Fire and Ice

May 29, 2008

By Kimber Gabryszak
Park City, Utah

So there’s no way I can come up with as colorful a writeup as that, Allie! But warning – mine will be wordy, sorry! It was just an amazing weekend and I’m full of things I want to share!


Yep, Angel Fire DH was BRUTAL, and the women’s field was whittled from 21 to 18 by the time we qualified. The first third of the course consisted of seemingly endless boulders, and adding in the rain on day one and the ice/snow/craziness on day two, seemed nearly impossible. But by race day most of us were cleaning them, and let’s just say I feel that my riding has improved exponentially as a result of throwing myself down the course over and over. And it was actually fun! Once the snow melted, that is. A super good time, and can’t wait until this time next year.


I found myself really wishing for a camera on Saturday, in the early morning snow and ice. Addie had fallen in the slippery icyness of the upper rock garden, and was standing in the snow picking up her bike when I rolled up behind her. Wearing a bright red jersey and standing alone, she stood out brilliantly against the snow, and the collage of rocks, trees, and snow was just incredibly surreal…


The other surreal moment was cleaning the imfamous road-gap / step-down that ended my season so early last year. Run I, I rode past it and thought “no way! That is WAY smaller than I remember it!” Run II, I rode past and thought “I’m hitting that this weekend” and felt cold in the pit of my belly. Day II, Addie and Allie pep talked me (thanks!), then I watched Addie hit it, watched Allie hit it, and then held my breath and went for it…and hit my brakes in a panic just before takeoff but somehow landed it. Funny, but that almost crashing made day III’s attempt even scarier…

Day III, I spent 20 minutes chatting (stalling) with the EMT stationed at the road step down, a hilarious older gentleman who told me “Kimber, you’ve got a choice to make here.” Which I thought would be choose a) be safe or b) take a risk, like most EMTs might say. Nope, not Vladimir! “Kimber,” he said, “you can choose, to hit this today, or you can choose, to die old and in bed.”

WOW! He went on with such philosophies as “injuries keep you young – they keep you appreciating your life, keep your immune system working and healthy.” Really? The EMT is TELLing me to hit this thing?

I hiked back to my bike. Stood it up. Straddled it. Watched a dozen more riders clean the drop with ease. Closed my eyes and envisioned the turn of the approach, envisioned the 2 or 3 pedal strokes to get my speed up, envisioned removing my fingers from the brake levers entirely. Opened my eyes and saw Vladimir looking at me. Fiddled some more with my bike. Watched more riders. Finally, when I saw the fabulous Melissa Buhl ride by so effortlessly, I knew it was time to quit stalling.

Deep breath, foot on pedal, other foot on pedal, coast into the turn, bank, pedal pedal pedal, pull fingers back, sudden weightlessness, then the amazingly soft rumble of the dirt back under the tires, so smooth! YES! The demon is dead.


Like Allie said, Sunday was when things started getting crazy. The weekend of riding on such rough ground started to take a toll on our bikes, and little malfunctions started to emerge. Well, some malfunctions and some, um, breakage due to impacts with rocks. A hole poked in one frame, a deep gouge in another, scratched fork stanchions, bashed derailleur that lost some screws, chainguide shiftage and failure, etc.

(Plus, my bike hadn’t been ridden before this weekend. I had the wrong size bottom bracket, and had to wait for a replacement before I could finish assembling the bike. The BB got here 4 days before the race, so I had no choice, but I’m sure some of the malfunctions were just the bugs working themselves out.)

In practice before qualifying, my chain had come loose from the chainguide, and it seemed that the guide itself was misaligned and derailling the chain off itself. I spent an hour after practice at the Chili Pepper shop jamming cassette spacers into the chainguide wheel (not made for each other, so that was interesting) to correct the problem. It wasn’t enough, and just after the top rock garden the chain came off and hung around my pedal, and without tools it was in a position that I couldn’t stop and fix. I took the go-round on the road gap since I feared not being able to pedal into it, but finished the qualifier in one piece. No worries – the actual race is a day away.


On a side note, it was rather funny when Allie and I went to the Chili Pepper. There we were, wearing our Bella jerseys, with rhinestones decking out my bike and both with glitter/makeup on, asking for tools instead of for help. Yippee! I think they liked it. 😉


Monday morning, I tightened the chainguide, then realized that my derailleur was missing the high limit screw, allowing the chain to jump off at that end of the system. I didn’t have time to fix it since practice was only an hour long, so I went up for a run and kept the chain in a lower gear, which seemed to work. And then had 2 flat tires on the descent. Are you kidding me???

2 hours and $75 later (parts, not labor, tee hee), and with a modified limit screw repairing my derailleur, onto the lift we go; it’s finally time to race. One more trip down this course.

I finally have a successful S-turn, clean the first few rock gardens and feel elated, pass the rider ahead of me (who had a bad crash slow her down, sigh), then promptly feel my pedals lurch to a stop. No!!! The limit screw is out, and the chain has slipped off the cassette and is wedged in place. But the wheels keep rolling…

One pedal up and one down, I keep coasting and pumping. Clearing a steep rock feature, a couple guys watching cheer, then trail off as I say “Thank you!” to them and promptly STOP and pull over to mess with my bike. I know the next section is nearly impossible to clear without pedalling, though the 20+ seconds it takes to put the chain back into a somewhat functional position feels like an eternity. Is it worth it?

Yes. It’s worth it. I pedal through the remaining sections, and crowning moment is when I pedal into the drop without hesitating and clean it! Hurrah! I cross the finish line, and somehow still have a time a bit faster than my qualifying time, so I’m ok. My goal was to have a sub-9 minute time (sub-8 would have been better, but…), and with just the time wasted unjamming my chain I would have met the goal.

Still, I think that Angel Fire just really likes me, so it keeps giving me reasons to go back. This year it was to overcome the road drop, next year it’s to have a malfunctionless run. Silly Angel Fire, I don’t need a reason to come back!


Lessons learned:

* pack a disposable camera for those must-have photos
* do whatever I can to make sure that the first weekend on the bike isn’t a race!
* speed is your friend – both in the rock gardens and the road gap, it was easier and safer to go faster
* um, TMI…3 separate incidents of, ah, 3 of us, um, well, mmhm, you see, er, injuring sensitive areas makes us wonder if we can get sponsored by someone who makes female cups…but the lesson learned is just to bring those no matter what!
* EMTs named Vladimir are wise


And the final comment is that 5 girls in a condo / at a race together = good times, good racing, good support, good conversation, good conglomeration of repair/healing knowledge, good karma, good vibes, good food, good encouragement, just overall good stuff! This weekend was one of the best biking weekends I’ve ever had, thanks ladies! You rock!

Gravity Bella!

April 23, 2008

Allie Burch, Sea Otter Pro Downhillin’

Startline… Anyone? Anyone?

March 18, 2008

By Allie Burch
Novato, California

We are here. The race start is *way* over there –>

This was valuable information given to the three of us after an hour of hiking straight up the wrong single-track (with downhill bikes) on the wrong peak of a completely unmarked downhill course on the practice day before the race. Although the descent to the real start was pretty sweet, our little adventure had kinda done me in.

This was my first foray to the Keyesville Classic event.

The adventure started at 4:45 am on Friday with a 5 and a half hour drive to Keyesville. As the flat farmscape of I-5 droned on, it gave way to the flat farmscape of 46 then 99 into Bakersfield. A quick turn East on 174 was a welcomed change as it dropped out of the valley then climbed and twisted it’s way through the mountain pass along the Kern River up to Lake Isabella where the canyon opened up to an outdoor lover’s playground!

Once I arrived, I geared up and started pushing up the Snake pit course with Jackie and Dain. Fast, chundery sections to rocky singletrack, switchback to a rocky funnel…ok, these look fun, but where the hell does this thing start?!

We kept going and followed a singletrack straight up the most logical looking peak for a downhill course. Half an hour of hiking through soft sand later, we decided that there is no way this can be a start since there is no place to stage riders. Besides, we were the only one’s up there! We rode down and found the real start, which sent the rider down a fire road with a few rollers and a long flat section. Fine if you’re on a small travel bike, but on a 37 lb downhill sled?? Kill me now.

One of my goals for this race was to really look over lines and get somewhat creative. There was a group of rocks that looked like they could be ridden over as long as the rider threaded through the two boulders on either side. Jackie and I stopped to session this section and see just how possible this line was. I backed up and started my approach to the rock line, but slammed on my brakes before committing to riding it. By this time there were three other guys looking at the line as well. I dragged my bike up as was about to abandon the idea just as I heard Jackie say, “actually, I’d kinda like to see how that line is done.” I think she was talking to the guys, but what the hell. I backed up again and rared up to go…I’da made it too… but I got object fixation on the big flat rock wall right in front of me and smacked into it all “George of the Jungle” style. Of course after this the guys cleared it without a problem. I, on the other hand found an alternate line that I liked better anyway.

Saturday was the downhill race, a combined best time on the two courses. The first course, Dutch Flat, was best ridden on a hard tail. There were three rises that made a rider slugging a rolling couch want to puke, but all of a sudden the course got really fast. There were three of us in the pro class, two on downhill rigs, and one on a hard tail. Needless to say, Tiffany, who was on the hard tail enjoyed a few seconds advantage over us on the downhill bikes after the first run.

Time was more than made up, however on the second run where, even though the course had uphills and flats, the technical sections were easily floated over on 8” of suspension.

When the dust had settled and the results were in, Jackie and I had the fastest combined female times…exactly. We were in a dead tie for first. She was exactly one second faster than I on one of the courses, I was exactly one second faster on the other.

The final results had placed Jackie in first and me in second, the tie-breaker being the fastest down the second course. We clambored up on the podium and proclaimed our victory right as the snow started flying!! An isolated snowstorm came blowing through to cap off the awards.

Once the course was marked, and the race promoters set up and organized a bit, the event went really well and was a very fun event. I even met fellow Velo Bella roadie (and now MTB extraordinaire) Tracy Nelson at the downhill! (I can’t wait to read her writeup on this event!)

CHDH – Part Deux

June 11, 2007

by Allie

Scene of the crime: Carnegie SVRA – Livermore, CA
Course: Dry, hard, dusty…faaast
Stan’s Tubeless setup: Tasty!!

The second Corral Hollow Downhill race was Sunday, and again, RideSFO did an outstanding job of course building, venue, awards, prizes, shuttle, “maul and haul” (medics), and everything else that made this race series such a blast.

The course had changed since the last one. The g-out line had changed, the ground was a bit more loose, a double was placed very close to a pretty wild off-camber turn which made it nearly impossible for me to get enough speed to clear, but since the wind was pretty stiff it was good to stay on the ground for most of the course.

The practice and race runs were clean, but come to find out right after the pro gals finished, there was one time missing. We were given the option of rochambeau-ing for placing or taking another run. We decided to ride. Again, clean descents for all…except one, which is a real bummer since we all took the gamble on another run. I actually had a 100% clean weekend, which was key for a 1st place finish. I might not have been fastest down the course every run, but since the run was clean it gave me the fastest time. Sometimes slower is faster and I guess that’s racing.

I have to tout the Stan’s wheel set again. They’re light and they were easy to get rolling immediately. Sturdy, light and stiff. I had some trouble with a non-cooperating DH tire and had to throw a tube in – I was pleasantly surprised to learn that since the valve stem unscrews there is no need to take the entire rim strip out! Easy, easy easy!!!

I wore the Fox Launch Suit and Launch knee/shin guard combo, which were very comfortable, even in the heat, but thankfully I didn’t have to put any of my protective equipment through any “testing” trials this time!

Again, the guys at RideSFO really make everyone feel welcome, especially the gals. Phil has really worked hard to accommodate the women’s field and has done a great job. Although the women’s field was much smaller than last time I was super stoked to see another Bella, Ivy out there on Saturday rocking the course!

Please gals, come out and race this next one!!!

A handy little Q&A:

Q: I’ve never raced DH, would like to try, but am afraid of getting in someone’s way. Are the guys all agro and will they yell at me or run me over if I’m picking my way down the course?

A: Everyone here is really cool and helpful. In the very unlikely event that something like this would happen one of the guys would probably go kick the offender in the tender parts for you. Another added bonus: You get to see Waylon Smith in a skin suit.

Q: Do I need a full DH sled to race this?

A: Although it would help soak up all of the bumpies a freeride bike will work just fine.

Q: Do I need full DH protective gear?

A: A full face helmet, knee/shin and elbow guards are strongly encouraged.

Q: Does anyone have extra gear they would be willing to lend me so I can try this event the next time?

A: YES! pm me – I have an extra set of full gear that I’d love to lend out for this.

Gravity Girls in Cyclingnews

May 22, 2007

From the Barb Howe diary

2007 Gravity Girls

May 10, 2007

By Allie

You’re a fashionable, hip-and-with-it Bella, so of course you want to know in for the 2007 gravity scene. Below you’ll find the proper gear and accessories so that you too can fly past the boys in style. Say Ciao, Baby!!

Giro Remedy Helmets are awesome. The fit is very comfortable and they vent so well in hot conditions my goggles didn’t fog!

Zeal Goggles: These have been my absolute favorite long before Velo Bella for downhill and for snow skiing. They fit inside helmets perfectly, the lenses are resilient and if scratches do appear the lens replacement is easy and they just look cool!

Fox Racing Protective Gear: Velo Bella Pro Downhill Squad wears the following from Fox Racing:

Unabomber Glove: Even the men’s gloves fit a long, narrow hand with long fingers. It’s the only glove I haven’t poked nails through. The hard plastic pinky and ring knuckle protection is key.

Blitz Short: They’re comfortable and non-restrictive while the skin-saving fabric takes the brunt of “rock rash”

Launch Knee/Shin Guards: These are the very best knee/shin guards I have ever used! The behind-the-knee cris-cross strap keeps the guards perfectly in place! Crash after crash and even after pedaling hard for a good distance, guess what? The knee guard is still over your knee! They snap off in front for ease of removal. These are easily climbing to the top of “my favorite gear” list.

Launch Suit: Fox has done a service to the riders with their “Launch” gear line. The suit is comfortable and all of the padding stays over the respective body part that it is meant to protect. The back plate zips off for free-riding or less treacherous conditions.

Launch Short: These shorts are GREAT for many purposes. They have a chamois build in along with hip and tailbone padding. These shorts are perfect for free-riding trails either by themselves or as an under-short.

Shuttle Gear Bag: LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT! It fits All of the above gear (including helmet) with room to spare in the center compartment. The two side compartments fit clean clothes on one side and shoes and dirty clothes on the other. Both are vented. The top compartment is padded to accommodate goggles and glasses (we also found it doubles nicely as a cooler for b…uh…snacks.) The bag has a bottom frame and telescoping handle for rolling it around. There is also a changing pad that rolls out so as not to soil or put undue wear and tear on your precious Velo Bella socks.

Fluid Rain Jacket: We haven’t been able to test this yet, however it will come in handy for keeping our kits nice and clean during muddy qualifying and practice.

Stan’s no-tubes Wheels: Get them. Get them NOW! Everyone needs a custom set of wheels from Stans! I priced them out at retail for another bike and they were a few hundred dollars less than other popular wheel brands. I cannot believe how LIGHT and strong they are! (a friend held the box they came in and had to check to make sure a wheel was really in there) When you want to go, they’re ready to roar forward and stop at nothing. So far they’ve handled some good-sized hits and they’re still round! (The Stan’s hats are the bomb as well)

Easton Stems and Monkey Lite Handlebars: The bars are strong and I’m amazed at how the carbon is holding up to DH abuse. They’ve done a lot to lighten up my bike as well.

Crank Brothers Mallet Pedals: These clip in with ease, release when it counts and shed mud and dirt like no other pedal on the market. Huge platform in case you miss a clip or need foot freedom in hairy sections. They’re light and they just plain ol’ look cool!

Sidi Shoes: Another favorite. I love my Sidis! Strong, stiff, durable and I can literally walk around in these all day long. You’ll never see me with a pair of Pradas but I will spend the money on a pair of Sidi shoes!

Avid Code Brakes: These worked in really well. I found them to be tune-able to my liking of lever position. They are strong and powerful and I didn’t find them to pump up at all. They were consistent even after heating up. Come to think of it, there was no arm pump from the using the brakes at all! (and I used them plenty) WELL DONE AVID!

Kimber is racing on the Kona Stab Deluxe this year. I had a chance to pedal it around a bit and wow this thing wants to go forward. I wish I would have had one of these while trying to pedal my rig along Fontana’s “Wall of Pain”. The floating brake will ensure there is no “brake jack” and provides a consistent line of rear travel down the gnarliest of descents.

The 2007 Velo Bella Pro Downhill team is fortunate to promote some of the best equipment on the market. We’re very excited and very thankful for the companies that make the gear to keep us rolling safely. I’ve given my opinion on the products below, I hope that it might be helpful information for anyone looking to purchase gear in the future.

Corral Hollow Downhill Series #1: Everything good!

April 23, 2007

by Allie

It’s been a long weekend spent in the dustbowl of Carnegie State Rec area where the first race of the Corral Hollow Downhill Series was held on Sunday. I just got home, am still dirty and am pretty spent so here’s a rundown of events in my semi-conscious state.

Saturday: Practice from 9-2pm. Get up at 7, drive to Jackie’s, load up, pile in and take off. I had been honestly dreading the return to this venue since a disastrous race run a few years ago and since then I had built up the parts I dreaded most in my mind. I guess that’s what happens when demons of a bad race are allowed to live.

We arrived and the place was hopping. Registration was going, shop tents went up, bbq smoker was heating up, even a DJ mixing and spinning tunes. The vibe was definitely fun and positive to set the mood for a good ride. When the shuttle (flatbed stake trucks) arrived we loaded up into the back (moo-cow style) in groups of about 30 or 40 and they hauled us away up to nearly the top. From there it was a few hundred yard uphill hike to the start, a grade too steep for the trucks. I threw on my helmet, snapped my trusty Zeals to my face, took a breath and let the brakes go as best I could down the ultra-steep start, right to the place where I had eaten it hard in prior years.

Something snapped. I don’t know if it was my bike and me actually being in tune or my head being pulled out of my rear at that exact moment, but whatever it was made me focus, load up and lean into the berm that had previously sent me flying. I pinned it and was sent accelerating down the course!

I was having a good time right up until I saw the 20’ double in the middle of the trail. Slowing down I didn’t pay attention to position and slowly slid off of the side of the takeoff. I never actually did get a good look at it, but I heard someone on the course say “I saw a girl launch this earlier.” That was all I needed. I turned the bike around and headed back up to get a good head of steam. CHARGE!!! Pedaling as hard as I could I hit the takeoff and from the air got a good look at the length of the double…and the transition wasn’t getting any closer! CLANK-BRAAAAAAP! The rear wheel didn’t quite make it but I was still upright. That was all I needed.

Finishing the rest of the course I took a couple more runs and headed home. It poured rain on the dusty course for the rest of the night.

Sunday: The dirt was Velcro. In my practice run I did the following to prepare for a solid race run: Put more air in my tires, practiced a faster line around a tight turn, learned to make motorcycle noises when hitting the double.

It all came together for a solid, yet conservative run. Good enough for third place in a field of about 8 pro women! A HUGE showing for a local DH event!!!

I was 10 seconds off of 1st place and I know where I can make it up and what I’ve got to work on.

Gals, Please come out to this race series if you have any desire to try DH! It’s an awesome course and every racer is appreciated and treated like a pro! The guys at have done alot of work to make an outstanding venue for our local area!

All Downhill at Sea Otter

April 20, 2007

by Allie

It could have been the aroma of Bella Blend whipping through the gale force winds, possibly it was the snazzypants for this year’s theme or maybe it really was the beer, but DAMN I had a great time at ‘Otter this year! (well, minus Saturday’s Dual Slalom fiasco, after which I admittedly slinked off to the back of the trailer to throw my own little pity party. Attendees: Me, myself and our pal Jose C.)

The Sea Otter downhill course is nothing new to me, however the beating my confidence took on last year’s course left me a little freaked out this year.

Friday’s first practice run was very cautious and reserved but unwarranted. The guys who basically had to rebuild the course after last year’s wear did a fabulous job!

I kept riding through practice and although the course was slightly duffy, the “grin-factor” was climbing to about an 8!

Saturday was dual slalom. The event happened, now it’s over. That’s all I have to say about that. Fast forward to Sunday.

We practiced Sunday morning, and Saturday’s deluge left the course’s dirt tacky, grippy and all-around yummy!!! I took a couple of practice runs and then stayed up top to play in the berms. The Sea Otter downhill course berms are pretty legendary and by the time I felt like I was railing the set of “S” berms, the course had rocketed up to “grin-factor” 10!!! WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEe!!!!!!

Needless to say I was having a great time. My race run, although not fast, did a huge boost for my riding confidence. I know where I lost time, however it was not due to uncontrolled bobbles or tactical mistakes. I simply didn’t pedal hard enough. Lesson learned but a good time had. I wasn’t first, but not nearly last either.

Thanks to Bella extraordinaire Jeni Udall and our Fellas Mike and Kyle for the support at the downhill race and for making me wear a jacket so I didn’t catch cold. Actually, thanks to everyone who was there watching and cheering on. It’s an awesome push to hear people rooting along the course!

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