Salsa Blackborow First Ride

I was able to spend about 20 minutes on a Blackborow on Thursday night, and spent my time wisely by finding the deepest snow I could find, and churning through it.  This bike is amazing, and to me is something of a game changer.

The Blackborow has 5″ tires, which is not that terribly uncommon these days.  Going back to the Moonlander, there have been a number of 5″ tire bikers coming out.  For me, the Moonlander has limited appeal, predominantly because the handling is so slow.  The chain stays are long, the steering is slow, the handling is expedition oriented, not fun oriented.

The geometry of the Bb is pretty close to the Beargrease, and really pretty close to the Moonlander as well.  The Bb and ML have head tube angles within a degree, albeit with about a cm less fork offset on the ML.  The Bb has chain stays that can be a full cm shorter than the ML.  Somehow, it rides totally different.

The Bb feels a lot more playful and flickable.  It hides the size of its tires very well when you’re not in the deepest stuff; it feels very mountain-bike like.

When you are in deep snow, there is no substitute for 5″ tires.  I’ve spent 3 years on 4″ tires now, and the difference is just huge.  There were areas that were hard to even get through on 4″ tires, and I’d be churning and pedaling and spinning as hard as I could to keep moving.  On the Bb, I could gear down and just slowly crunch through.  The reduction in effort was huge.  Amazing.

The extra control and steering precision in snow from the 5″ tire up front was equally remarkable.

Right now, if I was looking for a bike to ride in untamed snow, this would be the bike.  Riding deep, unpacked snow (and for that matter, riding deep, packed snow) was positively a delight on this bike.

For a multipurpose fatbike that is used on snow and gravel and everything in between, I would still stick with my Beargrease.  The 5″ tires on 100mm rims on the Bb are great in dire conditions, but I’ll stick with narrower rims and tires for all-purpose use.

That said, I think the ideal all-purpose fatbike would utilize the Bb geometry with a carbon frame and fork, a 1x drivetrain, and 2 sets of wheels.  One set would be a super light set (think 55-60mm carbon rims and 4″ tires, tubeless), and one set would be the bad conditions set (82-100mm rims and 5″ tires, probably also tubeless).  As I look to the next iteration of the Beargrease, my plans for next year probably involve a second wheelset (a lighter wheelset), and then stuffing the fattest studded tires I can on the current Rolling Darryls within the Beargrease frame.

In any event, I wasn’t expecting the Bb to be such a delight, but it was.  It was really a fantastic ride.

Brozen

Last night, my local bike shop North Central Cyclery hosted Brozen, a Salsa demo night.  Despite ice-covered roads, horizontal snow, 10 degree temps and 30 mph winds, nearly 30 people showed up for the demo, and more than 20 went for a group ride at 8pm.

The ride included some frozen river time, some time on the Chrail (Chad’s Trail), and some general snow hootenanny.  I rode my Beargrease, but also spent time on a Blackborrow, a Bucksaw, and a Mukluk with a Bluto.  More thoughts on those another time.

The purpose of today’s brief post is to thank Salsa and E-Fred for bringing down such an incredible collection of bikes, and to thank NCC for again hosting amazing events in such an unlikely locale.  Because of NCC, DeKalb is something of a cycling attraction, and that’s not an easy undertaking.  We were able to ride the latest fat bikes, in actual winter conditions, with fresh powder and a hard freeze on the river, and it was fantastic in every way.  Expectations were exceeded, and a fantastic night was had.

Manually Bleeding a Rockshox Reverb Seatpost Remote

So yes, Rockshox makes an adapter that hooks a syringe up to the remote on your reverb seatpost, that is supposed to make the process of bleeding the remote a cinch.

Some have complained that the tool that comes with the seatpost is chintzy, and does not function well.  I recently found myself wanting to bleed the seatpost and didn’t have the tool handy.  The symptom I was experiencing was a newly installed seatpost that wouldn’t retract.  I did a little online searching, and ruled out the first two common causes of that issue:

1)  I checked the seatpost cinch bolt tension, and found that it was properly torqued.  If you over torque this, it can pinch the seatpost outer body, and prevent the seatpost from collapsing/extending.  No issue here.

2)  I checked the air pressure in the seatpost.  Remove the saddle and the saddle mounting brackets from the seatpost.  Take a 9mm socket and loosen the cap on the schrader valve stem at the top of the seatpost.  Attach a suspension fork pump, and pressurize to 250 psi.  No issue here.

That left air bubbles in the remote line as the most likely cause.  But without the tool, how can you solve this issue?

I confirmed that there were air bubbles by checking the thumb-button on the reservoir.  When it was under no thumb pressure, it was not fully extended.  If you cycled it, it would not fully extend.  In this picture, the remote on the outboard side is the fork, and the inboard remote is the seatpost.  (Still working on optimal positioning).

So with air bubbles confirmed, here was my manual bleed technique:

  1. Change mounting position of seatpost so that enough of the outer body of the reverb is showing that you can clamp it in a work stand.
  2. Gently clamp in work stand.
  3. Strap handlebars in straight position (I used a Park handlebar holder, but you can just as easily use a bungee cord or a rope).
  4. Angle bike so that seatpost remote is higher than the top of the saddle on the seatpost.
  5. Loosen mounting bolt for seatpost remote and reposition so that the fill/bleed port is horizontal (that’s the silver torx screw on the top of the remote).
  6. Take a T10 torx bit and remove the fill/bleed screw.
  7. Insert approximately 1.5cc of rockshox fluid into a regular syringe.  Doesn’t matter what kind of syringe.  I used a 3cc syringe with a 16 gauge needle.  For me, the needle was more convenient in getting precise drops of fluid into the reservoir.
  8. When I opened the reservoir, there was a bit of air in the reservoir.  I put a couple drops of fluid into the reservoir and filled it.
  9. Pull back a bit on the thumb control, which lowers the fluid level in the reservoir.  (I did this a little at a time, so as to not accidentally introduce more air into the system).
  10. Refill the fluid in the reservoir.
  11. Repeat #9 and #10 until the thumb control is fully extended (pulled out), and the reservoir is full.
  12. Reinsert the T10 screw and torque to spec.
  13. Pump the thumb control vigorously for ~10 seconds.
  14. Remove the fill/bleed screw and repeat steps 8-13 until thumb control fully extends after being actuated.
  15. Readjust seatpost and remote to desired position.

For me, after I did that three times, the thumb control was fully extended after being pumped vigorously.  That meant no more air was in the system.  I checked the reservoir one last time, and all was good.  The remote and the seatpost have been working perfectly ever-since.

If you had a LOT of air in the line, you might have to position the bike so that the entire line was pointing up towards the reservoir (i.e. bike pointing straight up).  That hasn’t been an issue for me.  I know there were a lot of complaints about the Gen1 Reverb, but I’m hopeful that the Gen2 Reverb will be a great piece of kit.

Bleeding only took about 10 minutes (once I figured out exactly how I was going to do it), and was a no-mess affair.

A quick note: I keep a supply of hypodermic needles and syringes around my bike tools.  I get animal syringes/needles at the farm supply store, and use them frequently.  They’re great for many purposes…with a needle on the end, you can very precisely lubricate cables and housing, or very precisely lubricate bolts and screws.  Without a needle, you can keep grease in a syringe and very precisely apply it to just about anything.  You can also use syringes for homemade tubeless sealant injectors (add a small piece of flexible rubber line) and many other purposes.

Trek Fuel EX 9.9 Project One: Why this Build?

Frameset picked, the build decisions commenced.

I knew I wanted a 1×11 drivetrain, based on positive 1x experience on the Beargrease and Superfish.  Comparing experiences I’ve had with SRAM and Shimano, my preference was for Shimano…and with their new 1x design (and an intriguing chainring tooth profile), that decision made itself.

Brakes were similarly easy.  I have no doubt that Shimano XTR brakes are the best hydraulic brakes on the market, bar none.

Trek’s new Reaktiv technology, coupled with the DRCV technology that I already know and love, made picking a shock easy.

In looking at forks, it became a question of going with a tried and true Fox traditional fork, or going to the Rockshox RS-1.  I haven’t had a chance to ride an RS-1 yet, so this was a blind decision, but I relied on recommendations from a lot of people who had ridden it, and who said that it was the best, most buttery fork they’ve ever used.  Game on.

I’ve had a few chances to ride dropper posts, and for actual trail riding, I appreciate the benefits that they offer.  I think they’re a worthwhile upgrade, and worth the weight sacrifice.  My own experience with a dropper post on one of my bikes was with an early Crank Brothers dropper that did not work out the best…but the Generation 2 Reverb is very well reviewed, so I decided to give it a shot.  That the Fuel allows stealth routing made it all the better.

In saddles, I went for my tried and true Ergon SM3–one of the most comfortable saddles I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding.

For wheels and bars, I’ve written enough about ENVE that people who are regulars here know my affinity for their products.  They’re simply the best.

I’ve seen how good the FR3 tires seal up tubeless, and also appreciated riding them at Brown County, so they’re the first tires going on this bike.  I’ll be looking forward to seeing how they hold up.

All told, even with bigger, more aggressive tires, a dropper seatpost, an 11 speed drivetrain and various other doodads, the Fuel comes in at just about exactly the 24 pound weight of the Spearfish.  The same weight, and a shockingly efficient suspension, for a much more capable bike.

Trek Fuel EX 9.9 Project One: Why This Bike.

I loved the Superfish.  An amazing bike that, at 24 pounds, handled wonderfully and was a blast to ride.  However, as I started riding more diverse terrain, I started to feel that the geometry was a bit off from what I wanted.  After riding a number of other bikes, I also came to realize that one didn’t have to sacrifice travel (the SF had 80mm of rear travel) in order to have an efficient ride.  Time on the Fuel EX that I demo’d at Brown County, and bikes like the split pivot Horsethief convinced me of that.  So I was looking for something that was a bit slacker in the handling department, with more travel, and without picking up a lot of weight.

I can honestly say that while I was intrigued by the lefty, I never was fully comfortable with the appearance or the handling, either.

I wanted to find a bike from a shop that would give excellent service, so I wanted to find something local.  I ruled Specialized out because it’s Specialized.  As I started thinking about what traits I wanted, I realized that I was comparing everything I saw and rode to the Fuel and the Horsethief.

I wanted a carbon frame based upon the weight, stiffness and design advantages that it has.  While Titanium is my favorite metal, it isn’t the best for a FS bike (hence Moots’ use of aluminum in their MX Divide).  Well-designed carbon has many advantages over aluminum, and that point’s been well enough explored elsewhere that I don’t have to beat it to death here.

I really like the Horsethief.  I really do.  But the problems with the Horsethief became evident when I started thinking about what components I wanted.  The Horsethief XTR is a $7,000 bike.  At that price point, you should be getting exactly what you want.  However, in looking at the spec, I wasn’t thrilled about a 2x drivetrain.  I wasn’t thrilled by the Fox F29 fork–incongruous with the rest of the bike’s spec.  And I may be a terribly shallow person for saying this one, but wowzers.  Orange decals on a white frameset are just not my thing.  If I’m going to love a bike, I have to love the way it looks.  Many years, and on many bikes, Salsa’s design team knocks it out of the park.  The Fargos and El Mariachis this year are delicious.  The Horsethief XTR just isn’t, to me.  I looked at the Horsethief Carbon 1, and had the same problems.  For a bike of that price, the suspension pieces seem low rent, as does the drivetrain and brake setup.  And once again, the design was just not my thing.

I briefly looked at the new carbon Spearfish and felt that it didn’t meet my needs.  Wrong bike for what I was wanting, and the Carbon 1 has the exact same issues as the Carbon 1 Horsethief.  The Carbon RS-1 has great component spec, but again is the wrong frame for what I wanted, and did I mention that it’s purple on black?

So I started looking hard at the Fuel.  I thought about how amazing the ride was at Brown County, and what a confidence-inspiring bike it was.  And then I started to think about spec.  I wanted to get a bike that was set up exactly how I wanted it–down to the last detail.  With Trek, Project One serves that exact purpose.  You pick every component, down to the grips.  You pick every color, from the fork decals to the frame.  You pick everything.  It’s a premium product–but you get exactly what you want.

The ‘what bike to get’ question was solved by a bike that checked every box for me…because it was the exact bike that I spec’d.

Trek Fuel EX 9.9 Project One

Here it is.

2015 Trek Fuel EX 9.9, in all of it’s Project One glory.

Essential specs:

  • 18.5″ frame, full carbon with magnesium Evo link and carbon armor, in Smoke Red with Platinum logos.
  • Rockshox RS-1 120mm carbon fork with remote lockout.
  • Shimano XTR 1×11 drivetrain, ceramic bottom-bracket and XTR Trail brakes (the 2015 version).
  • Rockshox Reverb stealth dropper post.
  • ENVE 29XC wheels laced to DT240 rear hub (12×142) and SRAM Predictive Steering front hub with Sapim CX-Ray spokes, built by Chad at North Central Cyclery.
  • Bontrager XXX Carbon stem (70mm) with ENVE DH Carbon bars, ESI Chunky grips and Cane Creek carbon headset.
  • Ergon SM3 Pro Carbon saddle.
  • Bontrager XR3 Team tires, 2.3″, tubeless.
  • Fox Float Kashima-coated 120mm shock with DRCV and Reaktiv.

Pictures today.  More on ‘why’ later.

I cannot describe how amazing the color is.  Every time the light changes, the color changes.  It is fantastic–the best paint job I’ve ever seen.

Shimano MW-81 Update Review

Over three years ago, in one of the first posts on this blog, I reviewed the Shimano MW-81 winter cycling shoes.  Back then, I talked about them being warm, waterproof and durable.  I provided followup thoughts a couple months later, and again a couple months after that.

I’ve now had the shoes for 3 years.  To be completely honest, there aren’t a lot of things that have remained a constant in my cycling gear lineup for 3 years.  I still ride the Vaya and the Dummy, but have replaced my road bike, introduced a new gravel bike, replaced my fatbike, and am in the process of replacing my mountain bike.  I’ll readily admit that I enjoy trying new gear, and updating/upgrading.  For something to remain in my primary use for 3 years is saying something.

The Shimanos look largely as they did when I got them.  They’re dirty, but none the worse for wear.  They’re still totally waterproof, including for immersion up to the neoprene bootie at the ankle.  They’re windproof.  They’re still comfortable.  I use them for anything road or gravel when the temps hit 40 or colder.  For that use, they’re perfect.  If the temps get into the low 20s, I might consider a chemical warmer if it will be a long ride.  Otherwise, it’s just wool socks and the boots.  I wear them mountain biking in cold temps as well (provided that I won’t be riding in a lot of snow).

For fatbiking, where you might be off the bike walking more, I’ll take Wolvhammers every day of the week.  The extra insulation and traction of the Wolvhammers is totally worthwhile.  But when you’re not putting your feet down, that extra insulation isn’t always necessary, and it’s nice to not be spinning all of that boot when you’re cranking on the road or on gravel.

The Shimanos are not the prettiest shoes.  Honestly, they’re ugly.  They’re those black velcro shoes that the 3rd grader who eats crayons wears.  But they work.  They’re incredibly functional.  And frankly, I’m amazed at how well they hold up.  They’re one of the best pieces of kit that I have, notwithstanding their appearance.  I had replaced the insoles with a set of 45NRTH Jaztronaut insoles, but frankly, I don’t think that’s necessary.  The stock insoles worked just as well, and left more volume for warmth inside the shoes.

If you’re looking for deep winter, trudging around in snow boots, get the Wolvhammers.  If you’re looking for rain/cold/wet conditions boots for riding, when you won’t be putting your feet down much, these are the shoes to get.