Islabikes Beinn 20 Review

As many of you know, I have a delightful 7 year old daughter.

She started “riding bikes” a tiny bit when she was 3.  Then a bit more when she was 4.  When she was 5, she got into it even more, and we tried riding without training wheels.  That was a failed venture.  Last year, we rocked an oversized glider bike for a few months, and developed the balance necessary to ride.  By the end of last summer, she was riding confidently without training wheels.

Her riding was still brought down by a few things, however.

  1. Her bike weighed nearly 40 pounds.  That’s a basic, single speed, coaster-brake only 16″ bike.  It’s a REI/Novara hand-me-down from the family.
  2. The bike had a crappy saddle that was not comfortable for longer than 20 minutes at a time.
  3. The coaster brake meant that she could not backpedal.  For a young rider, just learning how to start out without training wheels, it is a lot easier for her to start if she can get one pedal forward and up, to a good ‘starting to pedal’ position.  Coaster brakes render that impossible.
  4. The geometry was terrible.  Seriously.  Who designs these things?
  5. Singlespeed, which meant it was always too high or too low.

I went out in search of a bike looking for the following characteristics:

  1. Decent components
  2. Lightweight
  3. Stable geometry
  4. Gears
  5. Hand-brakes
  6. Fun to ride
  7. Cute enough to interest a 7 year old girl.

I’d like to say that the world was replete with many examples, but sadly it was not.  I found naught but one bike that satisfied these criteria.  Those who regularly read here know that I’m a huge proponent of local bike shops, and generally abhor buying online.  In this instance, I couldn’t find a comparable LBS offering, and thus had to head online…to the Islabikes store.  (Google it for yourself).

In looking there, the Beinn 20 was everything that I was looking for.

SRAM X-4 1×7 gearing with grip shifters.  (Sadly, there is no Di2 option).

My Di-2 comment is mostly tongue in cheek.  My 7 year old was graced with my cyclist’s upper body strength.  Getting use to the grip shift took her a while and some serious effort.  I will say that the gearing was totally intuitive; 1 is slow and 7 is fast.

Kenda tires with a tread that is suitable for pavement and light off-road.  Kind of like a 20″ small block 8.  They are 20″ x 1.5″, which is a nice all-around width.

The whole bike.  (Spoke-y-dokes not included).

A reasonable, comfortable saddle.  It strikes a nice balance between padded and not too padded.

Relatively lightweight 20″ aluminum wheels with presta valves.

1x cranks with a nice chain guard.

Mass-produced, aluminum frame.

Non-tapered, chromoly fork.

It has fender eyelets front and rear and rack eyelets in the rear.

Total weight is right at 17 pounds.  Yes, the bike could be lighter, but it’s literally half the weight of her old bike…and she now has 7 speeds, front and rear brakes, and much nicer components overall, on a bike with 20″ wheels instead of 16″ wheels.

The difference in her riding is amazing.  Overnight, we went from a 2-3 mile ride up to a 7-8 mile ride.  Moreover, we’re riding at reasonable speeds (for a tiny nano), and we no longer have to find routes that are totally flat.  Her confidence is greatly increased, as is her resilience.  She can shift down to 1 and spin up a hill, or shift up to a higher gear and crank down a hill, knowing that she has brakes to stop at the bottom.

Because she’s so much more independent, I’ve been able to take the Trailgator off of my Vaya, and ride a little happier.  (The tailgater added a surprising amount of weight).

(Vaya shown here with Tubus Ti rack).

Here’s Lu’s impression of the bike:

Islabikes Beinn 20 Review from Lawfarm on Vimeo.

I have no complaints about the bike.  If you look at seatpost length and stem length, this bike will last her for a few years.  It’s not cheap–they retail for $439–but it has made a huge improvement in the quality of our riding together, and in her level of enthusiasm about riding.  With quality components and an aluminum frame, it will last a long time and take a lot of abuse, as well.

Lu’s comments are apt.  In low gears, there’s no resistance and she can easily pedal up steep hills that would have stopped her on her old bike.  In the high gears, she can drop the hammer.  Like a brick.  But her language is important to note–this bike gives her confidence, and makes her enjoy cycling more.  That’s worth a high price.

I’ll update as time goes on.  For now, this bike has been a great upgrade to our family bike fleet, and I look forward to many miles to come.

Rockshox RS-1 Review

Hopefully, you’ve seen the full photoshoot of my Project One Trek Fuel 29er.

I haven’t gotten around to writing a full review of the bike yet, because I hadn’t put in enough time riding it to be able to confidently talk about it.  I now have a handful of rides under my belt under varying conditions, including one trip to Ray’s MTB park, where I learned how ridiculous it is to ride a 29″ FS trail bike on a jump track.

I’m starting with a review of the RS-1 because that is the part of the bike that receives the most questions, and that seems to have the least information available.  This is a 120mm travel RS-1, which is among the more elusive ones (most seem to be shorter-travel XC versions).

The RS-1 has the new maxle design, with a ‘predictive steering’ hub.  In short, it’s like having a beefy thru-axle, with a removable, even beefier axle over that, inside of the hub.  The reason that this design is required is simple: with the inverted fork design, the lower ends of the fork need something beefy to tie them together, to keep the fork rigid.  In fact, when you take the axle out, the bottom end of the fork will spin freely in a circle.  Unlike a Lefty fork, for example, there is no groove or keyway that the lower rides in to keep it from spinning; it is just the rigidity of the two sides linked together that keep the fork together.

(When you remove the front wheel and have to reinstall it, getting everything aligned is a bit of a pain in the ass, until you get used to it.  Honestly, the easiest way is to flip the bike over, and insert the wheel without the bike’s weight resting on it).

Setup left me scratching my head a bit.  I tried to set the fork for sag, and got ridiculously low pressures.  To set up for reasonable sag, I was running 50-60psi.  On the other hand, if I followed the recommended pressure range for riders by weight, as listed on the lower, my sag was super-low (doing the standard ‘bounce and sit’ method of setting sag).  I ended up following the manufacturer’s recommendations, and starting at the lower end of their PSI for the posted weight range.  I am running pressure in the lower-mid-range of their suggested pressure, and it is perfection embodied.  (If I recall correctly, they suggest 95-110psi for my weight, and I’m running at about 100psi.)  The end result is that the fork works perfectly when I’m riding, but if you do a static check of the sag, it looks like I’m only running about 10% sag.  I can’t explain that part, but it works, so I’m not asking questions.  (Of note, when actually riding, the fork rides a bit lower in the travel, where I’d expect to see the sag at).

I’m a light rider–figure 155#.  That said, this fork is more precise in terms of steering than anything on this side of a rigid fork.  In fact, the steering is more precise than some rigid forks I’ve ridden.  The front tire goes exactly where you place it.  Any error is solely rider error.  There is no noticeable deflection of any kind; the front wheel is exactly where you place it, 100% of the time.  Of course, I’m running Sapim CX-Ray spokes and an ENVE XC rim, so the wheel itself is very rigid, but the fork is amazing in that regard.

I’m not a huge reviewer of mountain bikes, so when I had read all of this stuff about ‘small bump compliance’, I didn’t know what to make of it.  I now know what it means.  The RS-1 is the most progressive, linear fork I’ve ever used.  When you hit bumps, large or small, it reacts in an appropriate fashion.  I use “appropriate” here intentionally.  On big hits, it is controlled and confidence-inspiring.  On little hits, it is plush.  It seems to always know how to react, in an amazing fashion.  At Ray’s, I hit one of the log-pile climb-overs at an awkward angle and ended up stuffing the front wheel off the edge, down a 2′ drop when I wasn’t anticipating it.  I stuffed myself into the bars, in a condition that should have resulted in my going OTB and landing in front of the bike.  The RS-1 sucked up the hit smoothly and allowed me to keep a modicum of control, riding out what should have been a wipeout.  Similarly, when riding outside, it gives me so much confidence as to be game changing.  I can ride faster and brake less because I have trust in the front end of the bike.

I haven’t had a lot of cause to play with the rebound settings on the fork, because in the stock position recommended by Rockshox, it’s about perfect on everything from big hits to washboard, at least at my weight.

I follow the Stan’s formula for tire pressure (weight / 7, -1 in the front, +2 in the rear), and hence I run pretty low pressure with my tubeless Bontrager tires.  I wanted to make sure that the small bump compliance wasn’t just the tires and low pressure, so I used the (very convenient) fork lockout.  The effect was immediate, and confirmed the effectiveness of the shock.

Also, a note on lockout.  I rode the pump track at Ray’s for quite a while, and the fork, when locked out, is truly locked out unless you hit a BIG hit.  The lockout is easy to use and effective.  That said, on the kind of climbs we have in Illinois, I did not find myself having to lock out the fork under any real ‘riding outside’ circumstances when mountain biking.  The fork doesn’t bob under climbing.

I’ve ridden a pretty wide variety of forks in the 100-120mm travel range, from a range of manufacturers.  I can say that, without question, the RS-1 is the best fork I’ve ridden in that travel range.  It’s not a bomber DH fork, but if I needed 120mm of travel or less, the RS-1 would be, unabashedly, the best fork for the job.  Adjustments are easy, action is perfect, stiffness is unbelievable.

That leaves one last question: price.  When people see this fork, they ask, “how is it”, and then “is it worth it?”  That’s an individual decision.  Certainly, this is a premium product at a premium price.  On my bike, the upgrade was worthwhile, for me.  I do not regret this spec at all.  Is it worth retrofitting this to an older bike?  I don’t know how much you’re in love with your fork.  If you ever look at upgrading or replacement, you should look at the RS-1 very seriously.  And if you’re looking at a new bike and the RS-1 is available as an option…well, don’t ride it unless you can commit to getting it.

Kask Mojito Helmet Review

I’ve previously written about the Kask Vertigo helmet, which I’ve used for a year now and have come to love.  In fact, during my trip to Steamboat last fall, the Vertigo saved me from serious injury when I went OTB into a creekbed, landing helmet-first on a rock.  My bell was rung for a minute or so, but I continued the ride otherwise unscathed, and greatly appreciated how my helmet held up and performed when I needed it.

This year, I’ve been riding for the past few weeks with a Kask Mojito.  The Mojito weighs about 30 grams less than the Vertigo (and significantly less than my old Lazers), which is appreciated on the head.

Comfort-wise, the Mojito is fantastic.  I wear a Large.  The chinstrap is covered in soft leather where it touches your face, and is infinitely adjustable, including great adjustment around the ears to ensure that the straps aren’t pressing on your ears or head in an uncomfortable fashion.

The key to the Mojito’s comfort, however, is the feature that it shares with the Vertigo.  The band at the back of the helmet is hinged where it attaches to your head.  That means that you can adjust the band up or down to ride higher or lower on your head.  For example, if it hits the edge of your cap, you can move the band higher or lower.  If you want a more secure fit, you can lower it down further on your head, and use the adjuster to pull the helmet down securely from the rear.  It provides adjustment in a vertical axis that most helmets do not have, and I cannot overemphasize how critical that has proven to be in making this helmet one of the most comfortable I’ve ever worn.

In this picture, right where the rear band goes up into the helmet, the ‘hinge’ is on the inside of the helmet.

Ventilation and comfort are great.

This is the custom Axletree edition…

The dial adjuster on the rear band is easy to use, even with gloves, and provides an amazing range of motion–making it easy to wear this helmet with no cap, or with the thickest covering you can put on your head.

I haven’t had the chance to wear this in warm weather yet, but the vents look to be very effective, and I’m confident it will perform much like the Vertigo when the sun eventually does come out.

So Kask Helmets: they’re light.  They’re stylish.  They’re the most comfortable helmets I’ve ever worn.  And they protect your noggin when you get in over your head, if you’ll pardon the pun.  Highly recommended.

Opening up the Legs

I had to work last night, so I missed the Wednesday night hammerthon.  Accordingly, I headed out on a solo ride this morning.

Coming out of my ‘hood, there is a gentle climb that was into the wind.  I was about a mile from my house, breathing heavily.  My legs were shot.  My thighs were tight.  They felt heavy.  They felt like I was stirring concrete that was starting to set.  The worse they felt, the more my doubt set in.  If I can’t ride two miles, how can I ride 200?  I rode too much this winter.  I’m anemic again.  I’m on the outside.  As I rode up the hill, into the wind, my cadence slowed down like a washing machine ending its spin cycle.  Slower and slower I plodded along, just barely cresting the tiny rise.

On the far side of the rise, I was greeted with a steady headwind.  I ground my teeth and fucking hated being on the bike.  Why.  Why?  Why am I doing this?  Major life questioning started to creep in.  You know how you can set a paper towel on a spot of water and watch the water wick through the towel?  Slowly but progressively, the doubt spread through the fibers of my consciousness.

I turned out of the wind and pedaled down a gentle decline, the sun warm on the side of my face.  I breathed inordinately heavily, labored beyond the reasonable extent of my effort.  I started to contemplate how crappy I felt.  A car passed, and I started to think about the three foot rule.  I swerved around a pothole.  I shifted up a gear, going a little faster.

The next thing I recall was pushing as hard as I could up a hard climb, miles down the road, with my legs fully engaged and my chest throbbing.  I was surprised by the intensity of my effort, and surprised to have missed several miles in the ride.  It’s like the phenomenon of driving somewhere, and just simply not remembering parts of the drive.

At the top of that climb, I settled into a steady cadence down the backside of the hill, and then dug in to a long, gradual incline.  (Long in Illinois terms).  Things felt good, and I shifted up a gear, picking up some speed.  I shifted up a gear again.  I realized that I was starting to work hard, and I felt my opportunity.  I rose out of the saddle and pushed just to the point of sustainability.  The throbbing in my chest subsided and the lead in my legs was replaced with a pleasant burn.

I reached the turnaround point and stopped, just for a minute, to take a long draw off of my water.  I turned and faced the sun, the wind at my back, and pushed off…clipping back in and settling back into a healthy rhythm.  The doubt was replaced with the whir of a well-oiled drivetrain and the sound of my unzipped jacket flapping in the wind.  My legs were opened up, my mood had cleared, my spirits had lifted.

Brooks C17 Cambium Saddle Review

For the past couple of months, I’ve been doing a lot of riding on my Moots Routt, putting in miles in preparation for Dirty Kanza.  At Dirty Kanza, I’ll be a part of a special project that will have more details in the future…but as a component of that project, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to spend some saddle time on a Brooks C17 Cambium saddle.  (I test rode both the C17 and C17s (short) version, and settled on the C17 standard).  I’ve put many hours on the saddle, with rides ranging from 45 minutes to 5+ hours, and feel pretty confident that I know how it performs.  I only have a few months on it, so I cannot comment on long-term durability thus far, but what I’ve read elsewhere has been positive.

My Cambium went on the Moots, and sees all conditions.  Mud, dirt, gravel, snow, rain, heat–you name it.  The Cambium is a synthetic material saddle, and is perfect for these kind of trying conditions.

I haven’t had a good chance to take glorious photos of it, but here are some garage poseur shots:

Note the relatively flat profile:

Gently textured material:

I typically ride my Ergon SM3Pro saddles on mountain and gravel bikes, and I’m a big fan of the SM3, and was a little reluctant to switch saddles, particularly in front of a 200 mile gravel ride.  But I like trying new products, and this is a Brooks-related project, and so I slapped it on my little titanium wonder and checked it out.

My first ride was about 25 miles, and that was an adjustment period.  The saddle didn’t require any break-in period, but the profile was a little different than the SM3–there is no central depression (although Brooks does offer a carve version with a central cutout.  From what I’ve heard, the carve version removes some of the integrity of the saddle, and makes it ride a little softer.  I really didn’t want that, and hence I skipped the carve.  If you like a softer saddle/cushier ride, check it out).

I like flat saddles.  Saddles that have a rise or ridge in the middle, or that are very curved across the surface, are uncomfortable for me.  If you look at the C17, it appears to have a curved profile, and hence I was a bit leery.  However, after just a few minutes on the saddle, I could tell that this would not be an issue.

The material that the saddle is made out of is magical.  It has the perfect amount of give to be comfortable for long days in the saddle–but is firm enough to be supportive (and not bouncy) for your hardest ‘in the saddle’ spinathons.  It doesn’t change texture when it gets wet, so it doesn’t get slippery in the rain (or when you’re really sweating).  The shape of the saddle is perfection–supportive where your sit bones are, but nicely contoured such that the front of the saddle doesn’t rub on your inner thighs.  The rivets are a nice aesthetic touch, but they are never felt while riding, because of their position.

If you get ‘on the rivet’ and really hammer, the contour of the saddle is again perfect–sliding forward an inch to a more aggressive position provides a narrowed seating area that is ideal for your hardest efforts.  Slide back to a normal position, and it’s support embodied for daylong onslaughts.  Sit up and slide all the way back, and it’s a comfortable perch to recover from.

I like the look and aesthetic of the saddle–the black looks great on the Moots.  Thus far, several months in, the comfort is amazing.  I don’t miss the SM3 in any way, even when I’m on the bike for hours at a time.  Thus far, the experience is overwhelmingly positive.

Are there any criticisms?  No–but I have 2 observations.  First, this isn’t a “light” saddle.  Going from the SM3 Pro or Pro Carbon to this saddle is a palpable increase in weight.  You don’t feel it on the bike, but if you hold both in your hand, you can tell the difference immediately.  The offset in comfort and durability is worth it, however.

Second, this is a saddle that I would use (and will use) without hesitation in the realm of multi-hour gravel rides.  If I was spec’ing a saddle for the most intense road rides, I would stick with a traditional road saddle that is harder and lighter.  This isn’t the saddle to put on your Madone, if you’re going to go out and hammer it for 90 minutes.  Right tool for the right job.

I’ll keep updating this review as I get more time in with this saddle, but thus far, it has been a worthy upgrade to the Moots.

Glory Days

I haven’t posted anything substantive on here in nearly a month.  It isn’t for lack of riding.  I’ve been riding a lot–more than ever, perhaps.  My riding has been steady efforts, for longer duration than I’d normally ride.  The positive side is that I’m building an endurance base that should suit me well for this season’s upcoming challenges–predominantly Dirty Kanza.  The downsides are numerous and include: a) boredom; b) a paucity of interesting things to blog about; and, c) a marked diminution in my top end.

I was driving home late last night, after a work meeting, and was listening to some Bruce Springsteen.  Glory Days came on, and I started to think.  I recently had one of my best friends tell me that he had reached a pinnacle, and that’s such a scary thought to me.  It’s a scary thought because it implies that a decline will soon follow.  Peak, pinnacle, plateau–they’re all concerning, because they imply a lack of improvement.

So I was driving along in the dark, wondering if there will come a point in time where I will reflect back on the past couple of years as my glory days.  That is such a profoundly depressing thought–that at some point in my life, I will reflect back and see the best of life in the past.  It frankly scares me to think about identifying a pinnacle or peak.  It scares me in so many contexts.

In the realm of riding, I know I need to bust things up a bit and start throwing down some intervals.  I know I can continue my upward growth once I change up my training regimen. I’m hopeful it will come back to me quickly.  But in the realm of life, so much is changing–and so fast.  I look forward to warm weather and more photo ops.  I look forward to opportunities to truly break in the Fuel, and share some thoughts about it.  I try to embrace the future with optimism, notwithstanding my tendencies to the contrary.

Frank Sinatra said that the best is yet to come.  Dave Matthews said that we should wash out the tired notion that the best is yet to come.  I think that what Dave meant is that we should focus on making each moment the best that it can be, rather than assuming that things will get better at some point in the future.  I think his perspective might be superior.

The future is uncertain and largely beyond our control.  I give myself over to that powerlessness with regard to things that I cannot change.  I will work to improve on the things which I can improve upon, and I will work to enjoy myself in the moments that I am fortunate enough to enjoy with my friends and family.  I will fight back with ferocity against the concept that things are at a peak or pinnacle, and I will push on to the next summit and the ones beyond.

I’ll get back to blogging with more regularity when the moment is right.  For now, I’m focusing on rebuilding my base.