The Knot – 2016; or “How to dodge trees with really wide handlebars”

So I bought (traded for, really) a, new-to-me, 2012 Salsa El Mariachi to, once again, top off my quiver with the single speed I’d been missing since selling my Soma Juice back in 2014.

I honestly don’t know what mysterious force continues to draw me back to singlespeed mountain biking. It’s not how I got into the sport, nor is it particularly beneficial to one’s joints (especially while riding a rigid fork at the age of 41); yet I continue to pursue some irrational desire for the “purity” of riding. I do appreciate the honest, gut-check, simplicity that singlespeed mountain biking accomplishes. It forces you to focus, look as far ahead as possible, think through the line and choose the path of least resistance. It rewards smoothness and immediately penalizes bad choices with loss of momentum. I’d like to believe it makes me a better rider on all my bikes as it requires so much focus of my dynamic relation between bike and environment.

I picked the Mariachi for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a Salsa; and they’ve been honing frame-craft since I was but a wee lad in diapers. Two, alternator dropouts; Salsa added these to the Mariachi  in 2011 and they were an immediate hit. The alternator dropouts allowed the bike to be easily configured as geared or single speed. With nothing more than a hex head wrench and a couple of set screws, you could set it up as S/S and dial in chain tension; easy-peasy.

I’ll say though, that I was basing this acquisition on complete anecdotal evidence of performance. Everyone I spoke with that owned or had ridden a Mariachi, raved about it. There were no gripes, complaints, exceptions… nothing. The way I justified it, was that I already had the Spearfish as my full-squish, all-gears, no-fear bike for long-distance riding so the Mariachi would find its niche in my garage and not be neglected to become a home for spiders or a drying rack for my shop rags. No, I had big plans for… fuck; I gotta come up with a name… hmm.  Lemar, no. Chimara(kee-ma-ra), yes; like Chimera.

No, not that Chimaira, but as good an interlude as any other…

So, my plans for Chimara were to hone my single track skills in local XC racing by competing in the Southern Classic MTB Series. I have, absolutely, zero aspirations that I’ll be chasing podiums but I recognize that I have a glaring weakness when it comes to riding fast in the woods. It takes a special mix of bravery, confidence, with a dash of reckless abandon to go screaming through forests at a pace where the trees are blurs in your periphery. It truly is a skill that cannot be mastered by reading articles, listening to others, or riding slowly. No… to be fast in the woods takes time, experience, and pushing the limits of your abilities to their breaking point; repeatedly. You think you’re fast… until that Master’s racer passes within an inch of your bars without so much as a breeze, says hello (without breathing hard), and rides away as if on a Forest Speeder through the forests of Endor. It’s humiliating, but recharges my desire to keep improving.

On to the racing…

The Knot is organized and put on by the fine folks at Mt. Pleasant Velo. Geoff, Chris and their crew always go above and beyond to host outstanding events. From great, on-site, music to the mouth-watering smell of pork BBQ wafting through the air… it makes for a memorable and fun day of riding.

This would be my first visit to Poinsett State Park and my first toe-dip into XC racing. Until now, I’d always avoided XC events since they don’t really fall into my skill set. I’ve never had that ability to flip a switch, turn on the gas and put out big power in short bursts… no, I’m better suited to the endurance events of 6 hour and longer racing where I can utilize my big diesel engine to put down consistent power for multiple hours with a few bursts when needed.

Cross-country racing holds a certain allure though… I’d liken it to the mountain bike equivalent of criterium racing but with the added pressure of dodging trees as well as the other riders on the course. I get a certain satisfaction from these types of races; even if they don’t suit me. The fast-charged, high-output, no-holds-barred competition in such a short distance can be supremely rewarding if executed properly; no margin for error, no second chances… just jump in the arena and get it done.



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