 2-4 min off

This range borders between traditional Anaerobic intervals and Vo2 intervals but these are quite common and relevant to the duration and RPE that we encounter in MTB racing. Whether you look at successful age groupers, pros or sets used in studies these are often close or the same to what is used. Many endurance athletes will do well to keep bumping intensity up as they get stronger and resist adding more and more repetitions. I typically rotate these ranges through, almost year round and adjust the interval/recovery duration to vary the load/focus. More reps and shorter recoveries pushes the focus towards VO2/threshold while longer recoveries and shorter work periods are more anaerobic focused.

Give these great workouts a try to spice up your routine

Peter

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My feet hurt. My voice is hoarse ( Trans-Sylvania Epic Stage 7 2014 )

Well that is all there is and I am done. A couple days of getting behind nutrition / sleep and continuing to race brought on the sore throat and stuffy nose for Day 7 and I was fairly checked out. Not as checked out as my country-man and real hardman Kris Sneddon who ate/drank/ingested something he shouldn’t have and spent the better part of day 6 and 7 in bed.

Short day with lots of rocks, and bumps and an extended double track beside a beautiful river. Not overly fun on the hardtail but took in the scenery then did some work on the couple gravel climbs to keep with the racers just behind me in the standings (Drew and Thomas).

Finishing up the week I had a smile on my face and some great experiences and learning in the bank.

Cool down with Jeremy Powers (who was up in my ‘chase group’ for a bit early in the stage) and Justin Lindine and then a great beef/shrimp dinner and some ‘stage 8’ fun in the evening .

If you are wondering if this event is for you. I recommend it without reservation. It is very hard but not ridiculous on any day. It is bumpy so bring your dually and best/toughest tires and be ready for some adventure. ( A full review will follow this post ) 

MEDIA LINKS
= CYCLING NEWS Stage 7: Bald Eagle Little PoeSaturday, May 31 2014


= Final video of Stage 7 presented by Dirt Rag Magazine andChristopher Bean Coffee Company. Check it out! ttp://bcove.me/z8bhyhv2

= Also see Stage 6 video , I throw down a Flick turn at 2:15
     *so happy to skid again*  http://bcove.me/fplpjhpl

I have to walk right into the lion's den. ( Stage 6 Trans-Sylvania Epic 2014 )

  1. Stage 6: Rothrock Tussey MountainFriday, May 30 2014

Today was rocky . 2 Very long ‘East Coast Rocks’ segments (very bumpy sections with challenging rock gardens) . I have been enjoying the challenge but definitely a test in controlling emotions watching the race ride away despite climbing as well (or at least close!) . That is what is so great about MTB racing is that fitness is multifaceted and skill is important, especially here on the east coast.

Scenery was tremendous and the climbs tough today, several really steep pitches that also caught my low rpm ‘love’ a bit off. Kept it moving forward and got more time on two of the closer guys too me while a youngster (Cole Oberman) has been having a great week and passed me in the standings.

MEDIA:

= Stage 6 video , I throw down a Flick turn at 2:15
     *so happy to skid again*  http://bcove.me/fplpjhpl

CYCLING NEWS Stage 6: Rothrock Tussey MountainFriday, May 30 2014

Post by Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic.

On the line w. Sneddon, Bishop, Sontag, Paxon, Oberman, 
Dave Prior has been at 3 crazy events that I have been at this past year. 
He organized Single Speed CX worlds in Philly 
He was key on the beer commercial Molly and I were in , in California this Winter
And he is the one of the organizers here at Trans-Sylvania 
Awesome dude I am glad to have met. 

Waiting for the start, which was just across the Highway today so no driving ! 

Lone Chase ‘group’ again today. Bottles were not attracted to me today … had 6 lost 6
 drank 1 and had no tolerance for the 2nd ‘east coast rocks section’ and defaulted
to my most reliable position … moving forward on foot / grab the top tube. 

girls with hats, they tend to be very proper ( Trans-Sylvania Epic Stage 5 – 2014 )

Stage 5 RB Winter Park REmote start /finish 
Today had many ‘rustic’ and ‘raw’ singletrack elements. Some really cool stuff that reminded me of crank the shield, some hard gravel road climbing, which helped me stay close to the race albeit I was the chase ‘group’ today riding up through a couple riders after checking out of the lead group on a bumpy single track. 
Was a large Amish community around the park and they were quite supportive and interested in the race. We drove to about an hour from our main camp to get into some different types of forest and new trails . Well worth the drive.

MEDIA
=Check out what was happening at the start line of stage 5 presented by Easton and XLC! http://bcove.me/y2klr2na

=Race coverage of stage 5 presented by Easton and XLC! Check it out http://bcove.me/mr0igtpd
=The Trans-Sylvania Epic Live Show with Colt and Pals will go live at 8:30PM EST – please join us here:
http://ustre.am/1e5v1

Transylvania Epic Stage 5 Results and Report http://t.co/9zIHPzrLPn @transsylvania #TSE
— MTBRaceNews.com (@MTBRaceNews) May 30, 2014

= Cycling News Stage 5: R.B. Winter State ParkThursday, May 29 2014
      =Also see the TSE Facebook page for updates / photos / results  LINK


    A.E.Landes Photography
    This is Molly’s Friend and super racer Justin Lindine (redline) . I might have stole him as my friend though after several fun times racing with him. You may remember him from such wins as Paris to Ancaster 2013. 

    ( image from&nbs
    p;tse facebook
     ) 
    ( image from tse facebook ) 
    This seems smooth 
    This is the bearded Man Thomas Turner. Awesome guy from 
    Georgia. He drinks beverages from a large, ‘bubba’ styled Coffee cup. 
    I have had some fun rides and battles with him this week
    yes that was me 
    This one was hub deep i think 

    Take this on down the road (Trans-Sylvania Epic Stage 4 2014 )

    STage 4 – Gravel Style
    Stage 4 -> endurance XC **big stage for attacks / high speed ***

    Cool day. More of a gravel grinder with 3 enduro segments. I made the main group and just missed the 3 main break in final mile … Riding in for 7th . Did some chasing and some leading. Really fun stage and hardtail 29er perfect on the day.

      Also see the TSE Facebook page for updates / photos / results  LINK

    1. Nick Waite (ProTested Gear) in action during stage 4 of the Trans-Sylvania Epic
      Cycling News Stage 4: Bald Eagle CoburnWednesday, May 28 2014

    A.E.Landes Photography

    Leading the Group mid-race (via cyclingnews  ) 


    Me driving the pace to try and catch SNeddon and get me to the finish in the group ( didn’t really work)


     Driving pace of gravel climb


    Keeping the superfly rolling over rocky descents


    8 guys coming off gravel into atv trail and rocky singletrack is pretty fun times