Moab on a Budget

Moab.jpgRead Niner bikes latest article written by one of our own Leska MTB rider:


Stokesville Shenandoah Mountain course-RV camping and Niner Jet9 RDO vs. Niner RKT RDO

My family and I decided to take our new RV down to Stokesville as the weather finally turned to spring and it was projected to be 80 degrees and sunny all weekend. We drove down to Stokesville and setup our RV at the campground with water, sewer, and 30 amp electricity. Stokesville is a great family friendly campground and is open all year around and is owned and managed by Chris Scott. It is the starting location for most of the races produced and managed by Chris Scott and Shenandoah Mountain Touring.

40583788795_8424a8bac5_kThe first day’s weather was so great that I was able to use our outdoor grill and cook up dinner outside. The campground has great amenities and I have camped here many times very comfortably with just a tent and even in 25 degrees and snow!


My season plans this year include racing the SM100. I have not done this race in about 5 years but have done it about 5 or 6 times. Based on my race goals, I decided to get in two 2.5 hr rides and do part of the SM100 course. I only brought down the Niner Jet9 RDO XT bike with 34T front Quarq and 11-42T rear XT cassette, even though my other bike is a Niner RKT RDO XTR Di2. For me, I struggle to keep up on the fast long downhills in Harrisonburg so I know that the 5 inch travel bike with a slacker head tube will pay off well on the fast downhills. The RKT RDO Large frame is 4.90 lbs along with the Fox Stepcast 32 100 mm fork at 3.06 lbs. The Jet9 RDO Large frame is 5.36 lbs along with the Fox Factory 34 140mm fork at 3.90 lbs. The 1.3 lbs difference between the frame and fork is well worth the tradeoff in descending comfort and control for me.


The first day’s loop was Stokesville, Bear Trap, Narrowback, Tillman, short break at Wild Oaks Trail and then N River Rd, Leading Ridge Rd, Hankey Mtn Trail, and then Stokesville

The next day I rode Stokesville, Tillman, Lynn, Wolf, Tillman, Stokesville. The climb up Lynn was tough with the slack head tube angle. I had to hike around two of the narrow switch backs, which I probably could have made with the RKT. However, I descended with a lot of confidence on the Jet9 and the slack angle and larger travel really helped me make it down fast and safe after the hard effort up Lynn trail.

There is always a tradeoff between mountain bike selections, especially when comparing the best XC and trail bike out there on the market right now. The Jet9 RDO ripped up and down the trails and I descended with a lot of confidence. I am fairly set on using the Jet9 RDO with some lighter race wheels and tires for the SM100 this year. However, I will bring both bikes out here later this year and do some head-to-head comparisons before making my final decision.

72 Hours in Utah

Back in October my teammate Mike and I made plans to do a backcountry ski trip in the beautiful Utah Wasatch. After an abnormally low snowfall in Salt Lake City we scrambled for an alternative outdoor getaway. I arrived Thursday just after Mike received a new Niner JET 9 RDO. After a quick test ride loop in the dry rolling foothills we wanted more and decided to ditch the ski plans and head to Moab.


Day one we woke up to sunny skies and balmy temps in the 60’s. Being my first time at Moab, Mike was playing tour guide and did not disappoint. Nor did the Niner JET 9 RDO. We ventured out for a big day of steady pace riding on the MAG 7 which is short of magnificent seven hitting some of the best trails in the area.


After a pack full of cliff bars and several bottles each the final trail named “Portal” was the only trail unclearable, due to personal fall line uncomfort. To the riders left lies a 200+ sheer rock face to which I opted to hike a bike. Either way we were both stoked on a 6 plus hour day of trail riding.


We capped the epic day off with a pint and bite at the local brewery.

Day two we woke up fatigued and sore which was to be expected after being confined to the trainer all winter. We rolled out of town along the river for another day of exploration. The Amasa Back trail was a quick wake up with a technical climb. We reached the lookout and enjoyed a snack over the surrounding red rock canyons.


We flipped around and headed toward Ahab trail. This was a more technical trail with a bunch of drops and crazy winding rock slabs. The JET 9 was the perfect bike for the job. The playful suspension and slack geometry made for launching off everything yet agile enough to feel like a race machine. This was huge riding the choppy desert rock slabs. The trail (everything) bike was able to handle whatever was thrown at it and gripped the steep off camber rock slabs. By the time we finished descending rain was moving in so we called it as we were both content with no endos to that point.


We left grinning ear to ear after two packed days of shredding in February. The snow finally arrived as we rolled back into town which allowed for one good day of skinning in the Alta area. Snowpack was not great, but the six inches allowed for beautiful powder eights under blue skies.Utah7



Although a quick weekend, I left with plenty of stoke to get the Jet 9 out on my home New England trails.


27,789 Miles – The journey sometimes is more excited than the racing

Grab five of your closest friends and drive 27,789 miles together throughout the United States – that’s exactly what we did in 2017 and we can’t wait to do it again.

After spending the winter backcountry skiing the greatest snow on earth, I get a call from my teammate and he tells me he’s headed to Florida for a winter block of training. Within a minute I’m looking at my work calendar and booking a flight – time to get this year started! Make another call to another teammate, and he in turn does the exact same thing – now we have a group! As much as I enjoy the snow, I was excited to exchange the cold for some fun in the sun.

Battling a storm @ 10,000ft with Martin Leska

The adventure began before we even rode our bikes. It turned out the simple apartment rental we had in South Beach, Miami was directly above a nightclub – not the best conditions for the cyclist who’s meeting at 5:30am for the group ride. Luckily Martin could get a different rental that was further away from the noise. We borrow my friend’s convertible and load up. Yes, we drove like this over the MacArther Causeway at about 10pm at night. The week was off to a perfect start!

Slight change of plans – South Beach Miami, FL

Later that winter, Ian flew out for a week of riding Moab with our friend Josh Tostado. We had the opportunity to camp out, visit Arches National Park, and ride 4-6 hours each day. Josh amazed us each day with his incredible riding skills and we had a blast getting a true VIP tour of Moab.

Blue Dot Trail – Moab, UT – Ian Spivack

March 2017 marked our first NUE team race, True Grit Epic, in St. George, Utah. The crew flew into Salt Lake City and unbeknownst to us, Salt Lake City would become our 2017 racing hub of the west. We packed the Subaru down, loaded all 4 bikes on the rack, and hit the open road. This was our first time doing the True Grit Epic and visiting St. George, Utah – wow, what an incredible area. The team had a blast, shared far too many laughs, and agreed this was one tough course! Considering this was a race weekend, we all ended up riding a lot between pre-riding, the race itself, and catching up with some friends for a post-Sunday race around Hurricane, UT.

Post True Grit Epic w/ Taylor Lideen, Dylan Johnson, and Josh Tostado

We all arrived back to Salt Lake City and quickly realized we all had one exciting year ahead of us! Everyone flew back to the East Coast while I was planning another exciting road trip. After the group left, I decided to make the 2,000-mile drive (each way) in late-April to Ducktown, TN for Cohutta and to support teammate Dylan Johnson at USAC Marathon Nationals in Arkadelphia, AR.

House Party! – Cohutta Group Picture – John Rogers, John Petrylak, Martin Leska, Roger Masse, Ian Spivack, and Michael Smart – April 2017

On the way home from Marathon Nationals, I stopped by Wilson State Park in just outside of Wilson, Kansas to ride the Switchgrass IMBA Epic Trails. Wow, was I surprised! If you are ever driving across the country through Kansas with your mountain bike, stop at this park! Easily accessible off I-70, has camping options, and you’ll be blown away that you’re in Kansas. I rode for well over three hours and could have ridden more – easily.

Switchgrass Trail – Wilson State Park, Kansas

Back in Salt Lake City the snow was starting to clear from the high altitudes and it was time to get serious about training for the rest of the year. I spent a considerable amount of timing riding all over Park City and it’s easy to see why Outside Magazine named it The Best Town in America in 2013. Every single day riding here is almost unreal and continuously amazes me. Park City’s trail network has everything to keep everyone satisfied, whether you are brand new to mountain biking or you’re an expert downhill rider. You’ll run into the nicest people who are also out  exploring all over the beautiful mountain range. You may even run into a moose!

Matt Merkel and a Moose – Park City, UT

Flash forward a few hundred hours of training, countless calories, endless smiles, and the team is back out for a mid-summer stint of racing – Tatanka, High Cascades, Breck 100, and Pierre’s Hole all within a month of each other! Oh, and all within an eight-hour radius.

Load up the car again and it’s off the legendary Sturgis, South Dakota – the city of riders – for the Tatanka Epic. We leave Salt Lake City a little behind schedule, so Matt ended up arriving a little early to the house rental and quickly finds out there is a problem – it was the wrong house! I sent him the address of a different house that we didn’t have a reservation for – so Matt’s in the house getting unloaded and unpacking his bike when he gets a frantic call from me telling him to “Get out of there!” We lucked out because we were just about to hit a stretch of no cell service for a few hours while driving through rural Wyoming – whew! The start of the Tatanka Epic has to be one of the most iconic starts in the NUE Mountain Bike Series. The race is point-to-point which means you are literally dropped off at the start and ride home. But unlike any other start, this was Mount Rushmore – drop us off and we race back to Sturgis through the beautiful and rural Black Hills Forest network.

Welcome to Legendary Sturgis, SD – Martin Leska, Michael Smart, Dylan Johnson, Matt Merkel
Tatanka Epic Start – Mount Rushmore, SD

Matt and Martin few home from South Dakota leaving Dylan and I to drive back to Salt Lake City – the halfway point – before hitting the road and heading to Bend, OR for High Cascades. Dylan and I had no clue that the craziness of road travel would continue.

A few days after getting back from South Dakota, Dylan and I load the Subaru our bikes, and our backup bike, for another long drive to Bend, OR. The drive from Salt Lake City to Bend is beautiful, very rural, and has limited cell and service station service. About three hours away from Bend, OR the Subaru’s AT Fluid Check light comes on, which triggers the Check Engine light to go off and a series of other dash lights to illuminate. So, we are in the middle of nowhere with no service and an instrument cluster going off like a disco. We were about an hour away from the closest small town and decide to drive the car to a dealership. Meanwhile I’m worried that we’re doing long-term damage to car, but also realizing we really don’t have a choice but to drive it.

The dealership gets the car and drives it into their workshop to read off the diagnostic codes to see what may be going on. Since they were not a Subaru dealer, they were only able to give me the codes but mentioned they could not work on my car. While in their shop, the technician accidently backed the car into a box truck, destroying a 5-Star RKT build, bending the 4-tray hitch rack, and denting the trunk of the car! Our problem just got a lot worse! The only good news was the destroyed bike was our back up, so we could still race! The shop may have not believed me when I told them there were about $18,000 worth of bikes on the back of that car – but they did the right thing and resolved everything very smoothly.

Dylan Johnson – Bend, OR

We leave the shop still with transmission issues and now with even more problems! Somehow, the car makes it to Bend and we get it to a Subaru shop to get its proper service done. For our stay in Oregon we just had our bikes, and the broken bike, for transportation – which ended up being a fascinating way to explore and enjoy the beautiful city. In the end, the car got repaired, we raced, had a blast, and made it back to Salt Lake City.

Four NUE races down and two more to go on the year. It’s mid-July and I decide to make the drive to Crested Butte, CO to prepare for the notoriously difficult, high-altitude, Breck 100. I spent two weeks working, riding, and relaxing in Crested Butte – a city that amazes me every year when I visit. I spent time riding all over the mountain ranges and even enjoyed a hike up and down Mt. Crested Butte – well worth the views!

2017 Niner Rip 9 RDO on Trail 401 – Crested Butte, CO

Ended up breaking a rear hub shell around mile 45 of the Breck 100 which was both a letdown and a blessing in disguise. Ask anyone who raced the Breck 100 how the conditions were this year and you’re likely to hear stories of hypothermia and misery. I really enjoyed my extended few weeks in the high-altitude towns of Colorado, despite the race ending earlier than I had anticipated. I camped every single night during the two weeks in Crested Butte and the following week in Breckenridge. Camping in these areas is cost-effective, accessible, and simple – plus, you get wonderful views every single day.

Secret Camping Spot – Breckenridge, CO

A week after Breck 100, Matt and Martin flew out, once again to Salt Lake City, for Pierre’s Hole Epic in Alta, Wyoming. Matt arrived a few days early and we got the chance to hike and explore what Salt Lake City has to offer. We had time to relax before hitting the road and even squeezed in a hike overlooking the valley. Pierre’s Hole was located at the Grand Targhee Resort in Wyoming – a hidden gem to for anyone who has not visited that part of the country. The resort is almost hidden away but still has beautiful views of the Grand Tetons.

Six NUE races down – we’re back in Salt Lake City – Matt and Martin fly home and I start to reflect on how good the season was and how it’s just about over. Or is it?

I get a call from Dylan and he tells me he’s coming out west in September to ride and race the NUE Finale in Big Bear Lake, CA. Well, I guess I have one NUE left in me, right? So, six NUE’s down, and now one to go! I spent the month of August getting ready for Dylan’s arrival. I knew if we were going to be riding together, then I better get in the best shape I possibly can! Most of August was full of intensive training, sport climbing, and a quick detour to Grand Teton National Park for the Solar Eclipse. There are not many better places to catch the path of totality than above 13,000ft.

2017 Solar Eclipse – Grand Teton, Wyoming

Dylan arrives early September and we spend the first week and a half in Moab. While most decide to shuttle up the legendary whole enchilada, we ride the entire climb which consists of 7,073 feet of ascent and takes at least 2.5 hours. A few shuttle vans with loads of bikes passed us while giving us a big thumb’s up! The brave who complete the entire climb are rewarded with well over 2 hours of downhill and 6,615 feet of descent. Talk about fun! Two days later and we’re already in Fort Collins to visit our friends at Niner Bikes.

Niner Bikes invited us out after catching word that we were once again traveling the west. After arriving at the corporate office, we get a tour of the facility which ended up being very interesting. We saw all of Niner’s top secret projects – sike – we were not allowed in that area! But we did get to tour the showroom, photo studio, engineering lab, mechanics area, along with the employee offices. Dylan and I both met far too many Niner employees to count and each one of them was passionate about bikes and hearing about our journey. We all exchanged riding stories and commented on what a great office environment they have. The icing on the cake was getting to meet CEO Chris Sugai – my only regret was not getting a picture with him! After finishing up the Niner tour, we slowly make our way back to Utah.

Niner Corporate Headquarters – Fort Collins, CO – Michael Smart and Dylan Johnson

Back in Salt Lake City, Dylan and I put our final training preparations together for the NUE Series Finale in Big Bear Lake, CA. Utah is perfect training grounds for racing out west. Outside our door we have hours’ worth of continuous climbs, high altitudes, and single track for years. Temperatures dropped unusually low during the month and we ended up battling snow for our last week of training.

September Training Ride – Salt Lake City, Utah – Dylan Johnson

We load the car for our final trip of the year and make our way to California. We spent a few days in Big Bear Lake prior to the race and had the chance to pre-ride a majority of the course – we were both impressed! A few locals heard we were in town and reached out to us to meet – one of which was the legendary Derek Hermon who owns Bear Valley Bikes. Derek was nice enough to invite us over to his house – we spent hours talking about bikes, racing, life, and inventions – it turns out Derek is quite the inventor. He has an entire line of high-end, niche, bike parts for the serious cyclist. We both really enjoyed our time with Derek and quickly realized that we would be back to this cycling town sooner rather than later. The San Bernardino Forest not only has an extensive mountain bike network, but there are camping options, sport climbing routes, and day hikes all around with fantastic views – all within a few hours of the Los Angeles coast.

Skyline Trail – Big Bear Lake, CA – Michael Smart

Race day went smooth for both Dylan and myself – Dylan ended up taking the 2017 NUE Series Championship for his second consecutive year. Whew, what a year of racing! During our drive back to Salt Lake City, we reflect on what an incredible year we had. But why was it incredible? Sure, our entire team had our best race results ever, but there was something more that made it special. The journey. The journey can be more exciting than the racing, but you need the racing to experience the journey.

Dylan Johnson takes the NUE 100 mile series title overall win at Big Bear

Dylan Johnson finishing up the Big Bear Mountain Bike Gran Fondo race in 3rd place with team mate Mike Smart in 11th place. This secures the National Ultra Endurance Mountain Bike Race Series overall win for the 100 mile series and second consecutive series win. Thanks to our amazing sponsors Niner Bikes with the amazing bikes that keep our team rolling all season long. Familybikeshop CroftonMd for taking care of the maintenance and parts and support and our title sponsors Cameron Building Envelope Specialist and Leska Restoration LLC with the financial support to help us get what we need for success. Overall National Ultra Endurance Mountain Bike Race Series results will be posted soon for the entire team.


Cameron MTB Racing take 1, 3 and 4 at Crotched Mountain 100

Dylan gets his fourth NUE 100 Mile win at the CM100, followed by teammates Ian and Matt in 3rd and 4th. These guys toughed out wet and slick conditions early on, but their riding paid off with the excellent results. Congrats to all finishers and look forward to next year. Next up for the team the Shenandoah 100.

Photo’s thanks to Earl Studios



Full results can be found here: