Change, Part II

I just shared a post from another cyclist I really admire, Matt Jarrett.  He and I rode together in one Gravel Metric, and I’ve seen him at a few other events–if life had conspired to place us in closer geographic proximity, I’m confident we’d be good friends.

Matt wrote a post acknowledging change in his life–change caused by career, by growing older, by reexamining his priorities (and where cycling falls into them), and by changes in his affiliation with cycling shops.  It rings true for me as well.  I haven’t posted on here in six months, and candidly, I haven’t missed it.

This isn’t going to be a long or melodramatic post.  There was a time when I really enjoyed writing on here…when I valued developing a readership and enjoyed seeing the web statistics tick upward.  There was a time when a great deal of my self worth was determined by how much, how far, how hard I rode.  There was a time when the quality of my cycling was determined in part by how new and cutting edge of gear I was using.  Where each cycling discipline needed a different, special purpose bike.  Where I followed cycling forums religiously and counted grams.  Where I felt guilty if I missed a bike ride.

I’ve found freedom from those pressures.  Really, freedom was forced upon me–life conspired to change, and I was pushed out of the confines I had been living in.  It’s been great.  Like Matt, I’ve refocused on family.  Riding has become something I do when I have some time, for fun.  I have a small group of bikes that are amazing, that I love, that do everything.  I have a group of friends that I no longer see for rides 3x a week, but when we do ride, we have fun.  We love and support each other.  We peloton through life challenges, and pull through for each other to face proverbial headwinds rather than actual ones.

It’s been great.  It’s been a lot of change, but it’s been great.

There were people that started taking what I wrote on here as gospel–when I was writing at a time where I really had no business having an opinion.  Now having ridden for long enough to have informed opinions, I’ve lost the interest to share them.  If I have time to do things with bikes, I’d rather be riding than writing.  I had thought about letting this blog slide gently into the night, but Matt’s post, and gentle prod at the end, pushed me to write this.

To those who have shared their stories, products and adventures with me, thank you.  You’ve made my life more diverse, more interesting, more fun.  I appreciate every moment I spent on this project, and everything that people shared with me–that I could share with others.

To those who spend a lot of time reading cycling blogs, I’d urge you to reconsider.  Those who can, do.  In many instances, those who can’t…blog.  It’s rare to find someone like Matt who is a real, genuine cyclist and a blogger.  Much of the time, the keyboard commandos on MTBR and RBR, among other sites, are people who spend more time pushing keyboards than pushing pedals.  Gain some perspective.  Ride up grades.

To my friends in the cycling industry, keep the vision.  The industry will rebound, and you will be the leaders of it when it does.

Thanks for sharing some of your time with me here.  Go out and get some saddle time.

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Crank Brothers Sterling Pump Review

IMG_4392Mini-review of mini-pump.

I formerly had a tiny (Bontrager) pump I’d keep in a jersey pocket.  And then one day I needed it.

4,253 pumps later, my road tire was hard enough to ride on without being on the rim, but nowhere near inflated.

I resolved to get a pump that would actually work when needed.  After much research, I ended up getting  Crank Brothers Sterling.

Things I love:

  1. The head locks onto valve stems securely and doesn’t leak.
  2. The pump has a 2 stage system that you can switch between high pressure and high volume.  This allows you to pump in high volume mode with MTB tires and high-pressure mode with road tires.  It also allows you to start pumping road tires in volume mode, and then finish them off in pressure mode.  It greatly reduces pumping time.
  3. The included mount was convenient and works well on the Horsethief.
  4. For road use, the pump is small enough to easily fit in a jersey pocket–it’s a great compromise size between utility and convenience.  Smaller would impair functionality too greatly.

This pump does not have a hose, which I had initially wanted.  However, since the head locks on so securely, it has not proven to be an issue for me.  I’ve had to use it 3x with flats over the past year, and it has worked with aplomb.

Inexpensive, reliable, functions well, aesthetically pleasing.  Can’t ask for much more than that.

Salsa Horsethief Update: Plus in the Snow

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It’s been a while, so it’s time for an update on the Horsethief.

In keeping with my desire to limit the number of bikes in the stable, I simplified quite a bit.  I formerly had a road bike, a touring bike, a vintage bike, a gravel bike, a singlespeed, a fat bike, a FS mountain bike, a cargo bike, a folding bike and a townie.  I’m down to a multi-use allroad bike (the Dune), a multi-use mountain bike (Horsethief) and a townie.

The idea behind the downsizing in mountain bikes was the same as road bikes: I found that I’d build multiple bikes around the same principles.  I tried to build my FS mountain bike and fat bike to both have the same bars, pedals, saddles, grips, drivetrain, brakes, etc.  All that distinguished them was suspension vs. rigid, and 29er vs fatbike.

On the suspension front, I’m of the belief that there really is not a downside to a well-designed full suspension bike.  For my riding, saving an extra pound isn’t going to change my life.  I’d do a hardtail if I was doing a SS bike, but otherwise, I find that having suspension allows me to ride harder and faster in just about all off-road conditions.

That left 29er vs. fatbike.  I enjoy the speed and agility of ‘normal’ mountain bike tires, and wanted to keep a 29er.  However, I’ve ridden 29ers in the winter, and even with aggressive tires, they leave a lot on the table.  I’ve ridden just about every “standard width” 29er tire in snow, and also 26×3.8, 4.0, 4.7 and 5.0.  There is a major and quantifiable difference between a standard tire and a fatbike tire, in the snow.  Living in Illinois, we have snow and ice for a good chunk of the year, and I didn’t want to be left out.

That said, we don’t have fabulous groomed trails here.  If I lived somewhere with groomed trails, I’d be looking at a 4-5″ tire as ideal.  In the absence of groomed trails, even fatbikes have limitations.  In powdery snow, you can ride through a lot–perhaps even as much as 10″.  Your pedals press into the snow with every crank, but if you keep moving, you’re golden.  With wet or slushy snow, however, the practical limit is a lot closer to 5″.  In some conditions, even 3″ is too much to push through–traction limited–even with 5″ tires.  I know there are some who claim to ride fatbikes through incredibly deep snow without concern or issue.  I rode fatbikes for 5 years and have a fair understanding of their capability.  It’s not rider ability or power–it is the ability of a 1wd vehicle to drive an unpowered front tire through deep snow.  Again, groomed conditions or having a track to ride in greatly changes the equation.  When you’re riding groomed conditions and can float, or when the snow is hard enough to support float with a 4-5″ tire, a fatbike is unequalled.

I’ve found that for me, living in Illinois, and having some constraints on my time to bike, a fatbike just didn’t make a ton of sense any longer.  There’s novelty to riding a fatbike…but over time, I’ve found that if I’m going out riding mountain bikes in ‘normal’ conditions, I’d rather ride the full squish.

That’s a long way of saying that the Horsethief seemed like a wonderful compromise: 29er full squish when I want to go fast, and the ability to use 3″ 27.5+ tires in the snow.  The question was whether the plus sized tires would meaningfully work in the snow, here in Illinois, on ungroomed paths.

I’m pleased to say that the experiment has worked, swimmingly.

We’ve had a fair amount of snow this year, and I’ve ridden in up to 8″ of medium-dry snow (the most we’ve had).  Aired-down, but still running tubes, the 27.5+ platform has been surprisingly capable.  I have not yet encountered conditions that the Horsethief cannot surmount, that a true fatbike could have ridden through.  It’s been fantastic.

The SRAM GX1 drivetrain and Guide brakes have been flawless.  I can’t compliment them enough.  They work just as well as the XTR 1x I had on my last bike.

The Thomson dropper seatpost is a delight (other than annoying cable routing on the remote, which points the cable straight forward from the handlebars).  Cold weather has not impacted the functionality at all; it works perfectly.
IMG_2808 Full squish hasn’t been an issue in the cold.  When in ‘fatbike’ mode, I tend to set the suspension to climb, which relatively effectively locks it out.  When riding trails, even in the cold, the suspension works perfectly.  Yes, riding in the cold may require more frequent maintenance, but it’s a tradeoff that seems fully worthwhile. IMG_9139
The biggest question lingering in my mind is whether I should just bite the bullet and go all 27.5+.  Running moderate 27.5+ wheels and tires, with tubes, has a substantial weight penalty over my moderate 29er wheels, set up tubeless.  But if I went to a good set of 27.5+ wheels and tubeless tires, that wouldn’t be so much an issue.  I’m inclined to think that the future holds a set of good, lightweight 27.5+ wheels and tires, tubeless, and that I’d get rid of my 29er wheelset.  My current 27.5+ wheels could be used for dedicated winter purposes, preferably with a set of studded tires (as enough ice will stop any bike, fat or otherwise).

On the whole, the experiment has been successful, and I enjoy spending more time riding and less time maintaining a fleet of bikes.  I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the Horsethief, now coming up on a year into our time together.  The geometry is dialed and confidence-inspiring, and the split-pivot design performs as advertised: great suspension action with minimal pedal-induced movement.

Zipp 202 Tubeless Update

I’m now over a year into my Zipp 202 Tubeless experiment.  As per my initial update, they continue to work flawlessly.

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As pictured, I’m running a set of 40C Maxxis Ramblers.  The Ramblers set up tubeless with about 1 ‘red cup’ of Stan’s, and have been flawless since inception.  A little shake, rattle, roll and bounce, and they were good to go.  Given their volume, I never really run over 40-45 PSI in them…if I’m riding hard surfaces, I’ll typically run 40 up front and 45 in the rear (with my 155# weight).  On softer surfaces, I’ll drop pressure, and have run as low as 25 up front and 30 in the rear without any ill effect.

The Zipps continue to impress me with their durability, rigidity and great feel.  I still believe they offer greater vertical compliance than do ENVE XCs, although I would not trust these on the Mandem, with their low spoke count.

All in all, a great set of wheels on a beautiful bike.

Spooky Dune Review Update

IMG_6197Man.  I just love this bike.

I came from a preexisting philosophical perspective that I needed a different bike for every job.  A road bike for road, a gravel bike for gravel, a touring bike for touring, a winter bike, etc., etc.  I had lived under that paradigm for years, and wanted to embrace simplicity.  I wanted to have fewer bikes.  I had found that I was building different bikes around the same geometry and components–I was starting to ride the same bars, the same saddle, the same saddle height, the same reach and drop–on different bikes.  It was getting to the point that the only differences were wheels and tires.

While I wanted that simplicity, I was also scared that one bike could not rule them all.  I was worried that I’d downsize the fleet and find myself missing a dedicated road bike.  I’d miss a dedicated gravel bike.  I’d miss something I once had–I’d wax nostalgic for the Vaya, for example.

It hasn’t happened.  Life has been about much change in the past 2 years.  Unbelievable, unforeseeable change.  Priorities have changed, available time has changed, riding patterns have changed.

What hasn’t changed is my love for this bike.  Since the day I built it, I’ve loved it.  I’ve never come away from a ride and wished for more, or for something different.  The ride quality is amazing–a perfect blend of compliant and responsive.  A fantastic frame enhanced with amazing components.  It’s beautiful to behold–I smile every time I see it.

Swapping wheels has proven to not be a chore.  It takes about 3 minutes and a Y wrench.  And the wheels I’m using on here (Zipp 202 tubeless for gravel, ENVE SES 3.4 for road) are as good as they get.

Every once in a while, I think I should have gone 1×11 rather than 2×11.  I think that, and then I go out and do a group ride and am thankful for small increments between gears.  I do a windy, hilly ride and am thankful that I can put an 11-32 on the rear, and run 36-32 to crawl up a headwind climb.

There’s not a component I’d change–across the whole bike.  I can’t envision a (foreseeable) adventure that I couldn’t ride this on.  I can throw a rack on the rear with ease…and if I had to put a rack on the front, a fork change could enable that without much difficulty.  I don’t really see that happening, but it’s possible.

What amazes me is that the bike is so versatile.  When last I rode it, the wind was kicking at 25mph.  The bike was as stable as possible on the road.  I ground out slow miles, suffering in the wind, and decided to drop off road and cut through a forest preserve.  The trails were frozen, with clod-bumps from a muddy day’s horse ride.  At regular intervals there were patches of ice and snow.  I dropped some pressure from the tires and pressed on, winding through single track, delicately picking the tires up over fallen logs, deftly gliding over patches of ice, feverishly churning through deep snow.  The Dune did it all, without complaint, and then hopped back on the road and took me home like a quintessential road bike.

If you can have one bike that is THIS GOOD at everything, it makes me wonder why you’d need more bikes.  Sure, if you’re doing races where the 3 watts of savings you’d have with an aero frame matter, then god bless you.  But I don’t want to go back to a garage full of bikes.

Some day, I’ll get a cargo bike again, if I live somewhere that supports its use.  Someday, I might get a singlespeed to not feel bad about abusing on salty, slushy, crappy days.  But the Dune is the bike that rules the roost.

I did a group ride in Downtown Chicago, where there were guys on $20,000 custom-ordered Italian carbon wünderbikes.  People on the ride walked right past those bikes to gawk and gape at the Spooky.  It’s just that great.

I’m happy to have joined the aluminati.  I’m in on a secret that few know–and the secret is just how good these bikes are.

Kask Rex Helmet Review

For the past few months, I’ve been wearing a Kask Rex Helmet for my mountain biking duties.  I’ve also pressed it into service for a new venture I’m trying with my daughter–horseback riding.

I picked the Rex because my old MTB helmet had seen better days and was due for replacement.  I wanted something with a sturdy, branch-deflecting visor, a good fit system, great ventilation, and perhaps most importantly…good coverage for the base/rear of skull.  I’m constantly surprised by the number of MTB helmets out there that fail to provide any protection to this relatively vulnerable part of the skull.

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IMG_3607The Rex provides great full-head coverage and excellent ventilation.  In terms of fit, it has Kask’s excellent systems that you’ll recognize from their road helmets.  The chin strap is a delightfully comfortable leather with infinite adjustment (via buckle).

The ‘fit around the head’ is done by virtue of the strap around the back of your noggin.  It has a nice, tactile dial that you can use to adjust to the proper tension–with a large enough dial that you can adjust it even when wearing winter gloves.  It has palpable detents as it turns, but they’re small enough that you can make finely-tuned, nuanced adjustments.  If you’re wearing a helmet all day, the ability to crank it up or down a notch can make a huge difference in terms of helmet fit.

The other critical part of the rear band is Kask’s system for adjusting the height of the car band.  It is adjustable with an indexed vertical adjustment–again, there are palpable detents that allow fine tuning.  What this means is that it can accommodate the shape of your head with great comfort.  For some, you need to be able to position the strap at the very rear of your head and have it held in place for maximum comfort.  With the shape of my head, I like to move the strap a little lower, just below the part where your skull starts curving inwards towards the neck, to help hold the helmet on your head in the event of a crash.  The Kask is perfect for that purpose.

It’s light, it’s well ventilated, and thus far (six or so months in) has proven very durable.  Fit is true to form for Kask–I’m decidedly a L/XL, but can just barely squeeze into a M if it’s all the way loose (and if I don’t wear a cap).  I have not yet tested the crashworthiness, but I’m comforted to see how well it covers the sides and rear of my head, as a good MTB helmet should.  Quality has been typical Kask, which is to say perfect.

At this point, highly recommended.