Assault on Mt. Mitchell 2014

May 21, 2014/Race Reports

One of the things that make Cruzbikes unique in the world of recumbents is their ability to climb fast. Maria and I noticed this many years ago while riding 34 lb. Sofriders during the Ride Across North Carolina. Hundreds of customers have, through their own experience, validated the great climbing ability of our bikes. We believe this benefit comes from not only a compact drive train and short chain, but also the ability to coordinate and engage the upper body in much the same way DF riders may choose to do so during a climb.

This brings us to the Assault on Mt. Mitchell (AOMM), an annual Suffer-Fest that has been going on since 1975. This race always makes the short list of the toughest Century rides in the USA. It’s a 102.7 mile timed event up the highest mountain in the eastern US. The closest higher peak is in Colorado. The last quarter of the route has some brutal climbing with plenty of long 8 to 10% grades. Total climbing is approximately 11,000 feet, and about half of that is in the last 25 mile ascent to the summit.

Traditionally, recumbents don’t do well in races that start in a valley and finish on top of a tall mountain; and Mt. Mitchell is tall, with an elevation of 6,683 ft. (2,037 m), rising 6,089 ft. (1,856 m) from its base.

This is the daunting task that Charlie Ollinger and Maria Parker undertook earlier this week on Cruzbike Vendettas. Neither has ever done this race before and Charlie has only been riding a Cruzbike on and off for less than a year.

The day before the drive to Spartanburg, SC, Charlie drove to our house from Virginia and spent the night with us. We met him last year at the NC 24-hour race where he rode a fixie. Maria and I liked him immediately. He’s almost exactly the same age as our oldest son, Steven. Charlie’s a welder and works in a shipyard in Newport News. He’s also a natural on the Vendetta. He’s one of those few people who just climbed on it and took off without going through a wobbly phase like the rest of us.

As glad as I was to see Charlie, I was worried when I saw the gearing on his bike. He still had the 56/44 chain rings, which are great for the tidal flats of Virginia but not the Appalachian mountains. He assured me he’d be alright and he didn’t want to bother switching the crankset. I had a spare compact crankset available, but we both were worried about making such a significant change-up right before the race. Also, the wide-range 11×32 cassette made me feel a little better.

Maria’s bike had the gearing, but was maybe a bit too far in time from its last tune-up. She had 50/34 chain rings and an 11×36 cassette. But her main complaint was lack of training. She has been logging far fewer training hours this winter/spring since taking on extra responsibilities at work and caring for her sister with stage 4 brain cancer. Every spring, we plan at least one weekend of riding in the mountains, but we skipped it this spring due to her busy schedule.

Our youngest son, Will, is on summer break from college and we were lucky he was not working this past Monday. The four of us, Maria, Will, Charlie, and I rode together in the Chevy Suburban to Spartanburg, SC.

Will is a veteran support crew, and holds the junior 100-mile WRRA world record. The race started at 6:30 AM on a cool morning, temperature around 50F. Will and I met the racers at designated points at about mile 46 and 80 where we were available to replenish their bottles if needed. They were doing great, though Maria complained about losing her chain twice. Then Will and I took the official spectator bus for a two-hour ride to the top. It was cooler up at the top.We were glad we brought jackets.

We hadn’t been there long when Charlie came in at 6 hours 53 minutes 48 seconds. Thirty-two minutes later, Maria finished in 7 hours 25 minutes 53 seconds.

Maria was competing in the women’s 50-55 age group where she was 2nd of 13 racers. Charlie was competing in the men’s 20-25 age group where he was 2nd of 12 racers. Even without the age-group comparison, their times put them in approximately the fastest quartile for all women and men, respectively, based on an analysis of the most recent 5 years of AOMM results.

Charlie and Maria did a great job, especially for their first year competing in this race. I can only imagine what Charlie could do with better gearing and another year of training under his belt!

Here are a few fun pictures from the day. Enjoy.


Mass start, about 700 to 800 people.

Can you find Charlie in this paceline?

Will prepares an expert handoff.

Charlie just after crossing the finish line.

Maria on the last clib to the finish.

Some tomato soup and Coca-Cola.

A Victory Shout from the mountain top!

and more victory posing.

and yet more celebrating.

Loading the bikes back in a truck for the trip back to Marion. Racers are not allowed to ride back down the mountain during race day.

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