Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series of contributions by MTBR guest writer and Cat 1 Pro Alex Kramer who hails from Los Gatos, CA and works as an instructor at De Anza College. Kramer has been racing 10 years, but has been riding since he was 12 years old when he received a 1988 Rockhopper as a Christmas present. He is also a long standing, active member of the MTBR forums. He recently won his age category at the Sea Otter Classic this year in the Cat 1 division. To read the first installment of his BC Bike Race Diary – (Better than a midlife crisis!) click here.
Day 3 of the BC Bike Race greeted us with more cloudy, rainy skies and an early 5:30 am wake-up call, as we’d need to head over to Earl’s Cove for the start of stage 3. Luckily for Harold and I, this wouldn’t involve another ferry ride, but rather a quick hop on a float plane. Roughly 60 of us were randomly selected to take the plane ride, and even though I still felt quite terrible, I was really looking forward to the experience.
As soon as we arrived at the dock where the plane would pick us up we knew we were in for a treat. The rainy weather parted long enough to make for spectacular views all around, and I think we all could have stayed in the air longer, as the flight only lasted about 15 minutes.
After landing in Earls Cove, a stunning little hamlet right out of a movie set, I tried to drink some tea to calm my still angry stomach, trying not to think about the long stage ahead of us. Stage 3 is the longest stage of the race, covering almost 40 miles with over 5k ft of climbing. To make things even more fun, it began to rain quite hard about 15 minutes before the race start, giving us all a good soaking while waiting for first wave of racers to set off.
Although I was completely unsure of how my body would react to being back on the bike while still not 100%, it turned out to be just what I needed to get me past the nasty bug I’d been fighting. From the first few pedal strokes I realized things would be fine, as I could easily put some power down, and it felt liberating to be splashing through the puddles with other riders.
Stage 3 ended up being quite the grind, featuring multiple steep climbs and lots of rooty singletrack. Finding any real flow proved difficult, but I will say the challenging terrain was anything but boring. By the time we reached the final downhill I was definitely ready to be off the bike, but it felt so good to back in action, and actually having fun, something that I didn’t feel much during stage 1.
Our camp that evening in Sechelt was a sight for sore eyes, with lots of green grass and sunny skies, as it looked like the weather was finally turning. My appetite also started to return to normal and I finally enjoyed the excellent dinner prepared for the racers and crew. There was even a small army of volunteers who tackled the task of washing our bikes, a thankless, but important job given the wet trails.
Speaking of bikes, the Thunderbolt proved to be an excellent companion during the long, challenging stage. At just 26 lbs the bike is light enough to handle all the climbing, and the Smoothlink suspension does a great job at balancing efficiency while still feeling quite plush for a short travel trail bike.
The relatively slack geometry makes for a really fun bike when the trail points downhill, and the Thunderbolt BC Edition also features the Ride-9 system, which allows you to adjust the geometry to make the head angle slacker or steeper, as well as alter the suspension progressiveness to accommodate different rider weights. I’ve kept it in the middle setting, which gives a roughly 67 degree head angle, and so far I’m perfectly happy with how the bike handles.
The only minor issue I’ve noticed so far is a sensitivity to pedal strikes, which given all the roots on the trails is something that I’ve definitely had to adjust to. A relatively low bb height does help give the bike very responsive handling, so it’s a trade-off I’d be willing to live with.
Stage 4 would also be a point-to-point stage, starting in Sechelt and ending right at the ferry dock in Langdale, and although a bit shorter at 32 miles, it would still prove to be a tough day in the saddle. Fortunately I felt great after waking up on Day 4, feeling fully human for the first time in 3 days. The weather also couldn’t be better, with sunny skies and perfect temperatures.
After wolfing down a large breakfast (so nice to have food taste good again!), we suited up for an early 8:30 start. The first few miles would be a neutral start, as the course route had us on the road, with people cheering us on as we rolled through town. The rest of the stage would alternate between tough fireroad climbs and more twisty, rooty singletrack, with a lengthy final downhill that was promised to be grin inducing.
Let’s just say that the final downhill run to the finish did not disappoint. In fact, I’d easily rate it as one of the top 5 flowy downhill trails I’ve ever ridden. Fast, swoopy, narrow, with lots of little jumps and other features to keep you on your toes. Everyone I talked to after the stage agreed that it was an epic run, and easily the best trail so far.
Barely 2 hours after ripping down the mountain we were back on the ferry for our final crossing, heading to North Vancouver for stage 5, a time trial on some of the legendary North Shore trails. Feeling back to normal and even quite rested given the day I spent off the bike, I can’t wait to see what the final 3 stages of the race have to offer.