I really didn't want to make the trip to Grants this weekend for La Mosca Bicicleta. The start was early and the drive long enough to force a drive-camp-ride trip. The finish was at 10,420' and twenty miles from the start. And they wanted us to wear honest-to-goodness numbers.
For a number of reasons, I largely stopped racing bicycles several years back. My racing career, such as it is, began with EFTA and NORBA races in mid-'90s New England through a budget- and time-constrained college career and on to the discovery of 24-hour racing in UK and back to the States for more 24-hour racing and the odd USAC mountain bike race. But the ride:drive ratio was often out of whack, the scene became more serious and less fun, and man those duo 24-hour races took a lot of preparation. When spring came 'round and the USAC killjoy tax pushed the first race of the year into three figures it was easy not to line up. Sure there are fantastic Endurance Series races in New Mexico and Arizona, but those consist of little more than a GPS track, ragtag starting lines, and a finish line clipboard and the honor system for the distribution of bragging rights.
But I had the opportunity to ride the Land Run 100 this spring and it felt a whole lot like mountain bike racing in the '90s. Sure, seriousness reigns at the pointy end of the spear, but overall the vibe was different. More relaxed. And surrounding communities turned out in force to cheer riders through their downtowns, offer a spray from the hose, or just watch the dirty, freaky parade with a glass of wine.
Modeled after Utah's Crusher in the Tushar, La Mosca Bicicleta is put on by Albuquerque's Duke City Wheelmen. It takes place in Grants, NM, one of countless Route 66 towns bypassed by Interstate 40 that never quite regained its footing once after the uranium mines closed in the 1980s. It's also home to a lot of quiet back roads and Mount Taylor, the first peak of any significance east of Flagstaff and one we can see from our office in Albuquerque.
The start was at the Junkyard Brewery at 7:00. (As a quick aside- this is not what you're picturing. Not junkyard-themed. Not junkyard-inspired. Not built on the site of a former junkyard. No, the Route 66 Junkyard Brewery is a brewery in a recently-operating junkyard. The bartender greets you from the chopped cab of an old pickup truck. The parking lot is ringed with junked cars and there are parts stacked on shelves inside. It even smells like motor oil.) A quick riders' meeting was followed by a police-escorted five-mile roll out through Grants along Route 66, which is quiet at the best of times. And then things, as they say, got real.
With a 40:60 pavement/dirt ratio, the road-oriented riders set a fierce pace, the lead pack maintaining high 20s and low 30s on knobby tires. it was exhilarating and, with eighty miles back to the car, a little unnerving. Though the prospect of falling off the train to face the wind alone was even more so. After roughly twenty-five miles the first gravel segment began and the group split, sorted by their legs and comfort on alternating hardpack, washboard, and deep sand. The lead group set out for victory while those of us on in the middle dialed things back, mindful of the miles to come.
We passed mesas and ranches, crossed arroyos, and even spent several miles on an arrow-straight potholed abandoned mine access road I heard described as faux pavement. With a small, well-matched group working together, the first fifty miles passed in a little over two hours.
The remaining twenty would take nearly as long. Pitching sharply upward onto the shoulder of Mt. Taylor, the final miles miles pulled us out of the desert and into the trees. Conversation largely ended and our group of five gradually dissolved. The roads were beautiful, the clouds, shade, and even mild threat of rain were welcome. The 67-mile route re-joined the 47-miler, which meant seeing more riders, but most were preferred a quick hello to breathless conversation.
The final four miles progressively steepened and roughened, culminating in a few hundred yards at 5mph. And then it was over. A 10x10 tent with water, chips, granola bars, and soda met finishers along with a few cheers and salty high-fives. All that was left was a twenty-mile descent back to the start.
It felt good. The challenge, the camaraderie, and the sense of occasion that informal rides sometimes miss. Maybe racing isn't so bad after all.
And the Atalaya? As I've come to expect, it was comfortable, responsive, and stable. For such an understated bike it prompted a lot of compliments and questions as well. Given the 40% pavement mix, I ran 700x40 (nominal, 44mm measured) Terrene Elwood tires at 25/26psi. The stock Force1 42x10-42t drivetrain had a tall enough gear for the road sections while the 1:1 low gear was perfect at the top. Yes, there were a couple of times in a pack where a half-step between gears would have been nice, but those passed quickly. Enve hit the nail on the head with the shape and compliance of their G Series bars and I'm constantly amazed by how comfortable the flexible shell makes Fabric's Scoop Elite saddle. Spec'ing a build kit inevitably involves compromises, but it's good to be able to say that we ride what we recommend and I honestly don't think that there's anything I would have changed.