The Wolfman Mountain Bike has become quite an infamous course. Frequently after the race, folks tell war stories about some of the classic single track sections, but did you know that over half of the 13 miles are on beautiful two track forest roads, paved roads, and a refreshing walk across the Wolf River?
For first timers, and curious veterans, we’ve put together this How To Guide for a safe and fun Wolfman. Here are some tips on bike set up, advice on riding technique, and strategies on getting through course with style and ease!
BIKE SET UP
Most importantly, make sure your bike is in tip top shape before you arrive. This course can be tough on a bike. If you take your bike in for a tune-up before the race, it’s a good idea to take it out for a shake down ride before race day. If the mechanic makes changes to your bike, like new cables or derailleur adjustments, you don’t want to find out during the race that the cables have stretched or it’s not quite shifting right.
PRO TIP- THERE WILL BE PROFESSIONAL MECHANICS AT REGISTRATION ON FRIDAY FROM 5PM TO 9PM. NEED LAST MINUTE HELP? RELAX, WE’VE GOTCHA!
You will want to have a legit mountain bike for this event. It doesn’t have to be all carbon and loaded with the hottest parts, but hybrids and department store bikes will give you grief.
PRO TIP- An adjustable seat improves fun and safety. A “dropper” seat post that you can activate from the handlebar is the best, but a quick release lever on the seat clamp works well too. DETAILS BELOW IN THE TECHNIQUE SECTION.
SHOULD I USE FLAT PEDALS OR RIDE CLIPPED IN?
There are pro’s and cons for each choice, with no right answer for every rider. Here are some thoughts to consider.
FLAT PEDAL PROS
-Flats allow you to quickly put a foot down if you get hung up a bit. That can be very reassuring and you might have the confidence to ride through some rough stuff knowing you can quickly put a foot down.
-Flats make it easy to restart after you come to a stop. You won’t struggle flipping the pedal around trying to get clipped in.
FLAT PEDAL CONS
-In the rougher sections your feet could bounce around on the pedals quite a bit and you find yourself pedaling with your foot only partially on the pedal.
-Since you’re not clipped into the pedal, it’s not unheard of that your foot slips off the pedal and smacks you in the calf or shin!!
CLIPPED IN PROS
-Being clipped in is very nice on all the 2 track sections. You can relax and spin like you would on the road.
-You’re feet aren’t going to bounce off the pedals so you might be able to keep pedaling through some rough stuff, and you won’t get whacked in the shin as much!
CLIPPED IN CONS
The obvious one is that it can be hard to quickly unclip and put a foot down, especially if you haven’t had a lot of practice doing it under pressure. Falling to the side because you can’t get unclipped isn’t much fun!
-Make sure your brakes are adjusted properly, so they fully engage far before the levers squeeze down to the grip
PRO TIP- If possible, slide you brake lever in towards the stem, so you can grasp the grip with 3 fingers and brake with just your pointer finger.
-I highly recommend a quick release seat clamp or a dropper seat post. For non-technical riding, it’s great to have the seat adjusted like you would for the road with just a slight bend in the knee when the pedal is down. However when it gets challenging, its nice to drop the seat so it’s easier to handle the bike.
PRO TIP- I personally will never again own a bike without a dropper seat post. I feel a dropper should be standard on every mountain bike sold, just like anti-lock brakes on a car. FYI, a dropper post has lever on the bars that allows you to drop the seat out of the way, and then hit the lever and pop it back up to the original height. Awesome!
As a disclaimer, it’s very tough to teach or learn something by just reading. I much prefer to give LIVE lessons so I can help you understand and make sure you’ve got it. Saying that…..here we go.
The Wolfman bike leg has a ton of variety. For much of the ride you can just sit and spin, like you would on a road bike. However, there are lots of sections where real mountain bike skills will come in handy for safety and fun. There are some very rocky sections, some narrow stuff, and some short and steep hills. I’ll do the best I can share some basics that will help, especially if you can get a little practice before the big day.
BASIC CONCEPTS FOR WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH
HEAVY FEET/LIGHT HANDS AND SEAT
Here’s a MAJOR difference between road and mountain. On the road we pretty much take a seat and pedal. A lot of our weight is perched on the seat. Mountain Biking, when the going gets tough we stand on the pedals, lifting our butts off the saddle. Sometimes we just hover about the saddle, almost brushing it. Other times, we leave the saddle completely and move our butts back and over the rear tire. When you sit on the seat your weight is applied to the bike at a very high point ( TIPPY! ), when you stand on the pedals and hover your butt, your weight is loaded to the bike through the bottom bracket, ( LOW AND STABLE ). This is a HUGE concept!
NEUTRAL AND READY POSITIONS
Now that we understand standing on the pedals and hovering, we add lowering our chests towards the bars and sticking our elbows out. This lowers your center of gravity and makes you more stable. On the fire roads you can sit up and cruise in a Neutral Position, but when it gets rocky, hilly, and curvy, drop into the Ready Position. Chest lowered towards the bars. Elbows out. The bike will handle much better when your center of gravity is lowered. Try It And You’ll Never Go Back!
I’ll simply say, apply both brakes evenly and gently, MOST OF THE TIME. There are exceptions we can’t get into, but just know that lots of folks only use the rear brake and the the front brake actually has much more stopping power and should be used a lot.
Spin to Grin! A high pedaling cadence is easier on the muscles than a slow lumbering one. In an event like the Wolfman, where you have to ration your energy for a long trip, spinning is a great strategy. A high cadence is also very nice in super rocky sections. Try to look ahead and shift early for uphills so you can climb with confidence and ease.
LOOK AS FAR AHEAD AS POSSIBLE
All of us, even the pro’s, can always get better at this. It’s natural to stare right in front of your tire and what its about to encounter. As much as possible, try to lift your vision and look at what’s coming down the trail. You should scan up and down the trail as your ride. Check on your front tire, check up ahead. Check on your front tire, check up ahead. There are many advantages here, most importantly we subconsciously file a flight plan when we look ahead. In this land of short punchy hills, it can also help you downshift early so you can spin right up the hills.
MOVE FORWARD AND BACKWARD ON THE BIKE TO MAINTAIN BALANCE!!
This might be the biggest tip of all.
I don’t want to scare you, but be prepared for some steep and short downhills followed by steep and short uphills. We also have many longer steep hills and some challenging steep downhills with sharp corners. This tip is all about balance and standing solidly on the pedals. Hopefully the photos will help to explain.
GOING UP STEEP STUFF
When you climb steep stuff you need to move your body forward and down towards the bars, to keep the right pressure on the pedals. Photo 1 below shows me NOT moving forward or getting low, and functionally I’m actually leaning back because the front end is coming up towards me. Photo 2 shows me still sitting, but I’ve slid to the nose of the saddle and lowered into that ready position. NOTE- This hill isn’t super steep, but as it gets steeper, you get lower. There is a sweet spot where you have good traction and power. a.k.a. BALANCE !! MAGIC!!
GOING DOWN STEEP STUFF
This is super important for safety and when you feel how much this helps your handling you’ll feel much more confident. On downhills we do the opposite, and slide our bodies back as needed, straighten the arms and move your butt back. Drop the heel of your front foot to brace yourself. Photo 1 shows me sitting on the saddle on a steep hill. Note that I am perched perfectly to go OTB, Over The Bars, at any moment. In Photo 2, I’ve straightened my arms, moved my butt behind the saddle, and I’ve dropped that front foot to brace. I still could take an OTB trip, but it’s highly unlikely.
PRO TIP- When you hit the single track, drop that seat. If you have a quick release, maybe just take it down and inch or two, so pedaling doesn’t suck too much. If you have a dropper post with a remote on the bars, you got it made. Minimally drop that baby all the way on every steep downhill, and if you’re comfortable using it, I’d drop it ALL THE WAY any time you are out of the saddle cornering or descending.
DISMOUNTING AND REMOUNTING
Most of us are going to be getting on and off the bike quite a bit. There’s a safe way and a scary way. I’m doing the safe way. Basically, when you decide you need to put a foot down, you should stand up, move forward, get your butt in front of the seat, and look where you’re placing your foot, If you stay sitting you have to tip the bike way to the side to reach the ground which often results in a fall. Same when you remount. Get in front of the seat, bring a pedal up to the top of the stroke, stand on that pedal and GO!
Stopping and starting on a downhill follows the same rules as descending on the roll. GET YOU BUTT BEHIND THE SADDLE AND LOW!
STOPPING ON AN UPHILL
STOPPING ON A DOWNHILL
STARTING ON AN UPHILL
STARTING ON A DOWNHILL
RACE DAY AND THE COURSE!
Here’s a quick overview of the course and some strategies for a smooth trip.
PRO TIP – If you can come to Langlade for a pre-ride, you’ll appreciate it on race day. Lots of folks come up Labor Day Weekend to paddle, ride, and run. By then the bike leg will be signed, and the run will be marked with some flags.
The course starts with 2.4 miles on HWY 64, which is a nice way to relax and loosen up. If you’re goal is to have a nice trip and finish happy, this is not a time to go too hard. On the other hand, if you are a road cyclist and in good shape, one strategy could be to let it rip on the road and fire lanes to put some time in the bank for when you slow down on the single track.
You’ll grab a right onto some sweet dirt roads for another 2 miles of easy riding. After you cross a paved road, Van Alstine, you’ll soon be guided onto the first sections of the Famous Wolfman Single Track. For a increased safety you may want to drop that seat an inch or two, or get ready to hit that dropper lever! Remind yourself to stay low, scan ahead, move fore and aft on the bike as you climb and descend, and smile.
PRO TIP- RIDE WHEN YOU CAN WALK WHEN YOU NEED TO. Stepping off the bike or walking sections isn’t failure. It can be a great strategy and a way to stay safe. A few years ago I learned that I wasn’t a whole lot slower off the bike than on, in some situations. It was muddy as hell, super slick, and the bike would hardly roll. I was on and off for miles. A guy came up from behind, happily jogging with his bike and sailed past me! “Well that looks better” I thought and joined him for a nice trot to the river crossing. No one ever fell off their bike while pushing it!
For another 4 miles you’ll be riding a lot of single track with some dirt roads in the old tornado path. Soon you’ll cross HWY 55 at the 7.4 mile mark. OVER HALF WAY ! This is where the more challenging stuff lives. What’s nice is that the single track sections are separated by little sections of two track, so you’ll get lots of little breaks.
The first challenge, soon after you cross the highway, is a pretty tough climb. For now I’m calling this Bitch Hill, but I’m sure it’ll get called lots of things on race day. For a lot of us this hill may not be ridable so if you can’t make it, relax! You’re in good company. This probably isn’t the time or place to bury yourself. There’s a lot of race in front of you. Its not technical, but its a long steep bugger with some false summits.
For the next 3 miles you’re in and out of various single track sections. This is the time to keep things in perspective and Ride When You Can, Walk When You Need To. Don’t burn a lot of energy fretting about things. This is a tough part of the race and you’re goal should be to be safe and get to mile 11.4, when you leave the single track behind! Cruise down the dirt road to the river crossing and YIPEEE!, just 1.6 miles to go!!
There is a little more flat single track right before the river, but it isn’t too hard. Just a little riding on the islands, carry your bike across the main channel of the river, spin up the last dirt road, and you can finally hand the bike to a wonderful volunteer!
Don’t worry, the fun’s not over! You’ve still got the gorgeous Trail Run before you cross the finish line and can finally say…
I’M A WOLFMAN!!
IMBA ICP Level 2 Instructor