Justin Graves – May Race Report

Mountain bike season is officially underway. Following release from full time duties at Humboldt State University we’ve raced four weekends in a row, and are seeing the legs come around after a late start to the 2011 season. Blew off the rust at the Shasta Lemurian Classic, a rocky and rigorous cross country race. Had a solid showing coming in 18th overall. The next weekend tested the endurance further in California’s toughest road century, the Tour of The Unknown Coast. Weather was superb, as was comradeship, and my legs got a six hour wake up completing the arduous ride for the fourth time. This got the blood pumping for the Ashland Spring Thaw the following weekend.

After knocking out our last final exam we headed to Ashland Oregon to participate in the annual mountain bike festival. Conditions were superb on Saturday as we practiced and got the bikes set up for the weekend. This was my first real race weekend on the new Operator and was very excited to see how it would handle. I set the bike up stiff and light for the moderately steep and pedally course. With single ply tubeless wheels the Operator is sitting at 37 pounds. The bike felt snappy, stiff, and quick on course.

Sunday morning we awoke to rain, which gave way to thumb sized snowflakes as we drove up the hill to the race course. Traction had gone from excellent to downright slippy as snow and slush continued to fall through morning practice and into the finals. The course got progressively churned up and many switched to front mud tires to help track in the high speed sections. Top finishers were all aboard light 6 inch bikes, which had an even greater advantage as the course got softer. My run went smooth for having minimal practice. A couple miss shifts and a slipped pedal landed me and the Operator in 19th overall, a solid result for the DH rig on the trail bike track.

The day after the race was spent sessioning the finer things the Ashland trail system had to offer. All day runs gave an excellent chance to get better acquainted with the bike and play with set up. The Operator carries speed and tracks like no other. I find it very flickable, it’s light weight, stiffness, and geometry make it easy to throw into or out of any line. The Operator also proved very fun to jump, handling high speed lips with ease and proving a joy to throw sideways in the air.

It was then back home for three days before heading to Weaverville California for the annual Gravity Day on the famous La Grange Downhill and Super D courses. The event takes place the day after a 12 hour so all gravity action is crammed into one afternoon. I was very excited to get the Operator on this track and see how it would handle the 40+ mph speeds the the La Grange course has to offer.

Racers were treated to clear sunny skies, a relief after last years event was mudded out by rain, snow and hail. The morning began with the Super D. A dry smooth course ridden in by 12 hour racers allowed me to set the days fast time 25:51 about 3 minutes ahead of the field. The long course suited strategy and fitness and this weekend I felt both beginning to click.

A short rest after Super D and we were shuttling up for DH practice. The La Grange DH course drops over 2000 vertical feet in two miles. The course features a long steep and insanely fast ridge line section that put the fear of God in many the day following the would be rapture. Here the Operator was at home. The slack head angle was superbly suited to the high speed drifting the course demands and the bike’s rigidity gave confidence smashing ruts at top speed.

Everything came together well on the first of two runs and the Operator grabbed the hot seat by 30 seconds. I was the only rider to go under 9 minutes, on a course that demanded courage in the high speed top and stamina in the pedally lower sections. The bike handled both very well. Plush and gangster enough to pin the ridge line, yet light and flickable enough to feel like a slalom bike in the lower twisty part of the course.

So far everyone I meet is stoked to see the new bike in action and all have been impressed by its performance, design, and weight.