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.