Saturday, January 6, 2018

Friday, October 21, 2016

New bike: Elephant CX

I once fancied myself a cyclocross racer. It only lasted for two seasons.

Every summer as cross season approaches, I decide I'm going to race cross. Then I keep drinking beers and fishing and being leisurely in my bike riding. Then October comes and I can't imagine attempting to race. Last year, at the end of the season I went and watched Glen race and remembered how much fun it was. I told him, "Force me to race next year, no matter what I say!"

A year goes by. I drink more beer. My bike riding is confined to short trail rides. Maddie and I go to Silver Mountain a couple times and bomb down the mountain there, but that doesn't count as "riding," since we're sitting in a gondola on the up part.

I did do a couple mountain bike races last spring. Those were fun until I got pneumonia. But Maddie raced a bunch of those races and had a great time. And did well.

This year, as cross season approached, Maddie sort of wanted to try it and I promptly broke a rib on a lunch trail ride. So Maddie and Glen started doing some training rides and Glen taught her how to do proper bike dismounts/mounts.

I sort of lazed around on a loaner bike. My super rad awesome CX bike was a Rivendell Legolas. I busted the chainstay on it about a year ago. It's been hanging in Glen's garage since then, waiting to be fixed.

A photo posted by john (@cyclingspokane) on
Maddie did her first CX race: last weekend in Coeur d'Alene. She rocked it and looked great. The next race we can make is Walla Walla, so I ask Glen if he's going and he says, he'll go if I step up and race. I say yes, but he's gotta fix my Legolas, cause the loaner bike he's lending me is whacked: it's an old Novara CX that doesn't fit and has a super weird front end. He says, "I built you a bike."

So there's that.

Then he reminds me that he's supposed to bust my ass about racing, which is something I'd hoped he had forgotten. But he hasn't. Maybe that's why he calls it "Elephant Bikes?" Dude never forgets.

So that's how a wheezy-assed guy like me came into a new CX bike: because Glen can knock out a new bike frame and fork in less time than it would take him to fix the chainstay on the Legolas. Or so he says.

SRAM double tap takes some getting used to. After two rides: I got it.

He gave me the bike yesterday. I'd originally planned to build it up with the parts from my old Legolas: the Shimergo 8/10 setup with whatever other old parts I could scrape up. Glen talked me out of that and got me into a SRAM 1x11 with clutch setup. I can't remember the last time I had a bike with all new parts on it. I think the only time was the Pugsley, which Glen also gave me. damn. This guy.

Honestly, the Legolas was perhaps my 2nd favorite bike of all time and most favorite road-shaped bike. (My first fav is my Elephant mountain bike - it's magic). I rode the crap out of that Legolas -- mainly dirt and non-technical single track, though lots of miles on pavement to get to the dirt. I loved the way it fit and how it responded to me and the way it handled and bombed. So, I was silently skeptical that Glen's CX bike was really going to fill that gap. And I was slightly disappointed that he didn't just fix it.

Note fender fixin's. Nice touch.

But after riding this bike I am amazed at how perfect it is. Glen has built me a lot of bikes. And we've done a fair amount of riding together. He knows how I ride, what I like, and what works for me. After bombing the Highdrive trails on this bike a couple times now, I'm ashamed for doubting his plan here. And I'm so grateful that he's pushed so hard on me to ride cross.

First wreck. Ahhh. It rained a metric shit ton yesterday.
The trails at lunch today were a tad soft. I only missed the line by an inch or two.

Riding the trails in yesterday's downpour and during lunch today, I felt the tug that I haven't felt for so long: I love riding light, road-shaped bikes on trails and dirt. And this bike wants to ride dirt and trails. I was immediately at home on challenging climbs and descents that I've done a zillion times on the Legolas or my mountain bike. The SRAM setup with the clutch is like a Swiss watch -- precise and reliable. The handling on this bike already understands me -- out of the box this bike just lets me do my thing. It's weird.

If you're doing it right, then riding cross is hard. I'm thinking it's just as hard if your out of shape than if you are in shape. Because you're going as hard as you can go the whole time. Pain is pain.

We've got a couple races in the queue. I'm gonna show up and race. I'll be killing myself and still probably come in DFL in the 40's Masters, but I'm looking forward to it and this bike is going to egg me on.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Some Kettle Crest Trail

Phone is busted. So no easy instagram dumps. It just so happens that I had just gone back to a normal camera before the phone died... having tired of attempting on bike photos and fishy watery photos with a wet iphone.

this means: I got pics.

And I got a blog. 'member?

So here's a dump and I get to editorialize and carry on too! Bummer is that I had my camera set to take tiny photos.

Some Seattle bros came over on Thursday and joined Glen and me up at the Kettle River.

 You can see two dots in this pic. One is Rory. One is Larry.
We climbed Jungle Hill then descended Wapaloosie Trail on Friday. The climb nearly killed me. The descent was super excellent. One of my favorites. First time was with Alex, who should've been there this time.

Fred. After the climb. Drinking some clamato-jalapeno budweiser abomination, which he explained cheerfully, "has electrolytes."

Rory, Andrew, Lee. Looking solid after climbing Jungle Hill. Lee was on a single speed. Jungle hill is about a 2400 foot climb in under 4 miles. Sucked huge ass with gears. Single speed?

Heading down Wapaloosie Trail. That's Glen and Larry. Here's a photo of Alex at exactly the same spot 68 weeks ago.

Fred wheely'ing. Now this is Saturday. We went up Old Stage Trail, then cut across Kettle Crest Trail to Stickpin, where we descended onto the old S. Boulder Road back to the place on Kettle River. Great route: one I want to do with Maddie. 

Larry yuckity'ing.

Lee traversing.

Andrew. The guy in front? Coffee Joe -- who showed up on Saturday and joined us.

This is the edge of the burn on KCT: about 1/2 mile south of the Stickpin junction. This little section was my favorite of the weekend -- a 1/2 mile or so of twisty interesting single track with some rocks and roots and surprises to keep things fun.

Joe descending through the mist.

Fred working it out.

Lee: pondering his busted brake lever. 

Roll out to the cabin was about 20 some miles of descent on mostly forest road. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

On fat

I've finally got the Pugsley dialed into a setup that works magically for me. I've set it up as the work horse explorer. Aside from the obvious rackage, the bomb change was the swap to the Space Bars. Buddy Alex introduced me to these bars years ago. I borrowed one of his weirdo Rohloff mountain bikes that had these bars and was sold. I'm not crazy for these bars as actual mountain biking bars, but for all other urban/trail/do-it-all setups, I love them.

Speaking of mountain bikes, I've tried that kind of riding on the Pugsley and I just cannot make the tight corners at speed on this bike. I think it's just got too steep a front end for that kind of railing and rolling. But as an all-day work-horse unimog, the Pugs is excellent.

The Pugs has been a slow burn for me. Initially, my thinking about the bike's utility was limited to snow and sand riding. Right away, though, Glen and I discovered how much fun these bikes were on trail riding -- while we couldn't rail as accurately on fast turns, the monster traction and volume of the tires often made up for shitty line picks and the subsequent corrections. At about the time we started riding fat, a bunch of XC-style fat bike  started emerging: slack angles and shocks (!).  Buddy Pat has switched completely to fat for all of his dirt riding. I've got a Soma Sandworm frame stowed away in Glen's garage. It's taking me some time to collect parts for it. Fat components, especially wheels and forks, are still fairly limited in selection and as a result pretty costly.

Relatedly, the standardization (such as it is in the bike industry) across the various fat segments is still being sorted out. It seems to me that a lot of the standardization is driven primarily by QBP via the Surly and Salsa teams. These are the folks that ought to be credited with taking the big, expensive initial risks in mass-productization (is that word?) of fat components. From where I sit, these are some smart folks in both engineering and understanding the market. They seem to be informed largely by a more utilitarian design culture than your average race-first bike company, which is only a good thing. But -- since many standards are still competing -- for example, I can think of at least 4 different rear OLD standards and I'm not a fat bike nerd --- prices are high. If you're reading this and you are interested in buying or building a fat bike, then here's some advice: buy complete.

Anyway, after slugging through a number of shitty snow rides, I discovered that the snow riding thing is not that interesting to me as a primary Puglsey scenario. I should qualify that a bit: if you're talking riding groomed trails in the mountains, I'm interested in that. But if your talking: "hey -- it's like 36 F and the snow is deep, wet, and sort of melting, let's grab our fat bikes and go for a ride." F that s. That's just not fun.

The thing the lit the Pugs up for me was riding it at our place on Kettle River. I ride through the meadows along the edge of the river, over fallen trees, along the rocky shore, through the sand. Since much of the Recreation Area by our property is closed to motor vehicles, the Pugs enables me to expand my fishing reach into otherwise hard-to-access spots.

This sort of exploratory riding requires rackage. For the last couple years, I've gotten along with a shitty alloy rear rack that rattled and didn't set the bucket panniers back far enough. I've been watching for a good cromo rear fat rack for a couple years. They're few and far between and for various reasons those that exist don't work for me. When I discovered that Tubus finally made a Fat rack, I knew that was the one. And it is. I love Tubus racks: steel, smart, simple, and can take loads of abuse.

For front racks, a Tubus Duo will work, but I've wanted a proper porteur style rack for years. Surly just released their 24-pack front rack that is cromo and works good enough. I don't like how it attaches, but I understand that if you are going to produce a zillion racks you need to make them fit a bunch of bikes to sell them, so I get it. At some point, I'm going to hook up with Pat and braze some fixed mounting stays to the otherwise perfect platform. But for now, this is working.

I just bought Glen's small Pugsley for Maddie and Liza to share. With a short stem, and a women's saddle this is a great bike for them. Before summer comes, I'll get another Tubus rear rack for it and put the Duo on the front. We'll be doing some overnighters and interesting exploring.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


When I was a kid, I loved riding my BMX bike to explore new places. I remember how great it was to ride way up to my buddy's house on my own. It was only about 2 miles away, but getting there by riding through parks and taking the alleys was a major feature of the trip. My father lived up north in Steven's county. Riding a BMX bike around the dirt roads of backwoods Steven's county felt like an adventure. I still didn't go that far, but I have this vague memory of how simple and rad the idea of a knobby wheel riding over dirt was. I was about in 7th grade when I saw my first mountain bike and it seemed crazy to me: like a giant kid's bike with gears. I "got" it on the one hand: this thing could roll over ANYTHING with those huge wheels. But I didn't understand why the middle-aged man down the block would want such a obviously-childish thing. I ended up getting a paper route in 8th grade specifically to buy my first road bike: a used Nishiki from the same guy. Four years later, with a bunch of money I'd saved, I bought my first mountain bike: a Giant ATX 760. It was so sweet. One of the first rides I took was the river trail: out of People's Park, through the backyard of what is now the Mega Church Super Cul de Sac, and then up the old trail to SFCC. Anyway, the mountain bike for me was really about extending my reach and my ability to go find new stuff. If you look at mountain bike ads and books from the 80's, it was all about riding out onto mountains and fire roads and of course, moustaches. I had a "how to mountain bike" book by some joker whose author photo was a picture of him and his mustache drinking beers and smoking a cigarette. Fucking 80's man. So great. So lame.

I think exploring is still my favorite thing to do on a bike. And mountain bikes especially are great for real exploring. And the Pugsley is even greater.

Maddie and I have been in a funk so I forced a bike ride today. I should've done it along time ago. The bike always fixes everything. 

There's an old cut-off road that runs over Sherman Creek at the confluence where it meets the Columbia. The road cuts off right as it crosses an amazingly cool old bridge. Last summer, I parked there a couple times, climbed down to the creek below and fly-fished it for about a mile upstream. It was fantastic. I plan on going there many times next summer.

Anyway, this bridge figures into my past when I used to ride up to the river frequently. I had studied the map for the approach from the south but never figured it out. When approaching from Spokane, that bridge is about at mile 110 or so and I never had the will to drop down and see what the deal was because I didn't want to climb back out if I got jammed up.

So today, Maddie and I took the fatbikes and trucked out over the bridge. As soon as we got to the otehr side and interesting little trail (with boy scout signage) emerged. Maddie was all over that. The trail wound around a giant canyon and dropped us down about 200 feet over the course of a 1/2 mile or so. Maddie was unfazed by the the descent, which wasn't really that technical by any real mountain biking standards, but it wasn't nothing either. The kid has some skilz.


Anyway, the trail popped us out at a set of picnic tables overlooking the Columbia. It would be an amazingly great spot to set up camp. It's only accessible by trail -- no motor vehicles -- and it's within the FDR National Recreation Area, which means unless posted, camping is kosher.

The trail continued from there to an old ferry landing, which made for an excellent summer camping spot -- on the water for swimming. 

The trail then worked back up to the road -- on a nice, long, mellow grade: another excellent camping spot, this one with a crazy view north.
Big washout.  See next pic for other side of this gap.

Continuing on, we found a National Forest pit toilet. The trail hooked into an old road, which had crumbling asphalt poking through the forest floor. 

End of road. This is the other side.
This whole area is only about 15 miles from our river place. Maddie and I wondered what it might be like in the spring -- when the Columbia is drawn down and river sand/rocks are exposed for 50 feet or so on both sides. We pondered an over nighter from the river cabin -- by road, trail, and river's edge on the fat bikes to this spot.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

BFF for my BFFs

(tap tap)
(tap tap tap)
Is thing on?
Can you hear me?

That's my kankle.

The Black Friday Fun ride is still on. Historic info on this ride is here.

The plan: Leave the Scoop at 10 AM. It will end at my house. Where I"ll have beer and bourbon and maybe some food.

But Glen is hosting the ride. And if you've not seen Glen since the last BFF ride, then you're in for a surprise.

Photo by Phyllis Benish.

Check him out. Holy hell there's a dude that's killing it lately. Unless you follow CX stuff closely, you'd never know that he came in 2nd in the State CX Championship, Geezer Class, a couple weekends ago. I like to say "Geezer Class" because it's funny, but more precisely, it's Masters 50 Men's. That's a competitive pile of dudes. He won by being fast, but also by being Glen smart. It's a good story. He's promised to tell it during post-BFF drinks.

Also: if you are worried about keeping up with Glen on the BFF ride, you should. But he's handicapping himself by riding the Pugsley and hauling a saw. And if, you don't want to go on the BFF ride but you still want to hang for the bourbon beer part, you can do that too.

Also, while we're on the topic of tooting Glen's horn -- go buy the latest issue of Bicycle Quarterly. You'll note that the NFE is on the cover. Jan gives it a good review too.  The NFE stock project is going gang busters already. I'm thinking this review will make it more gang bustery.

Anyway: go on the BFF ride for those of us that can't. It's always one of my favorite rides every year. Traditionally, it's a ride that I like to do with a CX bike, but this year I was planning on taking my mountain bike. Fat bike works too.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Rat Trap Pass tires on the Elephant NFE and a CDA O'er nighter


I've been a big fan of 26" tires on road bikes ever since I first learned about the XO-1. It's just always made sense for the riding I like the most. The smaller wheel is inherently stronger than bigger sizes -- all other attributes being equal. The smaller wheel feels more maneuverable to me than larger wheels. I dig lots of volume. But until recently, there's really not been a great 559 tire. The Panaracer Pasala wire bead 26 x 1.75 was my favorite all rounder. When I migrated to 650b for most of my bikes, a primary catalyst for that migration was the availability of great supple tires -- mostly from Compass Tires, but Pacenti made a great "event" tire with his Paris-Moto. Once I rode excellent supple, lower-pressure tires, I put them on all my bikes. Even in 700c -- or maybe, especially in 700c -- these types of tires were game changers for me: perfectly "fast," but crazy-comfortable compared to other clincher alternatives.

A couple years ago, Compass Cycles introduced a 559 1.75" tire. I rode that tire a handful of times on Alex's Travel Gifford and liked it. Though, with a herringbone pattern and relatively stiffer casing than the beloved Hetre that has become my standard 650b tire, I was hard-pressed to really distinguish the riding characteristics of the Compass from the much cheaper (though impossible to find) Panaracer Pasala. I know I loved the bike and how it felt with those wheels though -- it's just so right...

Anyway, Jan at Compass Cycles has now created a new 559 tire that he calls an "Enduro Allroad" style tire. On paper it's listed as a 2.3" -- but in real life, mounted on 23mm rims, it's about 52. Click through that link there and read up on the tire. Sounds good to me. 

The Elephant NFE was designed for 650b wheels. Specifically, Glen optimized the "commute mode" for Hetres with fenders. (Disclaimer - I work for Glen. I'm not unbiased). If you do some math to figure the diameter of a 650b x 42mm tire, you get 668 mm diameter (584+42+42). Now compare that to a 26" x 52mm tire: 559+52+52 = 663. That's only a 5 mm difference. That's money. 

Since the NFE is a disc bike, the solution is easy. The hard part is getting your hands on the Rat Traps, since they're in production as I type this. I told Jan that I wanted to try his tires on the NFE -- figuring the description of Enduro Allroad bikes pretty much aligns with the design of the NFE, which boils down in this context to: a road bike that can take road doubles with fat tires. Jan consented to send me a pre-production pair and I was golden.

I borrowed some 559 disc wheels from Glen and rode the bike. I was smitten immediately. This is the bike I've been after for years. There is ridiculous volume in these tires. Paired with super supple casing and not too much pressure -- on the road, on the trail, on fire roads -- this is the tire for me. I built up a proper front wheel with a dyno hub and then mounted fenders. Done.

Here's the critical fender mounting shot. Otherwise, it's straight-forward. Glen builds the NFE with fenders in mind: the rear stays are placed equidistant from the rear axle and drilled with fender bosses. 

For front fender mounting, subsequent versions of the NFE will make fender mounting easier by adding a boss on the fork blade instead of relying on the eyelet that is under the disc mount. (Thanks Fred).  Fenders are Tanaka alloy 559x60.

I think I told Jan I'd give these tires back. I'm not sure I can do that.

Pat and I went on a quick overnighter at CDA National Forest. Pat did a quick write up on his blog. It was quick and generally had huge overhead given the relative time we spent on bikes, but it was one of the most inspiring things I've done this summer. Our quickie overnighter reminded me of how great and massively huge the CDA forest is and how chock-full of potential that huge space is for excellent exploring and fishing. And we can be there setting up basecamp in about 2 hours.  I am committed to making a spring long weekend there next June. This weekend it was super dry and the numerous streams, creeks, and river were pitifully low, but the potential... 

Anyway. I dropped my bike at Pat's the night before we left. He's super into packing and packing a lot, which as I've mentioned before in this space, is the best kind of riding/camping partner a guy can have. So when Pat wants my bike for the most efficient packing situation, I give it up. As I unloaded it I noticed the non-standard clamp-down solution that he had to create to accommodate my fenders and lo-riders. I made some glib comment like, "whoa, cool, looks like you had to create a new thingy for my NFE..." Pat was uncharacteristically curt in his reply, which included something about how fussy my bike was and that he actually had to get the welder out the night before and that yeah, he had to create a new thing. I think next time we do this, I'll put traditional lowriders on there before I drop it off -- see if we can get a suite of low-rider clamp-down options for the back of his truck. 

Since we're getting gear heavy here, the Swift bag is worth mentioning. For about 6 years, I've used the giant Swift Pelican bag as my front rack go-to bag. It's great. But it's too huge. Which of course means I have to fill it up. And it crowds my hands a bit. This bag is a review bag that we (Elephant) ship with review bikes to various cycling writers. I've not used it before. It's their Ozette Rando bag. It's the right size for NFE-inspired riding. Here, I have my fishing vest, tenkara rod, a couple apples, some cashews, binoculars, and bear spray onboard. 

Pat had a perfect little loop for us dialed in. It was a 15 mile loop up and over a mountain. The climb was my favorite type: just a steady grade for 5 or 6 miles. This is where I decompressed and resolved to make CDA a regular destination. 

The descent was knarly and I didn't take any pics. It was dry, dusty, and strewn with fist sized rocks, deep ruts and giant baby heads protruding out of the ground. The tires soaked it up crazy and with their volume -- I was never worried about pinch flats or busing up my wheels, but I did want a bit of tooth on some of the tighter corners. I think for wet riding of this knarly type, I may try some 559 Thunder Burts.

Post ride hang and beer in the dwindling North Fork CDA river.

You can get a feel for the water level by comparing the picture above to one from June 2010 and September 2010

I've done a fair amount of stream/creek fishing this summer -- in BC, in Ferry County, in Stevens County -- and while water levels are low and miserable all around, I've always got a bit of action. Even if that action is just a tiny little trout attempting to hit a fly. On this trip -- I got nothing: zip. I rode up and down the road from our campsite looking for potential pools and interesting river features. I found a couple, but there are no fish there right now. 

June baby. June. I'm going back.