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.

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 

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.

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.

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!