Moots and Steamboat Rides 2014

I’ve been struggling with how to convey what amazing rides we had in Steamboat when we went out for the Moots Factory Tour.  I thought about doing a separate post for each day of the ride, but ended up deciding to just do a photo-chronicle.  It was amazing–each and every ride was amazing.  I rode a mountain bike better than ever before, and with better fitness than ever before, and with amazing friends.  We had great rides with Jason from Moots, great rides with Tobie and Chad and Bobby, and some fantastic rides with just Aaron and I.  The bikes were great, the terrain was awesome, the scenery was breathtaking.

At the end, we were all like:

USA Cycling Fatbike Nationals

If you’ve not been following the world of fatbike news lately, USA Cycling has announced that it is going to have a sanctioned USAC Fatbike National Championship in February of 2015.  My post on this topic will be relatively brief.

There are some in the fatbike world who want fat bikes to remain a niche–a novelty market with secret handshakes and ironic disregard for all things mainstream cycling.  Just last week, there was a gent on the Fatbikes on Facebook page who was decrying the adoption of any technology for fat bikes, and wishing that things would stay with rigid, steel frames and limited drivetrain options.  I’m all in favor of technology, and having seen the merit of fat bikes across so many varying conditions, I hope that they continue to be embraced and become more popular.  (Frankly, more buyers will mean more options for those of us who ride fat).  It should be understood that I’m in favor of popularizing fat bikes, for a myriad of reasons.

That said, I’m disappointed to see the USAC “Fatbike Nationals” race, and the reason is simple.  I don’t think this is USAC supporting fat bikes or being progressive.  Rather, I believe this is USAC being reactionary and seeing the growth of grass roots fatbike racing events like Blbbrbk.  USAC hasn’t announced any thoughtful innovation or format…they’re just trying to squeeze this type of bike riding for a few more registration dollars, and trying to marginalize “unsanctioned” races, just as they’ve been doing since they declared war on unsanctioned races last year.  Could this have been a great thing?  I don’t know–perhaps.  Perhaps if it had been thoughtfully approached.  Perhaps if it didn’t require adherence to USAC’s “USAC race only” attitude.  Or perhaps if it was an innovative series of races that expanded the format of the sport instead of just expanding USAC’s wallet.  But as it stands, I see this as a money grab and nothing more…and I suspect it will be harmful to the grass roots races that are out there right now.

Trek 770 Update

I’ll get some better pictures in the next week or two and get them posted, but I’ve been riding the 770 a bit lately.  I took it out to North Central Cyclery for a couple weeks, to have them do a few things for me.  First, because it’s a 30 year old bike, I wanted to have a more experienced set of eyes look it over and assure me that it wouldn’t explode under me.  The frame is in great shape.  Second, I wanted to get some new bar tape on it, and notwithstanding my various skills and abilities, a good bar-taper I am not.  Third, while they were at it, the bike needed some new cables and housing.  That’s firmly within my wheelhouse, but they had the bike and the housing I needed, so why not.  Fourth, and most importantly, wheels.

The bike came from the factory with 32h tubulars on it, and the wheels it had when I got it were not the originals.  They were super-heavy, vintage 36h Wolber clinchers with some old, cruddy Shimano hubs and non-butted SS spokes.  Those wheels were super-heavy, and were an unknown pedigree…given that I plan on riding this bike, I wanted wheels I could trust.  I talked about doing something light and spiffy, and Tobie and Chad insisted on a vintage look for a vintage bike.  We ended up meeting in the middle, with silver Mavic Open Pro rims (32h), some vintage Campy NOS hubs, and silver Sapim CX-Ray spokes.  Unless you look closely, you can’t tell that the spokes are bladed, and CX-Rays are my favorite spokes.  The wheels came out fantastic, and even for 32h with vintage hubs, they’re only about 1600 grams.

I’m running a set of Continental Grand Prix Classic tires…gumwall, 25c, vintage tread design…but coupled with a modern technology casing.

Sorry…click through for the pic.

How does it ride?  Pretty fantastic.  These are initial impressions, and I want to get a lot more miles on the bike before I come to any conclusions, but thus far:

  1. I’m amazed by how zippy it is.  It’s a fast, responsive frame.
  2. It feels like you’re sitting directly over the rear tire.  I want to compare geometry with my Madone, but this feels like the chain stays are non-existent.  I have the wheels as far back in the dropouts as they go, and nonetheless, it handles FAST.
  3. The steel frame is a dream over bumps and irregularities.  It really, really dampens vibration nicely.
  4. That said, the flexibility of the BB is palpable.  Under hard, sprint efforts, you can feel the BB moving (and can objectively measure that movement by chainring rub against the derailleur, timed to downward force on the pedals).  It’s not “flexible” per se…but it isn’t nearly as stiff as the Madone (or the Moots).
  5. Wowsers are the stock bars narrow.  Sprinting or standing up when on the hoods or tops seems like a death-defying action.  Any hard effort means getting in the drops, just for stability.  I’ll perhaps get used to it–it reminds me of what it first felt like to ride a bike with drop-bars.
  6. Also in the realm of unusual is the feeling of the brake levers and their placement on the bars.  From someone used to a nice comfortable grip and brifter, classic brake levers are a change.
  7. I had thought shifting was going to be a problem, but it’s amazing how fast you adjust to down tube shifters.  I can’t quickly shift huge amounts (because of the need to use both hands), so it’s not as easy to sprint as with the Madone or Moots…and if you’re going to sprint, you’re going to give that away when you reach for the down tube…but you get used to the actual shifting quickly.  The shifting isn’t indexed (obviously), but it’s very intuitive to figure out how much to move the lever to shift a single gear.  The front derailleur cage is pretty narrow, so get used to trimming that front chainring, even with a 6 speed rear end.
  8. Speaking of 6 speed rear end…I’m running a 13-21 cassette and 53/39 chainring.  53-21 feels a LOT different than 53-25 or 53-28.  I find myself exploring the little chainring a lot more often.  It’s also funny how easy it is to feel geared out on a gentle downhill with a tailwind or no wind.  53-13 is good for about 29mph at 90rpm and 38mph at 120rpm.  So in reality, I should be good for up to around that 38mph zone under a light load (e.g. downhill, tailwind).  But with narrow handlebars and very fast handling, rolling along at 90+rpm and 30+mph is a surprisingly brave undertaking.  Local “descents” that are non-events on the Moots or Madone at higher speeds are a bit more unnerving on the 770, even at lower speeds.  A significant chunk of that is getting to know the bike and its handling…but I’m surprised at how big of an adjustment that is.
  9. The wheels are fantastic–Chad did a great job on them, and they spin up really nicely.  They also look awesome on the bike.  (Thanks Chad and NCC).  That shouldn’t come as a surprise…Chad has built wheels for me for the Madone, the Moots, the Vaya, the Spearfish and more…and they’ve all been fantastic.

So what’s the preliminary conclusion?  I’m surprised at both ends of the spectrum.  I’m surprised by how ‘fast’ it handles and how narrow the bars feel, but also surprised by how fast it rolls and how modern it feels.  With wider bars and a more modern drivetrain, it could pass as a modern steel racebike.

I’ll keep updating as I ride more…it’s a really fun bike to ride, and surprisingly engaging.

Moots MX Divide Review

If you’ve been reading the blog lately, you might have noticed that I’ve been a bit Mootsessed lately.  It shall continue indefinitely.

In the time that I was out in Steamboat, I was fortunate enough to be pointed towards an MX Divide for my saddle time.  Second from left in this photo:

This fine steed.

Shimano XT drivetrain (2×10) and brakes, Schwalbe Racing Ralphs set up tubeless, Fox fork/shock with remote control for front (open, climb and locked-out), all Moots parts,

Fizik Gobi Saddle:

A note on the saddle…I didn’t think I was going to like it, based on the rounded shape of the contact area.  That said, I rode it for four days straight and didn’t have any issues.  I don’t think I’d want it on a gravel or road bike where you’re sitting all of the time, but the shape was perfect for mountain biking, and was very conducive to moving around and getting in front of or behind the saddle.

As far as components go, the bike was perfect.  The XT drivetrain/brakes shifted perfectly every time, and stopped on a dime.  They were incredibly confidence inspiring.  The remote for the fork was appreciated on a few long, steep, smooth climbs, but I’m not certain that I’d opt for it on my personal bike.

So what about the bike itself?  Well, Moots uses a Ti frame with an aluminum lower link setup in the rear suspension.

The bike felt incredibly plush under just about every condition.  It was very confidence inspiring.  Between the active suspension and the 29″ wheels, I found that often, the fastest line was to go over rather than around.  Come around a corner and find a big rock mid-line?  No problem.

The downside to the incredibly active suspension was climbing.  This is a bike that strongly favored seated climbing as compared to standing efforts.  If you stood and pedaled, you were susceptible to some bobbing in the rear end.  If you remained seated, it would climb anything you could point it at, provided you kept turning the pedals.  I would say that it did not feel quite exactly as precise in the rear end as does my Spearfish.  But that said, I felt a lot more confident bombing larger, harder obstacles on the Moots than I would’ve on the Spearfish–because the increased travel and super-active suspension took the teeth out of every obstacle.

I had the opportunity to ride a hard tail or a YBB had I so wished, and there was not a single moment when I wanted to trade bikes.  The MX Divide was the perfect bike for the conditions and trails we rode, at least when put into the hands of a relatively novice mountain biker like me.  It covered up my mistakes, forgave my poor line choice, and otherwise enabled me to ride things that I should not have had the ability to ride.  It was an incredible bike to spend some time on.

Moots Cycles: The Difference is the Welds

Let’s get this out of the way first:

Moots does not dress their welds.

There is no painting, no filling, no filing, no sanding, no flapper wheels.  The welds are what they are, and they pass from the welder’s hands to the buyer, as-is.  They get blasted with the rest of the frame, but let me tell you–there is no change in the welds that comes from blasting.  They’re perfect when they’re welded.

They start with impossibly tight tolerances in the joints to be welded…

Insert the parts into a jig, cork/tape the orifices, and fill the yet-to-be-welded frame with inert Argon…

And then they tack weld the frame together, to hold all of the parts in place perfectly.  Before being tacked, all of the designed angles of the frame are carefully measured and confirmed one last time.

Here’s a sample tack weld.

Tacked frames are hung, awaiting final welding.

The tacked frames are then moved over to a second welder who again purges the frame with Argon (purging the inside of the frame keeps the welds pure…the outside of the weld is purged with flowing argon from the TIG torch while the welder is welding), and that welder finishes welding every joint up with a complete weld.

The finish welds are done in perfect segments of uninterrupted, stacked dime welds.  This shows you what a finished weld looks like before Moots’ signature blasting:

There are 2 gents who do the finish welding, and a handful of people who do small parts or the tack-welding.

What do the finished welds look like?  They look like perfection.  The funny thing is, I don’t have to post a bunch of pictures of them here…because every Moots has finished welds that look amazing.  Since they don’t even offer any factory painting options (and it would be sacrilege to paint one of these frames), every frame that leaves the factory shows the welding legacy of the company.

I’m a hobbyist welder.  Give me some clean steel, and I can MIG you up something that will look nice, after a pass with a flapper wheel.  Give me some rusty steel, and I can 6013 you together some welds that are ugly, but will hold.  I’ve never seen a human do welds of this consistent quality, up close and in person.  It’s amazing.

After welding and before finishing, each frame is put on a test-table, and is checked with a dial indicator and micrometer for any degree (or should I say any thousandth of an inch) of bend, asymmetry or imperfection.

Suffice it to say, there really isn’t any.

I have a Ti Vaya, which anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I love.  It was one of the ‘made in the USA’ Ti frames from before Salsa shipped production overseas.  The welds aren’t even in the same ballpark (and, based upon their appearance, I’m guessing they were hit with a flapper wheel before finishing).  The Moots welds are truly spectacular…and you can see them on every frame that goes out the factory’s doors.

Seeing the welding occur firsthand, by itself, was worth the trip.

The whole Moots Series:

Moots Tubing

Moots Bends

Moots Miters

Moots CNC

Moots People

Moots Welds

Moots Cycles: The Difference is the People.

The next post will be about welding.  I’m delaying that for two reasons: 1) the people are more important than the welds; and, 2) I want to make GMatt wait just a little longer.

Who are some of the Moots people?

We are.

But who else?

This guy above, who hole-saws the seatstay miters to match the down tube…and then patiently files them with a tiny hand file, to welding joint perfection.  This guy shows the kind of artisan manufacturing skill that you’d expect in a tiny shop with one guy building a frame a month…but he does it in a venue where across the room, there’s a guy doing CAD work on the next prototype frame that will be custom built and CNC’d to perfection.

This guy above, who looks at every frame after welding and literally touches every part of the bike–every corner, every edge, every weld, to make sure that they feel perfect.  (Of note, Moots does not dress or sand any welds).  He faces every BB and steerer, and chases every thread.  He makes sure every derailleur hanger is perfect.  In his quest for precision, he not only faces the steerer to a perfectly flat plane, but then he goes back and daintily files a tiny, imperceptible bevel on the edge, so it isn’t a sharp corner to touch when a new owner picks up the frame for the first time.

It’s this guy (below), showing that once a frame is hydro/ultrasonically cleaned for welding, anyone who touches the frame has to wear gloves to keep oil off of the frame.

Good Lord, it’s these guys who do the amazing, awe-inspiring welding.

This isn’t robotic welding.  Every welder had his TIG machine set up to his specific preference on heat, frequency, and duration.

It’s this guy (below) who claims to have found an imperfection in a frame’s finish after being blasted, and who thus restarted the frame finishing process to ensure that there were no imperfections.  I say “claims to”, because I couldn’t see the problem he was pointing out.

It’s the gal who was doing the blasting (I didn’t take my camera out in the blasting room, because of the media), or the gal who blasted up Emerald Mountain with us on that first bike ride.

It’s this guy (in green):

That’s Jason.  Jason not only hung out with us and served as tour guide in Steamboat, but he’s also been an incredible resource at other times.  He came out to the Gravel Metric with the Moots demo van and some fantastic water bottles.  He’s been a proponent of Axletree.

More than that, Jason is the factory rep for dealers, and yet he’s an advocate for owners.  When I ordered by Di2 Moots, I talked to North Central Cyclery, my local dealer.  Jason reached out to me, knowing I was already a Moots owner, and went the extra mile(s) to talk through options directly.  He talked about cable routing, and Di2, and geometry.  He talked about custom build options.  He took my measurements and generated different spec sheets showing what I could do with head tubes and frame sizes, and with different geometry options including the new Routt geometry that I ended up going with.  He sent me pictures of the bike while it was being made.  He responded to Facebook messages at 10:30 at night, explaining the best options to future-proof my frame.  He even sent an extra decal for me, knowing my predilection towards stickers.  (Jason also happens to, quite literally, have a world of bourbon.  My kinda guy).

There are some great people at a lot of bike companies.  I love a lot of the guys at Salsa, and I know a couple great people from Trek.  That said, I don’t know any other bike company where I can get a world-class bike with first-rate technology, and can talk directly to the company president if I’d like to, or can go and literally watch the whole bike being built.  I don’t know of any place where you can meet the people–all of the people–in one spot, and yet have a bike that is competitive with anything in the world.  I don’t know of a place where the people are as OCD about the details as I am, and yet as chill as the Moots folks are.

I think Moots is a pretty extraordinary company that makes some of–if not the–very best bikes in the world.  The reason that they’re great ultimately isn’t the CNC or the miters–it’s the people making the decisions and running the machines.  It’s the people.

The whole Moots Series:

Moots Tubing

Moots Bends

Moots Miters

Moots CNC

Moots People

Moots Welds