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.