By: Joe Lawwill
To me, “Super D” defines mountain biking. It’s the perfect mix of downhill and cross country racing packaged together into one fun 8-12 minute run. Although Super D is all about the downhill, it is not complete without some uphill. The beauty of having some climbing leaves the door wide open to link together multible downhill runs (that would be impossible during a regular downhill event) into one race run, thus making the donwhill "Super"!
Challenging, yet not over the top technical, slow and high speed sections and maybe a few man-made obstacles all come together to challenge riders of varying abilities and fitness. Super D rewards the all around bike rider. It is a balance of bike skills, fitness and even strategy. You don’t need to be a technical god or a fitness fanatic to do well in Super D. It is a fantastic test of all around riding ability and skill. If you have never tried a super D or even ever heard of a Super D I highly reccomend giving it a try.
Want to know more about Super D? Then read on…
Super D unfortunately has a bit of a checkered past. Some promoters have gotten it right while many others, for a host of reasons have simply got it wrong. The past is the past and today I am thinking about the future and how we can grow Super D into being one of the most popular forms of Mountain Bike racing. I think if we can make good courses and spread the word Super D will in fact grow substantially. It's a lofty goal, but given the fact more than half of the mtb bikes purchased in the last few years were 4-6 inch trail bikes, which by the way happen to be perfect for Super D there is a good chance Super D could be the premier event at a mountain bike race. If even 10% of those people showed up to a Super D it would out number all the entrants of a National Downhill and Cross Country event combined!
It is important that we define what a Super D is and what it is not. The D in Super D is short for “Downhill” not cross country! If a skinny tire Cross bike with a big chain ring is capable of winning than more than likely it is not a proper Super D course. Before we define Super D any further let’s define our most typical forms of mountain bike racing – Downhill (DH) and Cross-Country (XC) racing. DH is pretty straightforward, where as a rider races against the clock in a solo run from the top of the mtn to the bottom hitting a variety of obstacles that require a high level of technical skills and anaerobic fitness, while cross-country, a head-to-head endurance event, puts the emphasis on rider fitness rather than technical skills. Super D is a combination of these two main classifications, but with the extreme natures toned down.
Let’s take a brief look at the history of mountain biking before we go further into Super D:
In the world of action sports, mountain biking is relatively young. Mountain bikes evolved back in the mid 70’s when a group of guys converted beach cruisers into somewhat worthy off-road machines in Marin County California. For these pioneers of mountain biking, it didn’t take long to realize that the concept was great, but the equipment not. Guys like Gary Fisher, Charles Kelly, Joe Breeze, Charlie Cunningham, Mert Lawwill and a handful of other tinker’s began producing bikes that could be ridden more efficiently to the top of a mountain and still be durable enough to be ridden back down to the bottom through whatever terrain they dared to ride. As the sport progressed so did the equipment. Exotic materials, front and rear suspension, disc brakes, more gears, ultra trick components all were developed at a fever pitch. Nothing was untouched! Bike brands popped up like weeds and bike shops were booming. It didn’t take long for these bike companies to realize how important real world testing is for proving a products worthiness. So before you knew
it having proifessional races, particularly downhill racers became very important. It wasn’t long till bikes became intensely specialized and downhill bikes evolved into 8-9 inch travel beasts. While this was going on cross country bikes were doing just the opposite. It was all about having the lightest most trickest bike possible. These bikes were so specialized that they were near impossible to ride down anything really steep or technical. Yes top level riders could still do it but for the every day average weekend warrior the ride was not so fun.
As the sport of DH was gaining popularity many ski resorts began converting their winter chair lifts into downhill bike toting money makers during the summer months. It seemed like everyone was getting a dh bike and hitting the ski resorts. With DH bikes so heavy and specialized the only way to use them was to get a shuttle ride or a chair lift ride to the top of a mountain. DH became the rage in the mid 90’s to a point where teams had 18 wheeler semis complete with 3-4 rider teams and a full staff looking after them. Many of the teams fielded XC racers as well, but clearly the focus was DH racing. As the years went by DH racing felt many pressures. One of the big turning points was when DH racing began losing TV coverage. It didn’t take long for the big corporate sponsors to began cutting back and even completely pulling out because they simply were not reaching enough people to make the investment worthwhile. The lack of coverage effected bicycle companies too. Also the need for racers feedback was becoming less and less important. Not only were dh bike sales dipping, but these companies had learned so much already that they simply didn't need as much rider feedback anymore. There were also issues of downhill bike related injuries that strained many resorts to the point where some even shut down their lifts to all downhill bikes. When you lose chair lift access your only option is to push your bike to the top of a mtn or get a shuttle ride which really can be a bit of a pain in the ass! On the flip side XC racing seemed to be holding steady with a good number of events and plenty of places to ride, yet there is a problem with XC racing. The sport has become so specialized that in order to even think about being competitive a rider must have very expensive, state-of-the-art equipment as well as maintain a very high level of fitness.
Fast forward to present day:
It didn’t take long for mountain bike riders and manufacturers to realize the need for bikes that bridge the gap between downhill and cross country. This newer breed of bike has been called various things over the years, but I think the most suitable name is “trail bikes”. For all around fun on the trail I believe it is very well accepted that the 4-6 inch travel bike can be considered the best all around bike for the majority of bike riders today. To make these bikes even more attractive companies have invested heavily into making carbon fiber versions. So now you can have all the travel you need, the performance you crave and not all the weight you don’t need. The best of both worlds! I personally ride the Santa Cruz Blur LTC which to me has been the most amazing bike ever. I feel like I can ride just about any trail I would ride a full blown downhill bike down, yet it is light enough at 28 pounds that I can easily climb thousands of feet in a ride.
Trail Bikes are perfect for Super D:
A 4-6 inch trail bike is not a great choice for hard core XC racing, nor is it a great choice for hard core DH racing, but it sure is the perfect choice for Super D! So why is it the perfect choice? Simply put the downhills in a good Super D are not that extreme. They can be challenging, but they are not about being crazy. There is no need for a full tilt purpose built downhill bike and with the minimal amount of climbing in a Super D you do not need a super light weight XC machine. Fitness is not as critical either, although being fit is a bonus.
Let’s go racing in Fontana!
My goal today is to help define what Super D should be and bring back the concept that Super D is truly a Super downhill and not a Super cross country. To prove what I think Super D should be I am putting my money (My time and effort) where my mouth is and am designing Super D courses for the Southridge USA Winter Series in Fontana California. So far the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Courses average between 6 and 12 minutes long and have around 700 feet of descending and 100-200 feet of total ascending. The courses have enough technical terrain to keep a pro downhill racer challenged, but not so technically demanding that an inexperienced rider can’t ride the course. The beauty of this sport is the best bike is your trail bike you probably already have! So that means you do not need to go out and buy a special race specific bike. Also because the course is not as technical or dangerous as a typical downhill course you do not need to do practice runs all day. If you show up on race day a couple hours before the race starts you can easily get a good 1.5-2 hours of riding in including a timed race run all while riding around on super fun thought out courses. Even if you are not at your peak fitness don't let that keep you from checking it out, besides if you have more technical ability than others you can make up time in the tech stuff. Regardless what your strength is, just doing these events well make you a better more rounded rider. This event truly rewards the all-around rider. Visit www.southridgeusa.com to find out when the next event is going on and make a point to come out and give it a try!
We dont fool around when it comes to laying out and hooking up the course!