The computer the caused all the problems.

Technology can be a Burden

This winter I started a commuter bike project. I wanted to be able to ride to the gym, work out, ride to work, take a shower, work all day and ride home, all without having to carry a backpack.

The backpack part might seem dumb, but I radiate a lot of heat in the summer and run a little cooler without a thing on my back.

The project started out GREAT. Got a cool bike. Decked it out with cool stuff. Had some fun. Then realized that my computer — an integral part of my professional existence — didn’t fit.

To recap the bike setup at this point: dynamo lighting system. Pizza rack. Pizza rack bag.

Step One: purchase a bungee gizmo and attach my backpack to the pizza rack on the front of the bike. This worked pretty well, but had two drawbacks. Drawback one was that I had to carry my (unpleasant) post-workout gym clothes home in my backpack, and that was just a bit much. Drawback two is that my backpack isn’t really waterproof, and I wanted to feel safe in a downpour. There is a certain amount of stubbornness around the shop with regard to riding home if you arrived at work by bike.

Step Two: purchase a pannier and hang it from the pizza rack. Turns out that very few panniers are big enough to hold a 15” MacBook Pro. I purchased a super nifty Thule item, and discovered that it didn’t fit on the pizza rack. Sigh.

Sometime in there we had a good rain, and I ordered some super-sweet fenders for the bike. Installing the olde worlde drill-your-own-holes-and-hope-for-the-best thingies made me really appreciate modern fenders. And Two Hearted.

Bike with fenders, but before rear rack.

Step Three: purchase a rear rack to hold the pannier. By this time we’re starting to experience significant bike/parts/accessories shortages due to the pandemic. I’m not going to say that I settled for this rack, but there weren’t many cool racks from which to choose. Once I got it on the bike I realized that it, too, is not compatible with the Thule pannier. Clarification: the pannier works, but it doesn’t work optimally; it’s too tall (or the rack is too short, vertically) for the pannier to fit snugly. I should have thought about this a little more thoroughly before picking the rack I did.

PDW Everyday Rack.

True fact: with front and rear racks and a set of full-coverage fenders, it takes a few rides to get everything tight and not rattling. My bike sounded like it was falling apart for a couple of rides. Because it was.

Know who commutes a lot? Europeans, specifically Germans. Surely there’s some darn German product that’ll fix my problems.

Step Four: try a different pannier. Ortlieb makes a commuting bag that looked perfect. And, I have to admit, it works pretty darn well. Still doesn’t quite fit the pizza rack, but it does work on the rear rack. I haven’t been able to make it my all-the-time-wether-I’m-commuting-or-not bag, but it might have potential. It holds a good amount of stuff and my computer feels vey secure in there.

Step Five: try a different rack. I bought a Pelago commuter rack in an effort to get these panniers to fit better. And it worked! Both the Thule and Ortlieb bags fit great. True, the new rack is perhaps not as adorable as the PDW, but this whole project is mostly about function. Good news: one of my coworkers with far fewer embedded requirements installed the PDW rack and is very happy. The punch line is that she’s using my old bungee net to secure her backpack to the rack.

Bike with Pelago rack and Ortlieb bag. Works great.
Bike with Pelago Rack and Thule bag, just to rub it in.

This current setup is very functional, but is it optimum? I think not. Somewhere in my head is the desire to have a bike that’ll do what I want with one rack, and I’d like it to be a front rack. Does it bother me enough to keep throwing $100 bills at it? That’s a pretty good question. We’ll see. The functionality of the new rear rack dulled my edginess a lot.

Lucky Cat is my copilot.
2020 Kona Hei Hei CR Race

Hey

This new bike might make it look like I don’t like the Blur. And the Blur might make it seem like I don’t like the Epic. None of that is quite true. I love riding mountain bikes, and I love learning more about how they work and feel. I also enjoy a good project.

I’m very interested in the evolution of cross country race bikes these days. Have you seen the modern UCI courses? Yikes! Some of those features would definitely leave a mark if you botched it. As a result, the bikes are changing to better handle more significant technical riding. Yes, they still have to be light. Yes, they still have to climb well. But they’ve gotta be able to handle the technical bits. I cannot say enough about how this benefits me, the average mountain biker, and perhaps you.

It is as an interested observer of this progression that the most recent iteration of Kona’s Hei Hei really caught my eye.

This new bike is a 2020 Kona Carbon Hei Hei. This one is a little bit one-of-a-kind because I built it up from a frame, which I undertook because Kona sold out of complete bikes in my size before I could work up sufficient commitment. We talk about this pretty regularly at the shop, but a frame-up build is definitely the more expensive way to get a bike. The upside is that you get exactly the bike you want.

I’ve liked the Hei Hei for years, but never enough to drop my cash on one. Were they XC enough? Were they trail enough? I loved riding them in the PNW, but would the Hei Hei translate to Kalamazoo County?

Starting with the last generation of Hei Hei, Kona dispatched the axle pivot on the rear triangle and made flex part of the suspension equation. It worked great and it definitely saved some weight. It might be worth noting that Specialized did the same thing with the Epic rear suspension a year later.

The video embedded in this link tells the story succinctly, but for 2020, the carbon Hei Hei has modified geometry, 120mm of travel at each end and revised suspension characteristics. These are the features that lured me in.

I was really nervous about the frame color, but quite pleasantly surprised when it arrived. Kalyn can routinely turn a phrase and said, “Is that your new frame? I love it. It says, ‘I like to party!'” For sure, it’s distinctive.

Of what value is a custom build if you don’t sweat a lot of the details? Here they are:

  • Wheels – Bontrager Kovee XXX whatevers. Crazy light. Very nice.
  • Seatpost – Bontrager Line Elite dropper.
  • Handlebar – Truvative Jerome Clementz Descendent. Love it.
  • Drivetrain – Shimano 12-speed XT, which I purchased as a whole package including 170mm crank arms, 32T ring and 4-piston calipers. More on this shortly.
  • Headset – Cane Creek 40. Great value.
  • Tires – Specialized Fast Trak in front, Maxxis Aspen in rear.
  • Fork – Sweet heavens it’s the new 120mm travel, 35mm stanchion SID.
  • Pedal – Time ATAC
  • Saddle – Some take-off Kona-branded WTB I found at the shop. It’s actually very comfortable.

Everything went together pretty well. Cable routing is different; it goes through the down tube, exits above the bottom bracket and enters the top of the rear triangle. I was warned that routing the dropper would suck, and it did, but I prevailed.

While building this thing — the first 12-speed Shimano bike I’ve built — it occurred to me how thoroughly SRAM has taken hold of the mountain bike drivetrain market. We deal with XD drivers all day long, but this was the first time I messed with micro spline. From a putting-the-bike-together perspective, I found micro spline way fussier than XD. There’s also the fact that you can get an XD driver for darn near any hub, while micro spline availability is a bit more limited. This is a small, but real, complaint. Once it’s all together, it matters not at all.

All together with pedals and bottle cage, this thing weighs 25lbs, 2 oz.

On the first ride at Maple Hill I had two complains: the bike made all kinds of noises like cables slapping around inside the frame when I landed hard, and the XT drivetrain shifted poorly. These issues were “fixed” by (ahem) engaging the clutch on the derailleur and (super ahem) tightening the rear axle. It’s now appropriately quiet, and the shifting is perfect.

This thing likes to party.

  • XT drivetrain – Fantastic. No complaints at all.
  • Four-piston brakes – Fantastic. I’ve been riding with SRAM brakes for the last few years, and a very high compliment I can give these is that they feel as good as SRAM’s Guide and Level brakes. Instant engagement. Very progressive. Terrific feel.
  • SID Ultimate – Killer. I hooked a ShockWiz up to this thing and rode DTE one day. It was the only time ShockWiz told me that my setup didn’t need to be changed. I agree.
  • Frame – Awesome. I’ve had this thing at all the local trails, and I have nothing but great things to say about it. It feels super confident and capable. Is it as “fast” as the Epic or Blur? I have no idea, but it sure doesn’t feel slower.

I’ll write more impressions as the miles increase, but, dang. This thing is great.

Moots in repose

Stolen Ride

For unclear reasons, I’d been thinking about a single-speed cross/gravel bike. I regret having sold my last one, and didn’t want to spend a pile of money on another. I spent a fair amount of time looking for a new frame, but single-speeding appears to have fallen out of fashion. I found very little to propel the project forward.

One day I realized that my geared cross bike has a PF30 bottom bracket and decided to convert it to single speed. Wheels Manufacturing makes a simple but effective eccentric bottom bracket, which I purchased. I also bought a 40-tooth single-speed chainring, a nine speed chain and really cool bar tape.

This is Silca bar tape that we’ve just stared carrying. It’s a pain to install, but feels great.

I had a bunch of rear cogs and single speed spacer kits from bygone project, and I installed a selection of this stuff to some wheels Kalyn assembled for me. These wheels have super-interesting Onyx hubs; I’ve been looking for an application for them for quite a while, throughout which I ruminated on my former boss who (at least) once purchased a very expensive suit to go with some shoes she couldn’t resist. So it is with me and bicycle wheels.

Onyx rear hub. Silent. Instant engagement. Not very light.

This project had been banging around in my garage for a few months. What can I say? Busy times. Today I put the finishing touches on this thing, right as the rain quit. I checked my phone, saw that it wasn’t supposed to rain for a few hours and started dressing to ride.

A series of funny things happened in quick succession. When I hit the incline in my driveway, I tried to shift. When I got about a quarter mile from home, I realized that I was wearing regular bibs instead of knickers. I usually cover my knees when the temperature is under sixty. About a mile from the house I realized that I forgot water bottles. I shrugged and kept going.

What a fun time! The bike was fun, but sneaking in a ride between rain showers on an early spring day was the best part. This post was actually inspired by the ride, not the bike, but one isn’t actually possible without the other.

Here it is! All done! Very great!
The Wheels Mfg. Eccentric. Simple but effective.
These shifters don’t work, but the brakes work just fine, thanks.

Commuting Como 3.0

Riding to work, to the store, and to spontaneous local destinations have become second nature with the 2020 Turbo Como 3.0. Como gets you where you need to be, sweat free and all smiles.  When you’re ready for a workout, turn down the battery and pump those legs! It’s impossible to find an excuse to get into the car instead. I can’t imagine life without my Commuting Como. 

  • Charlotte 

A New Direction, Part 2

Before starting this entry, I looked back and re-read Part 1. How bizarre! A post about a bunch of parts without a bike on which to bolt them. Just to recap, I’m trying to incorporate a bike into more aspects of my life — not just going fast in pursuit of fitness.

When I first started ruminating on this project, the Kona Rove ST seemed like the right foundation. Like the steel. Like the steel fork. LOVE the purple. My size was in stock. And then it wasn’t. I cast my net a tad wider and started looking at the Sutra LTD. Lots to like here, too: similar geometry, all steel, hydraulic brakes. The color (Earth Gray) was a pretty large step backwards in the eyes of this beholder, but the overall bike looked good, and I got ready to order one. Then I noticed that the Rove ST was back in stock. Sheesh.

I called Kona and talked to my rep a little bit. He said that the Sutra gets better as you load it up and that the Rove probably rode better unloaded. I’m not really building this to go across the country. I plan to carry a change of clothes, my computer, its accessories and a small amount of human detritus, so I opted for the Rove.

In retrospect, there’s an unconsidered option that should have been, well, considered — a standard Sutra updated to the spec of either a Rove ST or Sutra LTD. The price of a Sutra is pretty low, and I was already bringing a LOT of extraneous stuff to the mix. In fact, I’m talking to a client who wants a bike very similar to mine, and we’re discussing this very option.

While I waited for the bike to arrive, I quickly ordered the rest of the wheel supplies and asked Kalyn to build them for me. I opted for Velocity Blunt SS rims and Sapim CX-Ray spokes because… why not?

I built the bike, installed the front rack, installed the new wheels and wired all the lights, in that order. Thanks to the remodel and a generally hectic life, this took place over the course of a few days.

Building the bike was easy. Installing the rack was typical: slightly more difficult than originally anticipated, but not bad enough to make you start punching yourself. Installing the new wheels was a piece of cake. I put a set of WTB Horizon tires on the new rims, set them up tubeless and haven’t thought about it since.

Part of the fun of this project involved gaining familiarity with dynamo lighting systems. We (Pedal) have been involved in a few dynamo systems, and I’ve purchased a lot of the parts, but I haven’t been in charge of installation until now. The theory of wiring this together stressed me out a little bit, but in practice it all went together nicely. I wasn’t totally excited about little wires all over my bike, but that’s part of the package.

Then it was done. I took it home and waited until dusk, then rode up and down the street in front of my house, trying to get the (very powerful and interesting) headlight aimed correctly.

A few days later I got home from work and discovered my refrigerator bereft of refreshments. I hopped on the new bike, rode to the store and admired the fetching look of my bike.

I went in the store, purchased my supplies and (gasp) placed them in the bike’s bag.

Success! As was the ride home, via the long route.

All is not perfect. Though the pizza rack seems like a winner, I can’t shove my backpack in the pizza bag. My laptop doesn’t really fit in the pizza bag, either. I’ve gotta figure this storage thing a little bit better. Maybe a net to just strap my backpack to the rack. Maybe front panniers. This is an intriguing… opportunity.

I’ve ridden home at night a couple of times, and the lights are great! No anxiety concerning battery charge, and lots and lots of nice, bright light. My initial worry over the tiny taillight has waned. It lights up nice and bright, and stays lit long after the dynamo stops producing power, very useful for long stoplights at night.

The bike itself is wonderful. The ride is oh so smooth. The wide tires provide lots of confidence. It handles great. I’m getting used to the flat pedals. I’m also getting comfortable with a 30 lb. street bike, conceptually and functionally.

The whole project has been fun, but not cheap. Truthfully (and typically), most of the expense was self-inflicted. I wasn’t required to build a new rear wheel. I could have built a dynamo front wheel from the stock rim. I could have used a less-expensive dynamo hub. I certainly wasn’t obliged to use really expensive spokes. The lights themselves cost perhaps a little bit more than their USB-charged equivalents, but.. dang. They’re nice.

A New Direction, Part 1

A while back, I made a list of all of my adult bikes. As I review that list, it’s pretty easy to spot a trend — speed. Yes, there are specifications — frame material, wheel size, gearing, geometry, etc. — that vary from bike to bike, but an overarching theme is going (relatively) fast on two wheels. I am currently, if rarely, very satisfied with the bikes in my garage.

But I’ve been reading. Things like this and this. At the shop we’ve been talking about a shop bike packing trip this summer. I’ve been thinking about ways to make it easy to commute by bike. My commute is never long, but the hassle (and attendant sweaty back) of a backpack and special shoes add a bit of friction to the process.

I’ve been thinking about something more utilitarian, but still fun. Something I could rig up as a commuter. Maybe something that would work for the bike packing trip. Definitely something that would allow me to try some new products related to commuting.

Oddly, I decided to start with a few accessories and pick out the bike a bit later. I knew that I wanted a bike that would be compatible with the Specialized Pizza Rack on the front. It looks pretty cool, holds 33 lbs. and supports low-rider panniers. So I bought one, the first item purchased for the project.

A good dynamo system would be part of this bike. Such systems appear to start with a SON hub. Every bike in consideration for this project had 12mm thru axles front and rear, so I bought an appropriate SON 28 hub. I didn’t really want this project to culminate in a zillion-dollar bike, so I looked around for a decent, not-too-expensive rear hub. I’d had a SRAM 900 a few years ago, liked it and purchased another.

Ugh. Lights. I can pick out rechargeable LED lights all day long, but the variety of dynamo lights initially overwhelmed me. In the end I picked up a B&M (Bosch+Muller) IQ-X headlight. I like the high power. I intend to mount it on the front of the Pizza Rack, but I wasn’t sure if I’d want it mounted “regular” or “upside down.” This light easily allows for both configurations without voiding any warranties. Seems like a winner. Might as well go all the way, so I got a very little light described by a character I’m not yet smart enough to type. It is indeed very small, so small that I’m a bit concerned. We’ll see.

And those were the first things I sourced for the project. In Part 2 of this mess, I’ll talk about bike selection, the rest of the wheel parts and putting it all together.

Jess’s Stumpjumer ST

Editor’s Note: Our Gal Jess has been riding a Specialized Stumpjumper Expert 29 all summer. It’s a lot of name and a lot of bike. In Jess’s words…

Mountain biking has become my “adult” replacement plan for organized sports, or as some may call it, sports ball. In looking for the right bike for my riding style, I was initially skeptical to go with a full suspension. After some time on the trail with the new Specialized Stumpjumper Short Travel Expert, I was hooked on this bike. If you would rather saddle up a mountain goat than a thoroughbred race horse, this could be the bike for you. 

After riding a few different styles of full suspension, what made me fall in love with this bike is the performance of the suspension and overall comfort of the ride. In Specialized Trail geometry, the bike is comfortable, yet very capable of handling anything from fast packed hero dirt at Maple Hill, to rocky, rooty, drops in Copper Harbor. With 130mm of travel up front paired with 120mm of rear suspension, the bike felt playful on our Southwest Michigan trails, yet handled the gnar of rocky singletrack with ease. The trail tuned rear suspension has a very stable climbing platform that put to rest my fear of potential climbing inefficiencies. The RockShox Pike up front takes the bite out of the trail with a smooth and responsive performance feel to keep you rolling through technical sections….even when you may internally be freaking out (perhaps that’s just me). If you’re looking to shave a little weight and improve rolling resistance on our local trails, swapping out the Butcher and Purgatory tires that come stock will do the job. 

Specialized has a full line up of Stumpjumpers with a variety of specs to fit your performance expectations and budget. Overall I’ve been super happy with the stock set up of the ST Expert. Traveling with this bike has been a blast. At 28 pounds, yes it’s a bit burly, but it’s versatility and nimbleness will have you wanting to saddle up this mountain goat and find some gnarly trails.

Kalyn’s Tarmac Disc Comp

Editor’s Note: the blog might say that Tim authored this post, but Kalyn is the real author.

A few days ago, someone asked me why I chose cycling over any other sport. To me, the answer seemed obvious: through cycling, I am able to connect with the world around me by exploring new places, adventuring with friends, and getting lost in the beauty of Michigan. So when it comes to choosing a bike, I know what my priorities are. I want to be able to go farther, faster, so I can spend more time outside doing what I love.

Given this, the Specialized Women’s Tarmac Disc Comp was a no-brainer. It is built for  snatching QOMs as much as it is for long afternoons of getting lost in the countryside, and it does both in style. The sleek, internally routed FACT 9r carbon frame makes the Tarmac look as fast as it feels. And while color isn’t everything, the deep plum to burgundy fade lights up in the summer sun. However, this bike is more than just looks as the Shimano Ultegra 11-speed drivetrain shifts like a dream with the range to get me up even the steepest of hills.

When it comes to specifications, it is the Shimano Ultegra R8070 hydraulic disc brakes that really stole my heart. Before the Tarmac, I thought that disc brakes were only for riding offroad, but after experiencing the confidence that disc brakes give me on pavement, it’s hard for me to imagine ever riding a bike without them. This bike really likes to get going fast, so cornering with confidence and scrubbing speed on the descents has completely changed my riding style for the better.

This summer, I’ve been able to ride farther and faster because of the Tarmac. As someone who has spent long miles on uncomfortable road bikes, this bike sets itself apart. While the carbon frame and fork make this a light build for a disc road bike, it serves the more important function of compliance. With the addition of 26mm tires on tubeless compatible wheels, the Tarmac sucks up whatever the road throws at you, making the miles melt away.

The Tarmac manages to be both comfortable and fast at the same time, making it the perfect bike for keeping up on fast rides as well as adventuring on your own. I’ve had the opportunity to explore new places with people of all speeds thanks to this bike, and I couldn’t imagine spending a summer riding in Michigan on anything else.

Santa Cruz Blur

We started carrying Santa Cruz in late April of 2019. We partnered with Santa Cruz for a few reasons. One is that they focus almost entirely on mountain bikes. A second is that they have a large, loyal following. I like their adherence to and constant tinkering with a consistent suspension platform, VPP. All of these things made it not too difficult for us to decide to carry Santa Cruz.

A few years ago, most XC (cross country) bikes sort of scared me to death. They had razor-sharp handling and typically threw me to the ground when my attention wavered for just a moment. I enjoyed mountain biking more while riding more trail-oriented bikes.

Fast forward a few years, and world cup cross-country courses have become significantly more technical and burly. In response, the bikes have become more capable and less sketchy. I bring all this up because you, dear reader (Hi Mom), might be thinking that there’s no way you want a twitchy XC bike. If you haven’t ridden one in the last few years, I recommend that you give one a try. They are sooooooo much fun, whether you plan to race or not.

This bike, the Blur, seems made for the people who mountain bike around these parts. It has 100mm of rear travel and either 100mm or 110mm of front suspension. It has snappy handling, light weight and a variety of build packages. I spent some saddle time on our demo Blur and decided that I should own one.

I had a bunch of parts in my garage, so I ordered a frame. While Santa Cruz generally makes three frames: an aluminum frame and two carbon frames, C (regular) and CC (fancy), the Blur fame is available only in CC, so that’s what I got. Being a patient person, I picked the color that would get to me quickest. I’m not dissatisfied.

Upon receipt of the frame, I installed an X01 drivetrain, a Fox 34 fork, Santa Cruz Reserve 25 wheels that I purchased earlier this summer, SRAM TL brakes, a few odds and ends that I purchased or found hiding in a corner of the shop. It might be worth noting that I’m a little off-script in that I have a 120mm fork on this thing while the stock options offer either 100mm or 110mm options.

Long digression that probably deserves its own post, but too bad. Skip down about three paragraphs if you like. Immediately after Gary Fisher introduced his G2 geometry, nearly every 29er-producer started specifying forks with 51mm of offset, which is the distance between the axle and an imaginary line running through the steering axis. Lately manufacturers have been building bikes with slacker (more “raked out”) geometry. To keep the bikes from steering like a chopper (read: vague), they’ve been using forks with less offset. Santa Cruz is one of these companies.

I initially installed a 51mm offset, 120mm fork on this bike, It worked fine, but was, in fact, a tad vague on turn-in. Once it got into the corner everything was fine, but it was just a tiny bit weird right at the application of steering input.

Fortunately for me, I work with other people who hoard bike parts. J’Son let me try his 120mm fork with less offset. The difference wasn’t quite night and day, but it was definitely noticeable. The bike now feels planted 100% of the time, and J’Son sold me a fork. Long story short: fork offset and frame design go hand in hand.

This is a tremendous bike, but of course it is. This is a very fine frame with a legendary suspension design and lots of nice parts bolted to it. It *ought* to be great. And it is. Really. Honestly. I love it.

We sell fantastic XC bikes, and this is definitely one of em. We’re planning (another) bike shoot-out shortly. Stay tuned.

What’s Going On?

It feels like the second or third day of summer, and I thought I’d answer the question that no one’s asking, “What are you messing around with?”

I’ve been playing around with three bikes, maybe four.

Kona Libre

I tend to ride this bike more than mess around with it. It still consists of: Libre DL frame, Stans Valor Wheels. SRAM Force 1 hydraulic drivetrain, Thomson seat post and stem, Bontrager carbon handlebar. 18.5 lbs. I’m happy with the weight and very pleased with its performance. Color me a fan of this 650b gravel “thing.”

Oh: I’m halfway through an experiment with this bike. MUCH conversation has occurred regarding 650b vs. 700 wheel/tire combinations for gravel. In a half-assed effort to compare the two, I bought a bunch of wheel parts — Velocity Aileron rims, fancy-pants Sapim spokes and nipples and super-neato Onyx hubs —  and asked Kalyn to take the parts and turn them into wheels. Things were looking good until we swiped the tires off these things for a customer’s bike. Now they hang in the shop. Perhaps this experiment will be picked up sometime this summer.

Allez Sprint Disk

This is a frameset built up with a box of parts that included a hydraulic Ultegra Di2 drivetrain, carbon wheels, carbon bar and whatever else. I purposely picked the Specialized Phenom saddle due to the good experience I’ve had with the stock item on the Epic. The box of parts was originally slated for a Roubaix and contained a compact crank and a very wide-range cassette. I swapped those out for a standard crank and an 11-25 cassette.

I installed tubeless 28mm Turbo tires a few weeks ago. Took ’em a while to really set up, but they feel great. Tubeless is a good deal for our debris-strewn roads.

The stock headset on this bike was a bit of a bummer. It creaked like crazy and loosened up on a regular basis. I knocked it out, breaking one of the bearings in the process, to find out that it’s… a non-standard headset. Bummer. I ordered another that retains the same cheesy plastic top cap and spacers, but it doesn’t creak. That’s nice.

I like this bike more than I expected. The ride is really not bad at all. The handling is quick, but not too quick. Fun city.

Epic

The big change to the Epic is carbon wheels, a pair of Santa Cruz Reserve 25 with DT 350 hubs. There are a LOT of really great carbon wheels out there, but I picked these, and I like them.

The Epic is a 2019 Comp Carbon with a Charger 2 damper upgrade in the fork and an Eagle X01 drivetrain I had laying around for various other projects. With the addition of the carbon wheels, the bike now weighs (just) under 24 lbs. J’Son approves.

My fork developed the not-unheard-of problem of a leaky air spring. I fixed that, but was unsure that I got the settings back where they belonged (because I never write that stuff down. Which is dumb.) This morning I went down to the shop early, grabbed a ShockWiz, installed it and got ready to go. It never occurred to me that the little light was flashing red instead of green. Sure enough, ShockWiz was dead when I got to the trail. Argh. I ended up brutalizing my air gauge to harvest its battery and got some pretty decent data.

Wandering Eye

I have a 120mm Fox 34 left over from another project. I’ve thought about putting it on the Epic, but the offset is all wrong (valid question: would I notice?). As fate would have it, this fork would (and does) fit just fine on a demo Blur. As did some Boyd aluminum wheels and a slightly nicer drivetrain. These things cannot be helped.

I rode this over-forked bike for a few miles and *really* enjoyed it. I look forward to more testing shortly.

5010 at Andrews

Several years ago I had the chance to ride a Santa Cruz 5010 on trails outside of Calgary, AB. When we decided to carry Santa Cruz at Pedal, I thought the 5010 might be a super bike for, among other things, the Maple Hill Trail, so we brought in a couple for demos.

Last weekend a couple of guys (or maybe The couple of guys) who do a lot of work on the Trails at Andrews were in the shop, kicking tires and talking about the trails. If you haven’t ridden the Trails at Andrews you should.

And that’s the lead-in to my decision to build the medium 5010 last night and ride it at Andrews today.

First: all of the internal cabling on an aluminum 5010 is not for the faint of heart.

One (hydraulic) brake line, one shift cable and one (hydraulic) dropper post. Whew!

Once at Andrews, things looked like Spring

That’s actual green stuff on an actual plant. It’s great.

I brought my normal bike so I could do a little bit of comparison. I am quite smitten with this  Epic. It has 100mm of travel at each end, no dropper and weighs 24 lbs, 8 oz.

I rode the Epic for a few miles to find my legs and to assess the conditions, which were fantastic. Very little mud, zero sand, tons of grip. Plenty of elevation change, too. Once I felt pretty good, I switched bikes. The 5010 is aluminum, has a dropper and weighs 32 lbs. 7 oz., nearly six pounds heavier than the Epic. Putting the bikes on the roof, the 5010 felt heavier. It also felt a little heavier riding, but certainly not six pounds heavier. I didn’t weigh ’em until I got home.

This lovely color is called Eggplant.

Pretty quiet at the trail today, so I could park the bike in the middle of the trail and take a picture.

Nice picture among the Dr. Seuss plants that always make me think of Spring. Perhaps because they show up in the spring.

I wanted to ride ’em both just to get a little bit of contrast. Yeah, the Epic is #RaceBike, but it’s also just a really great bike. The handling agrees with me. I run the suspension pretty plush and like it. Heck, I even like the tires. It’s a great bike.

The 5010 is a bit of a different beast. Heavier? Yes. Sluggish? Absolutely not. It was a lot of fun. I suspected that I might hit the pedals on a regular basis but such was not the case. I could feel tons of unexploited potential in this bike. It wanted to jump. It wanted to party until dawn, but I’m a go-to-bed-early guy.

I’d like to spent more time on Eggplant. I’m also itching to try out the Blur.

Jim’s Checkpoint

Know what this blog needs? More voices.

Our Man Jim Kindle got a new Checkpoint SL 6 a little while ago, and he’s nice enough to write a few words about the budding relationship between man and bike.

I got this bike because gravel riding and racing have become some of my favorite types of riding, and I wanted to compare it to the 2017 Trek Boone 7 that I have been using for these purposes for two years. I’ll get to the point real fast – I think the Checkpoint is far and away the better bike for these purposes. To be fair, the Boone is a CX bike and was designed for a different type of riding.

I have ridden the Checkpoint over 300 miles in the last four weeks, on pavement and gravel, and find it to be capable on both. The first ride I took was a pavement club ride. Even with the Schwalbe G-One 35mm tires, it was fast enough to stay with this ride. The Checkpoint rides and feels very much like a road bike and since I’m mostly a roadie that could be why I like it so much. The Ultegra compact 11 speed drivetrain works flawlessly and has plenty of gearing for climbing up the steep hills, those mid 20 mph flats, and those high 30 mph downhills. The hydraulic disc brakes scrub this speed quickly and smoothly. I have the Stranglehold sliding dropouts set at the back giving the bike a more stable ride and the IsoSpeed Decoupler helps take out the sharp jolts that gravel roads with holes and washboard can generate.

There are a number of reviews out there on the Checkpoint but none describe my feeling about it more than the one from bikepacking.com right here.. You can find that review here.  This guy is a much better writer than I.

If you’d like to test ride the Checkpoint (it’s a 58) just let me know at the downtown store and I’ll make it available.

Multi-Bike Shootout Extravaganza!

The Why

One of the most interesting things — to me — in the shop right now is a trifecta of bikes from Specialized.

The Epic, redesigned for 2018, comes with 100mm of travel front and rear and a 720mm handlebar. This is Specialized’s cross country race bike.

The Epic Evo, new for 2019, is the Epic with four main differences, 120mm of travel up front, a dropper post, a wider handlebar and beefier tires.

The Stumpjumper ST (short travel) 29. This bike is “more” than the Epic. More travel. More tire. More burly. More weight. Built with an emphasis on capability more than outright speed. the Stumpjumper ST looks like a really good fit for that person who wants a dual-suspension bike with great utility and is perhaps not looking to have the “fastest” bike on the planet.

The Bikes

Jonathan’s Trek 2016 Top Fuel 9.8. His bike is bone stock but for a setback seat post and Ergon grips. The Top Fuel allows the rider to adjust the geometry of the bike. J’Son calls this adjustment “Fast or Slow.” I think of more as “Steep or Slack.” One position has a steeper steering head angle and a higher bottom bracket (quicker steering), while the other position make the front end a bit more slack and the BB a tad lower (slower steering, move confident descending). Jonathan’s bike is in low BB position.

My 2018 Specialized Epic Comp Carbon. I’ve messed around with mine a bit, because I cannot help myself. I put on a 750mm bar along with a 12-speed drivetrain and a dropper post from another project.

J’Son’s 2018 S Works Epic has been converted to an Epic Evo. It has the special-offset Fox step cast 34 fork, a dropper and a 750 bar with a shorter stem. J’Son appreciates the finer things in bikes, so of course this thing has really nice Bontrager carbon wheels. Bontrager on a Specialized!!! Get over it.

The Stumpjumber ST 29 is one of our demo bikes, an alloy Comp model with nice Fox components. It’s worth pointing out that the other three bikes are set up tubeless; this one has tubes. And heavy tires.

The Humans

One of my goals was to focus on the bikes, not suspension setup. It was also important that we all be approximately the same height and weight.

Jonathan’s a 40+ dude who’s been riding bikes forever. He has a good sense of what his likes and what he doesn’t, which is why I invited him to be part of this. Jonathan is a good mountain biker.

J’Son’s not quite 40 and is the fastest of our quartet… probably by a lot. I suspect he can detect things that the other three of us cannot.

Katie is (ahem) quite a bit younger than the rest of us. She’s a college athlete and got into cycling just over a year ago, so she brings a open mind and a good bit of athleticism to the party.

Tim (me) is the oldest of the group at 50+. I’m only OK at mountain biking, and shied away from XC bikes because I didn’t think that I possessed the skills to control one.

The Method

This is easy enough. We all got on a bike, rode a section of Custer, and discussed the bike we just rode. Then we switched bikes. I recorded everyone’s comments after each session in order to save time and to keep from writing this mess completely from memory.

Maybe the order in which we rode the bikes counts. In case it does…

J’Son: Epic Evo, Top Fuel, Stumpjumper, Epic

Jonathan: Top Fuel, Epic Evo, Epic, Stumpjumper

Katie: Stumpjumper, Epic, Epic Evo, Top Fuel

Tim: Epic, Stumpjumper, Top Fuel, Epic Evo

The Movie

Hey! If you take video you can make a movie! Even if you have no idea how to use the video editing software and are too impatient to learn.

A Tiny bit of Background

Bike riding is a pretty big part of the Specialized launch, which I attended in the early fall. The course was steeper and way more burly than those around here. It started off with exceedingly steep two-track, then turned into a long, downhill super-rocky trail. A few years ago a guy said “Don’t slow down. Stay on top of the rocks.” I remembered this and tried my best to keep my speed up.

The first bike I rode out there was an Epic a notch or two up from mine with front and rear Brains. And it was a pretty rough ride. Fun in a masochistic way. Next up was a Stumpjumper ST, and boy was it great, sooooo much more plush and easy on the body. At the time I thought, “Man. This thing is dynamite out here. I can’t wait to see how it feels at home.” If you watched all 7 minutes 24 seconds of the poorly recorded and edited movie, you’d notice that everyone was super impressed with the Stumpjumper 29.

What Our Testers Would Buy

Katie would purchase an Epic Evo due to the way it handles. This is pretty funny, because she was all over (and off) the trail for the first quarter mile on that bike, no doubt because she’d ridden the Stumpjumper immediately beforehand. However, once she got used to how much quicker the Epic was, she was super steady and moving fast.

J’Son likes his bike (the Epic Evo) best, but he’s pretty quick to point out that you do not need to have the megabuxx S Works frame to have a pile of fun.

Jonathan liked the Stumpjumper. He totally enjoyed the Epic Evo, but he thought he’d have more fun on the Stumpjumper.

I’ve been chewing this over ever since we finished. I liked all of the bikes, and any of ’em would be a platform upon which I could build a bike that would make me very happy. I remain exceedingly pleased with my Epic. Sure. I lust for carbon wheels. Yes. I might be thinking about a 120mm fork.

Is There a Conclusion?

If I could build a bike that would make me happy out of any of these bikes, which one should you buy? First, I’d think about what you really, deep in your fully-examined heart, want. Is it speed? That’s an Epic or a Top Fuel. Is it a speedy bike that you can ride here, Brown County or Marquette? That’s maybe an Epic Evo. Is it something more plush? Do you want a bike that you can take to the Front Range or just about anywhere else? Man, that Stumpjumper ST is really something. If one of them particularly speaks to you, and the Epic totally spoke to me, that’s probably the right answer. It’s all about fun, right?

Technological Confluence

So what’s this thing all about?

I’ve been thinking about a new road bike for several months. I *loved* my Tarmac, but there are lots of things going on in the road bike space, and I’d like to have more first-hand experience with some of them. What things?

Di2 has been around nearly a decade, but I’ve never had a Di2 bike. I’ve thought about it, but it just never quite launched. Customers who have Di2 cannot rave enough, and I’ve wondered if I was missing out.

Road disc is happening for good reason. It’s super consistent in all weather. The modulation is superb. The amount of hand strength required is very low. Generally speaking, disc bikes allow for greater tire clearance, and bigger tires are another trend.

Lastly, aluminum road has been making a comeback. A decade ago, it was not at all unheard of to purchase a bike with an aluminum frame, a carbon fork and an Ultegra drivetrain. Then one day — poof! — that bike was largely unavailable. You had to get a carbon (or somewhat boutique) frame to get Ultegra-ish (Ultegra, Rival, Force, etc.) components.

I built this bike from a frame and a bunch of parts, many new, some old. It had been my intention to purchase an off the rack bike, but I stumbled upon a hydraulic Di2 kit and couldn’t say no. Such is the way bike budgets are shattered.

This is a Specialized Allez Sprint Disc frame. Why? Why not. It matched up really closely to my Tarmac when I looked at the geometry charts. The Allez Sprint does not have a reputation for being noodly and over-compliant, but I rarely ride my road bike more than 40 miles. I went into this expecting a pretty stiff bike. More on that soon. Also: the Allez Sprint is not the only aluminum road frame on the market. It’t just the one I picked.

I’m gonna flip into old man mode here for just a minute and wonder why anyone thinks we should run hydraulic hoses inside the frame. And fork. Talk about a lot of work for limited gain. And Di2 is not appreciably, if at all, easier to run through a frame than cables. Suffice it to say that the build was more time-consuming than I expected. In the end, despite my whining, I confess that it does have a sleek look now that it’s all together. Thus is this circular discussion complete.

Here we have a hydraulic brake line run through a fork leg (for no good reason! (smiley face)) to a flat mount brake caliper. I’ve been whining and moaning about this flat mount stuff since it appeared on the market, and my experience trying to get this stuff not to rub did nothing to improve my feelings.

I’m gonna veer off on a heckuva tangent here. This bike has a Shimano hydraulic brake system. Look at that thing: fins on the pads and some kinda crazy rotor that looks like part of a fancy turbine. All of this technology exists to keep the rotor cool. Shimano has three types of rotors. One is pain stainless, and it works great. The second type of rotor employs ICE technology, which means that it has an aluminum heat sink sandwiched between two pieces of stainless. This type of rotor runs quite a bit cooler than plain stainless. The third type of rotor is Freeza, which has ICE technology plus more aluminum hanging in the wind and runs cooler still. This is the type of rotor pictured above.

So what’s the deal with all of this? Why is cooling such a big deal, and why don’t other brands have all of these interesting technological options? Well, we start with the fact that Shimano hydraulic systems use mineral oil as the hydraulic fluid. Mineral oil is lighter than water, so if water gets in the system (think Pacific Northwest), it’ll pool at the lowest point in the system, which is probably the caliper. If the caliper is full of (or has a high content of) water, it’ll boil at a relatively low temperature and cause a loss of braking. Keep the rotor/pads/caliper cool, and it won’t boil. Shimano is a proud and technologically advanced company, so they sweat this stuff.

I’m totally not advocating for DOT fluid over mineral oil, or vice versa. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. It’s just that this bike has Shimano brakes, and I thought I’d ramble about ’em for a bit.

Tangent over.

The wheels are Roval CL38, and they’re pretty darn nifty. They’re Roval-branded DT350 hubs (excellent value!) laced to nice 32mm deep, tubeless-ready carbon rims. FTW! At the time of this writing I have 28mm tubed (!!) tires on the bike. Maybe that’ll change. That’ll probably change. But that’s life right now.

Other stuff on this bike includes the Red/Quarq crank from my Tarmac, a Bontrager carbon handlebar, a Specialized Phenom saddle with carbon rails (woah!), Time pedals and a Garmin 520 with a stock mount. Here we are. Finally. What’s this rig weigh? 19lbs, 1 oz. That’s with the bottle cage, the Garmin, pedals and the strap for a Flare R taillight. 19 lbs, 1 oz? Jeepers! Where is all that weight? Trust me, I’ve been looking for it.

Despite the way this post is going, I’m not a weight weenie. I can’t remember what my Tarmac weighed, but I think it was somewhere in the 16 lb range. Why is this bike 3 lbs. heavier? I attribute it to three things, each of which might take an equal share. One is the frame. Our suppliers, smartly IMO, have gotten away from quoting bike weights. But most of them will say, “We’d estimate that a carbon frame is about a pound less than its aluminum counterpart.” So there’s a pound. But wait! We’re also talking a rim brake carbon frame to a disc brake aluminum frame. It’s probably more than a pound. Especially since my Tarmac was one of those fancy S-Works things.

Di2 is only a bit heavier than a mechanical system, something like three ounces. Hydraulic disc is rumored to be about a pound heavier than an equivalent rim brake system. It might be worth noting that we’re comparing Ultegra hydraulic disc to SRAM Red rim brake. It’s probably more than a pound.

Empirical data (the scale in my garage) shows that the CL38 wheels/tires/tubes/rotors/cassette is exactly 14 oz. heavier than the 303s similarly decked out. With that, I think we’ve found the three pounds.

Are we digging in enough?

Interesting enough, most of this excess weight looks like good weight. What? Yeah. Good weight. Weight that doesn’t rotate. And if that weight does rotate, it’s close to the axis of rotation and thus has a small angular momentum. This is the sort of nerdulation (my word) that’s occupied a lot of mindshare in the shops as we discuss gravel bikes, particularly gravel plus (650b with wide tires) vs. a more traditional setup (typically 700c with <40mm tires). Stay tuned on excess weight.

Can we talk about riding the darn thing? We can.

The Allez Sprint was initially marketed as a crit bike — stiff as hell, faster than greased lightning and aluminum so you can crash all day without demolishing your bank account. Guess how much this appealed to yrs trly. Not at all. And yet, some number of years later… here we are.

My first and most worrisome thought was that the handling would be so quick that I’d put myself on the ground before I got out of the driveway. Such is not the case. The handling is indeed quick, but it’s not spooky. FYI: I am a long, long way from the world’s best bike handler.

Stiffness? Yes. Punishment? No. We do live in Michigan and ride on Michigan roads. I found the ride completely acceptable. Like a magic carpet? Probably not, but just fine. Connected. Quick. A bit rough when the road was rough, but such was my expectation. I probably had a bit too much pressure in the tires, but it still wasn’t bad. It’s fun and peppy and I like it. It doesn’t hurt that it looks like Specialized picked the paint colors for Pedal.

The big question is: what do you want? If you’d like to save a few bucks, the new aluminum bikes (this Allez and the various Trek ALRs) with nice drivetrains look super good. If you want to ride more than me, maybe a more distance-oriented geometry would be good. If light weight is important, maybe carbon is good. Maybe rim brakes are a consideration.

I will say this: as you ride stiffer frames, tire quality becomes ever more important. This bike has pretty good tires. I have great confidence that really good tires, especially really good tubeless tires, will provide a significant improvement. Please stay tuned.

Please make mine low friction. Thank you.

Impressions of the Epic Carbon Comp

Dave Hauschild has been riding bikes a long time. He knows about half-step gearing. He has a penchant for steel road bikes. His mountain bike, until recently, was a 26″ model with zero suspension. I was surprised and pleased when Dave picked out a carbon Epic for his demo. Here’s what he has to say:

This bike is an eye opener. While it violates a whole ton of my deeply held convictions regarding the KISS principal, I absolutely love riding this thing. The suspension was easily tunable and has improved both comfort and traction. Technical, sketchy sections are simply easier and more fun. I can’t exactly call the bike nimble, but it does gain speed and hold it well. It allows me to bomb log bridges and drops with far less drama to my spine. The bars are a bit wider than I would like, but they do have enough pull back to still not crank the wrists at an uncomfortable angle like so many others do, and I quickly forget that I’m riding bars that wide. I tend to suck a lot of water when I ride and don’t like to have any more weight on my person that is absolutely necessary, so appreciate being able to carry two full size water bottles in the medium size frame; let the bike carry the weight, not me. How many other full suspension bikes can do this? Not only is this bike more fun to ride, it allows a longer day in the saddle before the body gives out. What could be better?


Back to Tim here: I’d been lusting over this bike since our rep brought one into the shop when they first came out. The idea of a slightly burlier, less-twitchy Epic seemed perfect. But unlike almost every other time a feeling like this hits me, I exercised some self control. I kept myself from even riding one of our demo bikes, must less purchasing one for myself.

A few weeks ago I put our demo Epic on top of my car, drove to Custer and had a wonderful time. “Wow!” thought I. “This is really something.” A few days later our demo found its way to the top of my car as I drove to Yankee. Turns out the fun time I had a Custer wasn’t a fluke. I ordered one the next day. In the time since, I’ve had a chance to hit The Maple Hill Trail, Custer (again) and the Trails at Andrews. I’ll write something longer later, but I am 100% impressed with this bike.

Mine’s pink so Dave and I don’t get ’em confused..

2018 Specialized CruX Expert X1

Editor’s note: In the continuing series of bike reviews by employees, here’s one from J’Son, the manager of our Romence Road location. When we announced this program, J’Son was very decisive in his choice of bike, something for dirt road racing and cyclocross. J’Son chose to write his review as more of a Q&A than a short story. Here we go:

Why did you choose this one?

I chose the Specialized Crux as it was, at the time, the one bike that I was missing from my collection. A collection consisting of a cross country race bike, a fully capable trail bike, a fat bike and a comfort/endurance road bike. If there was one bike I felt I was missing from my collection, it would have to be one that could tackle both gravel road riding while also being very at home during a cyclocross event.

What do I like about my Crux?

Almost everything. I bought the CruX looking for a bike that was light, fast and responsive. What I ended up with was just that and much more. Is the bike light? Yes, weighing in at 16 lbs. for a disc brake cross bike, I would say that this thing is extremely light. Is the bike fast? Yes, if only my motor were in better shape, I would be able to tell you just how fast this thing could be. Responsive? Yes, I feel like this thing is every bit as responsive as my cross-country race bike. However, being light, fast and responsive is just a small part of it. The Crux is one of the most versatile bikes I have ever owned. I have ridden this bike during a gravel road race, on fast paced group rides, on causal rides with the wife, hammering through some tight twisty single track and soon, I’ll be racing it during cyclocross races. The bike’s personality has the ability to change with something as simple as a tire swap.
Oh… and this bike is beautiful!

What don’t I like about my CruX?

Hummm? If I were to have to pick one thing, I would have to say that the stand over clearance drives me nuts. Having short legs definitely has it disadvantages when it comes to top tube clearance. The CruX definitely doesn’t do me any favors in that department. In fact, the 82.4cm stand over height of my 56cm CruX is 5.7cm taller than my 56cm road bike. Ouch!

What would I change about my CruX?

The stock wheels and handlebar. While the stock wheels are wide and relativity light, I truly prefer a lightweight, aerodynamic wheelset, such as the Roval CL50 wheels that I ended up swapping to. As for the handlebar, I feel that a carbon bar would do wonders for the comfort of the bike. Due to the fact that I often take this bike into some pretty harsh environments, I feel a carbon bar would really help to soften up the front end a little.

The Stumpjumper or… How I stopped worrying and learned to love the squish

Editor’s note: We started a new program in early 2018 in which Pedal would fund a new bike for full-time employees. There are very few restrictions. Employees are encouraged to get something they’d really like, but might not purchase themselves. In exchange for the bike, folks were asked to write a longer-term review of their bike, which we’ll start unveiling… now. As many of you know, Matt superbly manages the service department at the downtown shop. Matt knows a TON about suspension and was super intrigued by the new Stumpjumper when it came out a few months ago. He got one as quickly as possible. Here we go.

Long travel suspension. Does anyone need it in SW Michigan? Nope. Does anyone need those sweet blue grips or that carbon fiber handlebar? Also nope. But they sure do add a heaping pile of interest and fun to your ride.

The long travel ( i.e. just “Stumpjumper”) Stumpjumper is a great all around trail bike. The 150mm travel fork paired with 140mm of squish out back sucks up just about everything the trail can offer. The small bumps and chatter are nearly all gobbled up, allowing me to continue pedaling through the choppy sections. Speaking of pedaling, the suspension settles neatly into its midstroke providing a very stable pedal platform. My lockouts often go unused for all but the longest climbs. Honestly, I have never locked it all the way out. It just seems unnecessary.

Alright then, enough about going up. This thing can corner and descend. No big news flash there. It’s what a fine trail bike these days is expected to do; it does it well, without being too much bike. The bike blends into the experience instead of being the focus of the descent.

I like to catch some air from time to time. Fortunately, I think launch control must be in the listed specifications. I’ve accidentally overshot a table top, landing pretty smoothly deep down the backside to my slightly puckered surprise. Just drop the post, get some speed, load up the suspension at the jump base, and let the magic happen.

It is not all unicorns and rainbows however. The tires did have a pretty steep learning curve for me. They have great grip but break traction with little warning when laying the bike down hard in corners. The front tire seems to like being loaded up with more weight in the corners than I’m used to. Perhaps we just need some more time to become used to each other. In the meantime, the accidental two wheel drifts look pretty cool!

Finally, you can occasionally feel the extra couple of pounds a big squishy bike comes with. For the majority of the time, I am blissfully unaware that I’m riding something five pounds heavier than my rigid hardtail. Probably because I spend more time pedaling and less time worrying about front wheel placement and lifting my butt from the saddle at the most opportune time. Every once in a while the weight makes itself known for a brief moment. That moment quickly fades into focus on the upcoming corner or concerns about that sizable breakfast burrito earlier. It’s not a XC race rig and that’s Ok by me.

Squishy and I need some time to get used to each other’s style (How am I faster on climbs and not so much on descents?). Coming from my rigid 29er, I think I have some habits that don’t work in my favor on a full suspension bike. I look forward to learning and improving with the Stumpjumper because it’s so damn fun!

Pictures of Bikes

There was a time when I never took pictures while on a bike ride. Things seem to be changing, and these are some of my favorites from this year to date. I’ve gotten significantly better at balancing my bikes on a water bottle.

New bike at the Maple Hill Trail

Yankee in April. Snow!

 

Schoolcraft

 

Post Stampede beat down

 

One day we rode bikes at our managers meeting. More fun than spreadsheets.

 

Good old Interstate 196

 

Tiger lilies near the lakeshore

 

Mattawan

 

Schoolcraft with water cannon irrigation

 

Just yesterday on a dirt road south of town.

Psychlo-X

This bike. I’ve wanted to write about this bike since before it even showed up late last fall, but it’s taken me a while to, well, get it together.

This bike is constructed around a Moots Psychlo-X RSL frame, ostensibly a cyclocross frame. Like many other bike brands and manufacturers, the Psycho-X is a bit more than a CX bike, particularly in that it has room for 40mm tires, which is super great, because I like to use my cross bikes for more than cross, and I’m on the bigger-tire bandwagon. How is does it differ from a Routt or a Routt 45? For one, this bike is longer and lower, plus it has a higher bottom bracket. I looked long and hard at the Moots bikes and geometry charts before picking this one, and I’m very pleased with the result.

The RSL is Moots-speak for “top shelf.” The RSL bikes are made of special tubing and are all bespoke. There are no RSL frames laying around the Moots shop waiting for a lucky rider. Expect a 5-8 week lead time for one of these puppies. The good thing is that you get to specify lots of stuff. My list of desires was small: white decals, external shift cable routing, a silver headset and no provisions for a front derailleur.

Everything else includes:

  • ZIPP bar and stem.
  • Rival drivetrain.
  • Shimano mechanical disk brakes.
  • Wheels I’ve been dragging around for a few years: HED Belgian rims laced to Chris King hubs.
  • Tires, for now at least, are WTB Riddler 700×32 set up tubeless.
  • A carbon Bontrager seatpost capped with a WTB Silverado saddle.
  • Time ATAC pedals.

I’d hoped to get this thing together in time for a cross race or two last year, but I didn’t get the frame until winter had settled in. It’s taken me until recently to get enough miles on the bike to have nearly meaningful commentary.

It’s great! The ride is smooth as butter. The welds are lovely. It has a very comfortable cockpit. Actually, the cockpit is amazingly comfortable. I might have to try this Zipp stuff on another bike and see how it translates. I’m super happy with this thing and the experiences we’ve had together.

I woke up this morning, downed a few gulps of coffee, grabbed this bike and hit the road. The National Weather Service tells me that it was 72 degrees and 84% humidity. What fun! Pavement. Dirt. Heat. Humidity. Bugs. It’s this type of thing — the going out and being in the summer and sweating so much you spend the rest of the day trying to drink enough water to rehydrate — that warms my soul in the winter.

Lots of people think of bikes as toys, which doesn’t really appeal to me. Some folks think of ’em as machines, which is fair enough. I think of ’em as friends with whom I’m able to look out on the landscape of my community and often as not look inside to figure out what I think and how I might fit into the human experience.

This bike has all the makings of a good friend.

Bummer, Dude.

This morning I took my new bike out for its maiden voyage to the Maple Hill Trail. It’s a beautiful clear day. Temperature is just above freezing. I’d heard that the trail is in perfect shape.

And off I went, excited to see what this bike is all about and to rekindle my relationship with the Maple Hill Trail.

Then I picked up a stick about 100 yards from the top. I heard a bad noise, hit the rear brake hard and heard the distressing sound of air escaping the tire. Sure enough, the stick wedged itself in there pretty good and ripped a spoke out by the nipple. Ugh. For the first time in my (meager) mountain biking career, I’d have to walk a bike out of the woods.

I remembered an article that I’d skimmed recently about how to hike a bike, so I tried what I believe the instructions might have been. The front wheel then swung around and the handlebar hit me in the mouth. Funny.

So far the Honzo seems great, but I think more riding is definitely in order.

Jack of All Trades?

Just a few short years ago we all raced local gravel races on our cyclocross bikes or perhaps our 29ers. As longer races became a thing across our country, we saw three things occur to create the new and exciting (some snark intended) category of Gravel Bike:

  • Bottom brackets dropped, offering greater stability at the expense of a little bit of “punchiness.”
  • Geometry started looking more like an endurance road bike than a cyclocross bike. This equates to longer head tubes and shorter top tubes.
  • Tires got wider, sometimes a LOT wider.

The UCI (bless them) limits the width of cyclocross tires to 33mm, so many cross-specific frames weren’t ready for customers who wanted to stick wide gravel tires on their rims. At Pedal we experienced a few instances in which a person’s desired tire just wouldn’t fit their frame. Bummer. BUT: those customers had bikes that were optimized (one assumes, right?) for a 700×33 tire. Would the performance be as good with a 700×40 on there? How do we measure “as good?”

On these very pages I have argued against the thin-slicing of bikes vis-a-vis gravel vs. cross vs. adventure (to a lesser extent). Let’s say that I argued that you don’t have to slice stuff too fine. And yet: what of specificity? What of a tool designed to do a singular job? What does it look like?

I recently became involved in a protracted discussion debating gravel wheels: 650b vs 700c. During the conversation I wondered aloud which would be lighter, as that would probably be a significant factor in one’s choice. Once I figured out that my discussion partners weren’t going to take the bait and give me empirical data, I waded into spec sheets.

I put Stan’s Valors on my NRB. Those things are stupid light and dropped the weight of my bike by an appreciable amount. What would I use for 700c wheels? Zipp 303s? Stan’s Valors or Avions? Ardennes? So I made myself a little chart:

700 zipp 303 650 zipp 303 Stan’s Avion 700 700 Valor 650b Valor 700 HED Ardennes 650 HED Ardennes
Wheels 1645 1450 1520 1342 1278 1535 1465
Tires 465 515 465 465 515 465 515
2575 2480 2450 2272 2308 2465 2495

What are the tires? I used a WTB Riddler in 700×37 for the 700 rims and a WTB Horizon 650×47 for the smaller wheels. I chose these tires because they’re in my garage and seem like very reasonable options. I didn’t include rotors, valves, cassettes and all that jive, because they’d be common to all of the systems.

The chart shows that, from a weight perspective, there is little to no penalty for the 650 setup, which was maybe not intuitively obvious, with those super-wide tires. That’s nice. Which one rolls better? I don’t know, but I sort of know how you compute such things, and it’s not impossible that it’ll become a winter project.

Which one handles better? I reckon anything can handle just fine if the bike is designed for it, but what I’m trying to explore (theoretically for sure) is this: given a single frame, what works good in that frame? Let’s start with another chart, for which I took the formula used here: an assumption that tires are round, so the diameter of the wheel and tire system = ISO rim diameter (622 for 700c, 584 for 650b) + 2 x tire width. Radius is half diameter. Circumference is pi times diameter = 2*pi*radius.

Tire Size Radius Circumference
700×30 341 2141.48
650X47 339 2128.92
700X33 344 2160.32
700×37 348 2185.44
700X40 351 2204.28
700×47 358 2248.24

One of the things I’ve heard once or twice is that a 650b x 47 setup has about the same circumference as a 700 x 30 setup. The chart above bears this out. And here’s where things get interesting from an optimization standpoint. If a CX frame is optimized around a 700×33 setup, a a 650 x 47 setup will mean that the bike sits 5mm closer to the ground. If that same bike opts for a 700×40 setup, the bike sits 7mm further from the ground. Are these differences (12mm from smallest to largest radius) significant?

What should a bike company do? Should they make a lot of bikes? Should they make one bike that does all of these things pretty well? Is this latter thing even possible?

Let’s assume that frame designers know more than me, which seems fair. I once again hit the world of specifications for bikes that fit this gravel/adventure/etc. category and fit me. Voila!

 

Bike Stack Reach HT ETT SA BB Drop CS What?
52 Rove LTD 570 383 144.5 546 74 72 435 Gravel/Road
52 Crux 554 375 125 536 74 71 425 CX
52 Psychlo X RSL 558 376 120 535 74 63 423 CX
52 Crockett 547 379 123 531 75.5 70 425 CX
52 Jake 560 385 140.8 546 74 70 425 CX
52 Routt 45 582 361 140 525 74.25 71 450 Gravel
52 Rove 570 383 126 546 74 72 435 Gravel/Road
M Open – UP 551 376 130 549 72.5 70 420 Gravel/Road
M 3T Exploro 546 378 125 550 72.5 70 415 Gravel/Road
52 Domane 561 371 145 530 73.7 80 420 Gravel/Road
52 Diverge 567 367 145 532 74 85 419 Gravel/Road

Yes! I did leave out a lot of geometric data. Mostly I was interested in three things: fit (this is mostly stack and reach), bottom bracket drop and chain stay length. That said…

Generally I see a lot of similarity. Bottom bracket drop is very consistent with the Moots CX bike on the high end and the Domane and Diverge on the low side. Everybody else hovers around a very traditional 7 cm of drop. Similarly, chain stay length is pretty darn consistent. The Routt 45 has the longest at 450 mm and the 3T has the shortest at 415 mm.  Speaking of which, the 3T and OPEN bikes were included in this chart because they’ve come up in conversation in recent weeks, and I was curious how they matched up with bikes that we stock.

From a fit perspective, many of the bikes cluster around what I would call traditional cyclocross fit — bars a bit higher than road race fit, but still pretty athletic. The Domane, Diverge and especially Routt 45 are quite short, while the Konas are a little bit longer. I recently ordered a PsychoX RSL instead of a Routt due to the fit numbers. It’ll be here soon, and we’ll see what this high bottom bracket is all about.

For better or worse, this post has mostly been an exploration with you, dear reader, along for the ride. I’m not sure if my hypothesis was “Bikes are more similar than you might think,” or “Bikes aren’t as similar as you might think.” I didn’t really have a strong opinion, but I sure was curious. After collecting this data, I’d say that they’re pretty similar. Based on conversations in the shop and in this hunk of research, manufacturers aren’t publishing a piece of data that consumers really want: tire clearance.

Other than the charts and hard data contained herein, all I have is anecdotal evidence. When skinny tires were cool, I ran 700×23 tires on my cross bike and (gasp) liked it. I ran 700×40 tires on a different cross bike and (!!!) loved it. I love my NRB, and the tires are an enormous amount of the appeal. I guess I remain convinced that a cyclocross bike is a really versatile piece of hardware, especially if can handle a pretty wide tire.

New Road Bike?

When I asked my kiddo to put on these gloves and pose for a picture not completely unlike the one above, I received this response, “No. No one says ‘Hella’ anymore.” Despite the vocabulary of the cool kids of Kalamazoo, my new bike is, if nothing else, Hella Sweet.

But what is this thing? Maybe the coolest bike you can own if you’re looking for something other than ultimate speed. Let’s start with those crazy-looking wheels. They’re 650b rims with 47mm wide tires, which works out to be the same diameter as a 700×30 setup. I run these wide tires with 40 psi of pressure. Smooth? Oh yeah. Like butter, but smoother.

I think it’s important to put this bike in context. It’s not super-light at just under 23 lbs. with pedals and not much else. I’m not going to win races with my friends on race bikes if I’m on this thing. I have a fancy race bike for those occasions which require such a tool, but these days I mostly ride by myself, and when I ride by myself, I don’t really care how fast I’m going, only that I’m going.

Kona makes three bikes like this. In classic Kona style, they’re the Rove NBD, the Rove NRB DL and this bike, the Rove LTD. LTD in Kona-speak is not limited production; it’s more of a dream bike moniker. I find the Rove LTD to be a seriously dreamy bike — Reynolds 853 frame, nice wheels, great hydraulic SRAM Force drivetrain, lusty paint job, the whole package. The base and DL models have aluminum frames, which are just fine; the big tires take up the vast majority of the road noise that might otherwise pass to your body.

I’ve been watching and enjoying this fatter tire thing in both road and mountain bikes, but my jaw hit the floor when Kona released this trio of bikes. “Have they lost their minds? Is this real? What’s it like? Do I want one?” I rode an NRB DL in Squamish and loved it, but when offered the option of a boutique steel frame, I just couldn’t say no.

Who doesn’t want this? If you mostly ride with friends and you’re juuuuuuuuust keeping up, this bike won’t help. This is probably not your perfect gravel bike if the course is packed down.

I’ve had this bike for less than a week and have more than 100 miles on it. I am fully, completely captivated. Today I rode 50 miles on both paved and unpaved roads with plenty of washboard. It was terrific. I sold my favorite bicycle to purchase this thing, and I am totally satisfied with the deal. I think it’s a beautiful bike. The ride is great. I’m pretty in tune with what I’m looking for fit-wise, and this bike fits very well. And I’d like to take just a moment to talk about the smoothness. This bike makes zero noise — no brake noise, no strangeness from the bottom bracket, no drivetrain crunchiness. It just goes: silently, smoothly, gracefully. Wonderfully.

We sell lots of stuff at Pedal: shoes, tubes, gizmos, doodads, bikes, but what we mostly sell is potential, stuff that gives you the potential to enjoy yourself, to experience something nice. This bike is something nice, and riding it through the rural areas around our town on a beautiful summer day is extremely nice on many levels.

KB + TMHT = Love

The Maple Hill Trail is something a bit different for the Kalamazoo area. Custer is fun and twisty. Yankee is tough and wild. TMHT (you heard it here first) is jumpy, bermed, machine-built and an unbelievable combination of accessible and challenging.

Kona is a brand we identify with strongly. Their stuff is really good, and sometimes really different. Look at the Unit, the Jakes, the Sutra. Then look at the Processes, the Honzos, the Jakes (again) and the Hei Hei lineup. It’s a compelling combination of quirky, wonderful, special bikes.

Not all of Kona’s bikes work super great in the middle of the country. Kona’s bikes don’t traditionally win the weight wars; they’re heavier, burlier… just *more* than we need around these parts. As such we carry a pretty small sub-set of their entire collection, but the bikes we carry are just killer.

It made a bit of sense that we’d host a demo for a quirky brand at a brand new trail that’s different from what we’re used to. And it was great! Kona brought great bikes: Hei Heis, carbon Honzos, Process 111s and 134s and Hei Hei Trails. TMHT brought jumps, exhilarating descents, table tops and a ton of fun.

We had a lot of fun. Rode some cool bikes. Shot the shit. Lived large.

Good day.

Thanks to Maple Hill Auto Group, Kalamazoo County Parks, SWMMBA and everybody who’s donated time, money and energy to the trail. I know it’s taken longer than expected, and several hurdles had to be cleared, but oh my goodness! This thing is a ripper and a real asset to the community. Thank you again.

Miles from Kona worked tirelessly and with good humor the entire day.

In the PNW (Pacific North West), they like to hang the bikes by the fork. Because that’s how they do it there.

Who doesn’t love a picture of laughing guy with coffee?

Looking for the next chance to send it

 

Sonny

Yes. I know. I, too, have every confidence that I’m the zillionth 50+ white dude to purchase a Crockett and name it “Sonny.” In this regard my lack of originality bothers me not at all. I can’t help that “Miami Vice” was required Friday night viewing for a while during my college years. That kinda thing sticks with you.

This project started with the guy 2nd from the right; the one who doesn’t work at Pedal.

He’s Sven Nys and he’s the Real Deal on a cyclocross bike. Last fall, Trek built him a one-off, single-speed bike to race at the Single Speed Cyclocross World Championship in Portland. Check out the link. That’s a pretty darn spiffy bike. So much so that I quipped to my Trek rep, “Hey. I’ll be the first guy to buy one of those if you build it.”

A couple of months ago Trek introduced the new Crockett, which looks a whole lot like Sven’s bike. Seconds later came an email from my Trek rep reminding me of my message. Sigh.

What really attracted me to this bike were the horizontal dropouts and the ability to run either geared or single speed. My current (at the time) SSCX bike had an eccentric bottom bracket and absolutely no provisions for gears. While this is marvelous from a purity of purpose standpoint, I never really warmed up to the eccentric, not that I’m a guy who changes gearing all the time.

The other thing on my mind is the versatility of cross/gravel/adventure bikes. This piece sums it up pretty well, but it leaves out something a little bit important, cost. I’ve got a fair number of dollars wrapped up in my carbon Jake, so it’s not the bike I reach for to ride in the slop or on roads that might still have salt on ’em. I had kinda hoped that this bike, Sonny, might be a less expensive version of my Jake.

I would have been smartest to purchase a stock Crockett 5 and be done with everything. Boom! Done! Dollars saved! But I opted to build up a frame because I already had “everything else.” I did this full well knowing that a bare frame lends itself to scope creep and unforeseen compatibility issues. In this instance I learned that none of my brakes would fit this frame, that I would have to modify a set of wheels to fit this frame and that I might as well put gears on the bike.

Flat Mount Brakes Stink

This frame is designed around flat mount brakes, which are a new standard or bunch of marketing BS that was started by Shimano and later endorsed by SRAM. Are flat mount brakes functionally different from post or I.S. mount brakes? Nope. They just have a different mounting strategy. This sort of thing gets me a little hot with the bike industry. Change for better is great. Change for the sake of change isn’t just unnecessary, it’s wasteful. In my particular case, I couldn’t run a 140mm rear rotor using a post-mount caliper and a flat-to-post-mount adapter due to frame clearance issues. <tooth grinding sound>

In the end I purchased a set of flat-mount Shimano calipers and got what I wanted. Why Shimano calipers? Because they were the *only* thing I could find. Sure, TRP and others say that they make flat mount calipers, but they’re not actually available for purchase yet. I’m still a little bit bent over this, but I’m happy to have a resolution. I’m also happy that these Shimano calipers appear to work pretty darn well.

Hubs

The above picture illustrates something that I tried to account for, but that proved to be a bigger deal than I expected. Unlike (expletive) flat mount brakes, I think through axles are an improvement over quick-release skewers; they (at least in theory) make for a stiffer bike, and there’s pretty much zero probability of extreme braking forces levering a wheel out of the dropouts.

When I started this project, I’d planned to convert an older set of HED Ardennes+ disk wheels. Alas, the hubs on those wheels predate the concept of thru-axles on cross bikes, so they’re now on the (quick release compatible) Jake and the Jake’s wheels — HED rims and Chris King hubs —  were converted for this bike. It’s hardly the worst thing in the world, but it’s not cheap to convert King hubs.

Gears

I suspected from the start that I’d put gears on this thing, which required the purchase of Rival 1×11 shifters and a derailleur (I had a cassette). Non-nerds should probably skip this next bit. It’s involved and maybe dumb.

Things get weird concerning the front chainring. Parts I had on hand included:

  • An old carbon SRAM GXP crank with a removable 130 BCD spider
  • A new(er) aluminum BB30 crank with a removable 110 BCD spider
  • A Rotor QX1 chainring

I installed the 110 spider on the GXP crank (because I’d always assumed that I’d use the GXP crank and had already purchased and installed a GXP bottom bracket), then installed the chainring. Everything looked OK in the stand.

On the road, things looked less OK. The chainring was all over the place, lots of lateral movement that looked different and more awful than the strange motions of the oval chainring. It took me a while to figure out the problem: the 110 bcd spider did not sit flat on the carbon crank arm. This presented a few options. I could purchase a 1x-compatible chainring to fit my 130 BCD spider, but I wouldn’t be able to try the Q ring. I could purchase a new crank, but that just seemed excessive and expensive. I could purchase a different bottom bracket to make the BB30 crank work, but I was pretty darn keen on the carbon crank. So I got out the dremel tool and a grinding bit, and I went to work. It took a little while and a lot of noise, but the finished product works well.

The End Result

The finished bike is great. The geometry is nearly identical to its predecessor in my stable, so I’m very happy with the fit. The jury is out on the Q ring; time will tell. The new brakes are nice. Rival 1×11, to me, is about as good as it gets — it’s not too expensive, and it works like a champ. Many other aspects, the wheels, the bar, the saddle and seat post, are old friends, and I’m happy to be using them again.

Trek did a lot of good things with this frame. I like the option to run single-speed. I like the clearance for 40mm tires. I like the geometry. I’m not a fan of internal cables; I think they complicate matters quite a lot while offering almost nothing in return. Cabling this bike was fussier than some, but not as awful as others.

The gold frame is contentious. During the bike’s construction phase, my wife came in the house one evening and asked, “What’s that ugly bike in the garage?” Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

A Bike Beginning

Our Gal Cassie, who keeps track of inventory at the South shop, writes her first entry for this... thing. -- ed.

Hello friends! New voice here, coming at ya from the inventory desk at Pedal in Portage. I am rather new to Pedal and, you could say, to the cycling community in general. Not to say I am new to riding bikes.

Growing up in rural America, I had my trusty Magna, procured from the local(ish) Walmart. I crashed it into a lot of things and rode it all over the county. It followed me from Illinois to Michigan and then to WMU, where I met people who were members of the cycling community. I went through all the steps of coming to terms with their feedback. Primarily the fact that this bike I had loved for so long was most definitely the wrong size for me, too heavy, and unsafe as it was impossible to repair. I remember that back then It was extremely dangerous to be on the road since the traffic light system was not the best, but now a days everything has gotten better and being on road has become a lot more safe.

As a strapped-for-cash young adult, my new friends assisted this desperate newbie in making something work. We found a sparkly, baby blue Bianchi frame that is about as old as I am and threw some basic parts on it. As low tech as that bike is, it opened my eyes to what a bike could be. I rode more. Way more. I thought to myself: “if I can get comfortable and fast on this bike, then maybe I can buy a fancier bike to compliment my skills”.

Then Pedal changed everything.

You don’t get comfortable on a bike. A bike is comfortable for you. You don’t have to be a pro to deserve a fancy bike. A fancy bike will support you in developing good cycling skills and allow you to ride however you choose. If you enjoy cycling, it is worth every penny and second of your time finding the right bike for you. That is how I found my Dolce Comp Evo.

Is it the fastest, lightest bike on the market? No. It is, however, an adventure bike for the ages. The aluminum frame is sturdy and light. Its carbon fork and seat post compliment the lightness of the frame while absorbing the majority of the bumps on the road. Unlike other women’s road bikes on the market, the frame allows for a wider tire. I am not a speed demon, so I prefer a more stable, wider tire. I also enjoy gravel road riding, so the sturdier the tread, the better. The Women’s Specific Endurance geometry fits me like a glove and has made all the difference in my comfort while riding. I believe my husband would quote me by saying, “I feel like I’m riding a cloud!” I continue to work on my technical lingo, so I will attempt to tell you how much I appreciate a quality groupset like Shimano 105 and the stopping power of hydraulic disc brakes. If I do decide to pick up my pace, it will be with confidence and ease.

These days I can crank out a longer ride without depleting my mood. A new saddle and a wheel upgrade may be in my future someday soon. The miles will tell. If your miles also take you onto the less traveled roadways of our great state, you might consider taking her out for a spin. Like all ladies, she does best when she speaks for herself.

One

I was talking to my Kona guy yesterday (yes, it does make me feel special to have a Kona guy) and somehow got to bemoaning the way the bike industry feels like it has to slice everything super-fine so there are a million different products and no one knows what the hell they’re talking about or how to differentiate them. I was specifically complaining about adventure vs. gravel vs. cyclocross bikes. “Cripe!” says me. “It’s nothing you can’t fix with some tires, and my Jake will take all sorts of tires.”

That’s how we started talking about Carbon Drop Bar Bikes in which you could (and might!) have a bike upon which you could mount slicks and get out there for the Wednesday Night Ride or something knobbier for CX racing or something burlier still if you just want to get out there and take what nature serves up.

This afternoon I figured I’d demonstrate this premise on equipment that I own. First, here’s Jake with the setup I used all last summer: WTB Nano 40s set up tubeless. Pros: bring-it-on width and tread pattern + smooth ride with low pressure. Cons: pretty heavy even when tubeless, so acceleration is less than thrilling.

Next up: road ride. Same bike and wheels with some 30mm Specialized Roubaix tires. This is a terrific setup if you’re gonna use your cross bike for road riding in the summer. Tons of grip, smooth ride and only a bit heavier than the race tires you’ve been using on your road bike.

When CX season rolls around, Bang! 33mm cross tires. I found these Clement MXPs tucked away somewhere and was instantly reminded of the fun times I had racing on them in years past.

The above pics highlight why Jake is probably my favorite drop bar bike of all time. It’s a very versatile bike, and gobs of tire clearance is one of the things that contributes to the versatility. Another thing is the way it’s built, with a comfortable ride. I’ve ridden cross bikes that were so stiff that they crossed the line into the kingdom of Harsh. While those were pretty darn good cross bikes, they weren’t something that I’d get all fired up about riding all day on skinny tires pumped up to big psi. Last thing on this subject, Jake has good geometry. Due to their need to provide clearance for pretty big tires and mud, cross forks are “taller” than road bike forks, so the bars on cross bikes tend to be higher relative to the bottom bracket than road race bikes. In fact, they get pretty close to the endurance road geometry that’s so popular these days.

I put this chart together for Jess, who was thinking about going from a Specialized Roubaix to a Crux (and did, in fact, pull the trigger). Since I was charting two bikes, why not chart five? Each of the points represents a bike’s stack and reach, which is explained in moderately gory detail here. Big takeaway: the Crux and the Jake fit similarly to our most popular endurance bikes. (Yes, there are differences like chain stay length and bottom bracket drop and head tube angle and all that, but as far as fit goes, they’re pretty darn close.)

Does this mean that I advocate against “pure” road bikes. Absolutely not. I have a Tarmac in my garage that I enjoy enormously. What I am suggesting is that, with ample tire clearance and disk brakes, the idea of “one bike” is perhaps more attainable with less compromise. I’m also suggesting that it’s not a bad idea to look beyond the way a bike is spec’d on the floor, and think about what might actually work, tire-wise.

While I’ve gone on about my carbon Jake, the argument works just a well for aluminum bikes (in fact, I was going to do the same tire switcheroo sequence with my aluminum Crux, but… didn’t). Further, I think plus size mountain bike tires and bikes are doing the exact same thing for the “one bike” crowd who desire something with a flat bar and single-track capacity.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Lately I’ve had a lot of conversations with friends about the expense associated with pickiness.

This is the object that started the discussion.

Last autumn I rode this bike and thought, “Man. I gotta get me one of these.” And what I meant by that was, “I should buy this exact bike.” That would have been smart. I liked the stock bike. We bonded. It was in my possession. I get on OK deal on bikes. Would have been super.

Instead, I thought about it. And that’s how the trouble started. One day at the downtown shop Matt bemoaned the fact that he’d ordered the wrong hub, a 32-hole DT Swiss 350 with boost spacing and center lock brake capability. “Woah,” thought I. “That would be the perfect start to a set of HED Raptors around which I could build a Fuse.” That’s right. I ordered a matching rear hub and sent ’em both to HED to be laced to fancy rims.

Years ago I worked for a terrific woman who once spent a small fortune in a very nice store because she needed clothes to match a pair of shoes. I can commiserate.

Next steps included the purchase of a demo Fuse from Specialized’s fleet, the parting out of said bike and a poorly-timed chat with my SRAM rep, who talked me into a drivetrain that was never on my radar: Eagle.

And here it is. Yeah, that cassette looks pretty crazy. SRAM tells me that Eagle sales have been more brisk than 1×11 was when it first came up, particularly in the more mountainous parts of the world. Around Kalamazoo, I think 1×11 is about all anybody really needs and was in the process of ordering a GX drivetrain for this bike when the SRAM guy talked me into Eagle. Yes. I’m kvetching, but I’m not unhappy.

Press this button to summon The Eagle

One of the things I did preserve about the bike is the Manitou Magnum fork. I had a Magnum on the Stache, loved it and didn’t see much sense in rocking the boat. A Reba would have been lighter, and a Pike would have been pretty BA, but there’s something really nice (to me) about the plushness of the Magnum.

Other bits include SRAM Level TLM brakes, a Truvativ carbon bar and post, stock Ground Control tires and… that’s about  it. More as I have a chance to ride it.

Pedal Staff’s Top 5 Mountain Bike Picks

Man are we happy to be thinking of warmer days and longer trail rides. To supplement our excitement, we put together a list of staff favorites highlighting mountain bikes for a variety of ride types.

Specialized Epic Hardtail

The Epic Hardtail is new this year. Replacing the Stumpjumper Hardtail, this cross-country race bike looks like the perfect bike for those who aren’t interested in the additional weight and cost of a dual-suspension bike.

Trek Stache

Most of the Pedal employees own a Stache. These things are super fun and very satisfying to ride. It’s a bit of a different experience than the bike you’ve been riding — more rowdy, more traction, more confident.

Trek Top Fuel

This is a super-nice XC race bike. Lots of folks (including a few Pedal employees) will say, “Man. Race bike. I’m not a racer. I don’t need that.” When you’re trying to keep up with your buddies on their XC race rigs, having one of your own sounds like a really great idea.Ryan and J’son both ride a Top Fuel and rave about it. The dual suspension is great. It’s light. It’s fast. And it’ll sure as heck help you keep up with your buddies.

Kona Hei Hei

The Hei Hei is a fast and comfortable cross-country bike with a bit more front travel than the aforementioned Top Fuel. It has all of the modern geometric touches like really short chain stays and a slightly slacker head tube. Kona’s done a really nice job with this one.

Specialized Fuse

Another plus bike, but not just another plus bike. While the Stash is an absolute bulldozer that goes over anything, the Fuse is more like a “regular” 29er. It spins up a little bit more quickly. It feels a bit more stiff. At the same time, there’s just *more*. It’s a pretty sublime bike.

The countdown is on. We hope you’re looking forward to the extra miles the warmer seasons bring as much as we are.

Light It

Last year we sold several Fuses and Ruzes, Specialized’s plus-tired hardtail bikes. I’d only ridden a Fuse once on a sketchy trail in California, so I thought it would be good for me to try one around here. I took a bike that we’ve been using for demos and rode it three times before the snow started flying.

This is the bike in question, a 2016 Specialized Fuse Expert.

img_5705

Specialized calls the Fuse (and I’ll just write Fuse, though I’m also talking about the ladies-specific Ruze) a trail hardtail. Trail implies something a bit more burly than a straight-up cross-country bike, and the Fuse foots the bill with:

  • 120mm travel Manitou Magnum fork with 34mm stanchions
  • 67 degree head tube angle
  • Dropper post
  • Boost hub spacing for increased wheel stiffness

It’s a nice package rounded out by a slick SRAM GX 1×0 drivetrain, a custom 11-42 cassette, strong brakes, nice 27.5″ WTB Scraper tubeless-ready rims and three inch wide Specialized Ground Control tubeless-ready tires.

img_5710

I’m going to cut right to the chase and say that I really like this bike. In fact, had I not just spent a big wad of money on a very cool mountain bike, I’d be finagling my way to purchasing one of these things. As it stands, I’ll need to part with an existing bike or two… then finagle my way to purchasing one of these things.

Two questions people ask when they see the Fuse are “What’s it like?” and “How does it compare to the Stache?”

For the Fuse, imagine a good 29er hardtail — maybe a Superfly or a Stumpjumper hardtail — with more traction. It feels really laterally stiff; there’s nothing at all vague about the location of the front wheel. The big tires with low pressure (I ran about 15-16 psi) provide enough passive suspension to keep the bike from punishing your back. I found the steering to be just about perfect, precise, but not too quick. Matt Jensen (Service Manager at the downtown shop and very proficient mountain bike dude) went riding with me and pronounced the Fuse, “Immediately comfortable and familiar. I like it more than I thought I might.”

The trend in interesting hardtail (and some dual-suspension) mountain bike geometry is one of slacker head tube angles and as-short-as-possible chain stays. What this means is that the bike wants to steer more slowly due to the more relaxed head tube angle, but wants to steer faster due to the short rear end. Kona’s been doing this for a little while with good results. 1 x 10/11 drivetrains make really short chain stays difficult, as a bigger chainring is located closer to the centerline of the bike than is the case with double or triple cranksets, so the ring is right where you need to weld the chain stay to the bottom bracket. Trek solved this by using a mid-stay on the Stache, mounted well above the bottom bracket. Specialized decided to keep the chain stay in its traditional location but to remove material as needed. They came up with this:

img_5711

The Fuse feels pretty darn small. I did some poking around various geometry charts and discovered that almost all of the short feeling can be attributed to the 45mm stock stem. So, yes, it does feel short, but I got used to it very quickly.

Comparing it to the Stache is pretty interesting. The Fuse feels more punchy than the Stache, probably because the wheel/tire combo of the Fuse is lighter. Steering might be a tad quicker than the Stache for the same gyroscopic reasons. Both bikes are pretty heavy compared to cross-country hardtails. This Fuse and our 19.5″ Stache 5 both weigh within spitting distance of 30 pounds. The Fuse feels more like the bike you have now. In fact, I compare it very favorably to my Kona Big Unit. The Stache is something else. You can roll over anything with a Stache. It’s jumpier than a Fuse… or just about anything else.

img_5690

If you want the “fastest” possible hardtail, I’m not sure you want one of these. They’re a bit heavier. They steer a bit more slowly. They have more front suspension travel. That said, they’re super fun and super capable. The additional traction is HUGE fun, and the willingness of the bikes to hit technical trail is exciting and, at times, the most reassuring thing in the world.

It’s kind of a shame that you can’t talk about Fuse qua Fuse; it has to be compared to something else, most notably the Stache. The Fuse is not the Stache. It’s a really cool bike in its own right. It has tons of character and spunk. The pudgy tires take a lot of the sting out of roots and ruts for the “you don’t need a dual-suspension bike” crowd. It goes up and down the trail really well. I found it to be a willing and able companion on a few different adventures.

Much beef is heaped upon Trek and Specialized because they’re big companies that may, at times, appear to lack soul or character or personality or whatever. I want to state very emphatically that the Fuse and the Stache have piles of charisma. They ooze personality. One of them might just be exactly what you’re looking for.

 

A Tale of Two Suspensions

I’m not sure how this dual-suspension thing started, but I can think of three contributing factors:

  1. J’Son Lechner, manager of the Romence Road shop, has been a full-suspension advocate for some time. Perhaps he affected (infected?) us.
  2. Trips to other places. Whenever we travel to meetings, dealer shows, events, etc., we often get to ride bikes, and we’re often given dual-suspension bikes to ride.
  3. Speaking very personally, the aforementioned travel exposed me to new challenges in mountain biking, and I found that I can go more places and do more things with less fear on a dual-suspension bike.

A short and non-exhaustive list of things you don’t need

  • Dual suspension
  • Front suspension
  • Disk Brakes
  • 29” Wheels
  • Carbon frame
  • Tapered headtube
  • Thru axle
  • Tubeless tires
  • A bar that wide
  • Dropper post
  • 130 mm of travel

And yet I find myself the owner of a Trek Fuel EX 9.8, my first carbon mountain bike and my first dual-suspension mountain bike. I picked this bike because it was the most fun of any bike I rode this fall and it represented something new. I almost got a Top Fuel. In fact, I was dithering about canceling my backordered Fuel EX and changing to a Top Fuel when I got notice that the Fuel had shipped. Fuel EX it is!

Let’s clarify things just a bit for the uninitiated. The Top Fuel is a cross country dual-suspension bike. It has 100mm of travel at each end, steeper (quicker) geometry and relatively light weight. The Top Fuel is made for going fast comfortably. The Fuel EX is a trail bike, designed to be something of a jack of all trades — fast enough for a cross country race, but with more travel, weight and security when going downhill or over sketchy terrain. While we live in cross country terrain, trail bikes are the go-to option for many, many mountain bikers.

With my bikes, I can’t leave well enough alone. It just isn’t possible. So I tore off the XT drivetrain and brakes and installed SRAM 1×11 and Guide brakes. I just really, really like the SRAM stuff. YMMV.

One of the downsides of a dual suspension bike is that you have twice as much suspension to dial in compared to a hardtail. Who wants to mess around with suspension setup? Almost no one. Just about every person I know would rather ride on poorly tuned suspension than spend a ride or two figuring out what all those knobs do. Trek makes this a bit easier with a nifty setup tool. The rider enters the bike model, size and the rider’s weight. The tool spits out suggested air pressure and rebound settings. I used this tool (nay, relied on this tool) to get my settings, which I found pretty good. I think I need to make a change to the rear rebound, but we were (can you believe it?) focused on riding and not on suspension tuning. Sigh.

Last night I took it out for its maiden voyage. Ryan came with me, riding the Top Fuel 9 he got last winter and upon which he completed Lumberjack earlier this summer. We weigh about the same, so both bikes work well for either of us. (Yes, it does bum me out that we hit the same number on the scale despite the fact that he’s a few inches taller than me. I take great solace in the fact that I’m considerably older. Not.)

I have a good friend thinking about a new bike, and this is what I wrote him immediately after the ride. Quite possibly I should have edited it (a lot) before sharing with a larger community.

Data points you didn’t expect to get and which might be useless.

Ryan and I rode our bikes tonight, and we switched for a little while just to see what’s what.

This is Ryan’s bike: http://trekbikes.com/us/en_US/bikes/mountain-bikes/cross-country-mountain-bikes/top-fuel/top-fuel-9/p/2138600-2017

This is my bike: http://trekbikes.com/us/en_US/bikes/mountain-bikes/trail-mountain-bikes/fuel-ex/fuel-ex-9-8-29/p/2145600-2017 (Notice how righteous my bike is! Notice it!)

My bike is between one half and one pound heavier than Ryan’s. My fork is definitely heavier. I think my wheels are heavier and I know my tires are heavier. Ryan’s bike is aluminum with 100mm of travel. My bike is delicious carbon with 130mm (!!!) of travel.

When Ryan was on his bike and I was on mine, he could (and did) drop me whenever he could put the power down. When it got technical, I could catch back up.

When I was on Ryan’s bike and he was on mine, it was a fair fight. He couldn’t drop me. Period.

What did we learn here? I think rotational weight is a big deal. A huge deal. If you want to win Iceman, get an XC dually. If you want to expand your horizons, get a trail bike. I fell into the latter camp, which is why I got what I got. That said, I was really impressed with Ryan’s (2016) bike.

I think that is all I have in this installment. Other than the fact that I’m probably in the market for lighter wheels.

So those are my thoughts after exactly 20 miles on my new bike. I like it a lot. It’s a huge amount of fun. I will make it a bit more cross country with less rotating mass. More news as I get increased time on the bike.

Stache 7 – A Guest Writer’s Experience

Darrell Greathouse, veterinarian, dad, bike dude and all around great guy, asked if he could review his new bike somewhere. I said, “Hey, why not write something and I’ll put in on our site.” Lo…

The Stache.  What a great name.  Makes me want to grow some radical facial hair named after a bike component.  Due to multiple unforseen illnesses to my current steed (a 29’er hardtail) I decided to test ride, then pulled the trigger on a 2017 Trek Stache 7.  I picked it up Friday, then rode 40 miles over two days on my two favorite local trails.  I could go into a long review, pros and cons, etc. Yes it is heavy.  But it doesn’t seem like it.  Yes it take some effort to get to full speed.  But when it does, it simply rolls.  On and on.  But let’s break it down to this.  Mountain biking is about having fun.  And the Stache is fun.  It rolls over rooty climbs and doesn’t lose traction.  I can corner and descend with confidence I never had on my 29’er.  And that, my friends, translates into more fun on the trail.  I don’t know if I will be faster at Iceman on that bike.  But I know I will cross the finish line with a grin.  Do I need anything more?

 

Silent Running

People regularly ask me, “Which is the best one?” And I regularly dodge the question. But I was riding today when a recurring thought hit me, “This might be it. This might be the best bicycle I’ve ever owned.”

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What is it?

This is a 2016 Specialized S-Works Tarmac frame that I built up with things that I’ve loved in the past and/or have always wanted to try.

S-Works is the name Specialized gives its fanciest stuff. I picked this frame because it’s purple (and a much more interesting purple than I thought when I ordered it) and because the Tarmac geometry seemed perfect. One deviation from stock is the Praxis GXP-compatible bottom bracket I installed instead of the stock ceramic BB30. I prefer the compatibility of 24mm cranks, and the Praxis unit has been very good indeed.

IMG_5473

Here comes the True Confessions part. When I first built this bike, I used a SRAM Red etap drivetrain, possibly the first one in Michigan. While etap was very cool and interesting, we never quite hit it off, so I purchased mechanical Red components to take over. This 11-speed (or 22, depending on how you count) Red is fantastic. Shifting is light, accurate and perfect every time. To date I’ve had a love/hate relationship with all 22-speed drivetrains. All of them, Shimano or SRAM, have terrific shifters, incredible rear shifting and (to my mind) really mediocre front shifting. This Red business totally changed my mind. Both front and rear shifting are fantastic.

IMG_5472

My bikes aren’t exactly garage princesses. I ride in all kinds of weather and don’t always take time to clean up my stuff when I get home. That, disposable income constraints and others are valid excuses I’ve used to avoid carbon rims for a number of years. This time around, I decided to jump into the fray with a pair of Zipp 303s. They’re really great. Stopping is a bit different than aluminum rims. It seems that the initial bite is not as sharp, but the overall available braking force is more than acceptable. Yes, I’m using the pads that came with the wheels.

IMG_5474

Other stuff includes a carbon Arione saddle, Speedplay zero pedals, some fancy aero handlebar and, perhaps notably, S-Works turbo tires and tubes that I run at 100 psi.

What makes this maybe the best bike? The fit is really good for me, and it feels very confident at all times, and maybe it’s pretty speedy, but the thing that consistently catches my attention is that it’s incredibly quiet and competent. It doesn’t squeak. It doesn’t groan at strange times. It doesn’t get upset with rough pavement. It just goes forward commensurate with input, quietly and competently. Unflappable. Thinking about it further, I’m a little surprised that a totally silent bike seems as unusual as it does. And yet it is a bit extraordinary. It’s made me think that many things must work together harmoniously to provide this terrific feeling: good bearings, tight tolerances, maybe a really good assembly (I did it myself!), but I give lots of credit to the wheels, tires and perhaps that fancy Red cassette with the rubber inserts.

So here I am, exactly where I’m not sure I wanted to be; the guy who’s getting older and slower, but with the coolest bike. I can live with it.

Bold New Treks

Like many bike companies, Trek makes three carbon road bike frames that can be easy to confuse without a program. The bikes are:

The Madone name has been in use by Trek for almost a decade, the bike it describes has changed quite a lot. Where the Madone (named for a big old mountain pass on which Lance (dare we speak his name?) would test his fitness before the TdF) was once Trek’s only high-performance frame, it is now Trek’s aero bike. The current incarnation of the Madone is sleek and purposeful.

Domane is Trek’s endurance bike. What’s that mean, “Endurance bike?” It means that the frame is designed to be more comfortable for long days in the saddle. This is done in two ways. One is to make the frame less vertically stiff, so road imperfections aren’t passed directly to the rider. The other is to give the frame a more relaxed geometry, with longer chain stays, a shorter top tube and a longer head tube.

Emonda is Trek’s lightweight bike. The Madone and the Emonda share the same geometry, which most of us would call, “Normal road bike.” Whereas the Madone is made to be very slippery and cheat the wind, the Emonda is light and lithe.

So. There we are. Trek came out with this new Madone late last summer and are releasing a fancy update to the Domane today. In an effort to give its dealers a better understanding of the differences between the bikes through hands-on impressions, Trek brought a few Madones and Domanes to Kalamazoo yesterday and allowed us to ride ’em for a bit.

Domane SLR

Lord Vader, your bicycle awaits.
Lord Vader, your bicycle awaits. Also: let’s not talk about the sheep.

Trek’s interesting IsoSpeed Decoupler first appeared on the Domane a few years ago. In short words, the decoupler allows the seat tube greater flexion, thus smoothing out the ride on the back end of the bike (and the rider’s personal back end). If a complaint was leveled against the Domane, it was that the rear of the bike was considerably more compliant than the front.

Enter the front IsoSpeed Decoupler. Trek took the technology used at the rear of the bike and applied it to the front, allowing the fork’s steer tube to flex and absorb shock and vibration.

And, hey, while we’re doing the front IsoSpeed Decoupler, why not update the rear? The Domane SLR now sports a tunable decoupler at the rear. Without a lot of work, the amount of flex at the seat tube can be modified significantly to suit your individual taste. Pretty fancy.

Alongside all of this decoupling is the trend toward wider tires, which the new Domane supports nicely. The rim-brake bike will take a 28 without problem while the disk brake bike comes with 35mm wide tires. And this brings up an interesting factoid that maybe everyone already knows: disk brake bikes are heavier. We talked with the guy from Trek about weight, and learned that the rim brake Domane (the SLR 6, to be precise) weighs somewhere in the mid-15s while the disk brake version is “a little less than 20.” There’s a lot of stuff in that weight difference: the brakes, the rotors, the shifters, the bigger tires, the bigger tubes, the maybe beefier frame to support disk brakes, the likewise maybe beefier fork.

Madone

Some folks weren't sure about the blue-green accents. But they were wrong.
Some folks weren’t sure about the blue-green accents. But they were wrong.

The aero bike field is very competitive these days. Last year Specialized and Trek got very, very serious about their aero road bikes and both released technically awesome, visually striking, extremely aerodynamic bikes.

For 2016, Trek committed to making the Madone extremely aerodynamic without giving up a comfortable ride. How? Yep, IsoSpeed Decoupler. It’s a pretty nifty trick on the Madone: a compliant seat tube inside an aerodynamic seat tube. It works well enough that the Madone boasts the same amount of vertical compliance as the non-aero Emonda (please see program above if all of these names with the same letters has become confusing).

Like Specialized’s Venge, the Madone keeps all of the cable out of sight. Fantastic for aerodynamics. I predict that it’s pretty awful for changing the front bar position. Still: very neat.

Riding the bikes

I rode two bikes, the Domane SLR disk and the Madone.

The Domane was up first, and it felt really nice. Ultegra drivetrain. Big tires. Hydraulic disk brakes. All the goodies. We rode into the wind, up and down rolling hills and, finally, a flat stretch with the wind at our backs. This is a very nice $5500 bike.

It was when I hopped on the Madone that I realized how plush the Domane felt. The Madone felt more immediate, stiffer and, well, more buzzy through the bars. This is not to say that the Madone was particularly harsh, because it isn’t. It’s just that the Domane is really smooth without being vague.

Charlie’s goal is to hang with (or, even better, lead) the speedy dudes on group rides. While he enjoyed riding the Domane, his heart belongs to the Madone. I told J’son that I preferred the riding position on the Madone, but that I might be singing a different song after 60 miles. Matt J. called the Domane “The Velvet Fog,” which got a few laughs. On a more serious note, he thought the disk brake Domane with big tires could be a fantastic gravel bike or a bike you can ride with no worry about road conditions.

We talk to a lot of people who are looking for The One Bike. Depending on your criteria, the Domane could do the One Bike trick. It could be your road bike. It could be your gravel bike. In a pinch it could be your cross bike. It cuts a pretty broad swath. The Madone, on the other hand, is an extremely purpose-built machine. It’s the One Bike for going really fast.

Both of these bikes are at the leading edge of technology, and they are not inexpensive. At $5500 for the Domane and $6000 for the Madone, these things represent a pretty darn sizable investment for just about anyone. At the same time, these are bikes that you couldn’t buy five years ago or two years ago or even twelve months ago. Maybe the technologies represented with the bikes will become commonplace and less expensive. For now, however, these things are unique and expensive and, fortunately, very very real.

Demystifying Mountain Bikes

This whatever-it-is is about options. You, discerning mountain biker, have a lot of choices.

The genesis of this jumble is my wife, a reluctant mountain biker if ever there was one. I bought her a really cool race bike many years ago, but she never got into it, largely because she thought both the bike and the sport were trying to kill her. Ever so slowly, as I started to ride more and more bikes, it occurred to me that my wife’s bike was waaaaaay too racy for her: too quick in the steering department and perhaps too aggressive in the riding position. Several weeks ago I built her a fat bike, and it fundamentally changed her relationship with off-road cycling. Heck, we were recently riding on a dirt road somewhere, and I looked back to see her riding without hands. Such a feat seemed beyond reality.

Against my better judgement, let’s sort out some mountain bike terminology:

  • 29er = big wheel = the same diameter as a road bike but generally wider. Increased diameter makes it easier to roll over stuff. 29ers have a bigger contact patch for greater traction.
  • 27.5 = bigger than a traditional 26” bike but smaller than a 29. Purported to be “the one diameter” by some folks, 27.5 has pretty much forced 26” bikes (with two exceptions; hold on) out of the market.
  • Fat bikes incorporate a tire not less than 3.7” wide, or at least that’s the low limit for most races. Fat bikes are traditionally built on 26” rims, but 27.5” rims are happening. The vast majority of fat bikes are rigid at both ends, but suspension is an option.
  • Plus bikes are relatively new things with tires 3” wide. Popular rims for plus bikes are 27.5” and 29” in diameter.

 

And now for a quick decoder ring on mountain bike geometry lingo:

  • Cross Country or XC bikes are light and fast. Steering is generally pretty quick. Suspension can go from zero to not terribly much, like 100mm (4”) of travel. Cross country is what most folks call our trails around here — lots of curves, not too much extended climbing or descending.
  • Trail and/or All Mountain bikes are generally a little more relaxed in the steering department than an XC bike. They’ll have another inch or so of travel and will weigh a bit more, dollar for dollar. Most companies include Fat and Plus bikes in their Trail bike lineup.
  • Enduro is probably next, and the emphasis definitely turns toward downhill riding and jump-ability. Enduro bikes are relatively heavy for these parts and typically have a pretty large amount of travel.
  • Last there are Downhill or Gravity bikes. I’ve seen exactly one honest-to-goodness downhill bike in Kalamazoo, owned by a customer who wanted to ride steep stuff out west. It seems odd to a midwesterner that a bike can cost $5,000 and still weigh about 40 lbs., but such is the stuff of downhill.

 

Back to the point of all this: many are the options. The advances of modern bikes are pretty darn great. Dang near every change in tire dimension has given mountain bikes a little more traction and made ‘em a little less nervous. Click here to find all the uses. The big meats on fat bikes are amazing, and the plus bikes strike a nice compromise between traction and weight. Geometry differences between a full-on XC race bike and a trail bike can have a massive effect on rider confidence.

And that’s what it’s all about, right? Fun. Zooming around the woods with friends. If you’ve thought that mountain biking was just not for you, I’d encourage you to give it another try on one of these new-fangled things. You might find something you like.

In the Wild

Jake in repose
Jake in repose

 

Hidden in the concord grape arbors on the outskirts of town we spotted a member of the species Jakus Superificus, more commonly known by its genus: Carbon Jake. A beautiful animal, Carbon Jake is lithe and powerful, ready to mow down miles on the road, take on the grit of a gravel ride or serve up punishment on a cyclocross course.

What will this Carbon Jake do when it springs from the arbor on a beautiful late summer day? No one can say for sure. The only certainty is that we love Carbon Jake. It’s the animal we want to be.

Ladies Specific

Women are some of our favorite customers. We think everybody should ride a bike — or at least have the opportunity to ride a bike — regardless of they way they’re plumbed or whatnot. Many (all?) forward-thinking bike companies have embraced female riders to one extent or another. Speaking as a person who spends a lot of time making sure people are on bikes that fit, I think some femme bikes hit the spot very nicely, while others just muddy the water.

Warning: my number one proofreader says that this article is dry as toast and that it would be OK to skip to the bottom.

Generally speaking, fit becomes more critical as a person occupies a single position on a bike for longer periods of time. For instance, triathletes and time trialists get into an aero position and don’t move around much. Mountain bikers, on the other hand, are often bucked out of the saddle or are otherwise moving about to put English into the bike. Triathlon bikes are extremely fit intensive, while mountain and cross are perhaps less so. This is not to say that you can’t get it completely wrong, only that fit tends to be a little bit less fussy. The things that matter a lot in bike fit are the frame and those parts that we refer to as the “touch points,” primarily the saddle and bars.

Touch points are easy for us. We stock terrific ladies saddles. We stock lots of handlebars. These are easy changes provided the geometry of the frame works… and we’re pretty good at figuring out the proper frame size.

Lately we’ve had discussion about ladies’ bikes, specifically ladies cross bikes. More specifically a lady said that she might be more inclined to purchase a ladies-specific cross bike, which is something that Pedal does not carry. So I did what nerds do; I started looking at geometery charts and putting data in a spreadsheet and the next thing you know, I had a scatter plot.

This chart may require a little bit of unpacking for those not used to modern bike geometry terminology. I use two dimensions to clarify the fit — not the handling characteristics, just the fit — of a bike, stack and reach. Stack and Reach are the Y and X coordinates of the top of the head tube with respect to the bottom bracket. Here’s a terrible picture that might illustrate these numbers.

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 8.53.17 PM

The two crossing yellow lines represent the center of the bottom bracket of this bike. The intersection of the two magenta (?) lines represents the center of the top of the head tube. So: the distance between the horizontal yellow line and the horizontal magenta line is this bike’s Stack. The distance between the vertical yellow line and the vertical magenta line is this bike’s Reach. For the sake of completeness, this bike has a Reach of 421mm and a Stack of 630mm.

While I was doing an interview for one of the top biker dating sites around on ladies cross bikes, the cross bikes I examined included some that we sell and one in particular that we don’t. Since we’re talking ladies cross bikes, I looked at the smaller end of the scale. Frankly, this has been the historical challenge — getting a woman under about 5’5” on a cross bike in an appropriate, comfortable position.

Here’s the data. Each bike occupies two columns of data. Reach data is under the bike’s name and stack data is labeled to the immediate right. Rows represent different sizes. A sense of perspective is also important. Note that the difference in reach between the shortest bike (the smallest Dolce) and the longest (the largest Brava) is 23mm, just under an inch.

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 8.50.58 PM

What are these bikes? The Dolce is the Dolce Evo, the ladies version of the Specialized Diverge, which is more of a gravel bike or a bigger-tired road bike than a cross bike, but it is appropriate for many of our customers. The Jake is Kona’s cross bike, with which we have had great success fitting petite women. The Liv Brava is a ladies-specific cross bike, and is basically the bike that spawned this research. The Crux is Specialized’s cross bike.

Here’s the graph:

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 8.51.13 PM

OK. Beautiful chart! What does it mean? The small Crux is very appropriate for small ladies. The reach is quite short (shorter still than the ladies-specific Liv Brava) and the stack is just fine. Our traditional go-to bike for petite ladies, the Jake, also has a very short reach, but is a bit taller than the smallest Brava. The Dolce Evo, while not technically a cross bike, has a very short reach coupled with a very low stack height. This bike might be perfect for a petite lady looking for a more aggressive position.

Stack and reach data suggests that the ladies-specific frame is very similar to the “unisex” frames from Kona and Specialized. Add a ladies-specific saddle (and BOY are companies spending a lot of money trying go get that right) and perhaps a narrower bar to a Jake or Crux, and I’d contend that the result would be every bit as compelling as the ladies-specific cross bike.

Some folks would like to say, “It’s ladies-specific, so it’s better!” Others might like to say that it doesn’t matter. Both are at least partially correct, at least as far as this selection of cross bikes goes. The ladies-specific cross bike is nice, but there’s nothing intrinsic to the fit that cannot be accomplished with other unisex frames. That said, touch points are important, and the addition of a ladies saddle and an appropriate-width bar can make the difference between pleasure and pain.

New Bike! New Bike!

A thing, but not the most important thing, that I like about my new bike is that the colors and graphics remind me of the 80s, when I was young and had flowing locks of hair. I know. Hard to believe.

bike

When I was a young corporate stooge (not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, there is a lot good with that.) I took a class called “Consulting Skills,” the main thrust of which concerned hidden agendas, the situation in which normal people say they want one (typically business-oriented) thing but have other goals, typically of a more personal nature. The idea was that if you could spot your client’s hidden agenda, it might make negotiations quite a bit easier. Or at least make your client seem less crazy.

I went on my dealer trips with a small hidden agenda: find out what dual-suspension mountain bike I would purchase. When all the dust and jet lag cleared, I bought a Trek Stache because I had more fun on it than any other bike I rode. Faster? I dunno. Funner? Yes. We’ll talk about what that means.

My bike arrived on Wednesday, and I had it built in time to ride it all over my yard and make my dog crazy. Here, where I live, the bike seemed like it might be as much fun as I remembered, but it’s hard to be sure when you’re just riding it around the yard, aggravating the dog.

Last Sunday I went to Custer and tried it out. Fun. Fun on a sesame seed bun. This is what I liked:

  • Traction like crazy. Unreal traction. Traction going uphill over roots and rocks. Traction when you need to Stop Right Now. Traction in the corners to the extent that I need to rethink how I use the brakes.
  • Speaking of brakes, XT brakes and rotors. Dang.
  • Frisky. I jumped things I cannot normally jump. I laughed and laughed and one time scared myself pretty thoroughly. Then I laughed again.
  • The sand factor. This is different from traction. This is floating over the sand. This is actually being able to steer in deep sand. The good news is that it’s very confidence inspiring. The bad news is that it does not help me prepare to ride a cyclocross bike through sand.
  • Neat fork. I set the fork up based on the supplied information (which, hey!, how often does a fork company actually include some thoughts about how to set the dang thing up? Not often enough, in this man’s opinion.). I didn’t quite use all the travel, so I probably need to make some small changes, but it has a very nice balance of plushness when you smack something, without too much squish when going uphill. I cannot understand why Manitou went against the red=rebound/blue=compression standard for their knobs. Maybe I’ll make some calls and find out and maybe someone will be interested.
  • Tubeless. The shop experienced great success with Sun Ringle’s Mule Fut fat bike rim, and these are the same but narrower. They seem pretty light, and the stock Chupacabra tires were easy to set up.

 

The dropper post is cool, but for me, around here, it’s a pretty meh feature. I totally impressed my wife, child and dog by demonstrating it in the garage. At Custer, well, I never used it. It’s plenty easy to get your butt behind the saddle if needed, and I just don’t think we have crazy downhills that merit a dropper post. I’ll probably swap it out.

At an advertised price of $3700, this is not an inexpensive hard tail. Oh it has nice things: a v. nice 1×11 drivetrain, the aforementioned XT brakes, DT Swiss 350 hubs, dropper post and more, but that’s still a lot of money. The Stache 7 looses the dropper post and goes down a click on drivetrain, brakes and fork, but knocks $1200 off the price tag in the process. That might be a better answer for some folks. Or if you prefer your bike without suspension (something not unpleasant with these big tires), the rigid Stache 5 looks like a really good deal.

I confess that I experienced a small bout of buyer’s remorse immediately after I signed on the dotted line. What if I was just having my best day ever at the demo and this bike isn’t all that? What if I don’t find this appreciably different from my 29er? What if I burned up my dual-suspension bike fund on a lark? Those thoughts are now distant in the rear-view mirror. This bike is fun. Fun, fun, fun.

lotsofadjustments
Many Adjustments

goesto11
A Cog for Every Season

boost
Nice hubs. Boost makes 29ers as laterally stiff as a 27.5. Nice.

friend
Take a friend mountain biking.

Demos Across the Nation

We’ve been all over the place recently, meeting with vendors and riding bikes. I love writing about this sort of thing and thought I’d share my experiences of the bikes I rode.

Specialized Tarmac Disk: This was a super nice road race bike with all the fixins: Ultegra drivetrain, Ultegra hydraulic brakes, carbon clinchers. Very nice . The really great road bike feeling you love combined with the oh so strong and predictable strength of Shimano’s great road hydraulic brakes. This bike is physical proof that I way underestimated the speed with which we’d be presented very nice road bikes. And it’s just a great bike. Super ride. Great handling. The whole package.

Specialized Venge ViAS: One of the two new aero road wonderbikes of late. This thing is really cool. I didn’t have a speedometer when I rode the bike, nor did I ride with other people who might say things like, “Dude! You’re so fast!” so I cannot say that it transformed me from dud to stud. It was neat to ride a bike and see zero cables. The brakes were more than acceptable. Di2 is always fun. I confess that I am not super-obsessed with going as fast as possible, but I can say that I felt like nothing was compromised with this bike. It was no less comfortable than the Tarmac, and I think that’s quite a statement to make about a very aerodynamic bike.

Specialized Diverge: I loved this bike. Fatter tires and a compliant frame make for a really great ride. The bike I rode had hydraulic Red shifters, and though I love SRAM drivetrains, I’m not a monstrous fan of the hydro road shifters. I think they look strange, and I don’t care for the ergonomics. So there. Everything else was super great. It was a 1 x 11 drivetrain, and going up super-steep hills (of which there are a few in that part of the world) required a non-zero amount of fortitude. I rode it up hills. I rode it down hills. I rode it on pavement. I rode it on dirt roads. I smiled a lot. This is a very good bike, one that I think might be perfect for our (cough) imperfect (cough) Michigan roads.

I rode three mountain bikes while I was in California. The ride went like this: You ride straight up for a while on a switchback trail. Then you ride down a switchback trail strewn with good-sized (like a volleyball, maybe?) rocks. The hairpin turns on the switchbacks were a tad dusty/sandy, and the drop off was significant for a flatlander like me. I was out of my element. My guides did a good job of instruction, but my personal pucker-factor was high. This is no doubt worth knowing as I describe my experiences.

Specialized Camber 29er. Nice bike. This is pretty much the bike I rode in North Carolina last fall, and I liked it quite a lot. “Do not slow down,” was suggested. “Stay on top of the rocks. If you slow down and get in amongst them, it’ll be bad.” The Camber is plenty predictable and an all-around cool bike. It’s less intense/quick than an Epic, but with 20% more travel (120mm) at each end. Very nice. I was probably too freaked to do it justice, and by “probably” I mean “certainly.”

Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 650B. Holy smokes. Fat tires. Lots of travel. What a crazy bike. This is exactly what I needed to chase some of the fears away. I had a great time on this bike and kinda wish we had need for something like it around these parts. Make no mistake: I was still not fast. But I wasn’t thinking about purchasing additional life insurance, either.

Specialized Fuze 6Fattie. Despite the rather curious name, this thing was great. I confess that I didn’t ride it down some of the sketchier hills, but I had a super-fun time. It got me thinking again that this whole plus-sized thing might be something cool.

I rode three mountain bikes on Trek’s trails in Wisconsin. Trek’s trails are something else, something that you might expect to ride in heaven. Kinda flow-y like Merrell. Kinda intense like the dump. Kinda curvy like Custer. These trails were a lot more like like we have around here, and my comfort level was significantly higher than it was in California.

Trek Top Fuel. Trek’s new dual-suspension race bike was a very hot ticket during the demo period. This was the first bike I rode, and I was impressed by two things. It felt very comfortable and exceedingly fast — as though it had the efficiency and weight of a hard-tail. The Top Fuel also has very quick steering. I honestly did not know that a dual-suspension bike could feel like this. I also honestly know that this is too much bike for me. If my mind wandered during a ride (which has happened more than once), this thing would throw me on the ground and take my lunch money. Very fun, but realistically too hard-edged for a wannabe like me.

Trek Fuel EX 29. More travel than the TopFuel with a little slacker head tube and burlier tires and wheels. Fun. It didn’t feel as roaringly fast and quick as the Top Fuel, but it also felt like it my buddy and not some wild animal I was trying to tame, not unlike the comparison between Specialized’s Epic and Camber. I had a great time on this bike and was singing wonderful songs to myself the whole time I rode it.

Trek Stache. I’d intended to ride the new Madone and contrast it with the Venge, but lots of people were practically chanting, “Stache. Stache. Stache.” So I had to try it out. What a crazy bike. 29×3” tires with a 110mm fork. The way it worked at the Trek demo was this: you’d grab the bike you wanted. A Trek guy would install your pedals and get the seat height figured out, then you’d cruise down to the tent of the appropriate suspension company and get everything dialed. So I’m getting the Manitou fork adjusted and the tech dude (from Michigan!) said, “This is actually a pretty rowdy bike, very playful.” Rowdy? Hmmm. Turns out that I like rowdy. This thing was an absolute hoot. I am a man who prefers to be planted on terra firma. I’m talking both wheels on the ground. And yet I was trying to jump this thing. And then I was trying and succeeding. And then I’m riding the Stache on some of the features that I’d opted against on the other two bikes. I got back to the Trek tent and asked, “What is this thing? I was absolutely riding stuff that I cannot ride.” The Trek guy said, “Yeah. The Stache absolutely levels you up one.” I’m going to be honest: I kinda went to these demos to figure out what dual-suspension mountain bike to purchase for myself. And now I’m thinking a whole lot about the Stache.

And that’s what I know. I wanted to get these thoughts down before they fade, and I’ll see if I can collect a bit of commentary from my cohorts at the Trek demo and from Ryan, who went to Bellingham to ride Konas.

Demos Across the Nation

We’ve been all over the place recently, meeting with vendors and riding bikes. I love writing about this sort of thing and thought I’d share my experiences of the bikes I rode.

Specialized Tarmac Disk: This was a super nice road race bike with all the fixins: Ultegra drivetrain, Ultegra hydraulic brakes, carbon clinchers. Very nice . The really great road bike feeling you love combined with the oh so strong and predictable strength of Shimano’s great road hydraulic brakes. This bike is physical proof that I way underestimated the speed with which we’d be presented very nice road bikes. And it’s just a great bike. Super ride. Great handling. The whole package.

Specialized Venge ViAS: One of the two new aero road wonderbikes of late. This thing is really cool. I didn’t have a speedometer when I rode the bike, nor did I ride with other people who might say things like, “Dude! You’re so fast!” so I cannot say that it transformed me from dud to stud. It was neat to ride a bike and see zero cables. The brakes were more than acceptable. Di2 is always fun. I confess that I am not super-obsessed with going as fast as possible, but I can say that I felt like nothing was compromised with this bike. It was no less comfortable than the Tarmac, and I think that’s quite a statement to make about a very aerodynamic bike.

Specialized Diverge: I loved this bike. Fatter tires and a compliant frame make for a really great ride. The bike I rode had hydraulic Red shifters, and though I love SRAM drivetrains, I’m not a monstrous fan of the hydro road shifters. I think they look strange, and I don’t care for the ergonomics. So there. Everything else was super great. It was a 1 x 11 drivetrain, and going up super-steep hills (of which there are a few in that part of the world) required a non-zero amount of fortitude. I rode it up hills. I rode it down hills. I rode it on pavement. I rode it on dirt roads. I smiled a lot. This is a very good bike, one that I think might be perfect for our (cough) imperfect (cough) Michigan roads.

I rode three mountain bikes while I was in California. The ride went like this: You ride straight up for a while on a switchback trail. Then you ride down a switchback trail strewn with good-sized (like a volleyball, maybe?) rocks. The hairpin turns on the switchbacks were a tad dusty/sandy, and the drop off was significant for a flatlander like me. I was out of my element. My guides did a good job of instruction, but my personal pucker-factor was high. This is no doubt worth knowing as I describe my experiences.

Specialized Camber 29er. Nice bike. This is pretty much the bike I rode in North Carolina last fall, and I liked it quite a lot. “Do not slow down,” was suggested. “Stay on top of the rocks. If you slow down and get in amongst them, it’ll be bad.” The Camber is plenty predictable and an all-around cool bike. It’s less intense/quick than an Epic, but with 20% more travel (120mm) at each end. Very nice. I was probably too freaked to do it justice, and by “probably” I mean “certainly.”

Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 650B. Holy smokes. Fat tires. Lots of travel. What a crazy bike. This is exactly what I needed to chase some of the fears away. I had a great time on this bike and kinda wish we had need for something like it around these parts. Make no mistake: I was still not fast. But I wasn’t thinking about purchasing additional life insurance, either.

Specialized Fuze 6Fattie. Despite the rather curious name, this thing was great. I confess that I didn’t ride it down some of the sketchier hills, but I had a super-fun time. It got me thinking again that this whole plus-sized thing might be something cool.

I rode three mountain bikes on Trek’s trails in Wisconsin. Trek’s trails are something else, something that you might expect to ride in heaven. Kinda flow-y like Merrell. Kinda intense like the dump. Kinda curvy like Custer. These trails were a lot more like like we have around here, and my comfort level was significantly higher than it was in California.

Trek Top Fuel. Trek’s new dual-suspension race bike was a very hot ticket during the demo period. This was the first bike I rode, and I was impressed by two things. It felt very comfortable and exceedingly fast — as though it had the efficiency and weight of a hard-tail. The Top Fuel also has very quick steering. I honestly did not know that a dual-suspension bike could feel like this. I also honestly know that this is too much bike for me. If my mind wandered during a ride (which has happened more than once), this thing would throw me on the ground and take my lunch money. Very fun, but realistically too hard-edged for a wannabe like me.

Trek Fuel EX 29. More travel than the TopFuel with a little slacker head tube and burlier tires and wheels. Fun. It didn’t feel as roaringly fast and quick as the Top Fuel, but it also felt like it my buddy and not some wild animal I was trying to tame, not unlike the comparison between Specialized’s Epic and Camber. I had a great time on this bike and was singing wonderful songs to myself the whole time I rode it.

Trek Stache. I’d intended to ride the new Madone and contrast it with the Venge, but lots of people were practically chanting, “Stache. Stache. Stache.” So I had to try it out. What a crazy bike. 29×3” tires with a 110mm fork. The way it worked at the Trek demo was this: you’d grab the bike you wanted. A Trek guy would install your pedals and get the seat height figured out, then you’d cruise down to the tent of the appropriate suspension company and get everything dialed. So I’m getting the Manitou fork adjusted and the tech dude (from Michigan!) said, “This is actually a pretty rowdy bike, very playful.” Rowdy? Hmmm. Turns out that I like rowdy. This thing was an absolute hoot. I am a man who prefers to be planted on terra firma. I’m talking both wheels on the ground. And yet I was trying to jump this thing. And then I was trying and succeeding. And then I’m riding the Stache on some of the features that I’d opted against on the other two bikes. I got back to the Trek tent and asked, “What is this thing? I was absolutely riding stuff that I cannot ride.” The Trek guy said, “Yeah. The Stache absolutely levels you up one.” I’m going to be honest: I kinda went to these demos to figure out what dual-suspension mountain bike to purchase for myself. And now I’m thinking a whole lot about the Stache.

And that’s what I know. I wanted to get these thoughts down before they fade, and I’ll see if I can collect a bit of commentary from my cohorts at the Trek demo and from Ryan, who went to Bellingham to ride Konas.

Big Red S

What should I be doing? Either writing the Bicyclical or packing to go home. What am I doing? Sitting in a sushi restaurant trying to remember the salient points of my visit to Specialized.

I rode a few bikes: a Tarmac disk (yum), the new Venge ViAS (so fast), a very nice Diverge, a 29” Camber, a 6Fattie Stumpjumper and a Fuse. I think the Diverge is and will continue to be a marvelous bike for Michigan. I also think the 6Fat (which is terminology for a 3” wide 650b/27.5” tire) is a glimpse into the future — rollover is almost identical to a 29er, but with increased grip and passive suspension from the wider tires.

Specialized does a lot of things. I toured the very impressive water bottle printing facility. I toured their very impressive and full nerd wind tunnel. I managed a brief tour of their clothing lab, in which they can pattern, sew, test and repair prototype clothing. Interesting fact: mens and ladies clothing is prototyped to a medium (a perfect medium, said the head of the department). When that medium pattern is finalized, it is then scaled up and down from XS to XXL.

The last item on my trip was a tour of Specialized’s test lab in which they test the heck out of many things, though the primary fixtures are set up to bike frames and wheels for impact and cyclic fatigue. An insidious problem in the industry these days is counterfeit frames — frames that look, perhaps exactly, like the real deal, but aren’t. Our host showed us a counterfeit S-Works Tarmac frame, which looked and felt like one might expect. Then he handed us a real frame, which weighed easily half to a third as much as the phony. Crazy.

Good trip. Impressive company. Super fun products.

Big Red S

What should I be doing? Either writing the Bicyclical or packing to go home. What am I doing? Sitting in a sushi restaurant trying to remember the salient points of my visit to Specialized.

I rode a few bikes: a Tarmac disk (yum), the new Venge ViAS (so fast), a very nice Diverge, a 29” Camber, a 6Fattie Stumpjumper and a Fuse. I think the Diverge is and will continue to be a marvelous bike for Michigan. I also think the 6Fat (which is terminology for a 3” wide 650b/27.5” tire) is a glimpse into the future — rollover is almost identical to a 29er, but with increased grip and passive suspension from the wider tires.

Specialized does a lot of things. I toured the very impressive water bottle printing facility. I toured their very impressive and full nerd wind tunnel. I managed a brief tour of their clothing lab, in which they can pattern, sew, test and repair prototype clothing. Interesting fact: mens and ladies clothing is prototyped to a medium (a perfect medium, said the head of the department). When that medium pattern is finalized, it is then scaled up and down from XS to XXL.

The last item on my trip was a tour of Specialized’s test lab in which they test the heck out of many things, though the primary fixtures are set up to bike frames and wheels for impact and cyclic fatigue. An insidious problem in the industry these days is counterfeit frames — frames that look, perhaps exactly, like the real deal, but aren’t. Our host showed us a counterfeit S-Works Tarmac frame, which looked and felt like one might expect. Then he handed us a real frame, which weighed easily half to a third as much as the phony. Crazy.

Good trip. Impressive company. Super fun products.

Cool Around the Shop

We’ve had some interesting Konas in the shop recently and managed to take a few typically blurry pictures.

First up is a customer’s Hei Hei Deluxe. Carbon frame. Carbon rear triangle. Fox CTD suspension. 120mm of travel up front, 100mm out back. Tubeless rims and tires. SLX drivetrain. This is a splendid bike, one that I try to snag when I’m at Kona’s HQ each year. This is a very confidence-inspiring, capable bike. Mucho fun.

IMG_3596
Fantastic graphics this year.

IMG_3598
Carbon rear triangle. Tubeless ready.

IMG_3599
Fox shock and geometry data.

IMG_3600
Swoopy carbon. Good colors.

IMG_3601
View from the front.

Next up is a Big Unit, Kona’s aluminum 29er hard tail frame set. Nice bits include a SRAM X1 drivetrain, Reba fork, Roam 40 wheels, Syncros cockpit and Maxxis tires. Very nice.

IMG_3602
Very black bike.

IMG_3603
Kona’s digging the decal on the down tube this year. The chrome on black works really well to these eyes, eyes that belong to a human that wore a KISS t-shirt is sixth grade.

IMG_3604
X1 isn’t as light as its brothers, but it’s more black! And more affordable. Nice stuff, for sure. Also note sliding dropouts for single-speeding.

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SRAM Roam wheels are quite nice. The 30 pictured here is UST compatible.

The Kapu caught my eye immediately. Reynolds 853 frame. Wonderful paint. Steel fork. 700×28 tires. It’s not as oddly light as the Eclipse was, but a steel frame with fatter tires sure makes sense for our frost-heaved roads.

IMG_3608
Classic look. Terrific graphics.

 

IMG_3612
View from the front. Note the wider tire and 853 sticker.

IMG_3611
105 drivetrain. Mavic wheels.

IMG_3610
Very attractive steel fork.

Fluffy

Right around Thanksgiving we brought in a new fat bike from KHS, largely because it looked like Kona might have underestimated demand for the 2015 Wo. Things we like about the KHS 3000 include:

  • The price: $2200.
  • The spec: 2×10 SRAM drivetrain with hydraulic brakes
  • The bigness: 100mm wide rims and 4.8″ tires

fatty

People come into the shop, see a fat bike and ask, “What are these things for?” They’re for anything. Snow. Sand. A quick trip to the bank. I like the way KHS calls their fat bikes Four Season Bikes. You can do everything you’ve always done on a bike (perhaps more slowly, perhaps with more panache) plus ride in deep snow in the winter and sand in the summer.

fourseason

Watching fat bikes evolve over the last few years has been interesting. Gone (one can only hope) are the days of trying to make a cobbled-together frame/drivetrain/fat tire combo work acceptably. Now we have symmetrical frames, lots of cogs in the back and really wide bottom brackets and rear hub spacing, all of which combine to make the whole bike more refined and functionally better.

rdbigrim

A rather recent development is the tubeless fat bike rim. Removing the big tube from a fat bike wheel/tire combo saves you about a pound of rotating mass — per wheel. That’s a big deal. We tried to make the KHS tubeless, but the stock rim just isn’t designed for such a thing; it would burp a little sealant every time we rode it with vigor. We could probably make it work, but doing so represents a return of the kludgy fat bike and would likely negate the weight savings we sought. All of this brings out the double-edged sword of fat bike tubeless: the tubeless ready rim that allows you to save weight also makes it very difficult (sometimes hugely difficult) to remove the tire from the rim.

trunk

On a lark I decided to race the KHS 3000 last Saturday at Ft. Custer for the first race of the 2015 Michigan Fat Bike Series. I quickly discovered that the bike will, in fact, fit in the back of a modern hatchback/dogmobile. Barely. Race day morning I installed pedals, guessed at the saddle height and put some air in the tires, enough to get the front tire to steer and to keep the rear tire from being too bouncy.

fattire

And then I’m racing a completely unfamiliar bike. What fun!

It’s like mountain biking, but different. The traction is incredible. I was constantly yelling (internally and externally) at myself to stay off the brakes. To the surprise of no one, there is a lot of inertia in those big wheels and tires. Keep ‘em spinning and things go pretty well. Let ‘em slow down (going up a hill, for instance) and you’ll pay for it later. Such is the way of things with wheels, but fat bikes exaggerate the extremes quite a lot.

I tried to talk a buddy of mine into doing the race with me. He said, “Racing fat bikes is dumb!” Though it may be kinda silly to ride a bike made for snow on frozen dirt, it sure as heck beats riding the trainer for an hour. I’m pretty anxious to try another one once the snow arrives.

A Trip to the Armory

Few would argue that Zipp is regarded as the premier brand of aerodynamic wheel. They’re *everywhere*: on many pro cyclocross bikes, many pro tour road bikes and of course the #1 brand of wheel at the Ironman Championship in Kona, year in and year out.

WH-808-CC-V2-700-SR-11S-BLK

I was recently invited to tour Zipp’s Indianapolis manufacturing facility, which is located alongside parent company SRAM’s worldwide distribution center. Also residing in this building are engineers, marketing personnel, support persons and SRAM’s dealer support people. The latter answer the phone when dealers like Pedal need assistance figuring out what might be wrong with a fork/brake/component. It’s a rather new building and looks hip and efficient inside and out. The best parts that you will get is all at auto dealership brooklyn ny.

More than one person told the story of Zipp’s inception. In 1988 Leigh Sargent saw a Mavic disc wheel, an aluminum beast that weighed about six pounds. Sargent was a race car composites fabricator and immediately built a 1400 gram wheel of carbon fiber with a Nomex honeycomb core. He took his creation to Interbike, the North American bicycle trade show, where he was told that they looked too fragile. The story I heard was that he laid one wheel flat across two chairs, stood on it for the duration of the show and talked about his wheel. Since then, Zipp has done a lot of neat things: the disk, a tri spoke front wheel, a carbon beam bike, carbon cranks and of course deep section spoked wheels.

Zipp carbon wheels are still produced in the USA. Layup occurs in Indianapolis and hubs are made in nearby Marysville. Carbon is from Hitachi, travels to California where it in impregnated with resin and then makes its way to Indy. The resin cures — sometimes quickly, sometimes over the course of days — at room temperature, so the carbon sheets are kept in a huge freezer in the factory. Many, many dollars worth of carbon are in the fridge, prepaid in cash well in advance of delivery. Can you say capital intensive?

Sheets of carbon are cut on a huge table by a computer-guided Xacto knife with a small footprint. At this point, the process forks: disks are made one way, and deep-section spoked wheels another. Zipp and SRAM would no doubt spank my bottom if I divulged too much information, but suffice to say that there is a LOT of human interaction with a carbon Zipp wheel. Layup is manual. Cleaning up the rim at various stages of the process is manual. Cleaning the molds is manual. Lacing the wheels is 100% manual. All of the quality control is manual. Hours — tens of hours — of human interaction are imbedded in each wheel. Why do they cost so much? Because the material is expensive, the human expense is high, the R&D is expensive, etc.

Every carbon Zipp wheel has interaction with “the drill bit,” which is the culmination of years and years worth of research and constant improvement. Drilling carbon is a tricky business: there’s the nasty dust, the possibility of heating the carbon matrix and ruining it, the possibility of weak, broken carbon fibers. Zipp’s fancy bit has what they call a world patent; it is Zipp’s and Zipp’s alone, and is a tool that they credit in part for their superior product. Cool stuff, and indicative of Zipp’s dedication to (I almost wrote excellence, but what a bullshit corporate-speak term “excellence” has become. Instead, I’ll say that Zipp is dedicated to) awesomeness — to really solving the heck out of a problem.

I saw the test lab and can confirm that the quality is also very high. How long must the hubs last on the fatigue machine? 60,000 miles. How high are test tires inflated? 300 psi for 30 seconds. Many are the pretty incredible tests that random wheels plucked from the line must endure. Competitors’ wheels are also tested. My hosts tactfully avoided smearing anyone, but I did learn that Zipps wheels endure quite a bit more than some others.

During the tour I saw a few wheels marked as blems and asked what happened to them (thinking, perhaps, I might have stumbled onto an inexpensive source for hightest-quality carbon wheels). Alas (for a sometime tightwad such as myself), those make up many of the wheels you see on pro tour bikes. However this blem conversation did bring up a good point. When you examine a carbon Zipp wheel, you’re looking at the carbon — not the carbon and a clear coat and certainly not carbon with a little black bondo to cover any pinholes — the real deal.

Value is such a personal assessment, the weighing of cost versus benefit. The high price of Zipp’s offerings can be off-putting, but the high price of a Mercedes-Benz or of Stihl electric chainsaws can also seem crazy to those not interested in high-end German cars or lumberjacking, respectively. I came away from my factory tour with a much greater appreciation for the hand-built nature of the product, the hight cost of materials and the technical superiority of Zipp’s wheels. In the past I always thought of Zipp’s wheels as high quality, but not a particularly good value. Now…well, now I think I could possibly see a pair of these things on one of my bikes.

The Full Cleveland

The white saddle, pedals and bar tape of this bike made me think of “style” in the leisure-suited seventies. If you’re too young to recall the period, this link might help decode the post’s title.

Every now and then someone comes into the shop and says, “Argh! You guys are terrible. You’re always showing me sweet new stuff and it’s just too much for my defenses!” Let me assure you: the exact same thing happens to us all the time. In fact, it might even be more cruel: we must (test) ride and be around cool bikes every day. (I know. Sucks to be us.)

I’ve been grinding along on a single-speed cross bike for about a year now, and recently started thinking that I should have something with gears. My thought process was that a geared bike might allow me to consider gravel rides and races that would be just too much on the uni-gear.

Thus I began looking at available cross frames. Frames? Frames. During the bizarre period in which I was without a road bike, I kinda (completely) freaked out and purchased a complete bike and a drivetrain at the same time. Not the most logical process to which I have been part, but sometimes you have to roll with it.

For pure cross bikes, it’s tough to beat the Kona Jake series. There are several schools of thought regarding “proper” cyclocross geometry, but Kona seems to have gone its own wonderful way. They aren’t set up in the traditional style (short top tube, tall head tube, high bottom bracket), nor are they road bikes with fat tires. As far as carbon cross bikes go, I like the fact that the Jakes are a bit more compliant than some. There are those who believe cross bikes should be mega-stiff in the rear triangle. I’ve owned and enjoyed such bikes, yet I remember the fist time I rode a carbon Jake and thought, “Hmmmmm. Delicious.”

superjakeSo I built this bike. It’s a Kona Super Jake frame, a Rival 22 drivetrain and a set of Stan’s Iron Cross wheels. Other semi-interesting bits are the TRP Spyre brakes, Fizik saddle, Ritchey bar, Time pedals. Slightly less than 18 lbs. as you see it. Pretty awesome.

super

The frame is deluxe. It’s very light, has a smooth ride and looks very sharp. The included fork is also full carbon and very light. Kona is very funny with the frame thing. If you buy a frame, you get a frame, not a frame and headset. Not a frame and a few doo-dads. You get a frame. A frame and fork yields two parts: frame, fork. They figure that if you’re going to build up a bike of your very own, you’ll likely be picky about the headset and seat post clamp. Are they right? I don’t know, but after building up bikes from Kona frames, at least I’m used to it. For the record, I’ve been using a Cane Creek 40 on a few bikes, and it seems like a very good blend of price and function.

spyre

Oh how I once resisted disk brakes. As a guy who owns/owned a pile of rim brake wheels, disk brakes looked like another monetary black hole. And so they are, but by now I’m used to it. Rim brake users know that the best braking happens about the first time you squeeze the lever. With disk brakes, particularly mechanical disks, braking performance actually improves over a period of time. Why do I bring this up? I dunno. PSA I guess.

Traditional mechanical disk brakes are of single piston design. This means that you pull the lever and one piston (typically on the outboard size of the bike) pushes against the brake rotor, which bends until it hits the (fixed) pad on the other side of the caliper, at which point braking starts to occur. It works, but it’s not 100% great.

For this bike I thought I’d try a dual piston brake, the TRP Spyre. In this design, pistons push from both sides of the caliper to squeeze the rotor in the middle. It’s a nice design because bending the rotor is not part of the equation, and expectations are pretty high. I went this route despite the fact that I’ve had terrific luck with Avid BB7s on other bikes. As of this writing, I don’t have enough miles on the bike to properly rate the braking quality. I hope to remedy this situation soon. Sorry for the letdown.

Rival22

Twenty-two speed drivetrain! Who can’t get fired up about that? Luddites, that’s who. For the rest of us, the future looks bright. I put Rival 22 on this bike for the following reasons:

  • I had it handy
  • I was running out of money, fast
  • I can be something of a crasher in CX and am not made out of dollar bills
  • I had it handy

I have no beef with Shimano drivetrains, but I kinda like SRAM on my CX bikes. I treat my cross bikes rather unpleasantly and tend to think that SRAM stuff holds a tune a little longer. Is this bunk? Maybe, but such is my experience.

I’m not sure that I’m 100% on board with yaw front derailleurs. Sometimes they work great with minimal setup hassles. Sometimes there are significant setup hassles. On this bike it worked pretty great from the start. Rear shifting is typical SRAM: bang, bang, bang through the gears. Very nice.

ironcross

If I have a weakness, it is for wheels. Drivetrains stir my tactile feelings. Frames are beautiful or not. However wheels make my little heart go pitter pat. You can make whatever wheels you want. You can go for super-light; you can go for super-durable. You can spend a fortune. You can spend considerably less. You can try to hit some idyllic middle ground, which is the place I typically seek.

I already own two sets of disk cross wheels: HED Ardennes +, which are almost unreal in their awesomeness, and Velocity A23s, which represent a very nice value. For this bike I thought I’d get something pretty cross oriented, but not as spendy as the HEDs. Thus I have the Stan’s Iron Cross which was developed to provide superior tubeless burp resistance, maximum strength and light weight. No, you can’t run ’em at high pressure for road tubeless, but who cares? That’s not the point of this bike.

heartKona loves cyclocross and so do I. I first rode this bike on the Barry Roubaix course with a good friend. As we rolled out I began kvetching about the fiscal questionability of building a carbon cross bike when I have a nice steel bike in the garage. “What are you talking about?” asked my friend. “This is your favorite thing.”

Yes. It is. And this promises to be an excellent companion.

 

They’re Real, and They’re Spectacular

While not exactly under the cover of a darkness, I haven’t been terribly forthcoming about the fact that I’ve been scratching an itch, an itch to which few men are prepared to admit an obsession, a problem, an addiction. I’m not necessarily proud, but nor am I ashamed about my recent infatuation with: steel bikes.

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Exhibit One, The Unit

In the late spring of this year it came to pass that I could no longer mute the siren song of a single-speed, steel mountain bike. I thought about buying a 27.5 frame, but that just didn’t make sense. We’d sold a few Kona Units, and that bike started looking really great — everything you need and nothing you don’t for a very attractive price. Let’s discuss: Reynolds 520 frame, steel fork, oversized headset so you can fit a modern suspension fork if you wish, very nice sliding dropouts that can be configured for 10×135 or 12×142 in either geared or single speed — just like on my Explosif. So I ordered one in my size, threw some tubeless tires on it and signed up for the Expert (hah!) single speed class in the Yankee Springs Time Trial.

I have a beautiful friend from a far away land who used the term “throwing my name away” to describe an evening in which she once drank too much and did foolish things. Though alcohol played no part, I threw my name away the instant I signed up for that race and backed it up the minute I hit the trail. I have many minutes of comedic material about this race, but suffice to say that I’ve never set my self up for failure — and achieved it — quite so thoroughly. And it left me wondering what the hell I’d done by purchasing a single speed steel mountain bike.

I rode it to work and back one day and really really liked it. I took it to The Dump and really, really liked it. I put hydraulic brakes on it and like it even more. It’s turned into the bike I typically haul to Mountain Bike Monday. This is a very fantastic platform.

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What’s it like? It’s neat. I had not ridden a modern rigid-front mountain bike before this, and I’m still pretty impressed by how well it works. It is (of course) much more efficient going uphill and is very confidence-inspiring going hard into corners. I think this is because the geometry doesn’t change in the corner as it does when a fork compresses, but I could be wrong. Regardless, it sticks in there very nicely. Related to the steel fork, I was pretty impressed by my sore wrists after the YSTT, but there’s a little bit more to the story. I had, like many of our customers, been over inflating my tires. I used the same pressure as my 27.5 tires, but the fat 29er front tire has much more air volume, allowing for sill lower pressure. Getting the front tire at the right pressure (close to 20 for me) took a lot of the sting out of the rigid fork.

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The rest of the bike is a hoot. I love riding it. I also spend way too much time thinking about it. Maybe I should put a suspension fork on that bike. Maybe carbon doodads. Maybe really light cool wheels. I actually had thoughts of putting an RS-1 fork on the bike with compatible wheels until I realized that I’d quickly multiply my initial investment and possibly ruin one of the things I like most about it: simplicity. I ride the bike. I smile. I wash the bike. I lube the chain. I repeat.

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It comes in purple for 2015. How’s that for a kicker? Please don’t tell my wife that I’m thinking about another one with smooth tires for a commuter.

Exhibit Two: The Eclipse

I’ve been thinking about an Eclipse for a long time. I worked with a guy a few years ago who showed up on an Eclipse frame with a fancy Campy drivetrain, and I thought, “That’s pretty cool.” I rode a Jamis steel mountain bike for a couple of years and thought, “A road bike like this would be pretty cool,” but I loved my Xenith Elite and stayed the course.

In the span of three weeks I sold both of my road bikes and found myself doing everything pavement-oriented on my (single speed) cyclocross bike, which is hardly a terribly situation, but perhaps not optimum. So I started looking at vendor availability and thinking about what I wanted and generally doing everything I could to make myself crazy. Ultimately I bought an Eclipse just to silence the voices in my head. And it’s cool. Facts: Reynolds 853 steel, carbon fork, Ritchey wheels and cockpit, Ultegra 6700 drivetrain.

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I vacillate on the bike weight thing. I think there are more important attributes to a bike than weight, but I also appreciate a svelte machine. I was curious that Jamis’s literature claimed the Eclipse weighed 17 pounds. That’s pretty light for a steel bike, and seemed perhaps a bit of marketing hyperbole. Upon arrival, I ripped my bike out of the box, put it on the scale and saw 17 lbs, 1 oz. Wow.

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Delivery of the Eclipse has forced me to admit that I have gotten sloppy with my own, personal road bike fit. There was a time when I would get a level, a ruler maybe a laser and some other fancy tools to set up each new road bike exactly like the old one. Because I was anxious to get this thing on the road, I didn’t go through that process and it’s taken me a little while to adjust my way to a good position on the bike. While every mile has been nice, the last few have been terrific. I think this is going to work out very nicely.

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I’m occasionally asked what a modern steel road bike is like. Mostly it’s like a really good modern bike regardless of material. This bike has great handling. This bike has geometry that works for me. This bike is zesty. This one is smooth like butter. Maybe (probably) it’s not as efficient as a modern carbon thingy with a huge bottom bracket, but I’m not sure I can tell. Thinking about it a bit more, I’d say this bike is almost the epitome, the acme of a road bike. It is a very tight, zippy bike that files the edges off the really, really awesome roads around these parts.

The not terrific news is that the Eclipse ended its production run. I learned this information between the time I ordered my bike and its delivery. It was not altogether shocking — the Eclipse has never been a strong seller for Jamis — but still sad. I think well done, mass produced steel bikes are a hallmark of Jamis, and the 853 bikes are just fantastic. Still, they are expensive and business is business. I cannot help but note that Kona might have recovered the Jamis fumble with the Kapu. We’ll see.

Trying to Wrap it All Up

So what do we have here? A single-speed sledgehammer of a mountain bike and a lithe little road bike. As I’ve massaged and mangled this post over the last few weeks, it occurs to me that I didn’t buy these bikes because they’re steel. I bought them because they spoke to me in some subtle way. It’s not that I don’t like carbon bikes (watch this space!), it’s just that a couple of steel bikes happened to meet the needs I had. And they’re good bikes. Really neat. Really fun.

In the end, I took two bikes that had one thing in common and tried to shoehorn them into one post with a tired Sinefeld reference. Regrettably, you might be getting what you paid for from this blog.

I Had a Blast

While visiting friends in Missoula, Montana, I very much wanted to check out the mountain bike scene. I searched the internet and found a bike shop from which to rent a bike and a weekly mountain bike group ride.

I admit that I picked the shop, Missoula Bicycle Works, because they sell Konas and might have a bike with which I had some familiarity. Sure enough, I rented a Blast, Kona’s 2014 entry-level 27.5” hard tail.

You might ask, “You’re rather used to nice stuff. Did it bother you that you rented an entry-level bike?” Good question. I’d thought that maybe they’d hook me up with a Process or a Hei Hei or a dual-suspension something, but such was not the case. I wasn’t unhappy about the Blast per se, but I did wonder if I was going to be in trouble on a hard tail. (short answer: No. Not at all.)

Blast!
Blast!

I rode the bike from the shop to my friends’ house and immediately saw that Missoula is maybe five or so years ahead of Kalamazoo in bike friendliness. Road diets have been undertaken. Bike lanes are numerous. Traffic is bike-aware. I couldn’t believe how safe and fun it was to ride through and around downtown. My buddy assured me that Missoula was recently much like Kalamazoo — multi-lane, fast moving roads with very little consideration to non-motorized traffic. This news gave me great hope for the efforts underway in my city.

A huge difference between mountain biking in Missoula and Kalamazoo is that the trailhead was a stunning 2.1 miles from my friends’ house. Google predicted that the ride would take me 23 minutes by bike, which brings me to the second major difference: significant elevation change. It was straight uphill to the trailhead.

At the trailhead I met up with very nice folks from the Thursday Night Mountain Bike Group in Missoula. I explained that I was a stranger from a very flat land and that it was OK if they had to kill and eat me if I fell behind. And up we went.

Photography makes it appear as though we are not going up a steep slope. Which we are.
Photography makes it appear as though we are not going up a steep slope. Which we are.

And up and up and up and up. It was an amazing experience to just plonk the bike into its lowest gear and follow the guy or gal in front up the hill, grinding away. The Blast was pretty interesting in this regard as it is light in the front, and I had to take care to put enough pressure on the bars to keep wheelies at bay.

While we were climbing, a lady asked me what was different about mountain biking in Michigan. I said (though how I was able to speak remains a mystery) that where I live it’s much flatter and faster. As soon as we started to descend, I ate those words. Holy cow these guys scream down the mountain. Much of what Missoula locals refer to as two track is not the improved dirt road that we experience locally. It’s two single-track rocky trails with a narrow prairie in between. Amazing. And again I will say that the Blast was a good friend. There are times when I may have questioned the judgement of going warp ten down an unfamiliar trail, but I never worried about the bike. Fun. Super mega awesome lung-busting fun.

Most of the nice folks on the ride. Those not pictured are picking huckleberries in the woods. Get this: no poison ivy.
Most of the nice folks on the ride. Those not pictured are picking huckleberries in the woods. Get this: no poison ivy.

I returned home just in time for dinner, 3.5 hours after I left. I was very tired, very hungry and filled with the good feelings of a big effort. I’d like to thank the Blast for being a great companion and the Thursday Night Mountain Bike Group for their unsurpassed hospitality.

The author attempts amateur dentistry.
The author attempts amateur dentistry.

Meet The Scott Solace 30

(Our Man Randy borrowed a Scott Solace for the Race for Wishes road race in Lawton earlier this month. I asked Randy if he’d be willing to write a few words about his experience, and here they are. – Tim)

Many of our customers here at Pedal are familiar with Scott road bikes, especially the CR1, the Foil, and the Addict, bikes that are notoriously awesome. But far fewer are familiar with the new Solace. Maybe we (and by we I really mean me) were even a bit unsure about it. Was it a European classics inspired race bike? A gran fondo machine? A comfort road bike? It was time to put an end to all this confusion and mystery. When Tim asked me if I wanted to race the state championship road race on a Solace 30, I took him up on it.

Moving out. The Solace has tall, relaxed geometry. To get the four inches of saddle-to-bar drop I wanted for my race set up, we put the stem as low as it could go on the steerer. (Then sent photos to slamthatstem.com.) With my long femurs, we slammed the saddle all the way back on the rails. In spite of a tall head tube, set up this way, the bike cut a mean profile. Though the bike comes with a solid Shimano WH-RS11 wheelset, to give me an advantage at the race, we set it up with Stan’s 340s laced to Chris King hubs. I forgot to weigh it (oops), but it was impressively light, maybe 10 pounds. (Okay, maybe 16 or 17).

Smelling the roses. I warmed up for a good forty minutes to get used to the new bike. While Ryan and the Pedal train pushed the pace even during the warm up (Ryan actually doesn’t know how to go slow, if you didn’t know), I sat up to take in the vineyard aromas and sun-lit vistas along the course. I hardly noticed the Solace beneath me as I soft-pedaled along. The Shimano 105 drivetrain was silent and smooth and would remain so through the race. The bike’s silky-smoothness is immediately apparent to the rider.

Handling. Going into the race, I was not at all familiar with the 15-mile course. Luckily, we would use the first lap to get a feel for things before making our move on the second. I was only caught off-guard once on the first lap by one of the course’s many 90-degree turns. (Why weren’t the original architects of this fair state more creative?) About seven miles in, I came into a sharp left-hander at the bottom of a hill with too much speed and had to take it wide. Even as the rear wheel drifted across the pavement as I tried to avoid going off into the gravel shoulder, I felt totally in control of the Solace, steering clear of the gravel, then tucking back in on the front of the pack. With respect to the bike’s handling, then, what stood out to me was that it was totally intuitive and predictable. Again, it’s as if the bike isn’t even there.

Hammering down. After getting fed up with some yo-yo action over a roller section about 3/4ths of the way into the first lap, the Pedal train took control as Ryan, Charlie, and myself moved to the front of the race. We would stay there until the start of the second lap pulling through a long flat section of the course. The Solace excels at hammering down on the flats. I am not naturally a power rider who can pull hard on straight flat sections, but I felt comfortable pushing big gears and being in the wind on the Solace. I suspect the bike’s massive downtube-bottom brakcet junction has something to do with this.

Climbing. In the second lap, it was expected that one of us would attack on the course’s only real climb. A natural climber, this would be my moment to shine and push the limits of the Solace. Giving it everything I had, the Solace and I moved past several riders as I tried to take some of the pack with me and get back on the front of the race after falling asleep in the peloton. Just like that I was back at the front. (I wish I could say this happened effortlessly, but I can’t. The legs were starting to give up!) Though it doesn’t have the get-up-and-go of, say, a Foil, the Solace tears up our Michigan hills at least as well as most other carbon road bikes.

From then on, the Pedal train would be at the front, poised well for the big sprint finish. Pedal would capture first and third, while I had nothing left for a sprint, finishing three or so seconds off in lucky number 13th place. I didn’t mind; after all, I did get to ride around a carbon wunder bike for the day.

Concluding thoughts. I love Scott road bikes. In each of Scott’s road offerings, the rider can appreciate perceptible differences in frame design achieved with specific carbon layups for different riding conditions or styles. Like the Addict, the Solace is buttery smooth, but probably holds a line a little better when the going gets tough as a result of the shock-absorbing qualities built into the seat stays, seat tube, and seat post (the Solace uses a narrower 27.2 carbon Syncros post for a more forgiving ride). And like all Scott HMF Carbon bikes, it’s super light.

And who’s it for? The Solace, I think, is for anyone. It will do anything. Do a 30 mile road race with it. Do a gran fondo. Or go on wine tours in the Leelanau country. Ultimately, I think it will be most appreciated by those who pile on the miles and those who can really put the power down on the flats. And if you want to experience just how smooth carbon fiber frames can be, check out Scott’s latest offering in the Solace. Check it out at Pedal today!

Explosif Revisited

ExplosifLately

I’ve had the new bike for a while and thought I’d share some thoughts and experiences.

 Fork: I bought the SID largely because I was trying to build a light bike. It took me a while to get the thing dialed, and I have come to believe that RockShox’s air recommendations are a tad on the high side and that this particular shock came with too much compression damping. I’ve rectified both of these issues and am very, very happy with this item.

Drivetrain: XX1= Blammo. I’ll confess that I had some reservations about this move as I’d been very happy with my former Shimano stuff, but XX1 has far exceeded my expectations. It works perfectly. My only complaint might be that it’s a bit pricey, a complaint that appears to have been addressed with X01.

Brakes: I did the Magura thing largely just to try something new. I was happy with the Avid brakes on my previous mountain bike and have been very impressed with Shimano’s latest stuff. Instead of going with equipment that I knew would work, I tried Magura’s MT6 setup… and there were issues, some of which were setup issues (don’t cheap out and try to use your old Avid rotors; the Magura rotors are thicker and work better) and some of which were process issues (learning to get them bled correctly). Somewhere along the line I contaminated the pads, either from the old rotors or a bleeding mishap. I installed new pads and bed them in the night before a race and BANG! Everything clicked, and the brakes worked marvelously. Like really freaking good. I confess that there were dark moments when I thought about chucking this system and bolting on some SLX brakes, but I’m now very satisfied and can recommend Magura brakes with confidence. Looking for something really light and maybe a tad off the beaten path? Here you go.

Wheels/Tires: I’ve had this setup for a while, so nothing shocking here. Stan’s are probably the best deal in tubeless wheels and Schwalbe makes mighty fine tubeless ready tires. I remain very satisfied.

The Whole Package: I’m not the best setup artist on my own stuff. I tend to go out and ride with my friends, think about what I might change, do nothing, go ride with my friends again and think about the same changes. This time I actually took a shock pump and an assortment of stems on a ride or two and slowly got the bike where I wanted.

As I ride more and more bikes I have a greater feeling for what feels right and what does not. However, I lack the technical chops to articulate what it is about one bike that makes it feel better or worse than another. I also think my thoughts should be taken in context — I’m not a gifted mountain biker. When I first rode a stock steel Explosif outside of Bellingham last year, I thought, “This is the most confident I’ve ever felt on a mountain bike.” That same feeling is strong when I ride this bike. Confident and frisky. Those are the two words I’d use to describe this bike.

It’s a keeper.

Early Christmas

Brittany wanted a mountain bike, and we ultimately decided that I owned the exact bike she wanted, so I sold her my Dragon. Which left me in a bit of a hole.

I purchased bikes from bike shops before I opened Pedal. Sometimes I said, “I have this amount of money and I want this kind of bike. Please maximize it for me.”  Sometimes I rode a lot of bikes and picked the one I liked best. Sometimes (tri bike) I went with the bike the fitter recommended. Sometimes I pointed to a picture in a catalog and said, “That one.” Sometimes I obsessed over everything and put together exactly what I wanted. This bike falls into the last category.

I started riding a couple of our demo bikes. Yeah, hard work. I rode the Kona Explosif during the bike portion of an XTERRA duathlon and the Big Kahuna for a long, winding day of road and trail. In the end, I’m a 650b kinda guy. The slightly smaller wheels just work better for me. So I called Kona to tell them I wanted an Explosif. I’m still not entirely clear on what words were said during the course of that conversation, but the next thing I knew I had a titanium Explosif frame on backorder and way too much time to think about parts. After reading this article on WSG, I’m going to have our water tested.

A word about the ti frame. It has the exactly same geometry as the Reynolds 520 frame I’d been riding, but is made in Tennessee by the fine folks at Lynskey Performance of 3-2.5 titanium. It has all of the attributes you’d expect from a hand-built ti frame: superb welds, beautiful finish. It’s really, really top shelf.

What to do about a drivetrain? I’ve been nothing but pleased with the SLX/Deore combo on the Dragon. It worked flawlessly and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. While I had zero problems with the Avid Elixir brakes on the Dragon, I’ve been mightily impressed with Shimano’s brakes lately. So it naturally follows that I have XX1 and Magura brakes on this bike.

Last year SRAM expected to sell 5,000 XX1 drivetrains. They sold 15,000. I don’t know if it’s weight, looks, simplicity or what, but single-ring drivetrains are a big deal these days, and I’ll admit that they work particularly well around these parts. Standout features of XX1 (and now little brother X01) include really cool chainrings that eliminate the need for a chain guide and a super-big (10-42) range of gears in the back. Good or bad, right or wrong, I like to personally try the technologies that interest our customers, so XX1 it is. Initial impressions: setup is a bit fussy, but it looks fantastic and shifts super great.

Thinking about that sampling new technologies thing, we have several demo bikes with SLX brakes. You, dear customer, are welcome to give ’em a shot. They are superlative; I recommend them without hesitation, but there’s no new ground to tread. I rode a bike with Magura brakes recently and liked a few things — mineral oil for brake fluid, easy to bleed, good (and still improving) access to spare parts, excellent tech support — beyond the overall performance. Plus: oh my goodness are they light. So a pair of MT-6 brakes grace the bike. I’ll write more about these as I have a chance to get to know ’em, but they look very promising.

Fork. Fork fork fork. What to get? Another Loop (which I loved)? Rockshox? Fox? X-Fusion? Are these not good times when I can look to more than one suspension company for a 650b fork? I swear that I am not a weight freak (look at me, for heaven’s sake), but I was a bit conscious about keeping the pounds off of this thing. Important factors were 120mm of travel, a tapered steerer and no remote lockout. Many options were available, but the Darth Vader dark side SID was too much to resist.

Wheels I have: Stan’s Crest in a comp build. Tubeless. Nobby Nick in the front and Racing Ralph in the rear.

So: you put all this stuff in a bowl, stir it up, place in a preheated 350 degree oven and a few hours later: Voila! A new bike!

This is where we started. A little over 4 lbs. of Tennessee titanium.FrameWeight

 

 

Pretty welds.Welds Ugh. The stress of riding a bike made to go fast.Tennessee Nice dropouts, convertible from 10mm QR to thru-axle to single speed. And a fancy derailleur.RearDer Head tube, oversized to fit a tapered steerer.Headtube The fancy ring.Crank More beautiful welding and ISG tabs.BBShell Fork!SID And here’s the final number, with pedals. Pretty great.FinishedWeight

Done! Yes. I will trim the front brake line so it looks less like a lasso.final

 

The Animal You Were Born to Be

I saw this ad this morning and can’t resist sharing.

2K14_CX-masterIn case it’s too small to read, “The pain and the rain. Nothing hurts better. Quick and strong, able to jump the barriers in a single bound, and really put the hammer down. This is the animal you were born to be.”

 

A Tale of Two Konas

There are many ways I can attempt to justify Tuesday’s actions. Here are three:

  1. I needed a hard workout
  2. I needed a bike to race on Sunday, and was torn between two options.
  3. Why not?

I took a couple of our demo bikes to Yankee Springs to get a hard workout, figure out which bike I’d ride on Sunday and mess around a little bit. Like a fool, I figured I’d ride each bike on an 11-mile loop of Yankee and compare lap times. Lemme cut to the chase: bonk city on lap two, so let’s not worry about that mess.

The first contestant was an 18″ Kona Big Kahuna, a carbon 29er with a 2×10 mostly-SLX drivetrain, a 100mm Fox fork, tubeless-ready wheels, Maxxis Icon tires and all the trimmings. I’d taken this bike for a spin before, and found it very groovy. Today it felt great. Familiar. Fun. Fast.

Recommended daily dose of carbon 29er
Recommended daily dose of carbon 29er

Next up was a 17″ Kona Explosif, a steel 650b with a 120mm Rockshox Recon fork, a 2×10 mostly-SLX drivetrain, tubeless-ready wheels, Maxxis Ardent tires and all the trimmings. The Explosif impressed me to no end when I rode it in Washington state, and I was anxious to see if it felt as excellent on my home turf. It did.

Wheel reflectors for additional trail safety
Wheel reflectors for additional trail safety

Notes:

  • Almost identical drivetrains.
  • Similar forks.
  • The same wheels but for the size.
  • The Explosif is a tad bit smaller, but not by more than 1cm in any meaningful dimension.
  • Big Kahuna: 25 lbs. Explosif: 29 lbs.

Before I give my opinions on these guys, it’s worth mentioning that I’m not a great mountain biker. I have friends who can ride rings around me. I have other friends who can ride incredibly complex  three-dimensional shapes around me. So there.

The bikes are more similar than different. I put 25 psi in all the tires and found plenty of grip and a decent amount of rear-end compliance. Handling-wise, both of these bikes occupy that nice middle ground between twitchy and lazy. They go where you want. They don’t go before you want them to go, nor do you need to force them to do your bidding; they inspire great confidence. Due no doubt to the smaller gyroscopic force of its wheels, the Explosif was a bit easier to turn, still without feeling the least bit twitchy.

The brakes on both bikes were fantastic. I have nothing to add.

Newer 10-speed mountain bike drivetrains have super-big cog spreads in the rear (11-36!) which dictate really long derailleur cages to support all of the possible ratios. All that chain and a long derailleur cage typically mean a good amount of chain slap going over bumps. Shimano Plus and SRAM Type 2 rear derailleurs have mechanisms to keep the cage tight in place when not shifting, eliminating chain slap. The Explosif has an XT-Plus rear derailleur and it worked great! It was a serene experience to bounce down the trail without the clank clank clank of chain on bike. Very nice.

What about the (ahem) rather significant weight difference? Because I’d put them both on top of the car, I figured the steel bike was a bit heavier, but I was surprised at the difference when I put ’em on the shop scale. Wow. I’ll tell you this: you’d never know it by riding them. Seriously.

What’s left? Ergonomics — extremely similar. Looks — I think they’re both beautiful. The shapes and colors of the Big Kahuna are terrific in an understated, purposeful way. To my eyes, the Explosif looks a little more brutal, more like a tool, something you might find in a machine shop.

What’ll I ride on Sunday? Probably the Explosif. I think, deep in my black little heart, I’m just happier on a 650b. This day was supposed to empirically prove which bike was faster for me, but poor nutrition, sporadic training and an over-ambitious plan laid waste to that goal. Still, what could be better than riding sweet bikes all afternoon, watching Michigan grudgingly accept that fall is here?

New Brand, New Bike. Introducing 616.

A Michigan-made single-speed steel cyclocross bike. What’s not to like about this?

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I’d known about 616 Fabrication for a little while, largely due to their fat bike frames and significant Barry Roubaix sponsorship, and was very pleased when one of the owners came into the shop, showed off the product and asked if we’d like to represent their bikes in Kalamazoo.

The timing of all this was just about perfect. I’ve been psyching myself up for a single-speed cyclocross bike, but none of my major manufacturers make anything of the sort. I’d all but decided that I’d have to wait another year or two when the guy from 616 arrived. Will we sell your frames? Yes! Will you also make me a cyclocross bike? Please?

paint

And away we went. This is a stock frame size with single-speed, belt-drive Paragon dropouts that can be converted to multi-speed with a different (included) drive-side hanger. I confess that I’m a curmudgeon and initially asked for cantilever brakes, but no. Caliper brakes were an option, but not cantilever. So I hauled myself into the 2010s and ordered up a disk brake bike. I picked out the color of the bike and the logo color (paint! not a decal) and waited a very reasonable amount of time for the frame.

dropout

In the meantime, I had to do something about wheels. After a zero-failure experience with a tubeless setup last year, I figured I’d go that route again. I thought about building a set of wheels with fancy hubs and was driving myself crazy making decisions along that route when I found myself on the HED site. Woah! What is this Ardennes + thing? The Ardennes has been a fantastic wheel for us. It uses the same rim as HED’s Jet series of aero wheels with the same high-quality spokes and excellent hubs. The + refers to increased width, from 23 to 25 mm. It’s also tubeless-ready. Hey, why not?

tire

Brakes are Avid BB7. Tires are Clement MXP. The fork is from Whisky. The crank is some old thing I found in my box of stuff. Same with the seat post and handlebars. Chainring, spacer kit and cog are all Surly.

I put it all together Friday, participated in a crazy foot race on Saturday and raced the new bike on Sunday. Fun! I experienced none of the teething problems one might expect from such a rushed project. The ride is very nice. The wheel/tire combination was really great on the dry, grassy course and provided a ton of grip. It goes where it’s pointed, stops when it should and was in the wrong gear 100% of the time.

This should be fun.

Meet the Nemesis

Our Gal Kim wanted a new mountain bike to replace her dated, pretty heavy 26″ bike with mechanical disks and a reasonably clunky fork. She did, however, have a really nice set of Crank Brothers Cobalt wheels that she loved mightily. As a result of those wheels, it took a little bit of talk to convince her that she should perhaps try a more modern wheel size. At 5’5″ Kim is about the perfect size lady to benefit from a 650b — she’s petite, but wants more roll-over than one can expect from a 26″ bike. At the same time, she doesn’t need the weight and inertia of a 29er. After a few discussions we decided on a custom 650b Nemesis.

Why a Nemesis? It’s a nice, light, zippy frame that comes with a super-neat fork, the X-Fusion Velvet, with 100mm of travel. We went with a custom bike because Kim wanted cooler-than-stock wheels and a Shimano drivetrain; the dual-thumb SRAM just did not appeal. Since we didn’t want a terribly expensive bike we decided on SLX, the performance of which I find very close to XT at a much nicer price. Deore is pretty darn good, but I think SLX is better. And we did the whole thing: drivetrain and brakes. Nice.

Wheels are Velocity Blunt SL with DT Swiss Competition spokes and Velocity rims. I’ve been riding similar wheels for a while now and have nothing but good things to say about them. Tires Ritchey Shield, which are very light and really great for fast, dry conditions. If Kim finds herself riding in looser terrain, we may reevaluate tires. The whole system is tubeless and went together very nicely.

Other bits include a Thomson seat post, a WTB saddle, a Ritchey stem and an Easton bar.

Pics of the finished product after a break-in ride or two:

bike

The usual partly-focused picture with a finger dangerously close to the lens. Still, it’s a good-looking bike. The frame is tough. The colors are good. Purple wall.

brakes

Is there anyone who doesn’t think that the latest generation of Shimano brakes doesn’t just kick butt? They’re great. You might glaze some pads over time, but the system itself is very solid. Here we have a pic of the rear caliper and pads complete with heat sinks. Also a Velocity hub.

velvet

X-Fusion Velvet fork with a 15mm through-axle. The skewer is a nice Syntace piece with a tapered bore similar to White Brothers. It is a bit odd to have the business end of the axle on the right-hand side of the bike.

rimtire

Nice wheels. Blunt SL rims, 28 spokes, Velocity hubs. Very nice performance at a reasonable price. Tubeless? Yes. Very much so.

RDRear derailleur and a nice 11-36 cassette. Around these parts you should be able to get pretty much anything done in the middle ring with that cassette.

I nearly posted this without asking the obvious question: does she like it? Indeed she does.