Building the Swamp Whale biking obstacle
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For those who graduate from the training park to the Dr. J course, the Pittsburgh Trail Advocacy Group saves its most challenging and sinister-sounding obstacle.
Named after its curved "whale tail" shape, as well as its previously swampy location on the trail, the Swamp Whale is the premier obstacle on the Dr. J course and something riders just starting out on the training park can look forward to facing.
The PTAG builders were inspired to build their own whale tail after seeing a much larger one at a park in Colorado. Though the Swamp Whale is less than half the size, its creators say it provides the right amount of challenge for the level of difficulty they wanted to achieve.
Building the Swamp Whale proved to be one of the organization's most time-intensive projects. In order to design a whale tail that was right for their course, they first had to develop scale models of the design. Once they settled on a basic model, they turned to their computers to turn the tiny challenge into the real thing.
PTAG designed the life-size creature-like feature using engineering software in order to determine the correct angles and lengths that would make it navigable for an intermediate-level rider.
After laying out the design based on the average wheel base of a freeride bike, the building team spent five days constructing the 22-foot obstacle, which peaks at 5 feet above the ground.
Whale tail features are common in freeride trails and are frequently among the most challenging for riders. The upward curve followed by a downward slope and then an upward jump across a gap is a challenge that requires the rider to attack it at just the right speed. Hit it too slow and a rider won't make it across the gap or will stop in the middle of it. An approach that is too aggressive will result in the rider overshooting the downward portion and losing the momentum needed to make it across the gap at the end.
Organizer Jamie Pfaeffle said the key to successfully completing the Swamp Whale is "rolling into it straight and staying confident."
Despite its difficulty, the feature hasn't caused too many problems for riders -- the most common occurrence is people stop in the middle of it. Pfaeffle said some riders have failed to clear the final gap.
First Published August 7, 2011 12:30 am