Nahum Burt is a sport level mountain bike racer who focuses his efforts on racing cross country in Ohio. He first came onto my radar in 2012 when I started noticing his name in the standings. What stood out though, was that his name was appearing over and over and over again.
Damn that guy had good attendance.
He was not leading the pack by any means, in fact, how should I say it… sometimes he was relatively slow. But, he was determined, tenacious and working towards getting faster. It turns out he was returning from an injury after a long break from the sport and had a tough season due to mechanical problems with is bike.
Then, in the his first race of 2014 he landed on the podium. What was the key to his success? Improved fitness? Better technical skills?
It could have been a lot of things. The most obvious change… His freakin’ awesome new bike!
Nahum was sporting a Project One custom-built Trek Superfly 9.9 SL Shimano. It had a slick black paint job, carbon-everything and was about 9 pounds lighter than his previous rig.
I decided to grill Nahum and find out why he upgraded and whether he thinks this bike has helped his race performance.
Tell us about yourself and your mountain biking background.
My name is Nahum and I grew up in Green Bay WI. I spent most of my years swimming, including through college. I had already been cycling on the road for commuting and cross training during the summers. But when my swimming career ended… unfortunately my semesters in college did not. With swim team not keeping me from doing other sports, I tried a mountain bike race… I was hooked. Racing mountain bikes was less stressful and less painful than swimming. …and you can talk to people while doing it!
The first season I raced was in 1998 on a Mongoose Hilltopper. No suspension – but it was still awesome. I started saving and bought a Breezer Twister for the next season and rode it for several years with good success. The Breezer was a great bike, but it didn’t handle as well as I desired as my skills improved and my dedication to racing grew. I replaced the Breezer with a Specialized Stumpjumper Comp M4 in 2001.
Give us the history of your old bike. What kind was it? How long did you have it? Why was it time for an upgrade?
The bike I replaced was a Specialized Stumpjumper Comp M4. When I got it I was racing for the college club team (UW-Milwaukee) as well as in the state wide series (Wisconsin Off Road Series). The Specialized was stiff and quick and had a very sharp turn in. Compared to the Breezer, the Specialized was night and day quicker. However, the Specialized was very stiff, and would beat the daylights out of you on rough courses. So much so, I put a shock seat post on to save my backside. I raced this bike for years… and rode it all over. The best season I had in WORS was in 2003 when I finished top 10 in the series and also did some 12 and 24 hour races and had a strong college season.
I moved to Delaware, Ohio in 2005 and with moving and a new job, I basically stopped riding the mountain bike. In 2008 I suffered a knee injury which included a partially torn PCL and fractured patella. As part of the rehab, I started riding on the road again and in 2009 I got involved with the Delaware cycling crowd. I started going to the Tuesday/Thursday Breakaway Cycling Shop team rides in Delaware. As my knee got better, I thought ‘this is fun, but I’d rather be mountain biking!’ So in 2010 I started riding off-road again and started racing in OMBC in 2011.
I raced the full schedule in 2012 and 2013 on the Specialized and got my skills and drive back. As I got stronger, I got faster, but I still struggled to be as fast as the competition. I knew I had been riding/training enough to keep from getting thumped, but I just wasn’t as fast. I noticed how the bikes had changed in 10 years and quickly got new bike envy. The Specialized had been rebuilt several times, the fork and brakes were only 2 years old, but the frame was worn out and keeping it race ready was getting expensive and really hard to achieve. The retirement race was the 2013 OMBC Mohican Wilderness Championship race.
I was happy the season was over, I had missed a lot of training rides due to work and had several races where I had problems with the Specialized. I can recall at least two broken chains (Mohican State Park #1 and Scioto Trails) and a race where my worn out rear dropout let the axle shift and the disc brake rubbed the entire race (Mohican State Park #2). The brake rubbed so much that I stopped and loosened the bolts so the caliper could free float. I was ready for a new bike!
What factors were important to you when you were shopping for a new bike?
A lot of new technology has been applied to mountain bikes in the 13 years since I bought the Specialized. After spending the last couple of years deliberating over what kind of bike and what kind of components to get, it boiled down to if I was going to continue racing (with commitment)… and how much could I talk myself into spending. The 29-inch wheels were a requirement (even with the 27.5’s as an option). A carbon frame and a top line drive train were definite goals, but the brand was the hard part. There were a lot of great choices.
I spent a lot of 2013 going to demo rides to understand how the different frames performed. Since my primary goal focused more and more on having a sweet race bike, I started looking more at the weight and the hard tail verse full suspension decision.
Tell us about the bike you bought and why this is the right bike for you.
I bought a Trek Superfly 9.9 SL from Breakaway Cycling. The drive train is a 2×10 XTR with a ceramic bottom bracket and the XTR race disc brakes. I also went with the Rock Shox SID XX fork and the Race X Lite CL wheel set. As pictured, it weighs a little over 21 pounds, but I plan on cutting the handle bars and seat post down and going tubeless with lighter tires. My goal is to be under 20 pounds. Starting at the 21 pound mark, this is 9 pound improvement from the Specialized.
This is the right bike for me because I was used to riding a hard tail and every time I rode a full suspension, I didn’t like the back end push from the suspension. Additionally, I didn’t want the increased maintenance that comes with the full suspension. Going to the 29-inch wheel and a more compliant carbon frame should give plenty of absorption for the ‘ol achy back. Of the only 3 times I’ve ridden off road (thanks to all the rain/snow) I’ve finished the ride without thinking about how crappy my back feels. Oh, and this is the right bike because it is fast!!! Can’t believe how fast compared to the Specialized… why did I wait so long?!
Do you feel like your new bike has improved your performance on the trails?
This is a definite yes. However, I still need to learn to ride the new dimensions and characteristics. The wheelbase is longer which has forced me into some errors since I’m still riding the same lines from the Specialized. As I get more saddle time, the handling will get better. I do know that I can climb more easily than before. The bigger tire print is evident in the wet roots and rocks on climbs. However, I still can’t forget that I need to put the training time in to keep this bike fast.
What are your mountain bike goals for 2014 and what are you doing to achieve those goals?
My goals for 2014 are to compete in the full OMBC series and complete the Mohican 100k. I’m also going to do a couple of the 331 races and if I can talk some other riders into it, maybe a 24 hour race. I continue to race because I enjoy the excitement and challenge of the event and the strategy required to find ways to be competitive without the training that some others put in. I enjoy riding, but don’t have a specific training or food plan. I enjoy the benefits of staying in shape, so I ride when I can. But if I miss a few days or more of riding, it’s not going to ruin anything. I do get a little worked up about it, but I call that enthusiasm!