Sunday, September 25, 2011

FOMBA: Trail Judo (Epic Day Part I)

Pine Forest or house of mirrors?
In the age-old martial art of Judo, you constantly push, pull, and maneuver your opponent, keeping them off balance until you wear them down into submission.  Where they expect to zig, you make them zag.  Where they want to zone out and relax, you make them snap-to and work hard.    

If mountain biking trails are the haunts of ancient warrior-teachers, then I know where the zen master of Judo lives. Lucky for us, it's in southern New Hampshire.

FOMBA is a trail system just outside of Manchester, NH which gets its name from the group that cares for its trails (Friends of the Massabesic Bicycling Association).

Like an ancient Judo zen master, FOMBA toys with its students, throwing them off balance, and torturing them with technical challenge after technical challenge.

I took a recent trip to FOMBA with old friend Brad, as well as my buddy Rico and a new friend, Chris (a.k.a. Powbmps), who we met through the forums at AlpineZone.

This was the first half of what would be known to Brad and I as the "Epic Day of Mountain Biking".  Our plan included a morning run along the trails at FOMBA with a full crew, and then just Brad and I would head over to Bear Brook for an afternoon of exploring FOMBA's sister park.

Brad, who was fresh off of his appearance at the 100 mile race at Virginia's Shenandoah Mountain 100, was primed and ready for a long day of riding.  I, on the other hand, hadn't sniffed anything close to 50 consecutive miles on a mountain bike all summer.  Rico was joining us for his first ride of the season, and first East Coast cross-country ride, so we knew he was in for a sufferfest.  Chris, however, was a wildcard.  We had never met him so had no idea what to expect.  And I'll be honest, I was a little worried when he told me he'd be the one in the parking lot with the full face helmet.  You see... you never go full face helmet on a cross country ride.  That is, unless you are really good, or really bad.  So you see, we figured we had a fifty percent chance for a difficult ride.

Given these factors, Brad decided to do us all a favor and ride his singlespeed.

Sign that a sufferfest is in your future #245:
When the trail map looks like a colonoscopy.
Despite the name, there are really two speeds for a singlespeed:  Hike-a-bike speed, and superspeed.  The harder-than-comfortable uni-gear on the singlespeed forces the rider to push really hard and maintain momentum.  If they lose that momentum, then it's hike-a-bike until they can find a spot to get their speed going again.  However, if they never lose momentum, then good luck keeping up with them. As such, singlespeeds excel on smooth flowy trails, with long slow inclines and few sharp corners.

This is not FOMBA.

In fact, FOMBA is just about exactly the opposite.  Almost all of the trails are technical with root and rock obstacles.  They also abruptly turn and change elevation.  They seem to intentionally work against your expectations to throw something new your way when you're not expecting it.

Just completed a climb?  We'll throw a short downhill followed by another bigger climb.

Turned right twice already?  Why not turn right again... and climb that hill you thought we were trying to skirt around.

You get the picture.

Well there was no stopping Brad that morning.  He blew ahead of us on the trails, momentum completely undisturbed by the trails.  Luckily for us, Chris turned out to be one of those full-face helmet riders who does it because they've got enough skill to get themselves into situations where they need the full shield.  He kept Brad company while Rico and I played catch-up.

We tackled all of the easier trails first, making the run on all of the outer loop trails: Lady Slipper, Deer Run, Moose Track and eventually Long Trail back toward the parking lot.  These took us the better part of three hours, until Chris and Rico had to split.

Brad switched up bikes to his full-suspension rig and we dove back in for FOMBA's signature trail:  Fireline.

Photo courtesy of Powbmps.
Running from West to East, this is one of the most difficult trails in the East.  While there isn't a whole lot of elevation gain, it twists, turns, drops down and then jumps right back up.  Where you could coast along on a smoother trail, the constant mix of obstacles, direction changes, and elevation changes have you in perpetual sprint.  Where the other trails gently push and pull at your balance and momentum, this one tosses you around like a rag doll.

It's not until you reach the Howard Memorial at about 2/3 the way through the trail that things begin to open up.  The last third of the trail is wide open fun, with technical lines mixed in to keep things interesting.  If you like, you can catch a few big jumps, and build up speed on some fun corners.  After finishing Fireline, Brad and I decided to reverse and ride the last third of the trail East to West.  It was just as good, if not better.  Again, small boulders provided ramps and drops, and the trail turned smoothly allowing you to build up a good head of steam.

FOMBA may not be the best place for the uninitiated, but for those who have been on a few rides and are looking to improve your technical skill and conditioning, this is the place to be.  Fewer places get more out of their acreage than FOMBA.

If you want to see more of FOMBA you're just going to have to visit yourself.  You've probably noticed that I only posted two lousy picture.  (One of which I didn't even take.)  That's because I was just too damn exhausted to get my camera out and take more.

Besides the Judo Zen Master doesn't approve.  And who wants to piss HIM off?

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