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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Meta-Modern Mechanical Disc Devices

About a year ago, I built myself a pretty fancy cross bike: (very) fancy frame, fancy (aluminum) wheels, fancy drivetrain, fancy carbon-railed saddle. Lost of fancy… combined with really unattractive yet functional yet cheap Shimano flat mount calipers. Why? Back in the storied early days of flat mount brakes, those Shimano calipers were the only things I could get my hands on. I bought them with the idea that I’d put something “better” on when I had a chance.

“Better” was an elusive thing. Despite their homely appearance, those little Shimanos worked well. For sure these are fighting words in some quarters, but I’ve never really cared for the TRP Spyre brakes. Yeah, they’re supposed to be better with the dual-piston design and all that, but they’ve just never been my cup of tea. So the Shimano calipers stayed on the bike.

The day I learned that Paul Components was making their Klamper in a flat mount version, I called ’em up and ordered a pair in polished aluminum. They showed up a few days later. My coworkers oohed and aaahed at their loveliness. Installation would have been a piece of cake IF we (the bike industry) could just get over this idea that every stinking cable has to be internal to something. Suffice to say that flat mount Klampers and internally-routed ENVE forks are not a good combination — at least not for me. I have to laugh that I now have beautiful, functional calipers… and a zip tie holding the front brake housing to the fork.

Aside from the fork issue, installation was very straightforward. The calipers came with good instructions and assertive Kool Stop pads. They work great, noticeably better than the brakes that preceded them.

Conclusion: Great upgrade. Braking is better. Looks are way better. Made in America is cool. Cheap? No. Not cheap. Do it again? Yes.

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.

ShockWiz

No aspect of a modern mountain bike induces confusion and head-scratching like a fork, particularly an air fork, with its bewildering array of valves and knobs. Most people, and I totally get this, want to *ride* their mountain bike. They didn’t buy it so they’d have something to demystify and tune.

About this time last year that Quarq introduced the ShockWiz, a small device that attaches to air-sprung suspension units and provides suspension-tuning suggestions. I immediately ordered one for each shop, and *boy* was I bummed out when I discovered that it was incompatible with the Manitou Magnum on my bike at the time.

2018 brings a new mountain bike, a new front suspension unit and another shot at the ShockWiz. The bike is a Kona Honzo CR Trail DL and the fork is a RockShox Pike. Yesterday looked like a good day for a trip up to Yankee, so I popped into the downtown shop and installed ShockWiz.

Installation consists of three parts: installing the physical ShockWiz to your suspension device (front or rear) in a way that doesn’t induce contact with the frame, installing the ShockWiz app on the Bluetooth LTE device of your choosing and running through a quick setup procedure, guided by the app.

In this case I attached the device to the crown of the fork with zip ties and made double-darn sure that I could spin the fork without the knocking ShockWiz against the frame. Broken ShockWiz and/or broken frame make for a bad day.

Once I pair ShockWis to my phone, the ShockWiz app gave me a lot of direction. I emptied the fork’s air chamber and cycled the fork several times. I then filled it up with air and cycled it again. After this, ShockWiz encouraged me to go for a ride.

ShockWiz gathers quit a bit of data as you ride, and after a time it tells you what you need to do so that it can complete its array of measurements. In my case, I was instructed to hit some jumps and drops, so I might have aimed for more roots and rocks than usual. At the end of 13 miles of Yankee, ShockWiz said that it felt pretty good about its analysis.

And it offered these suggestions:

Which boil down to adding a volume spacer, decreasing my compression damping and adding a couple of clicks of rebound.

True confession at this point. Ken and Matt, our service department managers at the South and Downtown stores, respectively, went to a suspension-tuning class this Winter and brought back a lot of knowledge, knowledge which I lapped up and applied to my bikes. I’d ridden the Honzo once or twice prior to the ShockWiz experiment, and felt like the suspension was pretty darn good.

How do I feel about ShockWiz’s suggestions? Intrigued. I have not messed around with volume spacers on my own bikes, so that presents an opportunity. Rebound damping is possibly the most confusing of all suspension adjustments, so I’m not shocked (pun intended) that a change is suggested. I am super pleased that the recommended change is small, giving me confidence in the setup I’d already done. The suggested change to compression damping is the most interesting, as I rode with bike with the minimum amount of compression available. Is this a byproduct of riding a trail fork in an XC environment? Would a fancier damper in the fork help?

Stay tuned (oh, the puns are flying today!) for more about this. I have another bike in the garage with a Fox 34 and plan to see what ShockWiz has to say about that piece of hardware in a  couple of days.

What does all this have to do with you? We rent ShockWiz. $50 gets you installation, setup and a weekend of suspension analysis. Yep. We have one at each location.

Last thing: I love nerd stuff like this, but nothing beats mountain biking on a lovely Spring day.

A few days later…

I put ShockWiz on the Fox 34 yesterday and rode Andrews. What fun! Here’s the feedback I received.

What’s it mean? It looks like I had this one tuned a little better right out of the gate, but only by a little. High speed compression damping remains a subject in which I have great curiosity. More info as it becomes available.

Longer-Term Fork Review

Editor's note: Our Man Alex put a Manitou Mattoc on his bike last summer. He loved it then, but has since put some miles on it. Here are his notes.

In the Mattoc fork, Manitou is competing in the high-end trail bike fork market and compete with the likes of the Rockshox Pike and the Fox 34. In this long-term review, I will build on my cursory initial review of the fork from last September and attempt to answer the question of whether this fork is competitive in that context. I will also discuss its applicability for riding here in Southwest Michigan.

I have been riding the Manitou Mattoc fork for approximately nine months now and have had the opportunity to ride it more and in rougher terrain, and I have taken it apart to perform a lowers service. This is an update to address longer term durability and a more in-depth look at the riding characteristics of the fork.

Long-Term Durability

I am pleased to have very little to report as far as issues with durability on this fork, it has worked flawlessly for the duration of my ownership of it, and if anything, the action of the fork has become smoother over continued use. The only issues that I have had is a slightly creaky fork crown which makes a high-pitched ticking noise every once in a while, under hard braking, and the fact that the paint chips fairly easily but neither of these effect on-trail performance.

Spring Performance

The fork which I have was provided with the aftermarket Infinite Rate Tune (IRT) air spring, and not the stock Incremental Volume Adjust (IVA) air spring, so I cannot comment on the performance of the IVA spring. The IRT spring is an air spring with three air chambers, one “negative” chamber which attempts to pull the fork back into it’s travel and exists to oppose the main “positive” spring which holds most of the rider’s weight up. Then there is the third air chamber which acts as a second positive chamber and mainly affects the performance of the fork as it gets about 60% through its stroke. With that out of the way, I can say that I found the IRT spring to perform phenomenally. Through a significant amount of experimenting and some chicken-scratch note taking, I have found that it can be tuned to have a very responsive initial feel, and at the same time resist bottoming out very effectively. It can also be tuned to have a stiffer initial feel and push through its travel more on large hits and pretty much any permutation of those extremes. I found that for my riding, getting two far from a 1:2 ratio of air pressures in the main and IRT chambers felt less ideal, and that window for my 175 lb riding weight ended up being between 60-70 psi in the main chamber and 120-140 psi in the IRT chamber. A riding characteristic that I particularly like about the performance of the IRT spring is that the fork stays high in its travel very well, not using too much travel on smaller bumps, saving it for large hits, this is in contrast to many other forks which tend to dive through their travel too easily for my preference.

 

Damping Performance

I have found the MC2 damper which comes on the Mattoc to be easily tunable and able to provide many different ride qualities. On this damper are four adjustments: a rebound knob in blue at the bottom of the fork leg, A low-speed compression lever in red at the top of the fork leg, a high-speed compression knob atop that, and finally a hydraulic bottom out adjuster in silver inset into the high-speed adjuster. This presents a lot of tuning options for the user, and thankfully Manitou provides a setup guide with the fork with good presets for different riding conditions. For my use, I have tried many different combinations of damper adjustments including all of the presets and found that I could dial the fork performance in for what trail I was riding. In December, I took a trip to North Carolina to ride in the Pisgah National forest. If you are not aware, Pisgah has a well-deserved reputation for very rough, steep, gnarly trails, and this was an excellent test for the performance of this fork. I found pretty quickly that the settings that I used for Michigan trails were not ideal for the trails out there, and with a couple twists of the knobs dialed in less low-speed compression, more high-speed, and more bottom out resistance which corrected the issue I was having. The tune I was using for Michigan was fairly close to the preset which Manitou suggests for “Flow”, and in changing it in that way I was closer to the preset which they suggest for “Enduro” which makes sense when comparing the trails which I was riding. Even within the kalamazoo area, I find myself adjusting my damper settings slightly depending on whether I’m riding the smooth and jumpy Maple Hill trail, or more natural and rougher trails like Yankee Springs and Fort Custer, but for most people that is probably a bit excessive.

Chassis Stiffness

In my initial review, I compared the stiffness of the chassis to several different forks and made judgements based on that. I find now that I need to revise some of those judgements, namely regarding the comparison to the Rockshox Pike. In that initial review I said that the Mattoc was slightly less stiff than the pike, and now with further testing I have to disagree with that assessment. Having ridden the Mattoc in comparison to the Rockshox Lyrik, the Pike’s bigger, burlier brother; I can say that the stiffness of the Mattoc approaches that of the Lyrik and is at least on par with if not stiffer than the Pike which is pretty impressive given the Mattoc’s 34mm stanchions compared to 35mm on the Lyrik and Pike. I cannot compare it to the Fox 36 as I have never ridden that fork, but the Mattoc is definitely stiffer than the Fox 34.

Serviceability

This winter, I performed a lowers service on my Mattoc, and found it to be a very simple task, given that you have the correct tools. The required tools for a lowers service are: a thin walled 8mm socket (from manitou), a 8mm Allen wrench, a 2mm Allen wrench, and a sturdy tire lever, plus new seals and oil. You can buy the tools from Manitou, or it is possible to upcycle other tools to be suitable. Instructions for servicing your fork are easily available on Manitou’s website, and are very easy to follow. For someone who is not a home mechanic, the fork is also easily serviced in the shop.

Suitability for Southwest Michigan Riding

I’ve been riding this fork set at 150mm of travel on my Kona Process 134, a bike which is decidedly too much bike for much of our riding around here. Does this mean that this fork is too much fork for the Kalamazoo area? No, I don’t think so. The 27.5 variant of this fork can be adjusted down to 140mm of travel; which for most people in this area is still probably too much, but the 29er and 29+ variants of this fork can be had down to 100mm and 80mm of travel respectively which are much more common travel numbers around here. The 29+ and 27+ variants of the fork, under the name of the Manitou Magnum (which is essentially the same fork and has been recently absorbed into the Mattoc line) are ridden quite frequently in the Kalamazoo area in 110mm and 120mm settings respectively on the popular Trek Stache and Specialized Fuze/Ruze. The tendency of the air spring to ride high in its travel while remaining sensitive to small bumps makes it an ideal fork to put on a hardtail, it will preserve the geometry of the bike more than a fork which dives through its travel more.

Conclusions

I have found the Manitou Mattoc to be a top performer on the trail, and an excellent fork for riding here in Southwest Michigan. The fork is sensitive to bumps of all sizes without being overly dive-y and is tunable for many preferences as to how a fork should feel. The Mattoc is a standout for its tendency to ride high in its travel and preserve the geometry of the bike which is a valuable trait. I would recommend the Mattoc to a friend without hesitation, over a wide range of riding styles.

Bigger Candles

Last summer was a dandy for getting up and out early for a ride. I’ve continued that habit, but the shifting sands of time mean that when once it was a little bit dark, it’s now DARK. As a result, I’ve been trying new things.

In the early summer I purchased a Flare R and have come to believe that it is about the nicest rear light one can use. I have a Flare R City, too. It’s great, but just doesn’t pop like the big guy. Details of this experience are here.

This summer I borrowed the kiddo’s Ion 700 headlight, which worked great. I liked the blinky mode. I liked that it installed easily enough. I did not like the small creaking noise it made nearly all the time. Still, it worked great, charged fast and was conveniently located on the kitchen counter… until the kid went back to school.

Around that time I received Vibe Pro front and rear lights from Light and Motion. They’re motion activated, really small, and pop out of their mounting brackets so you can just put ‘em in your pocket if you stop at the store/bar/whatever. They appear to be designed with a city commuter in mind. The rear in particular works well in all of the situations in which you’d want a rear light and is a valid alternative to the Flare R. At 100 lumens, the front light just isn’t strong enough to punch a big hole in a dark morning or evening, but it has a nice blink and works just fine for riding around the city at a reasonable pace. One thing: the front light has 180-degree visibility, which sounds fantastic. The bad side of this is that it throws too much light back in the rider’s face when it’s really dark. One of Pedal’s employee-craftsmen made a nifty hood out of a piece of inner tube, which completely solved the problem.

Since the kid left with the Ion and the Vibe Pro front wasn’t really strong enough, I unearthed an older Cateye 600-lumen light I bought several years ago. I suspect that the real problem is the effect of age on my eyes, but that Cateye just couldn’t produce enough light for me to comfortably dodge walnuts before dawn. This set of conditions allowed me to feel pretty great about purchasing a light I’ve had my eye on for years: a Light and Motion Taz 1200. L&M calls the Taz a crossover light, meaning that it’s strong enough to use in the woods on your mountain bike, but it’s an all-in-one package, which makes it convenient for commuting. I have but one ride in with the Taz, but it was great. I had it full bore before dawn, then dialed it back to a nice pulse mode once the sun made an appearance.

Yeah, we still have a couple of older lights in the house — those guys that spit out about a billion lumens but have an external battery about the size of a loaf of bread. They work great, but are a bit more of an ordeal to install on the bike, especially if you only need to light the road for 30-45 minutes and are already running late and need to be to work on time. The beauty of something like the Taz or the Ion or the L&M Urban lights is the all-in-oneness. It’s easy to keep track of the one part, and it’s easy to mount the thing to your handlebar or helmet.

Good bike lights have never been less expensive and more effective. It’s a good time to light up the walnuts.

This is a Handy Thing

I purchased a Bontrager Flash Charger pump about a year ago in hopes that I could handle more tubeless projects at home, without having to drag my stuff to the shop.

It’s a neat concept: the pump has a large internal air chamber that’s filled with high-pressure air (by pumping, believe it or not), which is then released into the tire, typically followed by a pop, bang or boom.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve used it to install tires on my cyclocross and road bikes without issue. This morning, I found a flat front tire on my mountain bike, a notoriously difficult rim/tire combo to seat. I figured, worst case, I’d just haul it down to the shop. Once I slopped some new sealant in the tire, I charged the pump and give it a whirl. Bang! Very nice.

Many are the times at the shop in which we resort to all ilk of tricks to get a difficult system to seat. With that in mind, I’m confident that there are plenty of occasions in which the Flash Charger won’t be enough. That said, I’ve been super pleased with the results I’ve had with this thing.

Alex Knows Shocks

We’ve known Alex for a long time, since he was but a kid with big eyes. And we watched as Alex grew older, became a more vigorous mountain biker and, quietly, got pretty good at figuring out how things work and how they feel to the end user.

Alex got a new fork for his Process 134 this summer and agreed to write some words about his experiences. Here they are, completely unedited but for formatting.

First Impressions:

~1 month of use

Compared to: Rockshox Pike RC, Fox 34 Performance GRIP, Rockshox Sektor Silver TK, Manitou Marvel Comp

Stiffness:

Stiff enough. Ever-so-slightly noticeably less stiff than a Pike at same travel, only noticeable under heavy braking and sharp fast berms with excellent traction. similar stiffness to 120mm Fox 34, assume stiffer than 34 at similar travel length. Very noticeably stiffer than 32mm stanchion forks that I’ve ridden.

Air Spring:

Very plush with excellent mid-stroke support and bottom out resistance with current setup. Very adjustable. Plusher than the solo-air spring in the Pike that I demoed (but that may have been the damping). similar in slipperiness to the 34, but much more customizable in feel. Much more responsive off-the-top than my old (2014) Marvel Comp, while also providing more mid-stroke support and less dive under braking.

Damping:

Excellent. Best damping that I have had the pleasure of riding, adjustment range is very usable, each click makes a subtle but noticeable difference in how the fork feels, especially the IPA. I think that there could be perhaps more range to the damping, providing more support towards a stiffer lockout, but that being said I wouldn’t use a lockout, it’s just I’m used to forks having. HBO adjustment is very effective, have had one or two bottom outs according to O-Ring, noticed zero while riding. Compared to Pike RC, much plusher damping, less spikiness on sudden hard hits, and MUCH more adjustment. Similar feel to the 34 Performance GRIP damper, but again, much more adjustable. Much more support than the ABS+ damper tune that I had in my old Marvel Comp while also reacting to harsh bumps faster and absorbing them better. Miles and miles ahead of the Sektor Silver TK that came stock on my Process 134. (As a note, the Marvel Comp also performed miles and miles ahead of the Sektor)

 

Axle:

Hexlock SL axle is effective and not terribly difficult to use, but not as easy as a QR axle. MUCH more durable than SRAM maxle. I don’t have a bike rack on my car, so I take the wheel of frequently to fit it in my car, would probably find use for the quicker removal of the hexlock QR15 axle, but Hexlock SL works excellently.

Durability:

Performance has only gotten better since install as fork has broken in. Paint chips and scratches easily, and decals are not durable in the slightest, less durable than on RS Sektor I’ve had in the past, similar decal and finish durability to Marvel Comp. I’ve noticed a clicking coming from the front of my bike under heavy braking, could be the CSU of the fork or the centerlock rotor, pretty sure it’s the rotor. (I’ve ruled out the headset by replacing it with a new one)

 

Comments:

Absolutely eats up repeated square-edged hits while riding high in travel elsewhere, such as climbing and on smooth sections of trail. Excellent support in berms and preloading lips of jumps, while still retaining a plush feel. Have yet to open up the fork to change semi-bath oil. I need to either buy the mattoc service kit or source a thin walled 8mm socket.

New Thru

We’ve sold many Staches, Fuses and Ruzes with Manitou’s QR15 thru axle. The QR15 works just fine, but there is a pretty steep learning curve to figure it out.

I was looking for something one day and came across something called the Hexlock SL, which is a replacement thru axle for the QR15. I figured I’d buy one, install it and give it a whirl. After rattling around inside my work bag for a few weeks, I had a chance to install it yesterday.

Manitou’s QR15. Part thru axle, part quick release, some find it 100% confusing and strange.

 

Innocuous packaging for the Hexlock SL.

 

The best part of the installation was the first part, removing a part stamped with the words, “Do Not Remove.”

Once that law was broken, installation was a piece of cake, just a matter of removing a few things, installing a few more, tightening things down with a pin spanner and applying grease in appropriate locations.

The new system looks sleek and works great. While I personally had no beef with the QR15 system, the Hexlock SL is better — or at least better for me. The Hexlock is much easier to install when you can’t see the axle clearly (think roof rack) and the tightening mechanism is much more intuitive. The bad news is that a 6mm hex wrench is required for installation and removal.

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.

Time

We received a big box of Time pedals today, about which I’m very stoked.

I went through both Shimano and Crank Brothers mountain bike pedals before I ended up with Time. I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but I recall a friend of mine (who continues to use SPDs) suggesting that Time were good at clearing mud. So I bought a pair ten years ago and still own them. Looking around my garage the other day, I found no less than four pair of Time ATAC pedals, some really old, some newer and more fancy.

When you’ve ridden a set of pedals for a really long time, you tend to forget what it is that you like. You just know that they’re better than the last thing you tried, and that’s probably good enough. I do know that they clear mud pretty well. They’re easy to get in and out. They have a decent-sized body, so that you can still pedal the bike if you don’t get clipped in quickly. My experience is that they’re exceedingly durable. If they’d broken, I’d have probably switched to something else. If you’re looking for a solid mountain pedal that’s maybe a tad off the beaten path a bit, I recommend Time ATAC without reservation.

I’ve been aware of Time road pedals for some time. RXS were pretty popular a few years ago, but I saw a couple of failures and decided to steer clear. Later came the iclic system, renowned for easy entry and exit. Those two systems have been merged into the Expresso, just like the mispronounced caffeinated beverage. My Time rep told me that the breakage issues of the RXS were in the rearview mirror, so I bought a pair of Expresso 10 for myself and another pair for Ryan. I’d been using Speedplay Zeros and Ryan had been using Shimano SPD-SL.

The first thing we both said was, “Holy smokes. These things are light!” Admittedly, the Expresso 10 is a pretty expensive pedal at $250, but they’re not even 20g lighter than the Expresso 2 at $75. Dang.

Expresso pedals use the iclic system, so they’re SUPER easy to get in and out of. These ease of ingress and egress doesn’t mean that they don’t feel secure. They feel, and are, quite secure. But if you swing your heel out, the pedal unclips, smoothly and without drama.

We’re not in long-term-test-ville at this point, but the early prognosis is good. I’m totally digging the Expressos on my bike, and Ryan has similar feelings. Please stay tuned.

Post Script: I’ve been practically dying to write this post, in no small part because my college friends Todd and Mike played The Time constantly while we were in our sophomore year at college.

Brighter, Better

I’ve been clinging to old ways a little bit too tightly as of late. I know I’m using an old fashioned rear light, but I almost feel married to the darn thing. In fact, I have (technically, had) a fleet of Planet Bike Superflash lights in the garage with mounts on many a seatpost and/or seat bag. It’s super easy to grab a bike, slap a light on there and hit the road. And yet I’ve known for a while that this is not the best solution. Initially I tried to blame it on the fact that I’m not good at keeping USB devices charged (all the best lights are USB; the batteries pack a bigger punch), but we turned the desk in the kitchen into a very modern charging station.

Last week I got up early and hit the road before work. The bike I rode doesn’t show a lot of seatpost for a short guy like me, so I clipped my light to the seat bag. Sure enough, I hit a pothole and launched the light. I heard it hit the road, but decided that this would be an event that would change my behavior and rode on.

This post has two parts: demonstrating a better light and demonstrating how to make it happen.

Here’s a video of my bike (the bike I was riding last week) with a Superflash mounted to the loop on the back of the seat bag.

Here’s a video of my bike with a Flare R mounted to the seatpost in daytime mode.

Here’s a video of my bike with a Flare R mounted to the seatpost in friend/night mode.

 

It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to see that the Flare R is better. But why? There are three good reasons: it puts out more light (lumens, candlepower, foot-candles, whatever) than the Superflash. It has a better reflector than the Superflash; a light that emits a lot of light is great, but if it isn’t focused, then it doesn’t do a whole lot of good. The third reason is that the Flare R is mounted to the seatpost and is pointed where it should be. The Superflash was mounted to my very nice seat bag, and was pointed haphazardly, at best.

“So, Mr. Smarty Pants,” you say, “I see that you have a pretty nice light there, but I need the stuff in my seatbag.” Buddy, I need my stuff too. In fact, here’s my stuff:

This is pretty typical for me: a spare tube, a CO2 device, two cartridges, a tire lever and a tool. Generally speaking, I’d either ditch the 2nd CO2 or I’d have a patch kit. Whatever.

This is the thing Specialized makes called the Spool. There are road and mountain versions. This one is road.

The spool has a tire lever and a CO2 device built into a nifty, er, spool. That’s the CO2 cartridge from my bag clipped into the spool. And what happens next? You spool on the tube, in this case a 700×28/32 presta tube.

So now I’ve got this blob of stuff and a stanky old tool that I can pop in my jersey pocket (and here’s the big deal) leaving my seatpost free to house a really nice light pointed in the right direction. And that’s safer.

More Involved than Initially Projected

I’m working on a super top secret project, part of which entails converting a set of hubs from quick release to 12mm thru axle. The hubs in question are Chris King R45 disks which I purchased a couple of years ago for the Wonder Jake.

Let’s talk about Chris King hubs. They’re very expensive. They’re very light. They’re built to tight tolerances. I’m trying to equate them to something, and I think that something is a Porsche. My experience with those cars that they’re very excellent, but a tad strange, navigating a fine line between exhilarating and arduous. Such is the case with King hubs. They’re great, but they’re fussy.

My project is a great case in point. For many (many!) hubs in the word, a conversion between QR and thru axle would cost me about fifteen bucks and fifteen minutes of time. Not this. Both hubs had to be rebuilt with new axles at no small cost. OK. Fine. Order it up. (It’s only fair to note that I’m reworking these wheels because my other (older) favorite wheels just will not convert to 12mm thru axle. So while I might be complaining about it, at least it’s possible.) The parts arrived, and I went to my garage for a quick swap. But it wasn’t. For the front wheel, my old preload adjuster wouldn’t fit the new axle. For the rear: ugh.

I’m working with a series one R45 disk hub, which is something of a PITA to take apart. However, I prevailed and it all came apart as it should, but for a bearing stuck to the QR axle. No problem, except the bearing needed to be installed on the new thru axle. I threw all the (pitiful) muscle I could at the bearing, but it wouldn’t move. Maybe I need to use muscle building products for muscle strength. I took it to the shop with me the next morning and found a socket that fit the ID pretty well. I smote the contraption with a hammer and things blew apart. A nearby mechanic yelped as little ball bearings few everywhere.

And, yeah, I found all of the balls but one. Ugh. I called King later in the day. Turns out that:

  • They didn’t include the correct preload adjuster for the new front hub
  • Lost of people make the same mistake as I did when confronted with the old “bearing stuck on the axle” gag
  • The cost of a new Chris King bearing is staggering
  • I probably ought to order the R45 hub tool, as it is significantly different than the old tool (which still works great on mountain bike hubs)

So I bought a bearing, an adjuster and a tool, which arrived today. I carted it home after work and got down to business.

Here we see, from left to right, some bags of parts, an appropriate social lubricant, a vessel for same, the new hub tool and the patient waiting patiently in the background.

Here’s a collection of lubricants: waterproof grease I’ve had for years, spray Tri-Flow, Chris King Ring Drive Lube and a container of Dumonde Tech MR Grease. Why not?

OMG! That little bearing just popped right out of there! It felt great, so I left it alone.

Boy! That looks expensive! It’s the big bearing, the inner seal, the driven ring, the drive ring, the spring and the spring retainer, all in one tidy package.

This is the guts of the hub, from drive side to non-drive side: drive shell (as King refers to a free hub body), the big bearing, the ring drive, the spring, the spring retainer, the seal and the little bearing. Was I marginally anxious to get all of this buttoned back up before the missus saw it on the kitchen counter? I was. Did I? No. I did not.

The big bearing felt kind of crappy, so I rebuilt it. Herein lies the King Conundrum. The bearings are made really, really well to be really, really great, but they require a good amount of service. Getting this single bearing to this stage of operation was some slow, tedious work. And there are three major bearings in the rear hub. Of the other two, one felt fine and the other (as close readers may recall) was (somewhat tempestuously) destroyed early in the process and was replaced with a new item. Jeepers!

But it all went together just fine, and I’m happy. This is a wheel set that I love. Love the hubs. Love the rims. Love the spokes. Gonna put ’em on a (top secret project) bike and ride ’em a few more years. Nice. But it was not without expenses in the time and money departments.

When it was all back together and the bad language was put away for the evening, I apologized to my wife for having a bunch of greasy stuff strewn all over the kitchen when she came home. “Oh. I don’t really care,” she said. “It looked like you were having fun.”

Indeed.

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.

Fashionista!

Jess tells me that we (I’m pretty sure I’m “we”) should write more about the products we use when we’re riding bikes.

This morning I decided to do a bit of reconnaissance for a cyclocross race venue ride on my fat bike. The temperature was 43F, and it was raining. This is what I wore:

  • Incredibly fashionable Pedal-branded wool socks.
  • Bib knickers to keep my legs a little bit warm.
  • A nice long-sleeve base layer.
  • A cap for my head.
  • Waterproof, breathable pants that my wife got me for my birthday. They’re light and provide very little warmth, but they’re waterproof.
  • My favorite waterproof, breathable jacket. A nice feature of this jacket is that it has a hood that’ll cover a helmet, so water doesn’t go dripping down your back. This jacket is also just waterproof. It has no insulation properties at all. Think “windbreaker.”
  • Waterproof, insulated gloves.
  • Waterproof, insulated cycling-specific boots.

A note about waterproof, breathable stuff. If you’re really working out, your body will generate more moisture than these materials can handle. As a result, they often have lots of vents so you can control air flow beyond the limitations of the fabric.

Lastly, I wore a mountain bike helmet. Though the hood of my jacket covers a helmet, the visor of a MTB lid keeps the hood from dropping over my eyes.

It’s not the most flattering picture, but here’s what it looked like after about 2 hours of riding. I stayed super dry and had a terrific time. If I had it to do over again, my jacket would definitely be a brighter color, but everything else worked perfectly.

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.

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.

Data Production, Display and Storage

Long ago, when I wanted to see what I was capable of doing, I purchased a power meter and learned how to use it. Though my current goals are significantly more modest, I still like to have a power meter because it helps me make the most of out of time on the bike. This is important, as I don’t want my friends to shame me too terribly.

I bought my first Quarq about six year ago, and it’s going strong still. However, times change, technology advances and prices (sometimes) drop, so I bought the most current version a couple of months ago, a DZero with aluminum crank arms. Many are your power meter options these days: pedals, hubs, cranks (under which umbrella are several different measurement designs), crank arms, and probably something I haven’t thought of, so why Quarq? I’ve found them to be durable and accurate. Also, what little support I’ve required from Quarq has been top shelf. Finally, I am 100% comfortable and competent moving a crank from one bike to another, should the need present itself.

Quarq’s done a nice job of streamlining their product line. It used to be that there was the base meter that did this and the next one that did more and then the super fancy one with all the options. These days it’s a small selection of metering devices based on your application and a small selection of crank arms. One of the neat things about the new meters is the inclusion of low energy Bluetooth transmission. ANT+ is still included, but it seems that new advances in Bluetooth are moving devices in that direction. Oh no! Should you sell all your ANT+ stuff and run for Bluetooth? No. Not yet.

An advantage of Bluetooth communication is that pretty much every smart phone in the world can communicate with the power meter. Qualvin, Quarq’s diagnostic tool, has moved from the computer to the smart phone in its most recent incarnation, allowing you to, say, update the firmware on your crank anywhere you can get cell or wifi reception, including my basement, which is a good distance from the nearest computer, although I use computers for playing games as Overwatch, with online guides that teach you how to play Overwatch easily

A digression into bottom brackets. Quarqs are available with two types of spindle, BB30 and GXP. All factors being equal (if this is ever the case), I recommend a GXP interface because it has proven to be future-proof. You can buy a frame that won’t accept your BB30 crank. You cannot say the same for GXP. Now: you may well need to buy a new bottom bracket or adapter kit or something to get your GXP Quarq to work on your bike, but we’re almost always talking about a less than $100 part. I used a Praxis bottom bracket to put a GXP crank on my BB30 road bike and a Wheels Manufacturing bottom bracket for this new crank. My experience with both has been quite good. No, wait. My experience has been terrific.

So I put the crank on the bike and put the bike in the basement. Then I rode the bike and watched TV, completely oblivious to the data spewing from the Quarq.

Until I bought a computer, a Lezyne Macro GPS. I chose this because I liked the price, the size and the features. It’s also Bluetooth-only, which would give me a chance to check out the transmitter on the Quarq.

I charged the computer overnight, and put it to work this morning. It comes with the small, sad manual that’s so common these days. Still, I managed to pair the computer to the power meter, pair it to my phone, adjust the data screens to my satisfaction and a host of other things WHILE watching “Hard to Kill” on the TV. Yeah, it’s that easy.

So this is early feedback for this system, but the feedback is good. The computer seems like a really great $100 GPS computer, and I’m anxious to spend more time with it. The power meter is what I expected — it just works. You wouldn’t know it was there were the computer telling me that it was.

What They Wore

Three friends and I rode fat bikes in 16F weather this afternoon. All of use were comfortable, but for some chilly toes and fingertips. I thought it might be worthwhile to talk about what each person wore..

Ryan is a 28 year-old male in good shape, despite being a new father. Ryan wore borrowed, super-warm Craft bibs, because his were in the laundry. Up top he wore a Craft windproof baselayer with a Bontrager jacket with windproof front and a breathable back. On his feet were wool socks and regular mountain bike shoes with neoprene shoe covers, he also used shoes for plantar fasciitis because of his faciitis problem. One his head was a balaclava. On his hands were lobster gloves.

Kim, a fit forty-something female, wore Craft Stormshell tights. Not to start monologuing like the bad guy in “The Incredibles,” but these things are great for biking and, if it’s really cold, running. Up top was the winter trifecta (base, insulation and protection layers) of a Craft baselayer, a nice puffy Specialized insulation layer and a Specialized protection layer. Good stuff? Great stuff. Kim’s feet were housed in wool socks, her mountain bike shoes and neoprene shoe covers. On her hands were lobster gloves.

Amy, another fit forty-something female, wore clothes very similar to Kim. Actually, everything was the same but the protection layer. Amy’s wore this jacket. It’s not quite as hard core as Kim’s, but it’s also less than half the price.

I, a fifty-two year-old man, wore a mix of new stuff and other clothing that I’ve had for a while. Bontrager bibs. Gore overpants. Craft base. Specialized insulation layer. Bontrager protection layer, which might be my very favorite cycling garment. I wore these lobster gloves, and a pair of Northwave winter boots that I’ve had for a few years.

Ryan, the youngest of us by an uncomfortable amount, was toasty warm all around. Amy’s feet got cold, but the rest of her was great. Kim said that her toes and fingertips got a little chilly, but nothing uncomfortable. I have a history of cold extremities, but I was just fine today. I almost feel like I cheated by having winter boots. Almost. My boots are good, but not the warmest on the market. Had the Old Man Winter been available to me three years ago, I’d have those. I hate cold feet.

If there’s a moral to this story, I think it’s that equipment matters. Appropriate gear can make an unbearable day perfectly wonderful. Good winter clothing can be pretty darn expensive, but the good stuff lasts forever. I have ten-year-old winter clothes that I wear regularly, happily.

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?

 

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.

Lately

1 x 11

SRAM’s 11-speed drivetrains continue to become significantly more affordable without losing much, if any, of their awesomeness. I’ve had an XX1 bike. Super great. I have an X1 bike. Love it. I’ve installed a GX drivetrain on my wife’s bike and recently purchased a bike of my own with that very same drivetrain. Two thumbs up. While retail price is around $1500 for an XX1 group and just over $550 for GX, the similarities are incredible. Provided you stick wth 1×11*, components from all SRAM 11-speed groups are interchangeable; you can mix and match cassettes, cranks, shifters and derailleurs to your heart’s content. Here’s a nice review from Pinkbike, selected because their conclusions mirror my own.

Fat Bikes

Boy have fat bikes come a long way in a short amount of time. Weight is coming down. Frame design is starting to look like standards may well exist. Competition and economies of scale are driving down price. I recently rode a Specialized FatBoy Comp all over Portage, and could not have been happier. It steers well. It goes great in the snow. It looks cool. It shifts very nicely. Brakes are strong. Nothing wrong here.  A couple of days later I rode a Trek Farley 7  at night in Al Sabo with some friends. Let me set it up: full moon, great snow, not miserably cold, not too fast, not too slow. I rode sweep, turned off my light and just followed everyone else. I experienced low-grade euphoria the entire ride, and continue to get happy just thinking about it.

The Skinny on Light Fat

Before tearing into this next bit, I’d like to state that light weight is not required to have fun. Light weight can (well, typically, DOES) increase the zestiness of a bike. However, it isn’t required. You don’t need hundreds of dollars of wheels to have fun on a fat bike. Seriously. However, if you’re into that sort of thing, this next part is for you.

One of the things about fat bikes is that a good chunk of weight lives in the wheels and tires, and getting that weight down pays back twice: once in that the bike as a whole is lighter and again because the rotational weight goes down, making the bike accelerate more quickly. The problem is that options were few and the good stuff consisted of very high-priced carbon rims that cost more than two kilobucks and… nut much else.

Enter the Mulefut  rim. It’s relatively light single-wall aluminum rim that makes tubeless easy and retails for a little north of $150. Assuming you can use your existing hubs (and why not?) you could get two rims, a bunch of spokes and the labor to put it all together for something close to $500, depending on the spokes, nipples, etc. Not cheap, but perhaps a nice upgrade.

Somewhere between the Mulefut and the carbon HED fat rim lies the BAD, the aluminum HED fat wheel. We got a couple pair at the downtown shop and installed a pair on a bike. We found ‘em to be quite a bit lighter than the stock wheels (with Mulefut rims, no less) and super duper easy to set up tubeless. $1200 for a complete wheel set is pretty darn good, relatively speaking.

Last bit on fat bike weight: tires. Skinnier fat tires (did not see that phrase occurring when I started this) are lighter than fatter fat tires. The Kenda Juggernaut is a really happening tire for the fat bike racer crowd.  Want to lose some weight without spending a bundle? Think about your tires.

Winter Riding

Winter riding makes a person think about their wardrobe A LOT. Lately I’m riding a bit more recreationally and a bit less fitness-y, and I’m changing my wardrobe to match. Where I once wore a base layer and a good jacket, I now subscribe to the full three-layer system: base, thermal and protection layers. I’ve found that swapping out the insulation layer works pretty well for different temperatures, and an excellent protection layer is a wonderful thing. For insulation layers I’ve used a long-sleeve jersey and various fleece jackets, while my family members use fleece and loftier jackets with either down or some synthetic equivalent. Protection layers have been ski jackets, running jackets and bike-specific items. I’ve also been messing around with chemical hand- and foot warmers. These aren’t quite magic, but they certainly help.

OK. That’s the brain dump. Worth almost what you paid for it.

 

* It is possible to run GX in 2×10 and 2×11 formats, but a different derailleur is required.

House Brand

A few of us who’d been with Pedal for a little while had an interesting chat at the downtown shop not long ago. We’d ridden on Vittoria tires and wore Bell helmets and had clothing from Sugoi and wore mostly Giro shoes. And the conversation turned to the fact that most of us were now wearing clothing and using equipment from Bontrager and Specialized. And to a person we all said, “I had no idea that this stuff was so good.”

Since we became a dealer of Trek and Specialized bicycles, we’ve also become a dealer in those companies’ parts, accessories and clothing. Some of my friends and customers recently asked me, “Is that stuff good? Can I trust that house brand stuff?”

In short words, yes, for two reasons.

One is that Trek and Specialized are proud companies. They don’t want their name on jankity stuff. They hire smart people and, lemme tell you, they hear about it from their constituent dealers if the stuff is not of high quality. And while it might take a product cycle or two (or maybe more) to really figure out, say, cross country mountain bike tires or bib shorts or any number of things, that learning curve has become flatter over time. These companies are now experts at saddles and chamois and most other things related to riding your bike.

Two is that we want you to be happy. This is the case with all things: we want to know about it if you don’t like something you purchased from Pedal. We want to make it right for you and, if it’s really a dud product and not a fluke, we don’t want to sell it to anyone else.

Here’s a quick rundown of some things I’ve purchased myself and some brief words about each:

  • Bontrager RXL bib shorts. This is exactly what you expect a $160 pair of bib shorts to be. The chamois is great. The material is top shelf. These things disappear from your mind once donned. High praise indeed.
  • Specialized Prevail helmet. Generally speaking, I’m not that fussy about saddles but am very picky about the fit of my helmets. Few things surprised me more than the perfect way Specialized helmets fit my noggin. The Prevail is a really light, pretty expensive road lid with which I could not be more happy. I’m serious: best fit ever.
  • Bontrager Cambion mountain shoes, in no small part because they’re blue. I like the fact that the lugs on the soles of this shoe are more grippy than many other shoes I’ve owned. I’m not convinced that the BOA system is the end-all and be-all of fastening systems, but it works just fine. The upper took a couple of rides to break in, but now they’re quite comfortable.
  • Bontrager Lithos Stormshell Jacket. I just purchased this, but my initial feelings are very good. I’d been thinking about a pure protection layer for some time, and thought this looked pretty fantastic — cycling-specific with mythical waterproof + breathable properties, provided in large part by 37.5 technology. Bontrager says this garment is semi-fitted, but it’s more fitted than semi. There are plenty of pockets and vents, sealed tight with waterproof zippers. My only complaint thus far is that the hood doesn’t detach. I rode in the snow wearing this jacket the other day and loved it. It was totally windproof and totally without that feeling of riding in a trash bag you can get from many other allegedly breathable garments. It looks like I’ll have plenty more opportunity to test the jacket in the near future. Stay tuned.

One year ago, I would not have thought it possible that I’d be wearing shoes, shorts, a helmet and a jacket from Trek and Specialized. That is to say that I knew they made the stuff, but thought that surely bike companies could not make products as good as Giro or Sugoi or whomever. Well, they can. And they do. And I’m a happier, more comfortable rider as a result

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.

As Seen Behind Old Dog

While demonstrating the Thule EasyFold 9032 to complete strangers in the Old Dog parking lot I thought, “Hmmm. Maybe I should write about this.”

The things that make this rack different from many others are its high weight capacity (122 lbs!), ability to fit either a 1 1/4” or 2” receiver and distinctive good looks. The EasyFold was designed to haul heavy E-bikes (v. popular in Europe, dontcha know), a feat which I recently attempted with great success.

IMG_3808

 

IMG_3809

The jury is out on the looks. My wife doesn’t like it at all and says snide, hurtful things about poor EasyFold. I, on the other hand, think it looks sleek and modern. I also don’t spend lots of time looking at my car in traffic, so who cares?

So you start with this thing that looks like a Zero Halliburton briefcase on a platform behind the car/truck/thing. First thing you do is fold down the two sides so it begins to resemble a bike rack.

IMG_3810
Would you like to step on this inviting platform?

IMG_3820
Such action is forbidden! No step!

Now that it’s unfolded, you can put bike number one on the rack. The bike is secured with the shorter of the two arms-with-claws, and the wheels are strapped down nice and tight.

IMG_3812
First bike is secured.

Here comes the cool and different part. You now remove the longer arm-with-claw from the rack and position it as required. Super sweet.

Once the arm is positioned as needed, securing the second bike is very easy. Technically the shorter arm may also be repositioning if needed, though it’s typically the longer guy that requires more fiddling. Once you have a system for your bike(s), it goes very quickly, though there could be a small but satisfying bit of problem solving the first time the rack is used.

IMG_3817
Tubes are not being crushed. They are being gently held.

Those claws aren’t used to squeeze the heck out of the tubes. Instead, they just keep the bike in the vertical plane. Bikes ride VERY securely on this rack and bike-to-bike contact is small, bordering on nonexistent. I appreciate that the entire rack sits quite a bit above the receiver on the car, which makes it very unlikely that this thing will drag on the ground, even when attached to smaller, lower cars.

IMG_3818
Folds down for easy access!

Does it fold down so you can put the stuff you forgot to pack into the back of the car even after you’ve loaded the bikes? Yes! EasyFold has a very slick tilt mechanism, designed to work fully loaded. The pivot point is in just the right spot, so it never feels like you’re lifting a lot of weight.

Though I have yet to use this feature, I cannot help but keep one of the extra parts in the car with me all of the time. I’m speaking of the ramp. Yup. Not everyone wants to lift a 66 lb. (max, thank heaven) bike up onto a car rack, so Thule integrated a cool extendable aluminum ramp.

IMG_3819
Ramptastic

 

We have never sold one of these, perhaps because I haven’t been able to bring myself to stock a rack that carries two bikes and retails for $700 and, hey, the T2 is one heck of a rack. And yet… I like this thing, and though I have not personally used the ramp, I think the EasyFold could be just the ticket for people who have a hard time lifting their bike, regardless of style.

Testing will continue, with any breakthroughs reported here.