Snowbeard: The Legend of CX Nationals

Brad smiles a lot. He’s a good natured guy. So the snow and bitter cold that visited Cyclocross Nationals in Hartford last weekend didn’t dampen his spirit. It only excited him.

“On race day,” he says, “I got to the course around 10:45am. It was 20 degrees out, with clear skies. By 11 am, it had dropped to 18 degrees with snow flying, but it was so cold that the flakes just fell and didn’t stick to anything.”

“I got three pre-ride laps in,” he continues, “with each one being 100% different than the last time I’d been through. It was a variable I had no control over, but nobody else did either, so I was getting stoked! I pretty much had a smile on my face from 11am until…well, I still have it.”

“At 2pm, it’s still 18 degrees. It’s still snowing. I kept warm and loose until the call ups. I didn’t know where I’d be in a national field, but I landed in the 4th row out of 146 starters. Looking around me I could see maybe four people I have raced against all season. Everyone else was new to me.”

“The excitement kept me warm until the race was on, and then it was basically mayhem for the first part of lap one. The snow covered up the frozen icy ruts that had formed throughout the week. Any line you wanted to take, you couldn’t get to.  The snow never got worse nor let up, so each lap you’d search for the lines everyone else was taking, but they were covered by fresh snow.”

“Everything was a gamble and a scramble. “Every time you had to turn or ride an off camber, you wouldn’t know where you were entering or where you’d exit,” he laughs.

It’s hard to explain what keeps a racer’s mind off the pain in his or her legs, what keeps them going when they’re exhausted, but cyclocrosses heckling tradition might be part of it.

“After a few laps I honed in on people yelling something about my beard,” Brad says, “but I was moving just fast enough not to really understand it. It just kept resonating in my head that something was getting people talking.”

At the line, he finally put it all together, saying, “After 45 minutes of slip sliding and scrambling I crossed the finish line in 21st with my eyelids frozen open, eyebrows caked with ice, and my beard as white as Santa’s. The smile was frozen too.”

Bradford Smith is a full-time bike builder at Seven, and erstwhile leader of the Drifters.

The Drifters at the Maneha 250

Our own Brad Smith and Matt Masuzzo, bike builders, riders, all-around cool guys gave us the low down on a local event, the Maneha 250, that just celebrated its second running. Brad and Matt rode, as they often do, with their team The Drifters.

All words by Matty and photos by Brad below:

HsAzkvuCyJ9deaopZ33cXGLStDMOovfUWLd8WE2dYZgc9uAxqiuCIRG-8bz4p-elcyFRqg=w1627-h775When I first learned the details of the Maneha 250, it quickly made its way towards the top of my ride bucket list. It’s certainly a singular event, unlike anything I’ve ridden before. The concept is straightforward enough — 250 miles of mixed terrain riding over the course of two days with roughly 14,000 feet of climbing. However, the content and execution of the route planning is what really sets the Maneha apart and makes it so unique. It’s definitely a maximalist approach to riding, as our tires seemed to touch every possible type of surface within New England.

0m_1GuRRm105SLBdBTL56x_vdCe_F-g36KwREKk7PdhSizZ9IRjBn8lB5eQuetoomg_xqQ=w1627-h775We left our respective homes at a time of day normally reserved for third shift security guards. Around 30 riders met at the start location, Ride Studio Cafe to sign in, and following a quick breakfast and round of coffee, groups started slowly rolling out around the 6 a.m. Grand Depart.

After some compulsory group photos, our team of three followed suit. We began the day on a long stretch of familiar gravel that often serves as a pre-work dirt commute. The morning sun was out in full effect and seemed to backlight all of the newly formed foliage along the path. The first 30 miles or so was a twisty-turny mix of mostly suburban hobo trails, the type you forget are practically in your backyard and beg to be explored and connected with bits of quiet paved back roads. From there we headed into some more secluded singletrack that wound through several town forests. Just as we were almost out of gas from a punishing climb up a lengthy rock garden, we were met by the affable sag wagon driver Mark, who supplied us with mini cokes and a cornucopia of gels, bars, and homemade rice cakes.

TPFp0JvcvMN3SM9HwsFmE7SVpH3r-8qW2AKE3EShJ735pRHSfBdo2UGPirxM1yxUVrQr2Q=w1627-h775The sun was starting to beat down as we continued on towards the New Hampshire state line. As we crossed into Granite State (official home of the vanity license plate) the ride took on a completely different feel. Rough single and double track gave way to peaceful gravel farm roads and rail trails. We stopped at mile 90 for a bonk break, quickly recovered and set our sights on the Mayfair Farm where we would be camping and feasting. The last few miles of Day 1 were a blur of steep yet smooth dirt roads, screaming legs, and some helpful locals offering friendly encouragements like  “You’ll never make it up that hill!”

SQfSZG1gOp_VO9ve_FieFxDlFLr6gIUX68KVCEiwtvj8daiNF4ljQimCODJil9WFyuCvlw=w1627-h775Once camp was set up at the farm, everyone began helping themselves to an amazing spread of food and drinks. We all swapped stories from the day as riders continued to pull into camp after nightfall.  Following some obligatory s’mores and fireside beers, we zipped up our tents just as the first few drops of rain began to fall.

ooOGVQGRdOwBreE6dB4b1B5QF-DDsB4dFw_vPvmQuI3aBj0VEUVnNieGPYXgMbJShX7lgw=w1627-h775The next morning we awoke at dawn to get another early start and head back towards Boston. Day 2 promised to be an overall descent and there was rumor of a possible tailwind to provide a little extra help to get us home. We started on similar dirt roads to those that had been so taxing just 10 hours earlier. Unfortunately for us, they hadn’t flattened out overnight in spite of the steady rain. It was decidedly chillier than the previous morning, even more so when cruising down some of the long gravel descents as we made our way back into the great state of Massachusetts.

The majority of the second day rolled along much quicker than the first, even when we hit some bone-rattling singletrack in the northern portion of the state. Throughout the day we were met by the support van offering cold brew and snacks to keep us going. The rural landscape and vanity plates began to fade away as we entered the familiar exurbs of Boston where it seems an appreciation for the quirky charm of having a personalized slogan on your license plate is lost. 

eQ80jQTPhw3njcYYwaZrQjo0DwcdDN96iqBEO21qtKwat4EZIOLOF4vXPuixpRi6vRHZSA=w1627-h775By now I had figured out that any paved sections that promised a straight shot to our destination were off the table. The last leg of our journey was spent on overgrown MTB trails, a bike path or two, and a few wetland boardwalks for good measure.

Our team finished up the Maneha 250 in good spirits, a little beaten up but proud of the ground we had covered in under 48 hours. It was an incredible two days of riding on a route that epitomized what is quickly becoming a new standard of a truly memorable ride — the type that emphasizes ambitious mileage, less traffic, more dirt, great food, and somehow manages to be both physically exhausting and overwhelmingly fun at the same time. The Maneha 250 may be checked off the bucket list, but luckily it found a new home on the annual “essential rides” schedule.

The Drifters ride our Evergreen series of mixed-terrain bikes.