Stans ZTR Rapid Wheelset

With the ENVEs replacing the Crests on the Vaya, the Crests were sitting on my shelf without a home…

So I slapped a Surly singlespeed adapter set on the cassette, along with a pile of SS cogs I had laying around…

And threw ‘em on the El Mariachi.

In garage poseur shots, they look great.

That brings up the ZTR Rapids that came stock on the El Mar.  There’s not a lot of info out there on them, so here’s a bit of data.  This is the stock build for these wheels, from Salsa, with SS hubs and lordknowswhat spokes.

Rear wheel, stripped, weighs…

1246 grams.

Front wheel, stripped, weighs 918 grams.

Make appropriate adjustments for your hubs and spokes…they aren’t light.  They are reasonably stiff, and set up tubeless well.  They do have the spoke eyelets that reduce manufacturing cost (making these more friendly for OEM specifications), but they’re not light.  (Note that all of the weights in this post are comparing the wheelsets set up for tubeless, with Stan’s rim strips and such).

By comparison, the DT240/CX-Ray/Stan’s Crest wheelset that replaced them on the El Mar is just under 200 grams lighter up front, and 420 grams lighter in the rear.  That’s about 1.4 pounds of rolling weight.

The Crests are 24.4mm wide with an ID of 21; the Rapid Rims are 25mm wide with an ID of 21.  Both share a common depth of 15.8mm.  According to Stans, the 29er Rapid Rims weigh 455 grams, versus 380 for the Crests.  Frankly, I have a hard time believing that…I’m guessing the ZTR Rapids are closer to 500 grams than 450.

That means that the DT240/CX-Rays save 130 grams over the stock build up front, and 350 grams over the stock build in the rear.  Re-donk-ulous.

Again, the El Mar isn’t a light bike, and I have not set out to make it a weight weenie.  Even with the Crests, it almost certainly weighs more than the full-suspension Superfish.  But I had the Crests, and they needed a good home.  Annnnnnd….if you’re going to do an upgrade, wheels are the place to start.

I had a chance to put about 15 miles on the Crests Saturday morning, predominantly doubletrack, doing a lot of climbing and a little gravel.  They spin up fast.  Appreciably lighter than the Rapids.  In theory, the Crests should be less rigid than the Rapids, because of the use of a SS hub on the Rapids (wider spread of the spokes) and the use of a cassette-friendly hub on the Crests (because they were moved over from the Vaya, and I didn’t see a point in relacing to a SS hub).  Perhaps because I’m a lighter rider, theory didn’t play out–I couldn’t notice any reduction in stiffness.  If anything, the Crests seemed to have more pop and more responsiveness.

I was playing around with tire pressures running the Continental 2.2″ Trail Kings (tubeless), and got down to 15 before things got too squirrely.  I think I might run 18 rear, 20 front, and see how that goes (just because I’m a bit nervous about peeling a bead on the front).

Anyone need some gold SS hub’d Rapid Rims?  They’re tubeless!

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ENVE 29XC v. Stan’s Crest

Here’s the technical nitty gritty.

On the Vaya, I use DT Swiss’s ratcheting skewers–in Ti.

42 grams.

My 11-32 XX cassette:

186 grams.

Avid HSX 2 piece rotors.

108 grams with bolts.

Stan’s Crest, set up for tubeless, with DT240 hubs and CX-Ray spokes, brass nipples

730 grams in the front.

Same setup for an ENVE wheel (taped, with valve stem).

750 grams in the front.

Fully assembled, the Crest wheels with Bontrager CX0 38c tires, tubeless, come in at 1260 grams (front) and hte ENVEs are 1280 grams.

The rear is a slightly different story.

The Crest in the rear, no cassette or brake rotor, comes in at…

830 grams.

The ENVE comes in at 824.

The complete rear build comes in at 1568 for the ENVE…with a bit too much sealant in it.

The tires mounted up and seated perfectly on the ENVEs, first time.  I did about 90 seconds of shake and bounce, and they’re holding air perfectly.

Knowing the weights, is the ENVE wheelset an upgrade?  That’s a rider-specific thing.  For me, the ENVEs win out for a couple of reasons:

1.  They look amazing.

2.  From a ‘pick the ultimate part for your bike’ perspective, there is no question that the ENVEs are more desirable.

3.  Most importantly, the Vaya isn’t the lightest bike out there.  If I wanted the lightest bike, I’d be building up a Carbon Fiber gravel grinder.  What I want is a bike that will do whatever I ask of it, hold up to any punishment, and never let equipment be a limiting factor.  I have absolute confidence that the ENVEs will be more durable, withstand more punishment, stay truer, and never cause an issue.  My confidence in the Crests is not as unending.  If this was for a mountain bike, the added durability of the ENVEs would be a critical, critical component–no weight limit, no worries. On a gravel grinder, the durability should not be understated–with some frequency, you crash through potholes, washes creeks, gopher holes, farm fields, and various other impediments.  The ENVEs are simply better suited to the task.

I’ll be the first to admit: 2 of the 3 reasons I prefer the ENVEs are aesthetic-because the Crests are pretty darn good, and pretty darn light.  From a cost/benefit analysis, the Crests are hard to argue with.  From a “pick the very best part for the job” perspective, I don’t think there can be any doubt about the ENVEs.  I posted those reasons in that order intentionally, as I readily acknowledge the ENVEs are a little pie in the sky, at roughly double the cost of the Crests.

The ENVEs are 24mm wide with an 18mm ID and 31mm depth.  The Crests are 24.4mm wide with a 21mm ID and a 15.8mm depth.  I have not noticed a difference in handling with the 38c tires mounted on 18mm wide ENVEs versus 21mm wide Crests.  I do wonder if the double depth of the ENVEs contributes to the perceived aerodynamic change in handling.

And they’re soooooo hot.

Gore, Knog, Fatbikes, Local Bike Shops.

These are a few of my favorite things.

Thursday night was the Winter Clinic at North Central Cyclery.  It was a night of bliss for the author of this particular blog.  Why?  Soooo Muuuuch Gooooodness.

Demo Beargrease (like the one I rode a couple of months ago, also at NCC).

Demo Krampus.


Brand-spankin-new Ti Warbird.

Delectable S’mores made from energy waffles endorsed by now besmirched cyclist formerly known as ’7 time tour winner.’

They were so energy packed, that Chad came in clean-shaven, had one bite, and instantly grew a beard.

And there was Peter.

PBR.  Like a moth to a flame, I tell ya…

There was a dinglespeed TI Muk wearing Big Fat Larry’s on 82mm rims.  I took these pics to show that there’s plenty of room for Lou’s in the rear.

And there were oodles and oodles of people.  Over 60, not including the sponsors.  For a winter-riding clinic, that’s pretty exceptional.

Lots of cool products to ogle…like the entire line of Gore clothes.


An array of Knog’s latest and greatest lights, including a couple of models with nifty features like USB recharging.

Mattias found something pretty in pink…

And then decided to find out whether Gore-Tex is really waterproof or not.

It is.

No, really.

GoreTex Works–North Central Cyclery Gore Demo 11.1.12 from Lawfarm on Vimeo.

Not kidding.

And lest you think that pink was the only questionable clothing choice of the evening…

Yeah.  There’s that, too.  The belt really completes the outfit.

BPaul tried on approximately 435 coats.  I’m pretty sure he ruled out at least 3 or 4, and he’ll probably settle on a final choice right around the time the national debt gets paid off.

In the realm of demo bikes to ride, they had the aforementioned Beargrease and Krampii, and a host of fatbikes from XL Pugs, Neck Romancers, Moonlanders and Mukluks, all the way down to a 14″ Pugsley.  You can’t help but smile.

Beth…you really need that bike.  It is sooooo you.

And if you had questions, they could be answered by none other than Salsa’s own E-Fred:

Or you could hear about how the fuzzy lining on the inside of Windstopper is made from the hair of shaved, free-range Unicorns from Brendan Gore-Cik.

Or maybe you have a light question for Knog’s Brian Mark…

So yeah, a night full of awesome.  New products to ogle, information to learn, things to see, things to try.  I can’t convey all of the information received, but here are a few Gore highlights:

The gore membrane used in Windstopper and Goretex are related fabrics.  The Windstopper is a bit more porous, but still waterproof.  Windstopper doesn’t have taped seams, so they don’t market it as waterproof…and it’s more breathable than straight Goretex.

They had a demo where you’d get your hand wet, and stick your wet hand in a goretex gloveliner.  You’d then put your wet hand, in the glove, in a bucket of water.  You would then move your hand around vigorously.

I kid you not…when you pulled your hand out, it was dry.  I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see it.

Seriously.  Moving your hand generated heat, which turned the water on your hand into vapor, and the Goretex transferred that vapor away from your hand, directly into a bucket of water.  Ridiculous.

Brendan used a great metaphor for Goretex…he said it’s like a chain link fence.  On the outside, water is the size of a softball, and thus cannot get through the fence.  But on the inside, sweat vapor is smaller, like a golfball, and can pass through the fence.  Makes sense, and was a great analogy to consider.

I kind of feel like I’m rambling right now, but there was so much information to learn and absorb.  It was truly a great evening.  I ride outside a lot, and have read a ton about Gore clothes…turns out, I haven’t scratched the surface.

I cannot emphasize enough how awesome it is to have a local bike shop able to pull together events like this, and get experts and information like this.






De Main Domane Bearing

I’ve had a couple questions sent to me about whether the Domane actually has a pivot point in the seatpost, or whether it just has an elastomer to isolate the seatpost from the seat stays and top tube.

It has a pivot point.

Pic from cxwrench on RBR.

There are 2 bearings; both are 19mm outside diameter, 10mm inside diameter, 5mm wide.  Both are sealed.  The seatpost flexes on a pin through those bearings (the bearings being located in the top tube/seatstay junction).  There is also elastomer in the joint to help control flex and keep vibration down.

And yes…when you push down forcefully on the saddle, the top of the seat tube flexes back, and the ‘middle’ of the seat tube (between the bb and top tube) flexes forward.  If you watch that bottle cage, you can see it move forward in response to the flex.

That’s all.  Carry on.

The Surly Big Dummy Review.

Yup.  Big Dummy Review.

The Big Dummy does, and always will, have a special place in my bike heart.  It was my first “real” bike.  Sure…before it I had a Trek Fuel EX 5.5 and a Trek FX.  (Yes.  I’m not proud of it, but I had a flat bar road bike.)  But those aren’t real bikes.  Not like the Dummy.  Not like the Vaytanium.

Before I get to the pics, let me give you the truth.  I really thought about pulling a few things off the Dummy and dressing it up for pics.  But the truth of the matter is that the pictures show the bike how it is, 95% of the time.  I’ve had it for 2 years this summer, and I just rolled over 1,000 miles.  It isn’t an everyday bike for me.  That’s the truth.  It’s a luxury to have it.  And it’s so damn fun.

When I started riding more, I realized that I wanted to be able to take my daughter with me.  Based on that desire, I did what everyone does, and got a trailer.  I hated having a trailer, for a multitude of reasons.  And there was that fateful day when I walked into North Central Cyclery and saw my first Big Dummy in person.  It was their shop Dummy, which I rode and loved.  I went back and rode it again.  Loved it again.  Went back and rode it a third time.  Loved it more.  With their assistance, I got a Dummy of my own.

Quick note on trailers vs. Dummy.  No comparison.  On the Dummy, my daughter and I can talk without yelling, we can point things out to each other, we can ride when it’s windy without dragging a parachute, we can ride anywhere a regular bike can fit without worrying about width, we can hop curbs, and we can do just about anything you can do on a bike.  In far, far greater comfort.  The Dummy allows parents to go for a ride with their children, instead of taking their children along on a ride.  See the difference?

It’s gone through a few iterations, but here’s the current spec:

18″ swoop Big Dummy, stock build (Deore LX 3×9, Avid 7s, Salsa Gordo wheels, Schwalbe Big Apple 26x2s, somewhat cushy Bontrager saddle (I never wear bike shorts on the Dummy, so a little cush helps).  Ergon grips.  I run an inverted drop bar for a stoker bar (details below).  I have the family kit and the cargo van kit, and usually run a flight deck, Peapod kid seat, and the 2 side bags.  Jones Loop Bars.  Rolling Jackass center stand.  A ton of bottle cages, pump mount, etc.  Planet Bike fenders.

This is how we roll.

The vast majority of the time, the Dummy is my kid-chariot.  I also use it for errands and trips to town, and occasional fun rides around the ‘hood.  I haven’t used it for touring (I’d like to), or anything really serious.  Longest ride was about 45 miles over the course of a day.  I said it–the Dummy is a luxury for me.

Big Dumb Shadow:

Mirror is useful for watching traffic…and passengers.

Jones Loop bars, wrapped.

That’s a mount for my Edge 800 on the stem (I’ve used it once on this bike).  Ergon Grips.  Stock Avid SD-7 brake levers (love them) and Deore LX shifters.  Cheap-o Bontrager headlight (used to be seen, not to see.  I run it on flashing mode when it’s dusk, so others can see my daughter and I returning from a park).

The lever in the center/front of the Loop is used to deploy the Rolling Jackass Centerstand.

Squeeze it, and it deploys the center stand down to the ground…then you just lift the front tire and pull the bike back onto the center stand, just like a motor cycle.  You can then dismount in complete comfort.  Frankly, it makes the bike so much more stable for loading cargo…and for loading and unloading my daughter.  It works perfectly.

Nice wide stance, easily adjustable feet.

When you’re ready to ride, just ease the bike forward and the spring shown above will retract the center stand…roll away.  It’s ugly…very ugly.  But it works great.  If you’re loading/unloading kids, dealing with the extra weight and the aesthetic concerns is a small concern compared to the security and stability of the center stand.  Srsly.

Because we ride after I get home from work a lot, I run reflectors and lights.  I don’t care if it looks stupid–I’ve got my daughter on board.

Goofy inverted drop stoker bars.

Why the inverted drop bars?  Well, for starters, they’re incredibly comfortable for a rear deck passenger to hang on to…without having to put their hands in incredibly close proximity to the biker’s rear end.  Equally as important, they’re surprisingly functional.  They’re easy to grab to lever the bike around in tight quarters.  They’re super easy to lash heavy/large/awkward loads to.  They’re very comfortable for kids to get close to and hang on.  They just work.  They’re also great for holding helmets at the park.

I intentionally took these pics at the park because that’s the second home of my Dummy…parks all over my local area.  My daughter begs to ride on the Dummy.

In the rear, you can see my dual lights and extensive reflectors.

Mr. Whirly cranks and DMR Vault pedals.

Why the Vault’s?  Because I had them, and they’re awesome.  Awesome.  I love them.  Best platforms ever.  Reasonably light, totally bombproof, great traction.

The Peapod is very nice…super comfortable for my daughter, and very adjustable as she grows.

The downside to the Peapod is that it’s pretty huge.  If I want to carry significant cargo, it has to come off.  The stock design requires you to remove the flight deck to remove the Peapod.  That is really inconvenient.  Xtracycle really needs to come up with a quick attach/release version of the Peapod, so it can be mounted and dismounted with ease.  They don’t have one–and that’s unfortunate.  I ended up building my own, with a fabricated aluminum subframe that the Peapod mounts too.  It works well, and mounts/dismounts quickly and securely.

The Dummy handles loads with ease.  I have yet to find a load that it feels uncomfortable or unstable with.  Last year, there were a few times when me, my wife and daughter would all ride the Dummy to the park (or to Ollie’s for custard).  The more weight you put on it, the more stable it feels.  And yet, for as sturdy as the wheels and frame are (look at that ovalized bottom tube), it has a very prototypical steel frame ride–which is to say it rides great.  For big loads, throwing the wide loaders on is very, very helpful.

The parts spec is dead-on.  Deore LX isn’t exactly high-end in the drivetrain…but as long as the chain is, the drivetrain is totally forgiving.  My Dummy lives a pretty nice life…it’s been out in the rain one time.  That said, the only work I’ve ever had to do on it is chain lubing.  It’s never needed a derailleur or brake adjustment, and has, after 1,000 miles, always shifted and braked perfectly.  (With those super long cables, that’s a really impressive feat.  I attribute much of that to the careful setup at NCC).  The headset has been nice and tight from day 1.  I started pulling apart the bottom bracket to check it last weekend (after hitting 1k miles), and it was tight and lubed.  Wheels are true and spin easily.  When I got it, I did spray the frame down with some Boe-shield…and I have washed it once.  (After it was out in the rain).  But that’s it.

I did run clip less pedals on it for a while…and for heavy loads, clip less rocks.  But after one “almost didn’t unclip while stopping” when I had my daughter on the back, I went back to platforms.  As long as I have passengers, I’ll stick with platforms.  Risk/reward.

The Dummy is a great bike.  Riding it just makes you smile.  The perfect Dummy speed is 15mph–it just loves to ride 15mph.  It will ride faster, it will ride slower…but 15 is about perfect.  The drivetrain offers a wide enough gear spread to cover any load, any hill, any situation up to about 30mph.  And 30mph is plenty fast on the Dummy.

I’ll close out with a few comments on the Schwalbe Big Apples.  They’re quiet and have a great ride for the suburban use that I put the Dummy through–the high volume design works well at squelching bumps, especially in combination with the steel frame.  At lower pressures, they’re comfortable, at higher pressures, they’re fast, around 45 psi, they’re both.  I’ve had 400 pounds of rider and cargo on the Dummy, and the B’Apples didn’t even blink.  The reflective stripe is a nice touch, as well.  My complaints?  Obviously, no real tread means no effectiveness in any kind of mud or snow.  (I threw a Schwalbe Smart Sam on the rear end and screwed around in the snow once…it was super fun.  The long wheelbase meant you could hang the rear end out sliding around every corner, and have complete control).  Also, when you push it hard into a corner, the front tire squeals like a pig.  Really.  It’s annoying.  I’m also not fond of the look…I’ve seen a few Dummys with more aggressive tires, and think that they fit the bike’s personality much better than the Big Apples.  But after 1,000 miles, they look relatively like new.

The Dummy is a great bike.  It would be a great urban, all-purpose bike, and it is a great suburban, special-purpose bike.  And it can carry a butt-load of gluten free beer.

Sneak Peek Tuesday: Ultegra Di2 and Moonlander Schwag

I schwung by my favorite local bike schop today to schee schome new schwag.  What did they have?

Ultegra Di2 (Electronic Derailleurs):

This was the first time that I, a mere mortal, have had the opportunity to fondle see Di2 in person, on a nice Trek Madone that’s being built up at the shop.

Note…some negative comments follow.  Notwithstanding those negative comments, it’s super cool to see that my local bike shop is on the cutting edge with new technology.  If I hadn’t seen it in person, I wouldn’t have any basis to have an opinion.

From some angles, it looks relatively normal:

And from other angles, it looks decidedly not normal:

Those are both shots of the rear derailleur which, as you can see, is significantly larger than a ‘standard’ Ultegra derailleur (like I have on the Ridley).

The front derailleur is even beefier.

What was cool about it?  It’s like, electronic and stuff.  Seriously, though–the auto trim feature was very cool, as was the authority with which it shifted between gears–no hesitation, no delay, just complete precision.

What is to like and not like about it?  Well, for starters, the aesthetics of it do nothing for me.  In fact, I find it rather garish.  I also found the noise it made to be rather un-bike-like.  I haven’t seen Campy’s EPS system in person, but I find the aesthetics of it (in pictures) to be more pleasing, and I’ve heard good better things about the noise it makes.

What else looked kinda hinky?  Well, on this bike, the recommended battery mount location was below the bottom bracket:

It’s relatively hidden and out of the way, and it is ‘protected’ by the chainring.  But it looks weird, once you see it…and the connections are right in front, where they’ll get hammered by water should you ever find yourself in a rainstorm.  I don’t know…it might grow on me, but I didn’t like it thus far.  (Obviously, concealed in the frame/seatpost is the best option, followed by some unobtrusive bottle cage mounting, perhaps).

But the biggest concern I have about it is the placement of the shift levers:

The smooth part at the back (the normal shift tab on Shimano) shifts one way.  The bumpy-textured part closer to the brake lever shifts back the other way.  Another view:

There, you can more clearly see how the shift buttons are built into the brake lever.  From a very brief “grab it and shift” perspective, the buttons felt too close together.  I can see a lot of accidental shift activations.  Perhaps more importantly, for someone that rides in a location that has weather that drops below 50 degrees from time to time, it looks un-rideable with gloves.  There is no way that you could reasonably be expected to distinguish between the two buttons and engage just a single button to effect a shift with gloves on.  No way.  Plan on a lot of fumbling and some cursing in order to shift with gloves on.  That one issue, by itself, is a deal killer for me.  I’ll look on with interest at the Campy and SRAM options, and wait to see if Shimano comes out with something more reasonable…it would take a lot to convince me that this setup makes sense outside of extremely warm climates (unless you hang the bike up when it gets cold out).  Based on how it shifted on the stand, I do bet that it shifts like butter when you’re out riding.

And for a bike gear nerd like me, it was a moment of bliss to see it up close and in person.  On to item no. 2:

Moonlander Schwag:

North Central Cyclery was recently featured on  So it came as no surprise, really, to see one of Fatbike’s new Moonlander Patches that had been mailed out to NCC’s GM, Tobie.

But nonetheless, it was cool to see.

Ride on.

Bontrager Balaclava Review

Just a quickie review of the Bontrager Balaclava.

I have one, and love it.  I use it for all of my winter biking, and pressed it into service for skiing this year, as well.  It is made of a material that is kind of like a soft-shell coat; warm, water repellent, wind resistant.  It is more water/wind resistant than polar fleece, and doesn’t get too hot like polar fleece can.  It’s a great weight for activities that you wear a helmet while doing–might be too light by itself.

But the best feature is that the ‘face cover’ part of the balaclava is sewn up very high on the sides, by your ears, and is very adjustable.  You can go from having your face exposed (when it’s warm):

(No idea where that look came from–potentially the least attractive RATG picture ever).

When it’s a bit chillier and you want to cover your chin:

Or the full-on, it’s freezing:

Note: if I had tried, I could have covered that little strip of forehead that’s showing.

I’ve washed mine a dozen or so times, with no ill effects; it has held up perfectly.  For some reason, it doesn’t develop as much icing as other balaclavas I’ve had have developed (when worn over your mouth).

I have absolutely no complaints about it.  It’s the best helmet liner/balaclava I’ve ever had.  For biking, skiing, or other winter/helmet activities, it’s perfect.  Perfect!

As with all bike products, buy it at your local bike shop.  I bought mine at North Central Cyclery.

The Bike. The Vaytanium. (Salsa Ti Vaya)

Hyperbole alert.  You’ve been warned.

This is the promised review of the Vaytanium…my Salsa Titanium Vaya.  Here she was last spring, brand spanking new.

Photo credit for those beauties goes to the talented eyes at Transit Interface.

The Vaya came out of a conversation that started with Tobie, the GM/MC at North Central Cyclery.  I said I wanted a jack of all trades.  I wanted a frame that had a great ride, but wasn’t steel or carbon fiber–I didn’t want to have to worry about rain, salt, snow, freezing, chipping, etc.  Something super durable.

A bike that would be comfortable on the road, on the limestone trails, on light single track, on gravel road expeditions…everywhere.  Something I could ride in the NCC Gravel Metric, could commute to work on, could cross race on, and could ride to my in-laws.  I wanted that impossible mix of light, fast, durable, reliable.  I wanted disc brakes–so I wouldn’t have to worry about snow/ice/rain riding (as this was to be a foul weather ride for when the Ridley didn’t want to go out).  I wanted a bit of bling.  But I wanted everything to be functional–and comfortable.  I wanted a riding position that was good for long distance hauls.  I wanted mounts for fenders and racks.  I wanted a lot.

This was at a time that was relatively early in my bike interest period.  I was riding a lot, but wasn’t reading a lot.  I didn’t know much about spec’ing a bike.  And that was where I leaned on North Central Cyclery.  Here’s the bike spec that Tobie put together:

Salsa Titanium Vaya.

NCC built, hand laced Velocity A23 rims, stainless steel spokes, Chris King hubs.

Winwood Muddy Cross carbon fiber fork (this was at a time when the fork options for carbon, 700c, proper geometry, and disc compatible were almost none).

Avid BB7 road brakes.

Chris King headset.

Eriksen Ti Sweetpost seatpost.

Continental Cyclocross Speed 700x35c tires.

Sram Rival drivetrain.

Deda aluminum bars and stem…gel wrap under bar tape for larger profile and greater comfort on gravel.

Crank Brothers Candy 3 pedals.

King titanium cages.

Matching blue blingy bits (Salsa skewers and Liplock).

In my mind, after living with the bike for over a year, the build is about perfect–and shows the value of working with a great local bike shop.  For example, when we talked about building it, and Tobie suggested Rival, I wondered why not Force or Red.  Tobie explained that, for this build, Rival offered 95% of the performance (and equal or better durability) at 50% of the cost.  But on the hubs, Tobie suggested the top-end Chris King parts…and after riding through hub deep water and hammering through muddy slugfests, that was the right call.  I asked about using lighter spokes, and Tobie explained the tradeoffs in durability and strength.  After several thousand miles on the Vaya, other than a quick check at 200 miles, the wheels have a never needed truing.  That’s saying a lot after what the Vaya has lived through.

In other words, Tobie shared years of experience in bike riding and building with me.  He didn’t go for the hard sell on upgrades that weren’t necessary.  He did recommend sensible upgrades where they would have a meaningful difference in performance and durability.  The Vaytanium says a lot about his vision, and the vision of North Central Cyclery.  It’s an amazing bike, from an amazing shop.

I’ve made a few additions over time.  I have a Relevate Tangle (medium) frame bag that sees use with some frequency.  I added a Tubus ti Carry rack.  On occasion, I run a set of fenders.  As seen in the black and white pics above (and the pics below), is how it spends 80% of its time: with a rack and no fenders.  That way, I can throw on a pannier and commute to work, or throw on 2 panniers and take shower supplies and a change of clothes if riding to a party or family gathering, etc.

I’ve run the Cyclocross Speeds, Schwalbe Marathon Mondials (review of both here), Michelin Mud 2s (for cross races), and once, briefly, road tires.  Here are a few current pics, after today’s ride:

Blingy Kingy:

Velocity A23s, King hubs, BB7 brakes:

Rival drivetrain

King ti Cages:

Eriksen Sweetpost:

Pretty titanium welds at the bottom bracket:

Nitty gritty:

Cockpit (comfy SRAM hoods).

Tubus ti Carry:

The Tubus Carry is insanely light, very pretty, and surprisingly sturdy (I’ve had up to 60 pounds on 2 panniers, with no ill effects–it felt very stable.)  Do note that it is pretty narrow, though.

What kind of bike again?

The aftermath of a muddy B-road ride last year:

(See the inner tube there?  When a friend’s rear derailleur asploded, the Vaytanium was pressed into service to tow him home.  Innertube around my seatpost and his handlebars.)

Earlier in that same ride (the triple bottle mounts do occasionally get used)

Washed up, for cyclocross duty:

The weight (sans rack) is right at 20 pounds.  Dropping a bit of weight wouldn’t be hard (lighter build wheels, lighter saddle, etc.)

The pictures from today are emblematic of the bike.  (At the start of today’s ride, it was cleaned and lubed, hanging in the garage).  It was cold and damp, and I really didn’t want to ride.  Days like that are the best time to ride the Vaya.  We rode pavement, gravel, soft limestone paths, leftover hardpack snow and ice, and a bit of single track.  The bike performed admirably on each surface (although the Cyclocross Speeds were overcome by a bit of mud at one point).  In the course of the ride, the bike got filthy–blasting through puddles and soft limestone/gravel will do that.  But even dirty, it’s a beautiful bike.  And I love to get it dirty.  It’s lived through hail storms, flash floods, deep mud, and sunny days…and it keeps coming back for more.

The ride characteristics are…well…dreamy.  The riding position is not terribly aggressive, and the fit is perfect for me.  On loose gravel, the titanium frame/seatpost and carbon fork dampen chatter and rumble.  On hardpack or asphalt, the bike is surprisingly rigid and responsive.  Over big bumps, the bike is amazingly compliant.  The feel of titanium is difficult to describe…I’ve taken to describing it by comparing it to a dampened guitar string.  The frame takes the edge off of jolts, like a cable under tension.  It doesn’t reverberate or vibrate at all–that’s the dampened part.  You can push it into corners as hard as you want.  On asphalt, it is consistent and firm.  On gravel, you can back the rear end into corners with a bit of a slide, and the handling remains predictable.  On single track, it will cut and slice, and prefers to carry a bit of speed around the corners.  The compact cranks offer good bb clearance over obstacles, and I run out of confidence before I run out of bike.

The Vaytanium does everything you could want of a drop bar bike.  Road/gravel/cross/touring/randoneuring/racing/you name it.  Would a dedicated cross bike be faster and more aggressive?  Sure.  Can the Ridley drop the Vaya on the road?  (As configured?)  Yup.  But if I could only have one bike, it would be the Vaya.  It can do the vast majority of riding that the vast majority of riders would do.  It’s a convergence of all good things in the bike world–a mix of tech, materials, components, beauty and elegance.  That may be the best word for it–elegant.

I could keep writing about the Vaya all day.  It was the first ‘halo’ bike I owned–and was and remains my favorite bike.  A bike for all seasons.

Salsa’s motto is Adventure by Bike.  That motto–that’s the Vaytanium.

Shimano MW-81 Winter Cycling Shoe Update

The original review of the MW81s is here.

This is an update.  Since the original review, I’ve put a couple hundred miles on the MW81s, in varied conditions, and I’ve continued to be very pleased with them.  Today, conditions stated out in the mid 20s, windy and damp, and I went out for a Mukluk ride.  The shoes performed admirably.  They were dunked in ankle deep water a couple times (the risk of riding along a creek), trudged through numerous snowbanks, across a few squishy marshes, and bushwhacked through some muddy and clay-ey forested areas.  With a pair of Smartwool socks, my feet were toasty warm, despite the 20-30mph winds.

The shoes continue to age well, and show no signs of wear, anywhere on them.  I’m impressed by how well they hold out the cold and water, and by how comfortable they are.  They strike a nice balance between a rigid base to pedal with, and a comfortable fit for all-day biking.  I do have a set of toe cleats screwed in, and find those are very helpful in winter conditions (although not very comfortable for hard surface walking).

With toe warmers, I haven’t found the ‘bottom end’ comfortable temperature with these shoes yet…because we haven’t had any really cold weather.  They’ve performed well in all conditions I’ve thrown at them.  Without toe warmers, my original conclusion (mid-high 20s) is still consistent for me: at or below that range, my feet get cold.

I’ve used these with Eggbeaters and Candy Cs; they’ve worked flawlessly with both sets of pedals.  I will note that putting a Crank Brothers shim under the cleats made engagement/disengagement of the pedals more consistent.

I still give these a solid A.

Salsa Mukluk 2 Review–The Schweet Mukluk

It’s time for a review of my Salsa Mukluk 2, built up by the peeps at North Central Cyclery.

First, glamour shots from when I brought it home:


Vault Pedals:

E-13 Cranks and Chainrings (Triple Chainring):

Jones Loop Bars with Thomson stem and dress-up kit:

Holy Rolling Darryls with Salsa hubs (stock build–82mm):

Big Fat Larry’s:

Salsa badge:

Other pertinent details:  Bontrager Backrack II.  Currently sporting a Thomson Masterpiece seatpost and Avid SD-7 Speedlevers (shown in the snow pictures below).  Stock X7/X9 derailleurs.  The second highest (smallest) gear in the cassette was removed, and the remaining gears were spaced outboard one notch, for chainring clearance with the BFLs–it will clear a stock Larry without any issues, with a full cassette–but running BFLs requires dropping a gear.  The wheels do not need to be redished; they’re centered.  Again, North Central Cyclery figured out that issue for me.  I run a Salsa Fliplock seatpost clamp instead of the stock Liplock.  Ergon grips.  Anything cages.

I run a varied set of accessories.  I have a great, custom frame bag:

Which was made for me by Errin Vasquez of Frontage Roads.  I also have a full set of accessory bags made by Scott Felter, The Porcelain Rocket.  I’ll post a review of them at some point.

For the snow riding I’ve been doing, I’ve been running in this configuration:

That’s Bar Mitts, a single bottle cage, and The Porcelain Rocket booster rocket seat pack. In the booster rocket, I keep a Topeak Mountain Morph pump, a spare tube, a toolkit and a spare jacket.  There’s plenty of room for more gear on extended rides (food, lights, batteries, warmer packs, extra gloves/hats, etc.)

The Porcelain Rocket’s gear is all very stout, well made, and easy to use…it’s among the highest quality bike gear on the market.

I’ve had a few people as how the Bar Mitts work with the Loop bars.

Answer: just fine.  Instead of wearing heavy gloves in the cold, I prefer to wear lighter gloves and use the Bar Mitts.  I have notoriously cold-blooded hands, and the Bar Mitts keep me nice and toasty.  I also sport Ergon grips, and the Bar Mitts fit over them just fine.

There are absolutely no clearance issues with the BFLs in snow:

However, riding in sticky mud, the BFLs don’t leave quite enough clearance.

You can see that the Anything Cages served as big mudguards that packed up with mud (and cornstalks).  The bottom bracket was also fully loaded, as were the chain and seat stays.  Eventually, the front wheel stopped turning and I had to dig it out.

A quick note on tires:  For mud (like the pictures above), BFLs are not ideal.  The best tire for those conditions, right now, would be a set of Nates.  In a perfect world, there would be a Big Fat Nate, that didn’t have knobs at the extreme edges of the tread, so it would offer more width and flotation with an aggressive tread…but wouldn’t pack mud into the seat stay.

In powdery snow, the BFLs are ideal.  They work great.  There are times when a more aggressive rear tire would be nice (maybe BFL in the front, Nate in the rear…or Husker Du in the rear), but I’m generally pleased.  I do run the rear BFL ‘backwards’, which I believe is more aggressive for traction than running it ‘forwards’.  In sloppy snow, same answer.  In goopy conditions and not-sticky mud, same answer.  On gravel, same answer.  On sand, the BFLs will blow your mind.

When are the BFLs not ideal?  Well, as noted above, when riding in sticky mud, they pack up the Mukluk until they stop spinning.  For some snow conditions (particularly climbing hills) a more aggressive rear tire would be nice.

Another odd time when BFLs are not ideal is when riding with a group on ‘regular’ 3.7″ fat tires.  I was riding today in 8-ish inches of snow (deep enough that the pedals were hitting snow on the bottom of every stroke), with 2 other fat bikes.  If I was riding fresh snow, it did great.  However, if I tried to run in their narrower tracks, the edges of my front BFL would catch the sides of the track they left, and dig in a bit, pulling the bars to the side and making me turn (and sometimes washout).  For running in their tracks, I think a regular Larry would have worked better.  Running BFLs on an 82mm rim gives them a rounder profile.  That can take some getting used to when running higher pressures and diving into gravel corners.  Having the big Loop bars on there to give me leverage is greatly appreciated–and keeps the bike from steering itself.

I’m signed up for a fat bike gravel race this spring, and while the BFLs ride great on gravel, I’m wondering if I want to go to regular Larrys for lighter weight.  We’ll see.

As far as pressure goes, on-road, I typically run around 20-25psi.  Offroad, I run ‘hand-soft’ pressure.  I will reduce pressure until I get distortion in the sidewalls (you can see the threads), and then bump the pressure up a bit.  I never have a problem with front tire pressure, but the way I have my Muk setup, it is possible to get the rear pressure too low.  However, checking tire pressures today, I found out that I was actually running 4psi in the front, and 5.5 in the rear.  That was about perfect for the snow.  I get away with that low of pressure up front because of the way the bike is set up.  More on that later.

A note on me and the bike: I weigh around 155#.  The Mukluk has a relaxed geometry, and I coupled that with a Thomson setback Masterpiece seatpost…that shifts a lot of my weight to the rear.  My Mukluk is a 17″ frame.  Even without the setback seatpost, it’s very comfortable for me (and the Loop bars give a ton of control over the big front end).  With the setback seatpost, my riding position is about perfect for me, and very comfortable.

I’ve put in a lot of miles on my Mukluk in the past few months.  That has included single track, mountain biking, 50+ mile gravel expeditions, paved roads, snow biking, and a lot of other conditions.  It has included sand, mud, ice, snow, asphalt and everything in between.   I feel very confident that I can give an informed opinion.

The equipment spec is mostly dead-on.  I’m very pleased with the derailleurs and shifters. Even though I customarily don’t like gripshifters, they work well here, and work great with winter gloves and/or Bar Mitts.  The derailleurs also work very well–they’re completely unobtrusive.  For some reason, I find myself cross-chaining from time to time–so I appreciate that the gripshifters permit me to trim the front derailleur when I’m cross-chained, to avoid chain rubbing.

I wasn’t fond of the Tektro brake levers that came stock.  That was a $20 fix to upgrade to Avid SD-7s, which I love.  I have them on my Big Dummy, and knew they’d do the trick.  The BB7 brakes have functioned flawlessly, and required minimal adjustment.

I never rode mine with the stock Bend bars, but I’ve ridden them on other bikes and liked them.  I do happen to like the Loop bars just a little bit more–I’m very pleased with their riding position and the space to mount lights, GPS, bags and other gear.

As far as the overall riding position goes, I love my Muk.  A lot of other fat bikes (e.g. Pugsley) provide a more aggressive, more traditional riding position.  The Mukluk, as I have it configured, has a more relaxed, upright position.  Again–it puts a lot of weight on the rear tire, which helps a great deal with traction in many conditions.  I don’t have to do rear weight shifting to surmount most obstacles…it just climbs over.  The setback position also gives me a lot of room to bend down when needed to weight the front end (for climbing steep hills, etc.)  Climbing hills is perhaps one of the funniest parts of riding a fat bike.  If you have the nerve to ride it, the bike will climb or descend it.  I’ve never run out of traction climbing a hill (unless the hill is covered in snow and ice).  The traction is just unreal.  Obstacles that you would need to hit with speed and momentum to clear on a standard mountain bike can be ridden over with finesse, just cranking along at whatever speed you want.  Gear down and crawl over?  No problem.

I also find this riding position to be more comfortable for the varied purposes that I use the Mukluk for.  For gravel road exploration, I can ride all day.  The Mukluk is also designed with a ton of braze-ons that provide great flexibility.  Want to run front and rear panniers?  No problem.  Fenders?  Sure.  A full kit of frame and soft bags?  Absolutely.  Half a dozen bottle cages?  Well–at least 5.

We don’t get enough snow in Illinois to justify a “snow bike.”  For a bike to fit in my garage, it needs to be versatile enough to be used in multiple conditions.  And it needs to be unique enough to keep me interested in riding it.  The Mukluk is all this and more.  It makes you smile every time you ride it.  I find myself jumping on it for all sorts of rides.  Have to take a letter to the neighbor down the block?  Mukluk.  Going for a haircut?  Mukluk–oh, and don’t forget to detour through that part of the road that’s under construction for a bit o’ urban exploration.  Rural ride with no particular place to go?  Mukluk.  If I need to get somewhere fast, there are other bikes to take.  But if you’re not in a hurry–there are few things that are more fun than riding a Mukluk.

For that matter, I’ve seen skilled riders on a Mukluk who have no problem keeping up with “standard” mountain bikes on singletrack.  She’s a heifer, but she’ll run if you ask her to.  For me, a standard mountain bike is faster on single track…but that’s an engine problem, not an equipment problem.  Let me put it this way: my Mukluk can do everything that my mountain bike can do–it’s just slower at some things.  The inverse isn’t true; my mountain bike cannot do everything that the Muk can.  It’s a bike for all seasons.  Literally.

The weight savings that the Mukluk 2 offers over a Mukluk 3 is totally worth the price differential, in my mind.  Sure–I like the matte black finish (and anodizing versus powder coating), but there are a couple pounds of weight between the two bikes that is a more significant factor.  What about a Ti Mukluk?  Well–don’t get me wrong, I’d take a Ti Mukluk if one was offered…but for a fat bike, I’m not sure that Ti would offer a significant enough difference in ride quality to merit the price difference.  I love my Vaytanium…but having 4.7″ of tire cush under you makes a world of difference.  While I realize that aluminum oxidizes, I do feel more comfortable with an aluminum frame when riding in snow, water, mud, etc…  The thought of having a steel frame for these conditions gives me the heebie-jeebies.  I know Pugs have been around for years, with great success…but I think aluminum just makes more sense.  (And I’m going to keep telling myself that Ti is unnecessary).

What would I change about the Mukluk?  When I got it, I thought I’d want hydraulic brakes.  After switching the brake levers, I haven’t given that a second thought.  From time to time I consider dropping the big chainring and throwing a bash guard on.  For off-road and snow riding, I never use the big chainring.  But on those gravel and paved expedition rides, I like having it available.  I think the BFLs are about the best compromise tire for all conditions–but for some conditions, other tires would be more specialized and better.  If I could only have one set of tires, it would be BFLs…but some time, I’d like to experiment with Nates and Husker Dus…at least in the rear.  Probably Nates–they just look too cool.

All in all, the Mukluk is a greatly appreciated addition to my stable.  It is more fun, and more versatile, than I had ever thought it could be.  It’s a great, great bike to ride, and another fine Salsa from North Central Cyclery.