Mountain biking's observed trials have their roots in
motorcycling, which perhaps is why the dirt-riding majority has been slow to
embrace this nonmotorized sport. But Goatwheels Bicycle Shop in Dudley is
a magnet for trials riders and a focal point for the only trials competition
series north of Pennsylvania.
Trials are conducted on manmade or natural obstacle courses, requiring riders to negotiate rocks, mud, logs, steep ramps, narrow planks, truck tires, cable reels and other challenges without putting a foot down (a dab). Each dab adds to a rider's score, and the lowest score wins.
Trials riders use "stock" bikes -- regular mountain bikes with 26-inch wheels -- or "modified" ones with 20-inch wheels, extra fat rear tires, short crank arms, a bash guard under the bottom bracket and rims treated with tar or a gritty compound for braking power.
"It involves a lot of balance, a lot of stamina and a lot of craziness," said Kevin Brody, 23, of Webster, organizer of theEastern Fat Tire Association's five-event trials series. The third event is next Sunday on a natural course at McIntyre Ski Area in Manchester, N.H.
Brody, a computer systems developer for iPower Distribution Group in Marlboro who also does downhill mountain bike racing and barefoot water skiing, placed fifth in the pro/expert trials class in February at Motorama, an indoor event in Harrisburg, Pa., where motorcycling national championships are held.
"It's a very competitive but friendly sport," said Brody, who has landed sponsorship from custom bike maker Ted Wojcik. "Everyone pushes everyone else to go to the next level. You just progress, compete, and get better."
Goatwheels owner Mike Koza, 29, came to the sport with a 17-year background in BMX freestyle riding. He was in the original cast of the show "City Streets" at Sea World in San Diego in 1986. He led the Goatwheels contingent in last month's Mount Snow event, placing fifth in the sport (modified) class.
Trials maneuvers provide a great workout, Koza said after practicing bunny hops, drop-offs and balancing on sawhorses on a "trap" set up behind the shop last week. "It takes about three miles of cross-country (mountain biking) to get about as beat as you do in five minutes of this."
"It improves your mountain biking skills a lot," said Gary Graham, 36, of Ashland, a former motorcyclist and ski racer from Australia who started riding trials last year.
Other riders in the Goatwheels Trials Division are Len Kierstead and Carl Steinbrecher, both of Upton. Tuesday and Thursday evenings, the riders are likely to be found rearranging and tackling traps outside the shop or Kierstead's house, or, in winter, in Kierstead's high-ceilinged garage.
The foundation skill is the track stand, balancing the bike with both feet on the pedals. Riders do a lot of hopping in place to position themselves for tricky moves. "This takes upper-body strength," Brody said, "but you don't have to be the strongest individual to win. It's practice."
The sport needs to gain exposure to attract young riders and grow, and that is starting to happen, said Tim Williamson, manager of Goatwheels Trials Division. He first saw trials at the Extreme Games, "and as a spectator, I was hooked."
At the New England Mountain Bike Association's NEMBAfest in Lynn Woods last month, the trials were such a crowd-pleaser that the festival organizer asked the riders to take a break so the crowd would turn attention to other activities and exhibits, Williamson said.
Goatwheels is a sponsor of a World Round event this month in Lake Tahoe, Calif., and hopes to find a venue for a series of indoor rounds next winter. EFTA trials results are on the Web at http://www.neca.com/~mmmmit/.
Category 3 racer Rebecca Cooke of Boylston from the Minuteman Road Club missed winning the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic title by a hair. After winning the circuit race and placing third in the Wachusett Mountain Road Race, she went into last Sunday's criterium with the Queen of the Mountain sprints jersey and the legs to beat Mary Georgetti of Mystic, Conn. But Cooke took a spill in the final lap, after two riders in front of her hooked handlebars and one tumbled into her. She got back on her battered bike with a skinned elbow and finished with the pack.
Posted results showed the same overall time for the four-day contest for both Georgetti and Cooke, but officials said the clock went to hundredths of a second to mark Georgetti the winner. Cooke, 37, held on to the QOM title and the distinction of being the only local woman and the only local amateur to win a stage.
MRC also did well in the men's Category 4 race, with Mike Dionne of Waltham taking second in the mountain stage and third place overall.
Another top rider with local ties was Andrew Wilkes of Hingham, time trial winner and overall winner in the juniors category, riding for G.S. Mengoni. The Mengoni juniors squad is managed by Toby Stanton of Leicester, owner of Hot Tubes in Worcester.
Joseph Rano (Arc-en-Ciel) of Millbury, second in the masters in the mountain stage, ended up fourth overall.
The Bicycle Coalition of Massachusetts is offering more "Effective Cycling" classes, Aug. 16-17 in Framingham, and July 17-19, Aug. 9-10 and Sept. 6-7 in Cambridge. The course teaches bike handling and safety skills and basic repairs. Cost is $60, or $50 for BCOM members. Contact Paul Schimek (617-494-3601 or email@example.com).
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