Salsa Cowchipper Review

So as I wrote the other day, I was recently able to do a prolonged test of a Salsa Warbird Carbon.  That bike was set up with 40cm Cowchipper handlebars.  I typically ride 44cm bars, but with the flared ends of the Cowchippers, I was intrigued to see how they felt.

In a word, no.

I can see how these would be ideal handlebars for a lot of climbing.  Short of that, they were not my jam.

Up on the hoods, they were too narrow.  Trying to be on the hoods and out of the saddle was like taking me back to the first time I rode one of those terrifying “drop bar” bikes.  You could get a good comfy position down in the drops, but man, it was a long ways down.  And when you’re down there, you’re really way out there.

I like Woodchippers in the right application–a Fargo-esque bike set up for touring, etc.  Cowchippers just don’t flip my burger.

Salsa Warbird Carbon Review

So at present, I’m in between road/gravel bicycles.  As we had a planned Night Bison pre-ride (click over to Blackriver to see the course and report), I begged and borrowed a loaner bike.  Ok, actually Bailey, one of the honchos over at Comrade Cycles, offered it up without hesitation.  That’s because Bailey and Comrade are awesome.  If you have a chance to check them out, or do a ride with Bailey, do so.

So Bailey has a new Warbird Carbon.  That he offers to let me ride.  And I’m like, YESSIR.

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This one is set up with HED Belgium wheels, SRAM Force drivetrain (note the SRAM XO rear derailleur) with mechanical brakes, Teravail tires, Thomson seatpost, Cowchipper handlebars, and a nice Fizïk saddle.  I felt right at home with the King bottle cages.  I threw my Crank Brothers Candy pedals on, and headed out.

The drivetrain and brakes functioned perfectly.  I hadn’t ridden mechanical SRAM in a while, and what a pleasant surprise it was to ride again.  If you recall, back in the day I ran an XO rear derailleur on the Vaya, because the cable pull worked across the range.  Same setup here, and it shifted magnificently, even in awful conditions.

The Warbird is heavily marketed as having “Class 5 Vibration Reduction System” with slender seat stays that are intended to reduce vibration.  It’s designed as a gravel endurance monster.

I’ve gotta say, I was having a bad day.  I really was.  I was way under the weather, for unknown reasons.

But man, this bike just felt dead.  All morning, I felt like I was just being sapped of the will to live.  It wasn’t lively, it wasn’t responsive, it wasn’t willing to go.  And yet on the other hand, it wasn’t super compliant or comfortable.  The “VRS” really didn’t make itself felt, even on fresh, chunky gravel.

I left the morning confused.  It has a lot of clearance and a corrosion-resistant frame, but I just didn’t get it.  It didn’t feel light and lively, it didn’t feel compliant and comfy, it didn’t feel good.  It was a bit short in the top-tube for me, but even still, it just felt dead.  Not muffled, not dampened–dead.  I feel bad saying that because I really wanted to like it, I want to like it, but I can’t claim to.  This one wasn’t for me.

Spooky Cycles

If you follow this blog, you know that I formerly had a “top of the line” major manufacturer carbon aero road bike, fully kitted out, that I recently sold.  You also know that I had a “top of the line” custom manufactured titanium gravel/allroad/CX bike, fully kitted out, that I recently sold.

Heck, if you’ve been around for a while, you know I had a fully built carbon fatbike and a full-custom, top of the line carbon full-suspension mountain bike that I had sold a while ago.  And when I sold those two bikes, I replaced them with a Horsethief with two sets of wheels.  In a lot of ways, that should tell you what’s going on now.

The Moots and Madone are gone, and in their stead, a Spooky in my shed.

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You’re maybe thinking, what’s a Spooky?  Click through to find out.

Or maybe you know that they’re handbuilt aluminum frames and you’re thinking…what?  He sold a Madone 7 and a Moots to get an aluminum frame?

In a word, yes.

So what’s the rationale?  Well, there are a host of reasons.

Let’s start with why there’s a change.  I find myself no longer wanting to support Trek or Shimano.  Both of my bikes had Shimano DI2 drivetrains.  I’m finding that I set up my drop bar bikes with nearly identical dimensions over time…so the functional difference becomes tire size.  I have a road bike with skinnies, and a “gravel” bike with wider tires.  And I end up maintaining twice as many components, charging twice as many batteries, buying twice as many consumables, and spending a lot more time maintaining.

So why not keep the Moots and throw some road tires on it?

Well, as much as I loved the Moots: 1) it was a smidge small; and, 2) it only fit 35c tires in the rear.  Yes, you can get a Routt 45 that will fit 45s in the rear, but the chain stays grow an inch.  So you either get draggy chain stays, or minimal tire clearance.  I didn’t want to compromise.

I’m not a fan of carbon frames for gravel bikes.  I’ve seen them get ruined in a single ride, with mud rubbing on the stays.  I’m not a fan of steel (I’m not quite that retro).  I’m worried it will rust, and I know that it’s heavier, strength to strength.  I wasn’t ready to drop the coin on another custom titanium frame (and candidly, couldn’t find exactly what I wanted).  So I was looking for a corrosion resistant, non-carbon frame that was reasonably priced, had short chain stays, predictable geometry, a riding position that could excel for road and for long days in the saddle, and tire clearance for bigger tires–in the 38-40c range.  I wanted to be able to run a mid-size double crank and 11 speed rear end, because I’ve found that in group rides and prolonged slogs, I like having tighter spacing between my gearing than a wide-range 1×11 speed setup offers.  I wanted disc brakes front and rear because frankly, they’re better technology and don’t have downsides for my riding.  I wanted thru-axles, because they’re stiffer, stronger, and they make disc brake alignment more consistent.  I wanted a frame that could be built with the best components, and cover all duties.

Enter the Dune.

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(Photos courtesy of the Spooky website).

It checks all of the boxes.  When it’s all built up, I’ll provide more details on component spec and such, but there’s a lot more to my decision than just checking objective criteria.  I’m pretty up front on here: I recognize that as a consumer, I spend money on products and I can choose what companies I support.  Literally.  Given a choice, I’d rather support an awesome company.  If I have to pick between excellent product and excellent company, I tend to keep looking until I can find both.

With Spooky, I’m happy with what I’m supporting.  If you haven’t met Brandon, the guy behind the rebirth of Spooky, you should get to know him.  He’s a cyclist in the best possible way.  That means that he’s a father and husband first, and a cyclist when he can be, but the fact that he lives a real life doesn’t dilute his passion for riding and enjoying bikes.  He’s got an eye for design that I don’t have.  And he came up with a design and geometry that…well, it checks my boxes.

And then there’s the order process.  Ever order a custom Trek?  You can do it on their website.  Dream bike by drop-down menu.  It’s disheartening.  With Spooky, it was talking back and forth with the company owner.  He’d put in a call to the master fabricator/welder who was going to build this particular frame.  He’d provide direct responses.  He’d make recommendations on spec, and he’d communicate by GIF.

Yes.  He had me at GIFs.

You order a bike most places, and you don’t hear much about what happens between swiping the card and getting a box with a bike in it.  With Spooky, I’ve had the sense that Brandon is as excited as I am.

There were all of the messages back and forth with little updates.

There was the time that he was stalking FedEx drivers, waiting to get the frame from the welder.

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The time when he sent me a picture of my frame, with some of its siblings, in the car en route to the anodizer.

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And the “here’s the shop door that your frame is going into in order to be dipped…”

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I can keep going.  Trust me.  I haven’t even started with the gifs.

In short, Brandon is the kind of guy that you want to do business with.  Spooky is the kind of design that you want to ride.  And when you see it…droolz.

Click through to read the full Spooky Series:

Spooky Cycles

Spooky Dune in Pictures

Spooky Dune: The Build

Spooky Dune: Gravel Bike Review

Spooky Dune: Road Bike Review

Shuttle Smith -Ride of a Lifetime in Santa Cruz, CA

A few weeks ago, I flew out to Santa Cruz to have some much needed R&R with the family, and also to see my bro Brendan, who has resettled in the bay area.  With beautiful Cali weather afoot and some terrain I had never seen or ridden, Brendan made the call over to Shuttle Smith for a ride up the mountain.

We picked up a bike for the day, and met Dave at a nearby bike shop / parking lot at the base of the Sequel Demonstration Forest.  He was fully set up with a 4wd pickup truck, bottles of water, and a world of knowledge.  (For larger groups, he also has a bus he can use for shuttling, but for the two of us, it was a more intimate setting).

We headed out from the parking lot, and the knowledge dump commenced.  It was a truly amazing day of biking (I’ll write about that sometime), but the trip to the mountain biking was an experience onto itself.

IMG_5301 Dave is part mountain biking historian, part tour-guide, part California enthusiast…and all awesome.  All along the way, he was pointing out both historic artifacts from the Sequel area (such as one of the oldest hotels in California, and the location that they used to keep the horses…or an incredibly rare albino Redwood tree) and locations of incredible significance in the development of mountain biking. For years, I’ve seen the videos taken in the “post office” dirt jump track, and I shed some online tears when it was destroyed to make room for development.  We got to see it in person.  I’ve seen the videos of amazing mountain bike and dirt jump riders and the crazy things that they can do with bicycles.  We went past their houses–past their personal jump tracks.  It was a ~30 minute drive, and every second of it was filled with incredible stories about the area, the history and the culture.  For just about every pivotal moment in the sport, Dave’s been there–or talked to the person that was.  He was truly a wealth of knowledge. In Illinois, the drive to somewhere to bike is rarely scenic.  In California, every second of the ride was.  Dave knew the best routes, and the best spots to stop and take in the scenery. IMG_5300 When we reached the top of the access road in the Demonstration Forest, Dave pointed out all of the possible trails in the vicinity and gave expert recommendations on suggested routing to maximize our ride time and minimize our suffering on the climbs.  He talked about current trail conditions (dry, dusty) and suggested lines that would maximize speed and control (stay high on the berms to avoid the loose dirt at the bottoms).  He talked about places to stop for a breather, and obstacles to avoid.  He talked about places to grab water, and places to hit for dinner after the ride.  In short, he gave us the expert lowdown on all things Santa Cruz Mountain biking. We happened to just work with Dave for one ride up the mountain…but if you’re so inclined, he’ll shuttle you back and forth up the mountain again and again and again, until you’re incapable of riding any further.  He was incredibly enthusiastic, police, and knowledgeable.  Overall, it was the best guided shuttle service I’ve ever used, and lead to one of the best days of riding I’ve ever had.

If you’re ever in that neck of the woods and have some time to get out on a bike, drop Dave a line and set up a shuttle ride.  You won’t regret it!IMG_5308

Madone and Moots for Sale

If you’re a regular reader here, you know of the two amazing bikes that I’ve put together over the years, with DI2, and carbon, and titanium, and awesomeness.  The Madone and the Moots.  Search the site and you’ll find pictures and stories galore.

They’re both for sale.

Moots:

This is a 2014 Moots Routt–this was the first of the “new geometry” Moots, with a slightly lower BB height and a little slacker steering–the exact geometry that they went with on the current year’s model.

Drivetrain is Dura-Ace cranks with Ultegra Di2 shifting and Ultegra hydraulic brakes front/rear, with Shimano XT Ice rotors. BB is newly replaced Ultegra BB (because if you’ve run different Shimano BBs, you know that Ultegra are the best and last longer than their others).

Handlebars are 44cm ENVE compact road drop bars, stem is ENVE carbon stem, fork is ENVE disc-compatible CX fork.

Eriksen Ti Sweetpost.

Does not include saddle, pedals or bottle cages. Wheels shown in photograph are NOT included–it presently is sporting a nice set of unbranded Velocity wheels–they’re A23s without the brand labels on them.

There is some pedal rub on the cranks–Happy to post a current picture for an interested buyer.

This has all stops pulled. All the bells and whistles. As nice and as good as it gets. Contact me with any questions.

Will ship to CONUS.  $4750.

 

Madone:

This is a 2013 Trek Madone, Project One 7 series. Features Quarq SRAM RED cranks with powermeter, ceramic bb, Shimano Ultegra DI2 2×11 drivetrain with 11-25 cassette, Bontrager XXX stem, ENVE Road Drop Bars (Compact, 44cm), ENVE 3.4 SES Disc wheels with DT240s hubs, Bontrager brakes, Continental GP4000S tires (25c).

Things shown in pictures that aren’t included: pedals, bottle cages, and saddle. I have a saddle I can throw on the bike, but frankly, this bike deserves a perfect saddle that you pick.

Full disclosure statements: there is a small chip in the paint in the drive-side chainstay. I haven’t used the power meter in about a year, and I’m sure it should be sent in to be calibrated.

That’s it. The wheels are from here in flatlandia–there’s no wear on them. They’re on the first set of ENVE brake pads…and I’ve always exclusively used ENVE pads on them. Each part was picked based upon extensive research for the best possible build in the world.

It’s been lovingly ridden and maintained, and I’m sorry to see it go, but all things must go at some point. Will ship to CONUS, in the original box (as I bought this new, and kept the original packaging).  $3750.

Schrödinger’s Creak

I recently undertook some open heart surgery on the Madone, in an effort to track down and eradicate an elusive creak.

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In the time before undertaking that work, I realized that bike creaks are very Schrödinger.  Until you diagnose exactly where they’re coming from, they both are and are not every part on the bike–there’s a great deal of creak entanglement.  The bottom bracket is both fine and failing.  The pedals are both loose and tight.  The seatpost is both shifting and stable.

The only way to truly determine the origin of the creak is fixing the creak.  Tightening the pedals doesn’t work by itself–you have to try everything until the creak is resolved.  Because until you fix the creak, it is still there and you don’t know what it is.  Maybe you tightened the pedals but didn’t put grease on them, and it’s still the pedals creaking.  Or maybe it is the bottom bracket.

That Schrödinger…he knew a lot of things.  He is not often given credit for his bike-related work, however.

Poker in the Peloton

I had recently written of the living organism that is the paceline.  I had noted the joy of riding with those that you know.  One of the best parts of riding in a group with those you know is the game of poker that ensues.

Aaron is the best bike poker player I know.  He always, always has a game face.  You never see him suffer.  I’ve seen him riding a bike in 90 degree weather, experiencing food poisoning–game face on.  Going out on a quixotic sprint–game face on.  Subtle smile, no sign of exertion.  He’s so good at it that when he slows a bit, you just assume that he’s bored.  There’s never an indication that he’s slowing because he’s tired.  He’s just grown weary of being at the front, perhaps.

But you start to recognize the signals in other riders.

You see the subtle way that a rider starts rocking their hips more when they’re getting flagged.

You see the move from the drops to the hoods…back to the drops.  The twisting of the wrists as the hands try to grab the bars tighter–to wrest some greater leg strength from the silent carbon fiber.

You see the change in cadence as a rider shifts down, shifts up, shifts down, trying to find a sustainable gear.

You see the hands go to adjust a helmet as a bead of sweat runs down the side of a rider’s face.

You see the rider try to squeeze just a little tighter to the rider in front, working to hide just a little bit better in the draft.

You see a gulp for water–and then the paradox of deciding between quenching thirst by taking a drink, or continuing to breathe as hard as a rider can breathe.

You see all these things and more, and you know what they mean.  You know who will stay at the front until they’re spent, and who will back off and rotate through.  You know who will take a pull no matter the personal cost, and who will languish at the back of the pack and let others do the work.  You know the cards that other riders are playing without having to be told.  And you decide how to play your own cards.

It’s a rolling paceline and a friend goes to the front.  You see the hunch in his shoulders as he starts to burn–the hunting for a gear.  He hasn’t flicked an elbow yet, but you know he’s suffering, so you pull through anyhow and offer respite.  Or maybe that yellow sprint sign is lingering in the distance and you let him suffer…you play him out longer…you wait for the chance to not just pull through, but to blow out the front of the pack with a hard sprint that you know he can’t follow.

You’ve got cards to play too.

Today, you’re letting that build–you’re letting a friend take a long, lone pull.  Hey, they haven’t flicked the elbow, you think.  But behind you, someone is watching your cards.  They see you not pull through.  They know what you’re thinking, what you’re doing.  And while you’re laying in wait, they’re lying in wait.  While you’re setting a trap, so are they.

You get close enough to the sprint that you’re ready to lay your cards out in one effort far harder than you can reasonably sustain, with that full house that you think no one has seen.  And then you go–it starts as you just pulling through, but then you don’t slow and move over–you build and you’re exploding out of the saddle in a whir of gears and legs and sweat and growls.  You’ve played your hand.  Your cards are on the table.  The yellow sign lingers in the distance and it looks as though the pot is yours.

Just as you start to get ready to celebrate the victory, you hear the whir of gears behind you.  That person you hadn’t seen–hadn’t expected–the person reading your cards.  They explode from your draft and push through to the line, blowing your cards out of the water.

In these rides, it’s not about winning or losing.  It’s about playing your hand as best as you can, and playing fair.  It’s about enjoying the game.  It’s about taking a turn as the dealer, and taking a turn as the victor.  It’s about learning your friends nuances so well that you see the subtle indications that they need help–or that they’re ready to be taken advantage of.  It’s about bluffs and team play, and reassessing as the game proceeds.

It’s poker in the peloton.