Over fifty spandex enthusiasts made the early morning trek to Muncie Lake Pathways on Saturday morning for the up.bike TCTF pre-ride. And what a splendid morning for an adventure it was. High sixties, with a summer sun poking out to warm the skin and the tires – not to mention the hearts. It was peaceful, it was friendly, it was Northern Michigan epitomized. Ahead of the riders laid 40-miles of pristine singletrack and one hell of a good time.
The plan for the day was to divide into two groups. A faster group was shooting for a 3 hour ride time, while the other group was shooting for about 3.5 hours. Cody Sovis, Dan Ellis, and Josh Zelinski took turns guiding the first group, while the incredibly knowledgable and equally attractive Mike Walters was in charge of the marginally slower, and thus, more intelligent 3.5 hour group. The idea of a pre-ride is to get a good feel for the course, make mental notes of the decisive turns, and get an idea of tire and suspension pressure. Also of critical importance, to determine where to make passes and make your winning move. As with any race, knowing when it’s smart to burn a match is exponentially more important in a singletrack race, where missing a move early could mean a long race spent well behind the leaders.
The trails out of Muncie are sandy in spots, but generally well-ridden in. There’s a bit of space on either side of the trail that allow mistakes to go relatively unpunished, which isn’t the case on the more technical parts of the course to come. Specifically, the segment from Muncie Lakes to Supply Road is pretty quick stretch with some rolling hills, but nothing too taxing. Knowing where the road crossing is so you can make a move when it opens up before the next singletrack section would be a wise move.
Overall, the trails are in excellent shape. NMMBA has largely removed or rerouted around sand pits, and the roughest sections are probably the portions connecting the larger, more trafficked trail systems. Specifically, anything on the VST proper is fricking glorious. I’ve been riding the VST for 25 years, and it’s never been this well-maintained and exhilarating. No matter how your race is going, you can be assured that just up the trail is a section that will reward your effort. The new Strombolis loop, for example, rides like a flow trail in some sections and has been ridden is fantastically well in a short amount of time.
You can view my Strava of the 40-mile course here for all the details.
First off, we recommend only drinking Short’s Brewing Company beer if you ride bikes, since they’ve done so much to power our cycling scene in Northern Michigan. From Glacial Hills, to the winter fat bike series, to being the presenting sponsor of Mud, Sweat, and Beers AND Traverse City Trails Festival, our community really can thank Short’s enough. But we CAN drink a lot of beer. So drink Short’s.
Whatever you normally run in your tires, take 2-3 psi out if you feel comfortable doing so. There are some newer, rougher sections of trail that can really knock the wind out of your sails after an hour or so of racing. The weather is predicted to be quite warm, but don’t panic. By the end of our 3-hour ride, the sun was out in force and the temps were tickling the 80-degree mark without a stitch of wind. But the shade of the woods made things pretty comfortable. Bring more water than you think you’ll need and you’ll be fine. As Mike Walters told folks on Saturday, this is a 3 bottle race if you want to finish with some energy still in your legs. Prepare accordingly.
Your start will be pretty darn crucial on Saturday. There’s not a ton of room to pass, save for a few sections of two-track in the middle of the course, the road crossings, and the dirt road back to Muncie. If you can be first to the woods, or at least towards the front of the pack, at the start, then you should be in good shape. It can be tempting to not let people pass you in the singletrack, but this is folly. If someone is faster than you, it only serves you to let them by and follow their lines. You can go so much faster by watching with lines they take, when they brake, when they accelerate, and when they coast. Trust me – following a faster rider in singletrack only helps you and your race.
The 25-Mile Race v. The 40-Mile Race
One common misconception about this race is that the 40-mile race is the proverbial “big dance” and the 25-mile race is the “sport” or “beginner” race. This just isn’t the case. It’s better to think of these races as the 25-mile race being a traditional cross-country event, similar to any other race on the racing calendar; Bear Claw Epic, Iceman, MSB, what have you. If you want to do a cross-country race, sign up for the 25-mile race. The 40-mile race would be considered more closely as a marathon event. So, don’t think of your options as if a longer distance is a higher race category. Think of these as two different race disciplines entirely. If you’re a cross country racer, you can do the 25-mile race and you won’t be labeled a sandbagger – you’ll be labeled as doing the cross country race; not an easier proposition by any means – just a different type of race requiring a different kind of effort.
And you won’t be alone in racing the 25-miler. As of this writing, only 14 are doing the 40-miler. The vast majority have selected to do the 25-race or are just touring. Which is also an option. Know what you get for winning your race on Saturday? A medal. Which is cool. But if you do the tour, you can stop and have a PB&J and a Short’s Chief Hopper – so who really “wins” in this scenario?
If in doubt, run a little lower psi. Bring plenty of water for before, during and after your race. Don’t be a jerk, man. Let people pass who worked hard to be faster than you. Sign up for whatever race you want, knowing that each offers a different challenge due to its differing nature. This is a BFD for NMMBA, so just signing up means more trails, higher quality trails, and way more fun now and for decades to come.
If you can’t make the race, consider making a donation or becoming a member here. And don’t stop there. You can see what your money is getting you by following them all year long on Facebook, Instagram, and signing up for their newsletter. NMMBA is one of the most visible and transparent organizations I know, so it’s a blast to see what your money is doing to maintain and grow our sport in Northern Michigan.
We can’t wait to see you all out on the trails on Saturday. Get registered to race or ride, and let’s raise some money for NMMBA and have a darn good time in the process.