Kona Wo Fatbike Review

In the greatest irony of ironies (perhaps that’s overstating it a bit), I’m currently traveling for work, the week that my Carbon Beargrease comes into the shop.  Arrrgh.  So while I await time with the Beargrease, I wanted to give a few thoughts on the Kona Wo fatbike.  There’s not a ton of information out there on the Wo, so when I had a chance to check one out at Brown County, I jumped at the chance.

Here it is…

VEE Rubber tires and aluminum fork.

Tire clearance with 4″ VEE Rubber tires.  It should clear a 5″ tire up front, but not in the rear.

Think the front derailleur will be catching much crud from that rear tire?

Seatstay bridge.

Hefty rims with small drill-outs.

Tektro Novela mechanical disc brakes.

ISIS drive cranks with internal, English threaded BB.

Krazy bars.

How’d it feel?

It felt like an inexpensive, first generation, heavy fat bike.  There wasn’t any real innovation in the design.  The seat stay bridge and BB looked designed to trap mud and muck, and I can see how quickly they will pack full.  The drivetrain was functional and had a good gear range, but wasn’t super-nice to shift and wasn’t ‘new’.

The aluminum frame felt dull and lifeless.  Not really responsive, but heavy.  Really, that’s probably bagging on the frame a bit much, because I’m guessing the problem is with the wheel and tire combo.  I don’t know how much these wheels/tubes/tires weigh, but they felt incredibly cumbersome.  The Tektro Novelas functioned decently (although they lack much adjustability), but they were challenged hauling the heavy wheels/tires down to a reasonable speed when going downhill.

The tires didn’t seem as responsive to changes in tire pressure as I’d expect them to be…the casings seemed to be pretty stiff.  I was not impressed with the tread design–it functioned fine on clean, dry, buff single track, but did not like roots or rocks–even dry ones.

The bars looked like they would be a good idea, but weren’t–at least for me.  The awkward angle of the bars put my wrists at a weird angle and, when combined with the simple, thin, chintzy-feeling grips, made control cumbersome and not confidence inspiring.  The bike is clearly set up to weight the rear tire, and the combination of little weight up front plus awkward steering angle on the bars made riding the bike seem more like driving a school bus then carving single track.

I like Kona–I’ve wrote about their aesthetic a few months ago.  I like a number of their bikes.  I did not like the Wo.  It didn’t have any standout features that made me think it was well-thought-out.  It didn’t have any standout components that made me think, “yeah, that’s awesome.”  It rode in a cumbersome fashion, and felt heavier than it should have.  In the realm of fat bike rankings, I’d put the Wo above the Walmart offerings (clearly), but below the Trek/Specialized offerings and far below the Salsa and Surly offerings.  I didn’t get a chance to put it on a scale but from what I’ve read, it’s within spitting distance of 40 pounds (I’ve seen weights from 37.8 pounds to 39.4 pounds).  For an aluminum frame, that’s pretty surprisingly hefty, and shows the fact that the components are pretty entry-level.

I didn’t really enjoy the bike on the trail.  I saw a few people riding it around the campsites, and that looked to be more to the Wo’s pace.  If you want a fat bike to be seen on, to cruise around town on, this may be a contender.  Otherwise, I’d keep looking.

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Why Bikes Pay A Fair Share.

A Chicago Alderman is currently proposing a $25/bike registration fee for all bikes in the City of Chicago.  Your kid wants to get a bike for Christmas?  Don’t forget that annual registration sticker.

The Chicago plan is notable for what it is: a pure grab for money.  Chicago has a hole in the budget, and is looking for a plug.  One Alderman believes that bikes could be that plug.  But for just a minute, let’s pretend that there was something more to this than just a money-grab.  Let’s pretend that someone tried to justify a tax on bikes to pay for the “cost” of bikes using public infrastructure.  There are people who claim that bikes are not legitimate road users because they don’t have to pay for license plates, and don’t pay tax on fuel use, etc.  There are a myriad of studies that have been done on these issues, and I’d encourage you to go out and do some research.  Here’s what I’ve come to understand, after much reading.

Bikes used as car replacements save society money from a transportation infrastructure perspective.

In Illinois, much of our road maintenance is paid for with motor-fuel tax, or MFT funds for short.  MFT funds, as the name implies, are gathered from a special tax levied on the sale of gasoline and diesel fuel for road use.  That said, nearly every municipality has to use other sources of revenue in addition to MFT to pay for their road use.  Many communities use their general taxes (sales tax, property tax, etc.) to make up the shortfall in MFT.  So we are subsidizing the use of roadways by cars, with general money from the public, to make roads functional.  Why don’t bikes pay a share, as well?

  1. Bikes do pay a share.  Bike owners are taxpayers as well, and they pay the sales tax, property tax, and other governmental charges that are used to supplement MFT.
  2. Bikes do not cause deterioration to roadways.  With an asphalt street, you can calculate how many trips a car or truck can take down the road and what the lifespan of the road will be based upon that traffic.  Cars and trucks break down roads and cause them to deteriorate.  Bikes, on the other hand, do not generate any palpable/measurable damage or wear to a properly constructed roadway.  A road will wither from the weather long before bike traffic will impact it.  (Some talk about deterioration and potholes on bike paths as evidence that bikes damage roads.  What deterioration on bike paths typically shows is that the bike paths were not constructed to the same standard as a road (did not use adequate gravel and asphalt), and deteriorated because the ground underneath did not properly support the asphalt).
  3. A bike used as a car replacement generates a positive impact.  As noted above, cars are not self-supporting; MFT taxes from fuel sales are inadequate to pay for road repair.  So with a car, you have a taxpayer who pays income tax, sales tax, property tax and MFT, and who drives a car that uses up all of the benefit of the MFT (by generating offsetting damage to roadways), and uses up part of the benefit of other taxes paid to offset damage to the roadways.  With a bike, you pay all of those taxes other than MFT, and don’t generate the damage to the roadways.  It’s a net positive impact.  We’re not just paying a fair share…we’re also paying to subsidize cars that don’t pay their own way.
  4. Bike infrastructure is far cheaper than road infrastructure.  Bike parking is amazingly cheap when compared to car parking.  Bike paths are amazingly cheap when compared to roads.  Bike bridges or tunnels are amazingly cheap when compared to grade-separated roadways.  Moreover, if you engage in smart design of public improvements, you can design a system where bike improvements are cleverly integrated into the overall transportation scheme, and where bike improvements don’t generate any significant additional expense.

Bikes used for any purpose have a positive societal impact.

Whether used for transportation or recreation, bikes used for any purpose have a positive impact on society.  Look at the amount of money that we spend on preventable medical issues that could be addressed through prophylactic measures such as….exercise.  The more people ride, or the more exercise they get in general, the less likely they are to have preventable medical issues such as the myriad of complications arising out of obesity (diabetes, coronary disease, etc.).  If our healthcare system didn’t have to spend as much money as it does treating preventable disease…think of what it could do, or how much less expensive it would be.  Or if we could refocus medical research from dealing with preventable disease and developing new statins into something like cancer research or ______________ (fill in the blank with your own currently incurable disease)…the possibilities are limitless.  Americans spend more than $20,000,000,000 a year on statin drugs for cholesterol on an annual basis.  That’s $64 per US Citizen, per year.  What if we could redirect that money?

It’s not just cycling that has a positive impact in this regard.  Running, walking, rollerblading–many things can have that impact.  Cycling is unique in that it can serve as car-replacement and generate that disproportionately positive impact as well.

The next time you talk to someone and they suggest that bikes aren’t paying a fair share, engage them.  Talk it through.  Educate.

On-Season with the Off-Season

I get asked quite frequently how late into the season I ride.  This time of year, people see me with a bike on my car, and they say, “getting one last ride in this season?”  My answer is always the same, and unequivocal: I ride all year long.

Riding all year is easy and fun if you have the right equipment.  I have a great selection of Gore kit that I use to stay warm, dry and motivated all season.  If you don’t have a great selection of winter kit, or if you’re looking to learn more about year-round riding, check out the Winter Clinic at North Central Cyclery.  If you’re a Facebooker, check out the event here.

Gear aside for a minute (shudder the thought!), I do make some changes for my rides.  I ride the trainer some mornings when I’m too depressed by the thought of going outside.  For example, on Monday when the temps were forecast to be 38 (and were actually 30), I rode the trainer, and watched a WWII Submarine movie on Youtube.  (Run Silent, Run Deep).  Making yourself suffer on a trainer whilst watching Clark Gable is a unique experience.

I back off of the 5-6 rides a week regimen and start incorporating other forms of exercise (second shudder in one post).  Tuesdays and Fridays, I do a kinda crazy workout with a bunch of other cyclists, involving flexibility, core work, and functional strength.  It’s kind of like Cross-Fit, without the focus on dying.

I’m also planning on taking the intensity down a bit.  Last winter, I rode super hard all winter, and felt great in the spring, but was losing power by early Summer.  This year, I’m still planning on challenging myself, and I’m planning on working on intervals more…but I’m going to also reduce the frequency of hard rides, and plan more time for recovery.  I’m also planning on taking a slightly easier approach to group rides, and working on riding within my abilities instead of always fixating on killing myself.  We’ll see how that works…it requires the cooperation of the other group riders, as well.

What kind of bikes do you ride in the winter?  All of them.

When roads are clear, we typically do a Saturday morning road ride.  Unless there’s a ton of ice, we do a Wednesday night gravel ride on gravel/cross bikes (I ride the Moots).  When there’s snow, I ride a fatbike (come on Carbon Beargrease!!).  When I’m riding solo in the morning, I find myself sticking more to gravel and singletrack/forest preserve, trying to avoid paved roads in winter’s early morning darkness.  But there’s still a ton of riding to be done.

I have Reynauds’ Syndrome, which means that I lose circulation to my fingers and toes when it’s cold out.  That’s super unpleasant…but I’ve learned to combat it by wearing appropriate gear.  Having gloves that keep my hands both warm and dry is critical.  The Gore Lobster Gloves that were released last year have been a huge boon to my winter riding.  When it gets cold and I’m riding road/gravel, I wear my Shimano MW81s.  When it gets really cold, I rock the 45NRTH Wolvhammers.

This post is kind of a brief ramble, but the point is simple: even though it’s getting cold and intemperate out, you can still ride.  You should still ride.  It’s more fun than you’d think…and it improves your attitude.

Oh, and come out to the winter clinic.  It’s a blast.

North Central Cyclery Moots Minotaur

I haven’t been this excited about a bike that isn’t mine in, like, ever.

This is an amazing bike.  Grav-onstercros-ingletrack.  Full details are up on the NCC blog over here.  I won’t repeat, except to say that the specs are delicious.  The components are high-zoot ones that I’d pick, and sensible choices given the intended nature of this bike.

Take a look.

Also, some pretty sweet photography by Joshua Arends.

Trailgator Review

We have a few months on the Trailgator now…enough time to give an informed review.  What is a Trailgator you ask?  A tool to connect a kid bike to an adult bike.  Here, let me show you:

It works on fancy Ti bikes.

It works (kind of) on little folding bikes.

It produces lots of smiles.

It clamps on to the headtube of the kid bike…

And clamps on to the adult bike seatpost.

When in use, it holds the front tire of the kid bike off of the ground, and holds the kid bike handlebars still.

Essentially, it turns any kid bike into a trail-a-bike.  But the advantage of the Trailgator is that you can disconnect the kid bike, and your kid can ride their bike.  When not in use, the Trailgator has an integrated storage bracket that connects to the rear QR on the adult bike (barely visible above), so it stores neatly out-of-the-way.  That’s a huge advantage of the Trailgator.  A trail-a-bike cannot be used unless connected to an adult bike.  If you ride somewhere and your kid wants to do a little ride by themselves, they cannot.

With the Trailgator, we can ride somewhere, disconnect, and my daughter can practice her riding skills solo.  We then reconnect, and ride home.  When riding on streets or anywhere with any hazards, I’m firmly in control.  I stop us, I turn us.  I can control the speed.

We’re close enough that we can easily talk and communicate.  That’s a huge advantage from my perspective.  Another huge advantage is that my daughter gets the feel of real bike riding–no training wheels.  She feels what it is like to lean around a corner.

Moreover, it is very adjustable, and provides flexibility to use the Trailgator with a lot of different size bikes–both adult and kid bikes. My brother in law uses a trailgator with his mountain bike…his six year old son rips the flats and downhills riding solo , and then they hook up the trailgator to pull kiddo up hills. It works great for them.

The downsides?  Well…it’s pretty inexpensive, which means it’s heavy.  Some of the parts (like the quick releases) are chintzy pot metal.  Also, when using it with my Brompton, I found that it would turn the seatpost on the Brompton (and thus turn my bike saddle) when going around corners.  That’s annoying.  That isn’t an issue with a “regular” bike, like my Ti Vaya that I’m using with the Trailgator now.

The other big downside relates to the attachment to the kid bike.  As you can see in the picture, it uses a metal bracket and u-bolts.  If you don’t have those u-bolts super-tight, the bracket shifts on the headtube, causing the kid’s bike to lean precariously to the side.  If you get the bolts tight enough to hold the bike securely, at the very least it will severely scratch the kid bike, and at the worst, it will dent and deform the headtube on the kids bike.  I wish that mounting was more eloquent.

That said, I think it’s a great product.  I’m very pleased with the return on investment.  For relatively few dollars, it’s a great way to share my love of biking with my daughter, and a great way for us to spend time together.  And the advantage of this setup over a trail-a-bike cannot be denied.  On Sunday, my daughter and I hooked up the Trailgator, rode several miles to a local park, hung out at the park, unhooked the Trailgator and did some ‘no training wheels’ practice, then reconnected and rode the several miles home.  But for the Trailgator, that would not have been possible.

I talk about a lot of products on here–things that make bikes faster, prettier or more fun.  This lets me spend time with my daughter.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

Brown County, Part Deux

Just a few pics that Mr. Fleming was kind enough to shoot over from the recent Brown County festivities.

Here’s a discussion on the finer points of waterproof, breathable fabrics, featuring Mr. Gorecik and the author.

Here’s an afternoon trailride from when the trails were dry and fast.

And here’s a midnight game of foot down.  If you’re playing foot down, I have three equipment recommendations:  1)  You want 750mm bars, or wider; 2) a Garmin GPS is helpful to plot your course; and, 3) a Lefty really brings the intimidation factor.

Celiac Update

I don’t write about Celiac’s Disease much, because I don’t like writing about it.  But my darling wife has reminded me that this blog is in part about Celiac’s, and has suggested I should give an update.  I’m also reminded of the people that have written me about their own Celiac issues or gluten intolerances or other similar health conditions, and I continue to wish the very best to anyone who has to deal with issues of this nature.

Things have been relatively stable of late.  I’ve gone nearly four months while keeping my weight over 150 pounds.  I’m at 153 right now, and holding there pretty nicely.  I’m still getting my riding in, although the coming cold weather (and cold mornings) has been hard to face this early in the year.  I know, it’s October.  I’ve just enjoyed the warmth of the Indian Summer we’ve had of late.

I haven’t had any blood tests in a while.  I feel like my food/vitamin/supplement regimen is pretty solid, and other than dropping a licorice supplement and replacing it with something else (the name of which currently escapes me), I haven’t made any changes.  I haven’t been glutened in a couple of months–which is the product of an increasing reluctance on my part to expand my repertoire of restaurants to frequent.  That said, it has to be noted that there are more and more restaurants that are friendly to persons with allergies such as myself.  On Saturday, I was eating breakfast at a local diner-type place in DeKalb, and was looking to explaining my issues to the waitress with some considerable dread.  Much to my surprise, her daughter had a gluten intolerance, and she was instantly familiar with my concerns and very, very accommodating.

The summer brought some riding challenges, as I outlined in my Catchup Post.  I started the summer having some energy issues and potentially a bit ‘o anemia.  That seems to have resolved itself (I started eating more to account for riding more), and as the year has progressed, I feel pretty good.

Much to my chagrin, it appears as though my own daughter may have a gluten and/or dairy intolerance.  We’ve known for a while that when she eats too much dairy, it affects her adversely…but the gluten thing seems to be a more recent problem.  It’s hard enough for me, an adult, to deal with being GF/DF sometimes, as I jealously watch friends scarf down hot, greasy pizza…I can’t imagine what it would be like for a 5-year-old.  But kids are adaptable…so maybe this will be easier for her than it was for me.  In any event, it’s something we continue to watch.

We’re continuing to live without health insurance, anticipating changes in the marketplace in the coming months, so the current health plan is to maintain diet and supplements, and not undertake medical care unless there are obvious issues.  The previous course of regular blood tests and such has been discontinued.  I’m not sure if that’s a good idea or not, but things seem stable, so we’re ok for now.  It’s odd to feel like I have a dog in the hunt, as I listen to national debates about healthcare.  Preexisting condition denial is a real thing, and one that I never thought I’d have to deal with.  That seems like the kind of problem that other people have.

Anyhow, enough personal info for one blog post.  We’ll now return to our regularly scheduled bike programming.  And with any luck, in the next week or two, you’ll be seeing a Carbon Beargrease up on the screen here…

2013 Trek Fuel EX 9.8 29er Review

As previously noted, while at Brown County, I really wanted to get my hands on a Fuel EX 29er for a demo ride.  My first real bike was a Trek Fuel EX 5.?? 26er, with full suspension, hydro brakes, and a rad 3×9 drivetrain.  It holds a special place in my heart.

Much to my delight, Trek was at the demo day, and did have a Fuel EX 29er.

A 9.8.

Dayummmmmmn.

Thru-Axle, ABP goodness.

EVO Link suspension with DRCV shock.

Carbon main triangle and seatstay, aluminum chain stays, Shimano XT 2×10 drivetrain, XT brakes, 5″ travel front and rear with CTD, stealth routing dropper seatpost, internally routed cables, Bontrager components.

Insert my standard, “I wish every bike had XX1 drivetrain” comment here, but on this bike, at least, the 2×10 makes a bit more sense.  I’d still rather have 1x.  Note that Trek does make an X01 and an XX1 version of this same bike, for just a few dollars more.

There is no possible way of describing to you how incredibly beautiful the frame color is.  Trek calls it Red Smoke/Viper Red.  It’s like a glossy red candy coating on a beautiful matte carbon frame.  You remember cherry blow pops?  Remember how they started off all dull, and as you sucked on them, they got shiny?  Eventually, you can see the gummy center under the red shiny?  It’s kinda like that.  But in carbon.  It’s amazing.  It’s glorious.  It is, bar none, the most beautiful finish I’ve seen on any bike, ever.  It looks good in the dark, in the sun, in the dirt.  If bike selection was purely aesthetic, this bike would be world champion.  It is really, truly, amazingly beautiful.  It cannot be overstated.

The Shimano components worked perfectly.  No complaints.

Normally, I’d be writing about how effective the CTD adjustments were.  That won’t be the case here.  As with the Salsa Horsethief, the suspension design is so effective that you don’t need to touch the controls.  I left the shock and fork in Trail mode at all times, and it was perfect.  It climbed without drama, descended like a maniac, and was responsive on the flats.

I rode this bike immediately after the Specialized Epic Expert, which isn’t exactly a fair comparison.  The Epic is a couple of pounds lighter, and is a 4″ XC bike with carbon rims.  And I really didn’t like the Epic.  Perhaps that made the contrast here even more marked.

I haven’t had a chance to run a Horsethief on a real trail like Brown County (some day, I hope to), but I cut loose on the Fuel.  It was the most confidence inspiring bike I’ve ever ridden.  I hit corners, obstacles, jumps and bumps with a newfound abandon.  I’d say newfound reckless abandon, but it wasn’t reckless.  I was in total control.  It was unbelievably balanced.

The beefier tires and alloy rims didn’t spin up as quick as carbon models, but they do hold the bike’s price around $5k.  If it were mine, wheels would be the first upgrade.  (Note that even on the higher zoot Fuel EX 9.9 which has carbon seatstays and a few other upgrades, the stock build is still alloy rims).

It’s not an XC bike, but did a good job of acquitting itself on climbs.  On the flats, it felt lighter than it should have.

On the descents and corners, or on obstacles of any kind, it was a monster.  It had a dropper post, but I didn’t find myself using it much.  The bike inspired enough confidence that I felt good with the saddle up at riding height.  It was amazingly responsive to body english, and felt like an extension of my body.  I knew where my tires were at all times.  Little tweaks to the position of the bike on the trail were supremely easy.  Is there a little rock ahead?  Slide 2 inches over without thinking about it.  A little easter egg bump to push you into the next corner?  Hop it.  A smooth, fast corner?  Rail it.

There was no bob, no matter how hard you pedaled.  There was no brake jack.  There were no bad habits.  I was riding corners with instant confidence.  The ABP worked as advertised to keep the rear suspension active even when braking.

There was no palpable flex/play/movement in any part of the bike.  The rear was tight, the front was tight, the bike was incredibly confidence inspiring.  It felt like you were riding in the bike, not on it.

When I talk about the Horsethief, I dream of a carbon version.  The Fuel EX shows how good that could be.  The Fuel is an amazing bike.  What would I change?

Well, with Trek’s Project One system, you can pick exactly what you want.  I’d do a 9.9 with the same coloration as this bike, with the red smoke carbon frame.  XX1 drivetrain with XTR brakes. Carbon rims.  Black outline decals and black components.  The stock tires.  I’d think about remote suspension, but probably ultimately opt against it.  I’d think about foregoing the dropper post, but probably ultimately opt to get it.  And then I’d go rail.  (Dear Trek, if you happen to have a spare one sitting around, unloved…)

If this is what we’re moving to, I’m a happy man.  We’re getting to a point where 5″ travel bikes have XC bike efficiency and weight.  It’s a good thing.

It’s a great thing.  And this is a great bike.