Monday Morning Race (?) Report & Tire Review of the Sumi Nokian Extreme

4:02 PM


I hesitate to call what I did yesterday a race…

I decided to race at Hillside mainly because on the MORC forums they promised a course that was only 30% ice, and I felt confident that my new studded tire would give me the extra grip I needed in order to attack the course.

Let me take care of the tire review first – the Sumi Nokian Extreme performed excellently on the ice.  My front tire tracked wonderfully, but still was subtle enough for me to shift and turn.  Though it did weigh more than my normal tire, I didn’t feel like the extra weight changed the way my bike handled.  I’m a bit of a lightweight, and usually run about 25 pounds of pressure in my tubes (I’ll be shifting to tubeless later this spring, but for now I’m still on the old fashioned tube system), and I was still able to keep this pressure without compromising the studs (I’ve heard that some people need to put higher pressure in their studded tire, because pressure that is too low puts the studs in a less than optimal position when in contact with the ground).  Overall, I was happy with the performance of the tires, which was a relief given their price.

Unfortunately, I didn’t shell out for two of these awesome tires, thinking that the front tire would be good enough.  On a course of 30% ice, I think it would have been fine, but this course was more like 60% ice, 20% snow, and 20% dirt.  It became pretty clear early in the race that my back wheel was going to be a problem.  In the prologue the race organizers put together a couple of snow jumps to get things going, and there were a few iced-over puddles here and there before we dived into the single-track.  The first ice patch that I hit, one that I hardly even noticed as we rolled up to it, sent my back tire winging off to the side – I’ve never slid out so far and still recovered!  With my heart beating just a bit faster, we hit the single-track.
This course is a difficult course for me in the summer – it is a very twisty course with tricky ascents and a couple of technical features (stone staircase that turns in the middle) that I won’t even try on a great day.  I like to revisit this course because it is a good gage of how my skills are advancing.  I first went to Hillside after I had been on my mountain bike all of a month, and I spent much of the time pushing my bike up and down the hills.  I’ve since visited it about four additional times, and with each ride I am able to attempt and master a bit more of the course.  Cover it with ice, however, and it was like I was back to my first day on a mountain bike.  Even easy features were suddenly scary opportunities to crack my skull.  Those on fat bikes blithely rode through it all, but us skinny tired riders with no rear studs were at the mercy of the course, which seemed to be in quite the vengeful mood yesterday.

I ended up riding with a woman I’ve known from cross, and we had fun alternately laughing and swearing at the difficulty.  I would describe it as a cross country running race that, for some unfathomable reason, I brought my bike along for, because there were sections where we did nothing but run, run, run.  I was almost going to drop out within the first 20 minutes, but then we hit a section of trail on a south-facing slope and we were suddenly back to ripping through the corners.  Alas, this didn’t last long, and we soon returned to slowly slip-sliding along.  About three-quarters through the lap I took a nasty spill that had me separated from my bike and flat on my back about five feet off the trail.  At that point I decided a workout wasn’t worth the dangers my limited skills were exposing me to, so I picked up my bike and found my way off the trail.

This was my first DNF in a mountain bike race, and I wasn’t feeling great about things.  I felt a little better when I was warming up at the bonfire back at the staging area – my race partner showed up, and it turned out that she only made it a bit farther than I did before throwing in the towel.  There were plenty of expert mountain bikers out there that were quite capable of racing that course without studs on their tires, but I’m just not there yet.  Given the weather forecast for this week, I’m looking at a week on the spinner, which I should be able to complete without incident!

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