Where was the first downhill race? What did the course look like? Why was it called Repack? How fast did they allegedly go? Could I beat the legend's fastest known time on a modern trail bike? What about the modern day KOM? What set-up would be fastest down a gravel road? Well, thanks to COVID I've had lots of spare time once again this spring so I figured I'd dive in, learn a little more, and experience the historic Repack DH first hand for myself. It's a confusing time as an athlete without competition so I thought it would be fun to challenge myself against the clock and against a few legends of the sport. I hardly ever pin it down gravel roads like Repack but it brought back a lot of early memories of racing DH at the start of my career. Two wheel gravel road drifting wastes a lot of elevation but was super fun and definitely underated. Repack History: Where, What, When, How, Why.
I am a self-proclaimed bike nerd and love the history of our sport. Details of the earlier days and origin of the mountain bike are scarce but I still love hearing and reading the old stories. The legends racing down the Repack downhill outside of Fairfax in Marin is one of these stories. So what is the big deal about the Repack DH?
Repack Historical Map (Marin Museum of Mountain Biking)
I can't really explain better than one of the legend's Joe Breeze. Here is a brief description of Repack's history from the Marin Museum of Mountain Biking website: "It started innocuously enough. A motorcyclist turned bikie discovered the old dirt road west of Fairfax, Marin County, in the early ‘70s. He and his buddies would ride or push their 1930s or ‘40s ballooners to the top of the ridge for the downhill thrill. The road plummeted 1300 feet in less than 2.1 miles. On the twisting, sometimes precipitous decent, the bikes’ antiquated hub coaster brakes would get so hot that the grease would vaporize. After a run or two, the hub had to be repacked with new grease (thus the term “Repack”)."
For the full Repack history definitely check out this article on their website; or better yet got take a visit the Marin Museum fo Mountain Biking in Fairfax when it is finally allowed to open up again to public:https://mmbhof.org/mtn-bike-hall-of-fame/history/repack-history/
SB115 Attempt 1: Little bike fastest on a fire road?
The story goes they officially had 24 Repack races between 1976-1979; just around the time I was popping out of my mother's womb. The recorded and compiled fastest times down Repack reads like a who's who of the early days of mountain biking; Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, Otis Guy, Fred Wolff, Jimmy Deaton, Charles Kelly, and Mike Sinyard are among the names listed. Gary Fisher sits atop the table with a time of 4:22 which lets just say is very impressive if you believe it. According the legends it was said that the start line was at the junction with Pine Mountain Road. After 20secs of flat sprinting it plummets down the hill and finishes at the valley creek junction after 4-5min of descending. They were racing on Klunkers which actually sounds pretty terrifying after riding Repack at speed a few times. It is a fast, loose, and sometimes rutted gravel fire road.....and the sides are littered with poison oak.
Repack Historical Times (Marin Museum of Mountain Biking)
March 17th: I had ridden Repack once about five years ago and all I could remember was that it was a fast fire road with a little pedal at the top. Surely my very capable little bike, my Yeti SB115, would be the perfect fit to do a quick time on. Regular fun trail set up on it had the 130mm Fox 34 on up front. I threw on a 2.3 Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR combo for a little grip, super light Stan's podium wheels, 21-23psi. Standard full XTR with a good gear, 760mm x 45mm PRO stem for control. Figured I should be dialled and ready to send it and see how close I could get to the fastest times.
It had rained a couple days earlier so the loose course was in perfect condition. I did one recon lap just to familiarize myself with the course and then rode it as comfortably pinned as I could. I filmed my run and you can watch the video below to get a feel for it. I definitely knew I would need to learn and memorize the corners a bit better to carry more momentum and speed but it felt fairly rapid. On the limit of my SB115 and 2.3 Minions anyway. When I uploaded my ride and compared it to the "Repack DH Historical" segment on Strava I had only done a time of 4:36. I thought, hmmm, this is going to be tough and I have some work to do.
Full Repack POV run on my SB115Repack Historical Times: Too good to be true?
After my first attempt all I could think was "No way they went that fast on Klunkers!". Old bikes, shitty brakes, crap tires...come on now! Either the start line must have been further down the road or the timers were smoking some serious weed. Well, pretty much guarantee they were smoking some serious weed but I did some research and looked online for some old Repack start line photos. I was able to find a single start line photo below and the storied start appeared to match up with the junction.
Start line research. The old start photo appears to be at junction. Post and/or the rocks marks the start line of the old course.
I heard from a friend about Mark Weir pretty much getting in a shouting match with Otis Guy about the old times but memories have faded and I don't think we will ever know the truth. With conditions and weather it will never be a straight up comparison anyway; pretty much like inaccuracies on Strava and GPS which I was using to gauge my times. Pretty sure the old guys weren't taking any "Strava" cuts either as it is almost impossible on Repack with the terrain. Modern day bikes and equipment are undoubtedly faster so I would have to just give it another go and see how much I could improve my time.
Repack DH Historical Strava segment details and modern day Overall Leaderboard.
Speaking of modern day Repack DH times. Gary Fisher's time of 4:22 would have been 4th all time on the "Repack DH Historical" segment I was using as a gauge. Nicky D topped the charts with a 4:18 and Peter Lucas and Joe Lawwill slotted in second and third at 4:19 and 4:20. I don't know who Nicky D is but I know Peter who owns Marin Service Course in Fairfax and Joe Lawwill, former DH racer, now at Shimano. Both are/were locals, grew up in area, and would have had Repack run very dialled in. I actually talked to them about it and they said they had pretty rapid runs together on a good day for conditions back in the fall of 2017. SB150 Attempt 2: Monster truck drifting faster?
So, after my first attempt I knew I had to make some adjustments. Watching my POV video I could see a lot of corners I could clean up, take better lines, and carry a lot more momentum. After feeling too close to the limit I also knew I needed more braking and cornering grip to get a fast time. I didn't have an SB130 built up so I was going to have to upgrade to my monster truck SB150. Typically more suited for EWS courses or riding tech in Squamish I knew the big bike would still give me more comfort, speed, and stability even if it was just a gravel road. After some time skiing in the mountains I had one more week in the Bay Area so I took my SB150 over to Marin for what I figured might be my last chance to ride Repack this spring before it got super loose and dry.
Repack DH take two. Time to take the monster truck SB150 out and go for it.
April 9th: Definitely don't want to send it on a busy weekend so I headed over on a quiet Friday afternoon to Marin and told myself I would give it three tries max to see what kind of time I could post up. I had mounted up a 2.5 Assegai/Minion DHF tire combo in an EXO+ Maxxterra compound with CushCore Pro. I figured this would give me more grip, Maxxterra would still roll well, and the CushCore would let me run low pressure with the support I needed in the corners. It was actually my first ride on the new Fox 38 but I just ramped up the compression front and in the rear X2 a bit for a little more support on the simple track. Riding up the hill I could tell without rain for several weeks it was already a lot looser but I did have a little tail wind which would help compensate.
Wheel set up: Maxxis Assegai/Minion DHF EXO+ Maxxterra, CushCore Pro, Stans Arch CB7 wheels
Run 1: I gave it a good punch off the line for the first flat 20sec sprint or so. Into the descent I immediately felt a little lost on my lines in the first couple chicanes but kept pushing hard. There are a lot of lines to remember and try to figure out which is faster; Sam Hill shorter insides or just pin it around the outside like Eli Tomac. By the bottom I started to feel a little more comfortable with the drifting and letting the tires work. I figured it would be a decent time improvement compared to the SB115. There is no cell reception in the valley so I had to pedal back up a couple switchbacks before I could upload and check my time.....4:27. Well, I took 9sec off but the Gary Fisher's time and the KOM were still a ways away.
Shimano XC9 shoes for the sprint start, Lazer Jackal MIPS for my head, Shimano XTR drivetrain 34 x 11-51
Run 2. On the way back up I took a good look at a few corners. Tried to figure out some braking, turn in points, and remember inside or outside on some of sweeping and tighter blind corners. There is nothing to puncture on so I dropped my tire pressure a bit more to 21-22psi for more grip. After a deep breath I sprinted off again. I stayed on my lines until I missed an inside and almost dropped my rear wheel off the side of the hill. Managed to hold on to it but felt pretty close to my max speed. Started to feel more comfortable with the drifting, maybe could have committed a little more, but I was getting close to my limit. Rode back up and checked my time....4:20. Well, pretty good, seemed like a fitting time for Repack. I had beat Gary Fisher's time but did I have it in me to shave a few more seconds off and take the KOM. I wasn't so sure.
Didn't use the travel but Fox 38 was nice for drifting and supple feel. XTR trail brakes on my 760 x 45mm cockpit.
Run 3. This was my last shot. Made my way up and decided to try to switch up a few corners based on how I was feeling; skip some insides and just carry speed and drift around the outsides. Decided I wanted a bit more grip as well so dropped my pressure again to 19.5-20psi. Left my rear compression closed this last run for the pedal, took a breath, and sprinted off one last time. Nailed the chicanes, has some blissful no brake drifting through the corners, and felt like that was it. On that day, in those conditions, that was pretty much as fast as I could go. Sure I could ride it over and over, swap my baggies for a skinsuit, take the visor off my Lazer Jackal helmet, but this was just all for a fun challenge. I had a good time pushing myself to my limit and that was satisfying enough. I rode back down the valley to Fairfax waiting for cell service to check my time. Finally uploaded and I'd done a 4:16. Nice! I was pretty psyched to put it together after thinking about it for a month and getting it done.
Top of the leaderboard for now. For how long we will see. Definitely a time to be beaten with the right conditions.
Can't say it is a major accomplishment to take the Repack Strava KOM but it was super fun after so long to have a goal and go after it. I loved looking into the history of Repack, breaking down the course and my equipment, and seeing how fast I could push myself. Definitely encourage everyone to go check out the Marin Museum of Mountain Biking if you get the chance and ride Repack as well. Remember it isn't a closed track so keep your head up and be careful out there. I'm going to keep challenging myself on different projects and hopefully start doing some real races against the clock soon. Until then keep riding until the fun stops! Cheers. - Geoff